As a successful longtime IT entrepreneur, I remember when the Internet seemed like a marvelous place filled with wonder, awe, and unlimited opportunity. It became a symbol of freedom to me… a bastion of hope for the common man.
But nowadays, “freedom” wouldn’t be the first term I would use to describe the Internet. First came Google, which grew to control a huge portion of the search engine market and radically changed the open persona of the Internet, as our search behaviors and habits became tracked, quantified, and stored. Later came a five-year monopolistic partnership between AT&T and Apple. Then social media ushered in a new era where nearly every aspect of our lives became big data.
So what is wrong with a world where we are the product, and our private lives are captured digitally? The consequences can be as annoying as targeted advertising, or in some parts of the world, as severe as political oppression. We have traded freedom for convenience, and watched technology strip away many of our rights without our overall consent. We’ve accepted our lack of privacy as a necessary evil… but it doesn’t have to be.
But there is hope – in both history and technology. When you look at historic trends in information technology over the last 150 years, there is a trend that repeats itself. A generational 30 year rhythm of disruptive technology, from the telegraph to the Internet. And the next level of disruption lies in peer-to-peer relationships that don’t need central authorities, where no one owns your data. Futurists are talking about it a lot these days, and we call it the Mesh.
Its early days are here already, much like the beginnings of the Internet. We get rides from private citizens on Uber and stay in their homes through AirBnB. People are lending money to other people and leaving the big banks out of the equation. And in other countries, protesters are circumventing government shutdowns of the Internet by crowdsourcing through smartphone applications.
Imagine a world where we take back our personal data and our freedoms. Could the Internet once again be transformed into this glorious free space that existed before the arrival of Page, Jobs and Zuckerberg? Could we take back control of our personal data in a way that no lengthy legal disclaimer could? What additional opportunities could this new trend present?
At first It seems like such a complex proposition, but it’s not. It’s simple. We have all the technical expertise to leap to a new platform. We have the political and social environment ripe for change. And this change isn’t decades away.
It is well within our grasp. We have already demonstrated the efficiency of a deployed mesh network. The Mesh will be the next widely adapted disruptive technology. And as did the major changes that came before it, it will improve freedom and choice, and restore the security and opportunity we once believed were gone forever.