Winter 2016

Degrees of Freedom, Dimensions of Power

Yochai Benkler

The original Internet design combined technical, organizational, and cultural characteristics that decentralized power along diverse dimensions. Decentralized institutional, technical, and market power maximized freedom to operate and innovate at the expense of control. Market developments have introduced new points of control. Mobile and cloud computing, the Internet of Things, fiber transition, big data, surveillance, and behavioral marketing introduce new control points and dimensions of power into the Internet as a social-cultural-economic platform. Unlike in the Internet's first generation, companies and governments are well aware of the significance of design choices, and are jostling to acquire power over, and appropriate value from, networked activity. If we are to preserve the democratic and creative promise of the Internet, we must continuously diagnose control points as they emerge and devise mechanisms of recreating diversity of constraint and degrees of freedom in the network to work around these forms of reconcentrated power.

YOCHAI BENKLER is the Berkman Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard Law School, and serves as Faculty Co-Director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. He is the author of The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom (2006), which won awards from the American Sociological Association and the American Political Science Association.

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