For the past 4+ years, my job has been to defend the Internet.
If you know me personally, you know how intense a job that's been. You've seen me leave early, get home late, or show up late to social events in Worcester, MA with a wild look in my eye.
If you know me professionally, you know how crazily prolific my tiny team has been, pushing the envelope of what's possible with online campaigning, playing huge roles in the biggest policy victories of the decade. You've also seen the spirit we bring to collaboration — one that puts winning battles together ahead of parochial things like getting credit, or fundraising.
In either case, you might wonder what makes me tick, or why my team and I are so driven to spend our days fighting for something so apparently abstract. ("The Internet!?")
It ends up being something really simple, something I suspect you care a lot about too.
I believe the Internet is much more than a force for efficiency or convenience. I believe it's making humanity both more creative and more fair, and has become a bona fide force for good in the world, one we need to nurture and protect.
Start with creativity. The Internet lets us share our creative gifts with the world, without any special tools or permission. That changed everything for my generation. First it was just for a small cultural elite. But soon even people who never thought of themselves as "creative" were making amazing things for others. People even invent new ways to be creative! Who knew a podcast would be a thing? Or a tweet? The molecules of human energy keep multiplying. We call things on the Internet "viral" so often that we forget why!
Now, think about fairness. Our world is too full of exclusive clubs. Some people are born owning jets or TV stations, in countries with strong institutions, or to families with special know-how and connections. Most aren't. In the physical world, it's hard to get people to share basic necessities, let alone access to power. But on the Internet, that dynamic reverses. Excluding is the hard part. Global sharing is easy! Anyone who makes a webpage learns this. It's why, whether you're a blogger or Google or a brand new band, you typically begin by making something free, globally. Then you worry about the exclusive parts later, if at all.
The more the Internet grows, the more it excludes no one. It's the club everyone gets to join!
That's why the most important political movements in the world depend so much on the Internet: it levels the playing field. Whether it's a fragment of knowledge, Wikipedia, or an entire public library, when we bring things online they naturally become an equalizer. You actually have to do extra work to exclude. That can happen, to be sure. Governments censor. Companies use data mining to discriminate. But when it happens we can fight back and win. Our adversaries often face the uphill battle of trying to turn something simple into a complicated mess.
That brings me back to why I do this work: powerful companies and governments are pursuing agendas that make the Internet less creative, and less fair. In 2015, Comcast and America's cable companies wanted to selectively slow down sites they didn't have deals with. We fought that, and won big. America's NSA wants special access to the electronic life of everyone in the world, beyond the rule of law. We're fighting that, too. As the Internet grows, so do these challenges to fairness and creativity. Most people want these values to prevail. But unless they act together at the right moments, they'll lose to special interests. That's why my organization exists: we mobilize people to protect the Internet as a force for good.
I'm tired of living in a world where so many people I love are hurting, just because they got excluded from certain clubs at birth. I love the torrent of human creativity and inclusion the Internet has brought to my life, I wouldn't trade it for anything, and I think everyone should get the same special access in life.
The best part is, if the Internet flourishes, they can.
If this piece found its way to you, I suspect you care as much as I do. Please, ask me more about our organization, and consider supporting the work we do.