Almost a year ago, in Why the Internet is the Most Important Thing in the World, I suggested that the Net had gained this status due to its massive and increasing role as the infrastructure for all manner of electronic communications and information accessibility on the planet, and as such had become the preeminent enabler for solving all manner of critical problems facing the global community.
In the months since then, we've seen battles over SOPA and PIPA -- both pushed back for now, though anyone who believes the RIAA and MPAA are just taking their marbles and going home should consider the discount purchase of a classic old bridge connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn. In fact, the entertainment behemoths have made it clear that this is only Round One.
We've seen the F.U.D. (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) regarding "cyberwar" ratcheted up to a fever pitch -- especially by those parties in a position to handsomely profit from the cybersecurity arms race -- giving birth to CISPA legislation that I consider to be highly problematic and potentially dangerous in its current form.
Around the world, countries are generally not becoming more open regarding the Internet, they're become less so, sometimes dramatically less so.
All manner of ostensibly reasonable justifications -- from politics to security to economics (and of course "protecting children") -- are being flogged for all possible advantages by those parties who prefer a tightly controlled and censored Internet, rather than an open one. I choose to assume that the purveyors of a restricted Internet truly believe in their causes and mean no evil, even though I feel that their models could easily morph the Internet from a wonder into a nightmare.
And then there are the various Web services' so-called "walled gardens" -- the most obvious of which is Facebook, which has become something of the "roach motel" of user data -- the raw material of the social graph flows in, but very little can be viewed or searched from the outside.
In general, as increasing amounts of Web activity become entrapped inside closed ecosystems, whether Web-based per se or within "restrictive app"-environments (though not all app environments need be restrictive) -- the Open Internet become less and less ... open.
Google's co-founder Sergey Brin recently discussed his concerns about the deterioration of the Open Internet.
I think he was 100% spot on the mark, but some observers have suggested that his comments simply represented Google's economic concerns.
Obviously, Google's fortunes are largely tied to the Open Internet, without which, services such as broad-ranging search and many other key functionalities would be impossible.
But this does not in any way invalidate Sergey's commentary.
Because in many respects Google's ability to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful" (as noted in their mission statement) is very much a direct measure of the Internet's openness for all of us.
Google thus becomes the designated target for those forces who wish to remake the Internet into a meek, censored, tightly controlled shadow of itself. And at the same time Google becomes something of a proxy for all of us who depend upon the Open Internet -- even those persons who never use any Google services.
This is the fundamental reason why we see Google at the center of so many battles related to the "soul" of the Internet.
Yes, Google's business model is largely dependent on the Open Internet to succeed, the same Open Internet that is in all of our best interests -- all of us who are true believers in freedom of speech, civil rights, and equitable access to information, that is. And that category of "true believers" also includes everyone I've ever known at Google, irrespective of economic issues.
Ultimately though, this isn't about Google at all, no matter how disingenuously "closed Internet" advocates attempt to frame their arguments.
An Open Internet is increasingly absolutely essential to freedom of communications, freedom to search, freedom to learn, and just about every other freedom you or I could list.
Communications. Information. It is through these concepts, these realities, that innovations are created, problems are solved, dictators are vanquished, and the world advances.
And similarly, it is through control of these constructs, restrictions on information and communications, that ideas are crushed, lives are enslaved, and dictators flourish.
It has always been so, one way or another, since the dawn of mankind.
We need not posit conspiracies or secret societies to understand why the "big picture" concerning the Open Internet is of such concern, or why our actions now are of such crucial importance.
The Internet is the underpinning of our technological future. That future can be open and glorious, or it can be closed and potentially grotesque beyond measure.
Personally, I'll vote for open and glorious, every time.