Even though I knew about the impeding wikipedia blackout over a day in advance, I am still annoyed by it. I’ve gone so far as to engage in a very difficult game of clicking links and then disabling my wireless internet in the brief second between loading the page I want and redirecting to the blackout page, more out of juvenile spite than anything.
But it does make me uneasy. I realize how much I depend on Wikipedia to answer questions that would otherwise annoy me, and my unease is not abated any by Google reminding me that they could do the same thing if they wanted. The internet has done impressive things to market forces – with no transportation or geographical considerations to create local markets, the market is biased towards conglomerations. Generally, this is good – I would hate to have to use Yahoo just because there wasn’t a Google store in Helena. However, it does lead to an extraordinary concentration of power in the hands of relatively few people.
Companies that go public have some additional checks and balances; nonetheless I feel like a large percentage of people would find the internet a cold and inhospitable place if Wikipedia, Google, and Facebook decided they would no longer grace it with their presence. Fortunately, I generally agree with the powers that be at Google and Wikipedia. Nonetheless, it does seem like someday, a full on digital strike could be extraordinarily effective and relatively easy to accomplish. If Wikipedia sees this black out as effective, anticipate more in the future. That prospect is enough for me, anyway, to consider broadening my own digital neighborhood so as not to be at the mercy of a few digital giants. Does it also justify a reconsideration of how we deal with monopolies on the internet, which seems uniquely likely to encourage them, or the extent to which we give allow web based organizations to concentrate traffic and, thus, influence?