On this day back in 1969, the internet was born. Really. That was the day when the first successful message was sent between two of the ARPANET Interface Message Processors. The rest is just details. It was the first system that implemented TCP/IP. And I suppose it is a good time to point out that TCP/IP is what we use, but it is hardly perfect. Like VHS and Microsoft Windows, it is good enough. As my pappy used to say, “Good enough is… good enough.”
There was a time when conservatives used to talk about the internet being this great example of private enterprise creating new technologies. The truth was that ARPANET was a government project. And up to the mid-1990s, the internet was this thing you used if you were at a college or a national lab. Sure, you had it if you were at Sun Microsystems. But in general, it was always this publicly funded thing. As always used to happen, the government nurtured the technology for years until it got to a point where people could make money from it.
Think about this. The position of conservatives — libertarians most especially — is that collective action is always bad. And so they will casually throw out the internet as an example of how the profit motive works so well. And the profit motive does indeed work really well in those cases where it works really well. But it is clear that it doesn’t work really well all the time or in all markets. But if we want to move into the future slowly, then we should follow the advice of the conservatives.
But if we want to move into the future quickly, we need collective action. And once we arrive with a new technology, we can allow the market to work it out so we have, for example, two kinds of smartphones that we can choose from. But the idea that the profit motive is what will move us into the future is nonsense, pushed by people who understand neither technology nor business.