A gold rush. A wide-open anything-goes frontier. Prostitution. Gambling. Drugs. Lax law enforcement. Vigilantism and mob justice. Petty scammers at every turn.
The subject? Not the dusty Wild West of American history, but instead the Internet of just 10 years ago.
In the last decade, the Internet has gone from open frontier populated by a select few, to a regular part of life for a majority of Americans and Europeans. Predictably, the change from sparse frontier to societal integration has caused rather significant cultural clashes between early adopters and latecomers. Disputes rage about whether we should view and regulate the Internet like an open frontier or like the rest of “offline” society.
This week, I will try to answer that question by exploring the similarities between the Internet and the original Wild West frontier. I’ll examine what the close of the Wild West frontier teaches us about the next 10 years of the Internet. As an example, I’ll focus on what the frontier experience tells us about online privacy and laws like Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. On Friday, I also hope to take a quick look at the broad impact of the Internet on the future of privac.
I look forward to discussing these issues with readers; this site has managed to consistently attract some of the brightest and most civilized commenters online. I’m happy to take questions, comments, and suggestions. And thank you, Eugene, for the kind introduction; I’m proud to be able to contribute to such an important community.
The Internet as Frontier Experience
The history of the Internet echoes the history of the American West. We go into much greater detail in the book (Amazon), but even at a glance the parallels between Wild West 1.0 (1800s America) and Wild [...]