Feenberg & Friesen: (Re)inventing the Internet

This was my "questioning" for Feenberg and Friesen's (eds.) (Re)inventing the Internet. This post is part of a series from my CMNS 857 Philosophy of Technology seminar with Andrew Feenberg. For more information, see this linked post.

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When I saw the chapter on online education, I knew my questioning would center around education as I had last week. But, surprisingly enough, I found myself drawn to questioning the final chapter of the text, Milberry’s Hacking for Social Justice.

There was reference made in this chapter (and elsewhere in the text that I cannot seem to locate right now) to the “neutrality of the network.” The context includes the idea that corporations and other capitalist-infused organizations will taint the neutrality of the networks that comprise the Internet. Is this an accurate summation? Are networks truly neutral? I am not sure, but my gut sends up a red flag when we slip into this easy binary: Internet networks = neutral = good, tainted by corporate interests = bad. I am less interested in debating the good and bad, but seriously interested in grappling with a concept like “network neutrality.”

Second, the crux of Milberry’s article seems to be her case study of wikis and their ability to enhance online cooperation. From an online education perspective (and having the benefit of a husband who just spent two weeks completing an exhaustive literature review into wikis and online higher education), it seems that her argument is a bit dated, maybe even misinformed. Wikis, in my personal and professional experience, do more to limit interaction and true collaboration than, say, an alternative such as Google Docs. The chapter could have stood (with some edits) on the merits and history of tech-activism.

Finally, I am not sure of - and Milberry’s conceptualization also seems confused - the analytical difference (and pragmatic) between free software and open source software. It seems that these two concepts were supposed to be integral to the argument, but I am left wondering what all the fuss is about. I am hoping to arrive at some clarity with this distinction.

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