My next book project is a history of cyberlibertarianism in the United States. Cyberlibertarianism is the idea that internet technology should never be regulated and should never be the object of institutional involvement, especially state involvement. The book will trace the circulation of cyberlibertarianism throughout the technology community from 1989 (fall of the Berlin Wall) to 2009 (Bitcoin white paper) and offer an account of internet history that operates as the formative backdrop of this ideological circulation.
Cyberlibertarianism was a pervasive style of reasoning that consistently appeared in the ongoing dialogues of widely different technology groups: hackers, futurists, and artists in the underground computer culture; entrepreneurs in the Silicon Valley business world; engineers in the computer hobbyist space; and advocates in digital civil society. Each of these groups had unique interests, concerns, beliefs, and stakes in the management of digital systems, yet they converged on a similar way of thinking about the internet vis-à-vis regulations and institutions. The history of cyberlibertarianism matters, because, from this paradigm, we inherit an understanding of digital regulations and digital institutions that is radically polarized. In this line of thought, there is either a free and open internet, or a censored and repressed one. Under the weight of this epistemic baggage, we lack a nuanced, textured, gray-area way to discuss the role of regulations and institutions on the internet.
Header: The iconic Gadsden flag, reworked by the activist group Don’t Tread On the Net during the 2008 debate over net neutrality . The Gadsen flag shows up all over computer history. For example, the Semiconductor Manufacturing Technology Institute, a research tank developed by the Semiconductor Industry Association in the 1980s, featured the Gadsden flag as its organizational house banner. (Source: Leslie Berlin’s Troublemakers).