- Hardcover: 244 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (January 21, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195342895
- ISBN-13: 978-0195342895
- Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 0.9 x 6.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 20 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,353,652 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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In Search of Jefferson's Moose: Notes on the State of Cyberspace 1st Edition
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In 1787, Thomas Jefferson, then the American Minister to France, had the skeleton of an American moose shipped to him in Paris and mounted it in the lobby of his residence as a symbol of the vast possibilities of the largely unexplored New World. Taking a cue from Jefferson's efforts, David Post, one of the nation's leading internet scholars, presents a pithy, colorful exploration of the still mostly undiscovered territory of cyberspace--what it is, how it works, and how it should be governed.
|Dear Amazon Reader: |
Why might you want to read a Jeffersonian natural history of the internet? Perhaps because you know that Thomas Jefferson was a very interesting, and a very smart, guy but you'd like to know more about what he was up to. (Why did he have a moose skeleton and carcass--an acquisition, he wrote, "more precious than you can imagine"--shipped to him in Paris for display in his residence?) Or perhaps because you believe that the internet represents something important, some kind of transformative milestone in the history of human communication, but you don't really know much about where it came from, or how it actually works, or who's in charge.
At bottom, this book is a "natural history" of the internet: what it is, how it works, what shape it has, what kinds of things can be found there, how and why it has grown so prodigiously in size. Thomas Jefferson is the guide; the book is (or aspires to be) the natural history of the internet that Jefferson would write, were he around to write it. One thing I can promise you, if you read my book: you'll learn some things about Jefferson, and some things about the internet, that you never knew before, and you'll see some connections between the two that you never saw before. And I can also promise you that you'll encounter some magnificent prose--not mine, Jefferson's. I use Jefferson's own words as much as possible to describe what's going on out there in the "new world," and nobody could craft an English sentence better than Jefferson could.
To be honest, I don't know whether the book will change your mind about, or give you any simple solutions for, any of the great issues of the day. I was struck, though, several months ago, at the start of the meltdown in the global financial markets, by something Thomas Friedman wrote in his NY Times column: What we have to understand about the global financial markets, Friedman wrote, and what makes them so hard to understand and so hard to control, is this: everything is inter-connected, and nobody's in charge. Hmm, I thought--sounds like the internet. There are lessons to be learned from a deeper understanding of the net; I won't pretend to know what all of them are, but I know they're there, and my book is a way to help you think about what they might be and what they might mean.
David G. Post
"An interesting book...[from] one of the nation's leading Internet scholars... I hope you will keep Jefferson's moose in mind in the days ahead."--Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet
"Reading this beautifully written and extraordinarily diverse work today is what it must have been like to know or read Jefferson then. Post has crafted an experience in understanding that allows us to glimpse the genius that Jefferson was, and to leave the book astonished by the talent this extraordinary writer is."--Lawrence Lessig, Professor of Law, Stanford Law School, and author of Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace and Remix
"Now and then, ingenious insight yields an authentic work of genius. David Post's musing about cyberspace, the law, history, and a great deal more has produced such a work, conceived and written in the finest Jeffersonian spirit.--Sean Wilentz, Professor of History, Princeton University, and author of The Rise of American Democracy
"David Post is the Jefferson of cyberspace, and in this creative, playful, and entirely original book, he applies Jefferson's insights about governing the American frontier to think about governance on the Net. Even those who don't share all of Post's intuitions will be enlightened by his unique combination of technical precision and romantic imagination."--Jeffrey Rosen, Author of The Unwanted Gaze and The Naked Crowd
"A fresh, insightful, and eminently readable look at cyberspace policy. It's surprising and fascinating how much the debates of 200 years ago continue to be relevant today and continue to be echoed today, even in media about which Jefferson and Hamilton could not have dreamed."--Eugene Volokh, Professor of Law, UCLA
"Jefferson's Moose is brilliant--and a joy to read. It is the book of a career: sweeping in scope, without dropping a stitch of detail. No one but David Post could have produced this sparkling analysis of the relationship between the world and worldview of Thomas Jefferson and today's puzzles of cyberspace."--Jonathan Zittrain, Professor of Law, Harvard Law School; Co-Founder, Berkman Center for Internet & Society; author, The Future of the Internet -- And How to Stop It
"[Post's] book addresses important questions that we all should be asking, and he acknowledges the scope of his undertaking with a candid humility that would have pleased Jefferson."--Greg Ross, American Scientist
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There is no doubt that Jefferson was a truly extraordinary character in his lifetime; however, what makes him such an essential personality for a discussion on cyberspace is the fact that he witnessed and also contributed to the formation of the independent United States while asking extraordinary questions that no one else would ask. One of the main arguments presented in this book is that it is time for ordinary Internet users to start asking extraordinary questions about the rules and regulations different countries are proposing to adopt to govern the cyberspace.
Post argues that an exploration of cyberspace shares parallelism with an exploration of the State of Virginia, which Jefferson depicted in detail in response to a query he received from a French officer. Accordingly, Post starts his exploration by defining cyberspace and its characteristics. In order to help those readers who are not familiar with Jefferson, his writings and ideas, Post provides many exhaustive footnotes, which are quite easy to follow.
Post, just like Jefferson, starts his book by describing the boundaries and geography of cyberspace. He explains it clearly that the Internet does not have any center, distance or scale, and these characteristics are crucial in understanding his thinking and proposals. By way of drawing further parallels with Jefferson’s work, Post talks about the “population” of cyberspace, estimated total number of Internet users, and makes predictive calculations to give the reader an idea about the pace of growth of Internet users and the size of cyberspace.
Post defines the Internet as “a gigantic global machine designed to move zeroes and ones from one place to another” (p. 86), which is “decentralized” and “end-to-end” (p. 86). Simplifying the complex nature of computer networks and the Internet, in general, Post makes it clear and understandable for an average reader that there is no center, distance or scale in the Internet.
Post goes above and beyond in explaining why and how the TCP/IP network outgrew the other alternatives, and shows that the TCP/IP network had “a head start” and when it comes to networks “bigger is better” (p. 47) and as a general rule, as networks get bigger, they become “more valuable” (p. 49). He then moves on to explain how the TCP/IP network managed to “solve the problem(s) of scale” (p. 59) and serve a geometrically growing number of users.
Jefferson’s moose comes into the picture in the discussion of scale: it was a really difficult task to send a North American moose all the way to Paris in an enough good shape to be reassembled and used as a showpiece at his estate. The moose represented the vast possibilities and opportunities of the “New World”. This parallelism is at the heart of all his parallelisms: when the United States was first established, since there was no precedent to such a large country, Europeans thought that it would not survive. Moreover, there were some prior works such as “Montesquieu’s Law” that indicated that such a vast republic would not last; however, it survived, proving Montesquieu wrong. Accordingly, Post suggests approaching cyberspace the same way Jefferson approached to the New World.
At this point, Post starts inquiring the possibility of institutionalizing cyberspace in a way that everyone using the Internet can participate in the establishment of the relevant regulatory institutions (p. 117). As a proof of his suggestion’s viability, Post brings the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) into the picture. IETF is treated as “authoritative and official”; however, it does not have any legal power: it governs based on consensus and it is open to everyone who wants to contribute. In other words, any individual can participate in any discussion (p. 139). Moving from here, Post argues that every Internet user should have the option to participate in the regulation of cyberspace, because everyone is an equal and free member of this “space”.
Post does not like the idea of different states’ restricting the Internet use of their citizens and prosecuting cyber crimes locally. Therefore, he proposes development of a “global law for a global internet” (p. 170). He supports this proposal with Jefferson’s ideas about freedom, independence and equality. Post strongly underlines that people’s right to govern themselves is an “inalienable right” (p. 185). Moreover, Post argues that freedom of speech and freedom of expression are “natural rights” (p. 191) and there should be only minimal restraints on these rights.
Discussing intellectual property rights and laws in detail, Post points out that although intellectual property rights were developed to protect and urge creativity of the owners of those rights; there are online projects, such as Wikipedia, which does not provide any intellectual property protection, yet still urges creativity. Accordingly, he argues that intellectual property protection should be "as little as needed" (p. 202).
This impressive book, approaching cyberspace from an unusual perspective of human rights and arguing that every Internet user has the same right to benefit from as well as to participate in the regulation of the cyberspace, is astonishing and it admirably forms the basis for further discussions about global governance of cyberspace. Any student, scholar or individual, who is interested in human rights in general and cyberspace regulations in particular, would greatly benefit from this exquisite study.
The meat of the book is fantastic, especially as a historical and detailed explanation of the Internet. Furthermore, the discussion of how and, especially, why the Internet works is inspired. This is the particular piece where, even I will admit, some of the Jeffersonian comparison is justified. Yes, the Internet (specifically TCP/IP) works well from a decentralized structure. Yes, it has grown geometrically, much like population, lending it to the power law. However, it does not – just as Jefferson predicted with the growth of America – follow Montesquieu’s prediction that republican governing does not work in large states.
Here, however, I do disagree to a point. I disagree that we can even begin to compare the growth of the internet with that of the growth of the republic we now know as the United States of America. First, America grew at the expense of the first-comers, where TCP/IP had the first advantage to begin with. Second, the geography of America acted as part of the architecture of population growth, where the Internet has grown somewhat organically, programmers creating every border and constructing every wall. I would go further to say that the Internet is not governed democratically, as Post suggests, but instead is ruled much in the way of a corporation, or even meritocratically. The very landmarks of a democracy – free and fair elections, active input from the people, having rule of law – are absent. Even the general assumptions of democracy – protection of human rights, civil liberties, etc – are absent in practice. Yes, essentially the “code” of the Internet serves as its laws, but those laws were created by those who profit from it, especially considering the TCP/IP grew from DARPANET.
Even still, the explanation of the interworkings of the Internet are quite useful. The detailed history of its birth is informative. I certainly feel I better grasp not only how the Internet works, but also why it works and what that means for the Internet to “work.” I was particularly impressed by the comparison of the e2e network and the postal service, a “dumb network” passing “smart information.”
As a legal scholar, Post did a fantastic job of explaining how the Internet came to be and how it functions through what are essentially official understandings and common language which act as laws. However, he should have stuck to that, rather than rambling for half the book about how interesting Thomas Jefferson was. Yes, the internet is a network that might be compared to the rivers examined by Jefferson, but the book itself had little need for such a comparison.