4.11 The elusiveness of Lessig's concept of code

We have come to a point in the unit and The Future of Ideas where the use of the terms ‘code’ and ‘architecture’ might be getting a bit confusing. Surely ‘code’ is one of the three main layers of the internet, as described in Chapter 2? So how can ‘code’ also appear in the ‘content’ layer? What's this ‘code of cyberspace’ on page 35? Is it architecture? Software? Hardware? Law? In other parts of the book there is talk of ‘real space code’.

Table showing each Internet layer. The meaning of ‘code’ is uncertain, denoted by ‘Code’??? in the table (this is discussed in the text). The Content layer is ‘Code’???. The Code/Logical layer is TCP/IP, e2e, ‘Code’???. The Physical layer is wires, wireless spectrum.

Unfortunately, Lessig's use of the term ‘code’ is often ambiguous, or at least he uses the term to mean different things at different points. So it is important to be alert to the context in which the term is used. For the purposes of the unit, think of ‘code’ or ‘architecture’, which are often used interchangeably, as:

  • the architecture – structure or built environment – of the internet;

  • the middle ‘logical’ layer of the internet;

  • law;

  • hardware and software technology;

  • software programmes and applications, such as word processors, web browsers or email systems – these run at the ‘content’ layer.

So if ‘code’ is used in a confusing way, just go over that sentence or paragraph again, whilst asking the question:

Does he mean

  • architecture

  • layer

  • law

  • technology or

  • software applications?

You don't need to remember all these different uses of the term ‘code’. However, if it is something you are finding confusing, it might be worth printing out a copy of this page and keeping it nearby as you read.

The first rule of business is: Do other men, for they would do you.

(Charles Dickens)

4.10.1 Films and copyright

4.12 Activity 3