I’ll be presenting a paper at AOIR 2017 in Tartu, Estonia, as part of what promises to be an interesting session interrogating the metaphors through which we make sense of “the Internet”.
“For the Good of the Internet”: The Imagined Communities of Internet Infrastructure
The Internet is unusual among global infrastructures in the degree to which its operation relies upon volunteer work and contributions. In this paper, I explore the nature of volunteer work in Internet infrastructure through a focus on the provision of Internet Exchange Points (IXPs), which are physical locations at which computer networks interconnect to form the Internet. I draw from two years of ethnographic fieldwork as a volunteer with a non-profit IXP in the San Francisco Bay Area, SFMIX, to ask why it is that Internet infrastructure workers are willing to volunteer their time and money to provide services which could be provided as a for-profit offerings. I argue that volunteer work in Internet infrastructure is made possible through the ideal of acting “for the good of the Internet”. I build on Markham’s analysis of metaphors of the Internet, and Anderson’s notion of “imagined communities”, to show how acting “for the good of the Internet” functions as a way of being for Internet infrastructure workers, and serves to construct a political consciousness that allows them to imagine themselves as being part of a global community which acts “for the good of the Internet”.