I think there’s an interesting lesson to take from my recent migration to WordPress.com. It’s an example of how feudalism is born.
The original Internet — not DARPANET, nor even the tribal comforts of the old BBS systems, but the first full-blown World Wide Web — was an anarchic utopia. It was free, it was friendly, it was a wonderland of beautiful images and new thoughts. And lots of free pornography.
And then Satan entered the Garden.
I could point to different classes of “bad actors,” from gullible Facebook fools, to vicious trolls, to aggressive advertisers, to malign foreign (and domestic) propagandists, but that’s not relevant. What’s relevant is how we react to this incursion of bad actors who have overrun the pristine plains and forests.
I’ve now given up and moved into town: there’s a structure of laws that I have to follow (I’m not allowed to add plug-ins to my site), compensated by a militia (the WordPress.com team) that keeps the borders patrolled and my site open and safe. They have free lodging over in one section of town, but I’ve opted for slightly nicer facilities over here where I can have my own domain address and hang my own website curtains — which means, however, that I have to pay town taxes.
I am a refugee and an immigrant.
Can the WordPress.com town withstand a combined assault of Russian hackers, NSA rogues, and Google?
Of course not. But all of those Powers have bigger, badder games to play: they vie over thrones to be won, not a piddling mayorship in our little town. In their Game of Thrones, they may contend, not for, but over our little town: the Baron of Google might sweep through and claim WordPress.com, or perhaps it will be the Earl of Facebook. Perhaps the Tyrant of the NSA will decide to turn everyone out and salt the fields to discourage the spread of dangerous free-thinking. Perhaps the High Priest of Russia will drop a digital nuclear bomb on us to score some kind of point in his perpetual war with the Tyrant.
In the meantime, we live our blogging lives, protected under a system of laws, paying taxes, and going about our daily business, hoping that no great catastrophe will sweep us from the face of the Internet.
It’s fascinating to watch the forces that drive history playing out in our little digital domain.