I am looking for a philosophical take on the Internet and so far find surprisingly little of what I was hoping for. While I am also interested in information theory, digital culture, social critique, and such, what I really want is a broader framework, preferably something like a latter-day development of the concerns of German Idealism, in which Internet assumes the role attributed to Reason or Geist or Capital or whatever.

For example, my more specific concern is the internal paradoxes of many Internet phenomena, such as cryptocurrencies, where universality, access, exchangeability, and independence from the state require more and more labor and energy "costs" to preserve "exclusivity" of ownership of privatization. This is only one of many "dialectical" issues, I would say, in which the Internet struggles to transform interconnected information into exclusive property, public platform into private commodity, etc.

It would also help to have a book that is not aimed at practitioners and provides a very abstract yet historical description of what the Internet actually is. Most readings I've found have far more forest than trees, and I haven't cared for writers like Floridi and Feenberg, to name some I've stumbled across. Thanks for any suggestions!


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The internet isn't one thing, or one culture. Looking for a single critique or framework, is like looking for a 'philosophy of electricity'. It's about what you do with it..

Anthropologist David Graeber's Debt: The First 5000 Years is a good long-view perspective to view cryptocurrencies from. TLDR: they represent a transition which has happened before, and they aren't going away.

I like Niall Ferguson's perspective in The Square And The Tower, that we underappreciate the impact of networks on history, and that the internet is having a very similar impact to the printing press over a more condensed time span (Ferguson is a climate change denialist, so the last thing I'd recommend is to take his ideas uncritically, though).

I like the idea reality is a peer-to-peer network. But then, the technology around us does tend to shape our metaphors, as discussed here: Is the following considered an argument or just a set of statements? If it is an argument what would be the premises and conclusion? Programmable computers were first conceptualised based on weaving, and a space shuttle is named for a weaving metaphor, so I'd be wary of saying old metaphors get discarded.

McLuhan is a key foundational thinker on media theory and media studies.

All the postmodernists write about critical theory and things like interdiscursivity, applicable to a fragmented media space. Baudrillard's Simulacra & Simulation is exactly about the relationships between reality symbols and society, in particular the significations and symbolism of culture and media involved in constructing an understanding of shared existence.

Katherine Hayles wrote 'The condition Of Virtuality', discussed here.

SEP has a whole article on Social Networking and Ethics.

Modelling a philosophy of the internet on Hegel or Marx seems like a terrible idea. Zizek is about as close as I'd wish to get with that, like the case made in Does the Internet Have an Unconscious?: Slavoj Zizek and Digital Culture that Zizek is especially applicable to the internet epoch.

What the internet is, is a huge topic.. Read an Encyclopedia article, like Wikipedia's, for an overview. You might find these 40 Maps That Explain The Internet useful, which have lot of development & background information as well as maps.

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    Thanks, I've read Graeber and some of those, but that SEP article and the Zizek look interesting. Ferguson not my cup of tea, but I didn't know he had a book on media history. Funny, I just ordered some McLuhan and Baudrillard. What I like about Hegel and Marx is the way an organic totality adjusts itself and resolved contradictions, but without the explanation being based on linear, physical causation. Jun 27, 2021 at 20:32
  • @NelsonAlexander: Quite fair enough, he's not unproblematic. His book is about networks - inc the actual Illuminati, which I found an entertaining section. The impact of the printing press is like a microcosm for the internet: it took witch-panics and centuries of religious wars to get to The Enlightenment - but you don't get to pick & choose, maybe the latter exactly were made by an acceleration, a compounding, manifested initially in the former. Oh yeah: eusociality & hive-like collective intelligence is interesting in relation to the net. Do report back your topic findings in the future!
    – CriglCragl
    Jun 27, 2021 at 21:13

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