Ben Thompson of Stratechery has a brilliant essay
on politics and the future of the Internet. Do read it. Thompson uses Fukuyama’s
much misunderstood End of History
as a framework to think about the future of technology. As Thompson says, Fukuyama did not
argue (in 1992) that history was “over” in the sense that there would be no more conflict or great events. His argument was that liberal democracy represents a natural endpoint that best balances human desires and needs - but one that it is nevertheless vulnerable to internal
conflict or attack on its core tenets.
Such conflict - as we’re seeing in the final days of Trump - can upset the liberal democratic equilibrium, even if it doesn’t threaten its logic. Thompson’s argument is that the internet is in a similar position. Its natural endpoint, as Thompson laid out last year in the (also excellent) essay “The End of the Beginning
”, is dominance by a handful of aggregator
platforms. But that endpoint, like democracy’s, is vulnerable to political
conflict. In the case of the internet, that conflict arises from individuals and states fearing the power of big US tech companies (greatly on display recently, of course).
The consequence, says Thompson, will be a shift to decentralised platforms and open protocols. I’m less sure. As Thompson shows, (non-US, non-China) nation states have more to fear than (almost all) individuals from the power of Facebook et al - and decentralised solutions don’t solve their
problems. I agree that European governments will fail in build local alternatives to internet platforms, but they’ve shown
that they can they can be annoying enough to shift platform behaviour. I suspect the internet’s future is even messier and more chaotic than democracy’s.