Skip to content

The Great Convergence

Here’s a nice passage from a piece by Alistair Duff entitled “The Normative Crisis of the Information Society.” The piece looks at problems ranging from copyright to privacy to terror investigations, and considers the convergence of functions on the internet that lead to normative disputes:

It has long been evident that cyberspace poses new regulative and legal issues, and some sound preliminary theoretical work has been done. However, cyberspace remains an area where normative settlements are almost completely absent. Indeed, one might describe cyberspace as the prime site of the normative crisis of the information society.

For example, nobody seems to know how to proceed with regard to Internet content regulation. . . . A Glaswegian student was recently sent to prison for doing little more than access jihadist web-sites, surely a draconian development for any liberal society. Otherwise normal people are being criminalised because their curiosity leads them to press a wrong button on their computers. One has to ask whether we should not rather blame the authorities for presiding ineptly and negligently over such materials. A simple question, but no straight answer yet.

Yet this is just one surface manifestation of the normativity issue—of the socio-legal and ethico-political problematic confronting the information age. The problem is that the Internet is a culmination of diverse technologies of print, telecommunications and broadcasting: how do we converge the sui generis normative traditions underpinning these formerly separate media? No remotely consensual answer has been achieved. The law of retributive justice with respect to the Internet, in short, is an ass, and it is an ass not because the media regulation authorities are unprecedentedly dumb, but because they, like the rest of us, are the subjects of a pervasive normative crisis.

The same crisis pervades current debates over Google, where we are uncertain about how to treat a sovereign that is clearly not a state actor. I’ve hoped that a convergence of functions would lead to a convergence of regulatory authority in a single agency, but I’m not holding my breath.