There is a cultural dialectic that draws into opposition institutions v.s. people. Since institutions were once led by kings and lords this is, in a sense, “The Man” v.s. “The People.” Dominate dialectics draw things into their thrall. Everything get’s assigned to one side or the other. Cats? Independent, ok you go over there with “The People”. Dog? Dutiful agent of the Man.
So, who’s side is the Net on? If your into the above dialectic and you think the Net is cool then your going to want to lay claim to the Net for you side in the argument. If your a designer or builder using the Net then your going to strive to bend it to your side.
Not everybody is into this dialectic. So plenty of actors in the net are building and describing events without taking sides in this particular argument. Consider for example a commercial start up that wants to use the Internet to disrupt an existing market. When they speak to their investors they tell a story about creating a huge powerful durable institution that will own an emerging market place – in this story they are pro-institution. Their investors say “You is the man!” When they speak to their early adopters they talk about empowering individuals and sticking it to the existing players in the market – in this story they are pro-the-people. I fully expect some large food conglomerate to end up owing the copyright on ‘We are the World.’ As a social or economic construct the disruptive startup doesn’t take a side in the dialectic; it just grabs the framework for PR purposes.
The stories we tell about what we are creating do in fact shape what gets created.
A good example of this is the end-to-end design principle. Consider two stories you can tell about it. There is a technical story about it’s reliability, scalability, security, and it’s coordination costs. There is another story you can tell about it’s political nature; i.e. that it disrupts and continuously undermines centralization of power. When you do that your moments away from bringing issues of free speech (He who own’s the printing press, etc) into the discussion.
Who knows were I’m going with this? I’m not currently comfortable with the way this dialectic is polarizing the discussion of events in the Net.
For example Blogging. I see blogging not as empowering the-people, but instead as atomizing them. For example tagging/folksonomy where I see much excitement about displacing existing institutions that nurture taxonomy but no useful discussion of how to encourage a bloom of billions of cool new organizational schemes.
But I’m not quite getting out of this posting alive, ah well.