11:45 - 12:15
Building a new Net in the Shell of the Old

Short thesis

Is the Net supposed to reflect society, or transform it? Are we supposed to work with corporations and the state, or replace them? Danny O'Brien goes on a whistle-stop ride around the early Net activism, Occupy and Silicon Valley to find out whether we've learned the right lessons from our recent past.


The United State's radical syndicalists, the IWW or Wobblies, had an expression: "Build the new world in the shell of the old." That's the motto of prefigurative politics, where activists and participants attempt to create a better society by devising and inhabiting counter-institutions and cultures that enact the change they wish to see. Prefigurative politics influenced the direct action of the early 21st century, including Occupy, and t's a model that has a long history in early Internet utopianism, where we were all meant to build and share the tools that let us be equal peers on an equal net.

The last decade of Internet policy work and governance has morphed from prefigurative politics into one of careful accommodation and negotiation: with the centralised, corporate goliaths of social media and the cloud, as well as technologically sophisticated state actors. Now that those states and giants are suffering their own set of crises, should we work to defend those compromises? Or should Net activists strike out on their own once again, and take seriously the project of building a new Net to change the world?