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Essay of the Day: Why the Soviet Internet Failed

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
20th July 2014


Ben Peters

Ben Peters, Assistant Orofessor of Communication at the University of Tulsa, presents preliminary findings of a dissertation chapter examining why the Soviets did not succeed in building an ARPANET equivalent. In particular, he examines Soviet bureaucratic and social structures as decentralized networks, compares them to conventional critiques of centralized power, and speculates on the chapter’s relevance for modern-day practices of power distribution.

Abstract

“Why wasn’t there a Soviet equivalent to the US ARPA NET? Building on fresh archival evidence, this paper examines several surprising leads: one, that the first person anywhere to conceive of and propose a national computer network for civilian use appears to have been the Soviet cyberneticist and Engineer Colonel Anatolii Kitov; two, that Soviet economic cybernetics tried repeatedly but did not succeed in building such a network; three, that the collective failure comes in part due to unregulated bureaucratic competition and infighting over resources within the Soviet state and academy (while the US ARPANET and French MINITEL networks initially benefited from centralized state subsidy) and in part due to the untenably comprehensive and hierarchically decentralized design in vogue among Soviet cybernetists in the 1960s. The fact that cybernetics was a discursive vehicle for reform-oriented science in the early 1960s makes its failed contributions that much more culturally poignant. These and other ironies are explored.”

Read the full text here

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