In November of 2013 Bill Gates was attending a conference in Germany, and was asked if he was concerned about “balkanization of the Internet,” the growing trend toward islands of authoritative control of the Internet. He replied, “China is really the only one who to any meaningful degree has partitioned their stuff.”
1964 was a harbinger of the future we now inhabit, but no one knew it at the time. It was the year of the Free Speech Movement (FSM) at the University of California Berkeley, the first stirrings of the cultural revolution to come. FSM epitomized the fear of a world dehumanized by mainframe computers controlled by corporations. Yet that same year Marshall McLuhan also first articulated his famous concepts of “the medium is the message,” and his vision of a “global village.”
In July of 2014 I wrote a blog post on this site, reporting the growing controversy and debate within the Internet community about the rise of a balkanized Internet, typified by the Chinese “Great Firewall.” Bill Gates and Vin Cerf argued that the Internet was too expansive and pervasive for government restrictions on the Internet to succeed. On the other side, Eric Schmidt and John Chamber of Cisco railed against the NSA metadata snooping as a contributing factor in the development of the “Splinternet,” that would severely harm American technology leadership.