Two cars, two TVs… two Internets?

I won’t be participating in today’s SOPA blackout for the simple reason that you and I both get what SOPA is, along with the dangers it represents.

Not even a year has passed since I read Tim Wu’s The Master Switch, but already the author’s stern warnings about the end of the Internet as we know it seem surprisingly close at hand. Ditto for Jonathan Zittrain and the rise of the Internet appliance, usurping the generative freedom of a personal computer with black boxes so locked down that you can’t even remove their batteries.

It’s scary, awful stuff but the sad truth is that so very few people seem to care.

Most online folk are too busy professing love for their favourite brands on Facebook, handing all sorts of personal information over to Google and letting software algorithms rank them on Klout. For them, “the Internet” is a glittering landscape of commercial services — free as in beer, not freedom.

Likewise for the gadgets they use to get online. They don’t mind a locked phone or a carrier contract so long as the hardware is cheap. They’ve no idea what UEFI Secure Boot is; all they need to know is whether or not there’s a shiny Apple logo on the back.

I really do think that this is how most people see technology and the Internet. Most, but not all.

Though proportionally much smaller in number, there are a lot of us who would choose FTP over Facebook, torrent over Twitter. Some of us are pirates who take the law into our own hands; others are members of The Pirate Party, striving to make the Internet a better place from wherever we happen to access it. We see through the smoke and mirrors, we find what’s broken and fix it — or at the very least lay bare the flaws for all the world to see.

The Internet is often a different place for us. We can take steps to anonymize ourselves and online activities if need be. And when it comes time to choose products and services we tend to favour those that respect our privacy and freedom. As in free.

Sure, there’s some overlap, but through these two very different types of users it almost seems as if there’s two Internets — same technology, different philosophy. There’s the bright and shiny stuff, and underneath the platform and packet-agnostic foundation on which it runs. Some of us know this because we are old enough to remember how it all came to be; some of us are simply curious about how it all works. Most of them are blissfully unaware.

We’re trying to let them know. And this SOPA blackout is proof of that.But honestly, I’m not so sure it’s going to work. Facebook itself hasn’t gone dark, and mum’s the word at Apple and Google. Maybe we’re fighting a losing battle here. Maybe it’s inevitable that the days of the free-for-all Internet have come to pass.

Maybe it’s time to start taking care of ourselves.