Who Runs the Internet? (Ep. 144)
Our latest podcast is called “Who Runs the Internet?” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)
It begins with Stephen Dubner and Steve Levitt talking about whether virtual mayhem — from online ranting to videogame violence — may help reduce mayhem in the real world. There is no solid data on this, Levitt says, but he hypothesizes:
LEVITT: Maybe the biggest effect of all of having these violent video games is that they’re super fun for people to play, especially adolescent boys, maybe even adolescent boys who are prone to real violence. And so if you can make video games fun enough, then kids will stop doing everything else. They’ll stop watching TV, they’ll stop doing homework, and they’ll stop going out and creating mayhem on the street.
This episode then moves on to a bigger question about the Internet itself: who runs it? As Dubner asks: “Who’s in charge of the gazillions of conversations and transactions and character assassinations that happen online every day?”
Internet scholar Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, tells us that 60 percent of adults around the world are now connected to the same communications grid. (South Korea, he says, is the “most wired” country.) And this global connectivity is interesting, he says, because it’s not like there is an international body governing what’s online:
SHIRKY: Well, I mean, famously, the regulatory overhead on the Internet is permissive and minimal. In fact, the thing that freaked everyone out about it in the 90s when it was spreading on the wings of the web was that no one was in charge. … There are famous stories of bosses fretting that because all of their employees were suddenly sending international emails that they were suddenly going to be hit by the bill by the people who ran the Internet.
This week’s episode also serves as a prelude to next week’s, which discusses who’s in charge of — well, the whole world.