I’m just back from Mozlandia, our
informal all hands coincidental work week in Portland, Oregon. In terms of what I got out of the event, I think this may be the best of its kind that I have attended.
On Friday evening, a curious thing happened. I was sitting with Pierros and Dietrich in the salubrious Hilton hotel lobby. We were accosted by a man who seemed in something of a rush, and who, by his appearance (specifically, the uniform he was wearing), was a bus driver. He asked if we were from Mozilla. We confirmed that we were. He then thanked us for the work we were doing for net neutrality.
I often read people describing themselves as “proud and humbled” in our industry. I have to confess, I have every bit as hard a time getting my head around how pride can be humble as Yngwie Malmsteen does with the idea that “less is more”. I can, however, relate to the idea of taking pride in being humble. And this was such a moment for me.
There are many people who know much, much more about net neutrality and its implications for the future of the internet than I do. But still, I expect myself to know more about the topic than our friendly, Oregonian bus driver. And so I find myself asking the question, “What is he expecting from net neutrality?”. I believe that his expectations will amount to the internet progressing much as it has to date. He probably expects there to be no overall controller, no balkanisation of access and content, and maybe he is even optimistic enough to hope that the internet will not give rise to the acceptance of widespread surveillance.
But I am guessing. Guessing because I didn’t have time to ask him, (he pretty much flew through that lobby), and also because I am not entirely sure myself of what we can expect from net neutrality. What troubles me is that “net neutrality” might be a placeholder for some, meaning not just net neutrality, but also a lot of the other aspects of a more – how do we put it – equitable internet. At the moment, net neutrality is both disrupting the old order, but also giving rise to new empires, vaster and more powerful than those they are replacing. Now, all empires fall: the ancient Romans, the British, Bell Telecommunications, even the seemingly invincible Liverpool FC of the 1970s and 1980s. All empires fall. The question is, “what will be their legacy?”. It isn’t an easy question to answer, and the parallels between the carve-up of the unindustrialised world and the formation and destruction of nation states in the preceding centuries is a gloomy place to look for metaphors, some of which (balkanisation) have already entered our everyday language.
What I do know is that the bus driver expects Mozilla to do the right thing. We have his trust.
I believe all of the paid staff at Mozilla are aware of our good fortune to be able to work with ideas and inventions that can shape the future of the internet in ways that we identify with, in ways that we want to believe in. And as Ogden Nash put it, “People who work sitting down get paid more than people who work standing up.” Working full-time in the tech industry has its hardships, but I can think of tougher places. We have much be grateful for.
And so, when a bus driver thanks us for our service, I feel compelled to offer my gratitude in return. We trust bus drivers to know where we want to go, and to get us there safely. What do they trust us to do?