The Not-So-World Wide Web of the future

by Chris Zappone

I hear little talk about this but I think it’s possibly some technology that is more or less universal will become balkanized, or divided between two or more poles in coming years. What do I mean by this? The internet has developed and spread through the period of unchecked, relatively borderless globalization. China’s rise occured roughly over the same period of the PC, Windows, up through the iPad and iPhone. But what the Western globe wants from technology platforms and what the Chinese want is different. There could be enough incentive in China-world to push for software, networks and more that are suited to their needs. At the same time, the wholesale ripping off of Western technology to advance China’s economy may spur the development of more technology that isn’t meant to adopted in China. This is all very nebulous. But you have to look at the objectives of the technology companies and the risks. For the West, the pitfall of a universal market is an endless vista of pirates and hackers. For the Chinese Communist Party and other authoritarian regimes, the very openess of technology conceived of by Western minds, represents a threat to their power. It doesn’t take much to imagine new softwares, networks (look at Weibo) one day even new protocals and code that isn’t designed to communicate on a world wide basis, but with a section of the world. And this is crucial to the notion of a new kind of Cold War. This balkanization first of the internet and then of technology itself, will allow other divides to emerge. The fact is, there are incentives on both sides of the Pacific to cordon off networks. That’s not to say the tech border won’t be porous. Maybe even highly so. But the flow of data and information may, over time, more closely reflect the culture, law and objectives of the two competitive regions. Am I wrong? I’d be very curious to hear other people’s thoughts on this.