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The Beginning and End(s) of the Internet: Surveillance, Censorship, and the Future of Cyber-Utopia

September 20 and 21, 2013

Distinguished Keynote Speakers:

This year’s theme, “The Beginning and End(s) of the Internet: Surveillance, Censorship, and the Future of Cyber-Utopia,” asks scholars, activists, and journalists to consider the past, present, and possible futures of the Internet as a force for good in the world. The scholars and activists who will participate in the 2013 symposium come from a wide range of disciplines, countries, and approaches.

Background

In 1969, the University of Utah was the fourth of four nodes of the ARPANet. For many academic and popular commentators, the birth of the ARPANet, and later the Internet, marked the beginning of a new frontier: cyberspace. These same commentators believed that cyberspace heralded the emergence of a new and hopeful period of communication, political economy, and culture. In 1996, John Parry Barlow’s “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” famously proclaimed that cyberspace “is a world that is both everywhere and nowhere, but it is not where bodies live. We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth. We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.” Here is the CyberUtopia: a new, cybernetic nonplace. And yet, this nonplace has a strong connection to a particular geographic place: the American West and the research institutions situated there.

It is in the American West that a new nonplace is being built, also of global reach and significance, but of a decidedly different purpose. By September of this year – perhaps during this symposium – the National Security Agency’s “Community Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative Data Center” will be completed in Bluffdale, Utah. As several investigative reports and academic studies have shown, this data center will be a key archive of the electronic communications of individuals all over the world, American citizens included. The NSA data center has quickly become an icon for those who point to the growth of government and corporate surveillance and censorship of the Internet worldwide, including among Western democracies. For some, this data center raises the specter of an emergent dystopia, all too real, and all too opposed to the heady dreams of cyber-utopia.

This year’s Frontiers of New Media Symposium invites scholars, activists, and journalists to address a number of questions:

  • How do we read cyber-utopian discourse today? With governments worldwide seeking ever-greater control of the Internet, what hope, if any, remains for for achieving the dreams of cyber-utopia? In what ways can the Internet still be a force for good?
  • How does this history connect to other histories of communication and technology?
  • What other methods of locating, mapping, and shaping communications networks have occurred in the past, and what can we learn from them?
  • How are specific sites like the NSA data center connected to the seemingly ubiquitous and placeless network?
  • Has the “frontier” of the Internet closed? Is this the end of the Internet as envisioned by cyber-utopians?