Why has the internet been so transformative in the last 20 years? I would argue any complete answer to that question would need to speak to 4 major points:
- Information sharing
- Equal platform for individuals and companies
But these aspects are the drivers for the internet's success. The internet was not designed to ensure them. Each of these has been under near constant attack during the past 5 years.
The NSA and CIA have spearheaded user anonymity. China's great firewall and other inventions are capable of removing entire nations from the internet. Here in the US, the net neutrality struggle has become a political battle to keep the internet an equal platform for those connected.
It doesn't take a technologist long to understand the risky implications of these attacks on the internet's ideals. But what may surprise many of us is that the problem is not that these attacks are happening. The problem is that these attacks are possible at all.
Before we leap to solutions, let's introspect for a moment. Coders suffer from the Law of the Instrument. Code has become our golden hammer. When all we have is a code, everything looks like a software problem. This is why we have SSH, HTTPS, Tor, etc. When the problem was privacy and security, our solution has been code. That won't cut it here.
Because the internet has fundamental problems.
I propose we find a way to reimagine the internet. Ignore current infrastructure and technology constraints. We should theorize an ideal internet. One that ensures connectivity, access and anonymity. Once we have the ideal, we need to identify two things: how much of it does modern technology allow and which technology gains would be necessary to realize its completion.
Maybe the answer is some kind of wireless, encrypted mesh network. Maybe it involves massive caching solutions. Maybe it is something fundamentally different than what any of us have seen.
Frankly, the actual solution is less important than technologists recognizing, on a wide scale, that there is a problem in need of an new approach. Relying on governments and businesses to do the "right thing" is a fallacy we should be collectively ashamed of believing in the first place.
Each year technology grows smaller and more pervasive. Each year more of our daily lives, conversations and activities are stored on computers. We have gone from servers to desktops and laptops. Today we have phones and smart tv's. Tomorrow we will have smart cars and wearables. Technology embedded directly into us seems like an unavoidable future.
But before we each have a chip allowing us to google our thoughts, we damn well better have network-level security to secure that information. Otherwise, the idea of the someone selling my internet history will be a moot point compared to a government database of my imagination. What a brave new world that would be.
tl;dr: The internet needs to be reimagined in a way that ensure access, security and anonymity.