Jonathan Zittrain’s Future of the Internet is based on a myth. Zittrain needs a foundational myth of the Internet in order to praise it’s past openness and warn for a future lockdown of PCs and mobile phones. From the ancient world of Theory we know why people invent foundational myths: to protect those in power (in this case US-American IT firms and their academic-military science structures that are losing global hegemony). The Zittrain myth says that, compared to centralized, content-controlled systems such as AOL, CompuServe and Prodigy, the ‘generative’ Internet of the late 1980s was an open network. But this was simply not the case, it was closed to the general public. This foundational myth is then used to warn the freedom-loving guys for the Downfall of Civilization.
The first decades the Internet was a closed world, only accessible to (Western) academics and the U.S. military. In order to access the Internet one had to be an academic computer scientist or a physicist. Until the early nineties it was not possible for ordinary citizens, artists, business or activists, in the USA or elsewhere, to obtain an email address and make use of the rudimentary UNIX-based applications. Remember, this was the period between, roughly speaking, 1987 and 1993, before the World Wide Web when fancy multimedia CD-ROMs already ruled the PC world and the txt-only command line Internet already looked geeky and painfully outdated. Back then, the advancement of the ugly looking Internet was its interoperability. It was a network of networks–but still a closed one. This only changed gradually, depending on the country you lived in, in the early-mid nineties.