Laurence Eastham reviews the latest publication from Monica Horten. The Closing of the Net is published by Polity Press, £15.99 in paperback. ISBN 13:978-1-5095-0689-7. Kindle £11.99, Hardcover £45.
This a book about how law is made and it is a genuinely interesting and illuminating read. I highly recommend it. The fact that I am about to devote most of the words in this review to the book's negative aspects merely demonstrates the extent to which I engaged with it. It was especially interesting as a pre-referendum read as the corridors of Brussels feature heavily.
In a book that looks deep into the dark side of law-making, one can expect a little drama. As the blurb tells us we are dealing with decisions influencing the future direction of Internet communication and we see 'corrupt political manoeuvrings' involving the Brussels, Washington and Westminster elite. So it is not surprising that the tone edges towards that of the Scandinavian thriller from time to time. While, very broadly speaking (and hopefully just this side of paranoia), I subscribe to the theory that they are out to get you, telling me (in a fascinating Chapter 6 on filtering) that filtering 'arguably engages with our very soul' has me harrumphing and recollecting Faust.
The other assumption that irritated was that Google and Facebook will rule the world for ever. While I don't dispute their importance and their influence, it is as well to remember that they remain Johnny-come-latelys and, while they have the best sandcastle on the beach and have the resources to buy or kick over all the others, the tide will sweep them away in time. I remember MySpace. In fact, I even remember when there was no BT.
This book does reveal enough of the manipulation of governments to worry even the most equable. I have often thought that we should put a stake through the heart of the very concept of stake-holder and this book re-affirms that view. But I do wonder if the assumptions about the manipulation of people are sound. While those of us in the Internet law bubble tend to think that those people who don't care that they are carelessly surrendering their privacy and rights to freedoms are acting from ignorance, in the real world that I inhabit outside work 'who cares?' is winning the election by a landslide – and quite often the 'who cares?' advocate is quite well informed. If the battle for Internet freedom is between the MPAA and Kim Dotcom, it is hard not to sympathise with a 'who cares?' view: a plague on both your houses,
Having said all that, there is much more to like here than to carp at. In a finely written final chapter, Closing Pressures, Monica raises issues that require mature consideration. As she says, 'the fingertap of desire invites an exploration of the multiple pressures on the tiny screen and the network that brings the content to it'. She thinks regulation can be the answer but is understandably uncertain about the level of government commitment to effective protection of an open Internet, when commercial pressures and political levers point to a closing of the net, or at least to a net that is as open as the Ritz or, best case scenario, a nightclub with a no-trainers dress code.
One final word: publishers who charge three times the price for a hard back are insulting their readership. Is it bound in kidskin? Price sensibly or don't bother.