Power Games

A conference in Paris and the Internet comes of age

Two of the purest proponents of this exceptionalism, Jeff Jarvis and Lawrence Lessig—the first a journalist and the latter a lawyer, both of whom have made careers as Internet culture gadflies—exerted themselves at the conference. Jarvis, a preacher-like figure, stood up in the audience and exhorted the leaders of the free world, to rousing applause, to first “do no harm” when it came to considering regulation—as though politicians were haplessly experimenting doctors. In Lessig’s view the methods of government are 19th century and ill-equipped to deal with issues of the 21st century. What’s more, government is fundamentally biased to the “incumbents,” which became a bad word of the conference.

Still, government is government, of course, and the Internet is one of the world’s major growth industries and poses some of the most significant infrastructure issues, so there will be regulation.

This was, then, a negotiation.

Here were two establishments—each with deep agendas and vast resources.

And both with complicated hankerings.

This was a conference called by one of the most over-regulating governments in Europe, and yet the cream of the Internet elite showed up. How come? Not least of all because Internet people, being smart and liberal, love politics and government. Eric Schmidt, representing Google at the conference, is said to be considering a political future—the first digital president, someone at the conference noted. The main status point was about being among the handful of people who would go from the conference to personally brief the world’s leaders in Deauville.

For the politicians, there was, in addition to a knee-jerk penchant for regulation, open awe for Internet brains and celebrity. It is almost impossible, and certainly embarrassing, to describe the slavish adulation on the part of the European bureaucrats for Mark Zuckerberg.

What was going on here was, then, not the opposition of two powerful camps, but the beginning of a process in which they merge. The true establishment is one establishment.