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Launching our new book of radical visions for the future internet

We are excited to launch “Finding ctrl: visions for the future internet”, our new interactive book bringing together essays, interviews, stories and artworks reflecting on the internet’s past and future, featuring thirty leading and emerging internet thinkers from over fifteen countries (and five continents)

In March 2019, the World Wide Web turned thirty, and October will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the internet itself. These anniversaries offer us an important opportunity to reflect on the internet’s history, but also a chance to ponder its future.

While early internet pioneers dreamed of an internet that would be open, free and decentralised, the story of the internet today is mostly a story of loss of control. Just a handful of companies determine what we read, see and buy, where we work and where we live, who we vote for, who we love, and who we are. Many of us feel increasingly uneasy about these developments. We live in a world where new technologies happen to us; the average person has very little agency to change things within the current political and economic parameters.

Yet things don’t have to be this way. In a time where the future of the internet is usually painted as bleak and uncertain, we need positive visions about where we go next.

As part of the Next Generation Internet (NGI) initiative – the European Commission’s new flagship programme working on building a more democratic, inclusive and resilient internet – we have created this “visions book”, a collection of essays, short stories, poetry and artworks from over thirty contributors from fifteen countries and five continents. Each contributor has a unique background, as most were selected via an open call for submissions held last autumn. As such, the book collects both established and emerging voices, all reflecting on the same crucial questions: where did we come from, but more importantly, where do we go next?

The NGI hopes to empower everyone to take active control in shaping the future: the internet does not just belong to those who hold power today, but to all of us.

What you can find in the book

Visual reflections

A game of Battleships

Belgian Artist Dries de Roeck asks school children in both Belgium and Senegal to “draw the internet”.

South African artist Russel Hlongwane’s short movie places Zulu cosmology, mysticism and sacred rituals within a digital framework to present an alternative view of the internet.

The BBC’s Rhianne Jones, Ian Forrester and Bill Thompson asked the general public about their feelings about the internet.

Dutch artist Roos Groothuizen show the cyclical nature of media coverage of scandals like Cambridge Analytica.

London-based artist Ted Hunt video piece imagines what a radically different search engine could look like.

Australian artist Xanthe Dobbie’s gifs visualise the abundance of the “perpetual internet”.

Ethiopian artist Abel Tilahun original pieces accompany Isabelle Zaugg's essay on loss of language diversity due to the internet.

Also have a look at our interactive timeline, which visualises milestones in the internet’s history, and speculates on where we might go next. This timeline was created by Katja Bego, Caroline Back and Toyfight.

Written reflections

Imagining a multilingual internet

UK journalist James Ball explains how the internet’s early infrastructures now have to support a network of billions – leaving it bursting at the seams.

Nesta CEO Geoff Mulgan reflects on the missed opportunities around the internet so far, and how the future internet should harness collective intelligence to truly thrive.

Russian academic Polina Kolozaridi looks at the different internets that emerged all over Russia in the early post-Soviet era.

British poet Sarah Westcott’s poem weaves together British school children’s perceptions of the internet, connecting it to lost natural concepts.

Canadian engineer and designer Udit Vira reimagines the internet as a living organism, his gardening kit challenging our perceptions of the web.

UK author Rebecca Lynch’s Fair Arbiters is a near-future science fiction story about online content moderation.

Polish PhD-student and writer Maciej Kuziemski’s short story eulogises the World Wide Web.

UK writer Hussein Kesvani looks at how the internet has moved from a largely decentralised, free network, to being controlled by just a handful of powerful actors.

Writer Caroline O’Donoghue’s dystopian short story explores what happens when power and money corrupts a well-intended feminist internet initiative.

American academic Isabelle Zaugg writes about the loss of language diversity on the internet.

London-based journalist Jessica Furseth writes about online memory, and how we are at risk of losing parts of our identity as online archives depreciate.

Interviews

Audrey Tang

We speak to former Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves about his role as the architect of Estonia’s impressive rise to become one of the world’s leading digital nations.

US professor Shoshana Zuboff is asked about her influential work on surveillance capitalism, the harmful business models underpinning the current incarnation of the internet.

Dutch-American sociologist Saskia Sassen, world-renowned scholar on how globalisation and urbanisation intersect with digitisation, on how the internet is influencing our cities and societies.

We talk to Sammy Griner and his mother Laney about what it means to be a meme (you might recognise Sammy as the “success kid”), and how it’s impacted their lives.

From the European Commission’s Olivier Bringer we learn more about the Next Generation Internet initiative and Europe’s ambitions to build a more human-centric and inclusive future internet.

Taiwan’s digital minister and grassroots activist Audrey Tang speaks about her work championing digital democracy and using open source and transparency tools in government.

Italian Instagram influencer Sara Melotti talks about the harmful mental health consequences and manipulation that comes with social media stardom.

Chinese-American journalist and heavy metal artist Kaiser Kuo talks about the rise of China as a technology superpower.

Dutch internet pioneer Marleen Stikker talks about her experience building a more open and democratic internet over the past few decades, and offers a vision of where to go next.

We interview leading law professor Frank Pasquale on the enormous amount of power wielded by Big Tech, and how regulation and competition policy can play a role in curtailing this overreach.

We speak with UK-based internet prankster and writer Oobah Butler, who famously got a completely fake restaurant to the top spot on London’s TripAdvisor.

We interview New York-based digital culture expert and academic Whitney Phillips on her important work analysing online radicalisation, internet tolls and the alt-right.

We interview Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales about the open internet and building the world’s largest knowledge repository.

Credits and thanks

This book was curated and edited by Caroline Back, Katja Bego and Amelia Tait. The designs and development of the website behind the book were created by Manchester-based agency Toyfight.

We would very much like to thank all contributors to the book for their time and support, as well as everyone at Nesta who offered their help and feedback over the past couple of months.

A note on creative commons: With the exception of the main page illustrations and the images by Abel Tilahun, all content on the website is published under a creative commons license. This means you are allowed to republish any of the pieces (we particularly encourage translations!), though we do ask you to credit the artist and the book, and link back to the original piece. If you have any questions, please get in touch with Katja Bego or Juliet Grant.

Paper copies: We are in the process of creating a paper version of the book. These are now expected to arrive in June. Stay tuned for more information about receiving one!

Author

Katja Bego

Katja Bego

Katja Bego

Principal researcher

Katja Bego is a Principal Researcher and data scientist in Nesta’s technology futures and explorations team.

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