In the nineteen-seventies, the Internet was a small, decentralized collective of computers. The personal-computer revolution that followed built upon that foundation, stoking optimism encapsulated by John Perry Barlow’s 1996 manifesto “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.” Barlow described a chaotic digital utopia, where “netizens” self-govern and the institutions of old hold no sway. “On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone,” he writes. “You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.”
This is not the Internet we know today. Nearly two decades later, a staggering percentage of communications flow through a small set of corporations—and thus, under the profound influence of those companies and other institutions. Google, for instance, now comprises twenty-five per cent of all North American Internet traffic; an outage last August caused worldwide traffic to plummet by around forty per cent.