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Network Neutrality Upsetting Worldviews?

Apr 27, 2006 | Inside: Regulation & Policies

With everyone talking about network neutrality, with all the heat, it didn’t feel good to have to be in NY today and miss the goings-on in Washington. I watched part of the late afternoon markup session online, with Rep. Barton sounding awfully effective as he marched steadily through Title III—quickly taking votes, soothing congress people who were suggesting soon-to-be-rejected amendments, and sounding confident. The only substantive work I heard was the rejection of an amendment that would have left in place all state laws that regulate the subjects of the bill—like mini wireless networks.

But the real news had already happened by the time I started to watch: the House network neutrality amendment had been defeated largely along party lines. Now it’s on to the Senate, where arguments about the future of the internet may be more effective.

There are some compensating things about being in NY today. It’s the city Jane Jacobs had in mind when she wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities (a book that is comfortably applicable to online life). Jane Jacobs died yesterday, and it’s good to walk down the streets she wrote about. She would have understood the arguments that will be made in the Senate.

From a 2001 interview with Jane Jacobs:

JJ: Well what was getting immediately under my skin was this mad spree of deceptions and vandalism and waste that was called urban renewal. And the way it had been adopted like a fad and people were so mindless about it and so dishonest about what was being done. That’s what ticked me off, because I was working for an architectural magazine and I saw all this first hand and I saw how the most awful things were being excused.

...I’ll tell you something that had been worrying me: I liked to visit museums that showed old time machines and tools and so forth. And I was very struck. There was one of these museums in Fredricksburg, Virginia, which was my father’s hometown. He was from a farm near Fredricksburg. I was very struck with the way these old machines were painted. They were painted in a way to show you how they worked. Evidently the makers of them and the users of them cared about how these things were put together and how what moved what so that other people would be interested in them. I used to like to go to the railroad station in Scranton and watch the locomotives. I got a big bang out of seeing the locomotives and those pistons that moved the wheels. And that interested me how they were moved by those things and then the connection of that with the steam inside and so on. In the meantime, along had come these locomotives that had skirts on them and you couldn’t see how the wheels moved and that disturbed me. And it was supposed to be for some aerodynamics reason, but that didn’t make sense. And I began to notice how everything was being covered up and I thought that was kinda sick.

...Everybody’s got a worldview whether they know they have it or they don’t. They might even get it when they are little tiny kids. Suppose they get it when they are in college which is often the case, or in high school, whatever. Everything they learn after that or every thing they see after that, they fit it into that worldview. And they are making coherence of what’s good, what’s bad, what will work, what won’t work, what’s noble, what’s ignoble, and so on...all through this filter.

There are two ways you encounter things in the world that are different. One is everything that comes in reinforces what you already believe and everything that you know. The other thing is that you stay flexible enough or curious enough and maybe unsure of yourself enough, or may be you are more sure of yourself—I don’t know which it is—that the new things that come in keep reforming your world view… And a lot of these people [who build private Garden Cities]—what I am getting at—they learn something and they are so sure of it and it’s a terrible threat to them—an emotional threat. I don’t think it’s so much of an intellectual threat even. But an emotional threat that their whole worldview will have to go through that upsetting thing of being confused...

This has been a featured post from Susan Crawford, Assistant Professor of Law. To visit the weblog maintained by Susan Crawford click here.

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