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Why the internet is a different world?

Alvin Toffler explains in Powershift, how every instrument and system in today’s world ultimately draws its power from the crude muscle power of the barbarian times. For example, a software company enforces software copyrights rules based on contracts which the client signed. The contract is thus the source of power for the software company. The power of the contract comes from the laws which facilitate the contract. The laws are powerful because the government ensures their enforcement through multiple means. And the government itself draws its power from the fact that it can enforce laws on the citizen (and other governments as well). And why CAN the government enforce laws? It is because it commands the military and hence has enough power to use its muscle power against those who raise a voice of dissent against established laws.

Every law, every standard and every system in the world is finally dependent upon mere muscle power of the enforcing body for its existence and adherence. And at the global level it is a balance of power between different governments which provides a framework for international agreements and laws to hold. In essence, all aspects of a person’s life are dependant on this balance of power.

However, the Internet is different in this very basic aspect from the rest of our systems. The standards used on the Internet, the interchange of information and all other arrangements are not guaranteed by any government or international body recognized by governments. Further, muscle power or any other kind of coercive force does not play any role in ensuring the smooth functioning of the Web. The Web is all about collaboration and sharing – a culture defined in the early days of its development, a culture defined by professors and students of universities. This culture of sharing, collaboration and consensus was opposite to the culture of governments or the corporate – in short the conflict is between the cultures of the real and virtual world. Hence it did produce some friction as the Web slowly proliferated to industry; copyright violations, IP lawsuits and Open Source wars are few manifestations of the struggle between the two opposing cultures of the Web and real world.

As of today, the web can be loosely classified into two sections – the free section fuelled by university campuses, P2P communities, forums, and Open Source developers etc; and the ‘lawful’ section defined by companies, governments, lawyers and the other sundry. Reassuringly most innovations on the web are coming from the free section while the lawful section fights on issues like ‘Who should run the Primary Name severs’ []Who wins the next lawsuit’ [].

I am not sure if one can call the culture of a virtual world superior to the real world – but as of now, the virtual world does seem to be going leaps and bounds while the real world is just trying to catch up. Government and corporate sites still feel like elaborate product catalogues while Web 2.0 ventures provide slick and interactive applications to their users. All I would say is – may the best team win!


  1. this goes well with the new ad of reliance (amitabh's) - there will be a time soon when you won't need passport... all you'll need a password...


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