2.2.1 Two extreme views

Utopian: This sees the internet as a positive and liberating development, indeed the most important transformation of mankind's communications environment since the invention of printing. And just as the invention of print in the 15th century transformed Western society – leading to the Reformation, the rise of modern science, the Romantic movement and even (according to some writers) the redefinition of ‘childhood’ as a protected space in the lives of young people – so Utopians see the internet as having the same revolutionary potential. Proponents of this view emphasise the benefits of the technology: the huge volume of information available on the Web, the way email enables communication and cooperation, the economic potential of online trading, etc.

Dystopian: This view sees the Net as a dangerous and subversive development which facilitates anarchic and criminal tendencies, leading to an ungovernable world swamped with pornography, lies, propaganda and worse, and to societies populated by socially crippled, isolated individuals who are vulnerable to the marketing imperatives of huge transnational media corporations.

These are caricatures of extreme views, but representative samples of them can be found in public debates about the Net. Neither, however, offers an insightful way of thinking about future possibilities because they are both based on the assumption that the Net is a ‘given’ – i.e. something that is immutable or unchangeable (like a mountain), rather than an object that is dynamic and capable of change.

2.2 Our digital future … and why it matters

2.2.2 The malleable Net … and its implications