Today marks my four year anniversary since starting work at Mozilla. It’s been great. I care deeply about my work, in the field of internet and technology policy. But recently, it feels like the world in general is kind of breaking down and falling apart.
I posted a tweet last week, a quote-retweet of a map of forest fires raging across the United States. In it, I said, “SF hits 104F. First Harvey, now Irma. Climate instability matches social and political, in the U.S. and elsewhere. It’s been a rough year…”
Immediately after hitting the “Tweet” button, I felt depressed. Horrific flooding and weather instability is hitting not just the U.S. but all around the world, with social and political complexity and chaos everywhere. Add on top of that many international and diplomatic messes that seem to be getting worse rather than better on a daily basis.
I’m normally a positive person. Usually, I can see the silver lining in every cloud. But, I struggle to see it here. I know it can all get better. I just don’t see any strategy or pathway to help me understand and believe that it will.
My ten-year law school reunion is this fall. Yale has a well-deserved reputation for producing graduates who want to make the world a better place, and actually do so. With that context in my subconscious, after I posted my tweet, I started wondering if the career path I’m on is the right one. I could still pivot, if I made it a priority. I could go become a (less senior) policy wonk in another field, learning new substantive knowledge and new power politics — I have the right baseline skills.
Let me jump to the TL;DR: I’m not going to do that. (I’ve already had my fair share of mid-life crises, thank you very much!) The more I thought about it, the more I believed and accepted that my chosen field is worth continuing in.
In my last post on this channel, I laid out what I think will be the future of challenging internet policy topics. I deeply believe these issues are worth engaging in. They’re not in the same league as climate change for their impact on humanity’s future. Nor do they speak directly to the intense social and political instability we are facing today.
But the work done by the tech and internet policy community (of which I am a proud part) to advance and protect the open internet, and people’s ability to use it to achieve their ends, contributes immensely to our long-term ability to solve those broader problems.
Think of what the internet has brought us. Sure, it’s far from perfect. It has a lot of problems, actually, and I (and many many others) need to be thinking about those, how we can mitigate the harms that the internet and technology contribute to or even create. But the open internet at its baseline is beyond friendly to user creation and communication; it is actively supportive, encouraging, and rewarding to it. Without it, we wouldn’t have the level or the kinds of awareness and engagement we have today on the problems we face (as a society, a world, a species).
We possess something powerful and amazing in the open internet, something worth fighting for, and something that can be (and is) harnessed by the forces fighting for good, including on climate change, politics, and social equality and harmony.
To sustain that means making sure the internet stays ours. It means winning policy battles on issues like net neutrality, copyright, and competition going forward. It also means making digital inclusion a reality, so it isn’t just “some of ours.” And it means working on privacy, security, and trust — and also, hate speech and online abuse and harassment — so that the internet is our platform to build on, speak from, and invest in, rather than something we’re afraid of or something that victimizes us.
All of these things are a few degrees removed from the most tangible, painful problems we’re facing today as a global society. Which is why the bonds between those of us in the tech and internet communities and the heroes working in environmental policy and social justice need to be strong. We need to understand and preserve the characteristics of the open internet that makes it not just a tool for economic growth and concomitant societal benefits (which it is), but also the world’s most powerful platform for the people fighting to right the many, many wrongs we see around us today — and we need to work constantly to make the internet of the future ever more empowering going forward.