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It’s easy to be distracted by the novelty of the web, to be taken in by its apparent virtuality. Ultimately, though, this virtuality is itself virtual. The internet could not exist without its material underpinnings, which means that the way it works is shaped by material concerns – namely, the drive for capital accumulation.

So what does this have to do with the open web? First, we need to recognise that our very conception of “openness” is conditioned by the material circumstances of the world we currently inhabit. In this era of entrenched neoliberalism, where privatisation is the norm and wealth inequality appears unchallengeable, we take for granted that most of the infrastructure of the web – from the physical cables, to the digital platforms – is owned by a few multinational corporations. As a result, this privatised landscape of the internet appears natural and inevitable – the only way things could be – rather than the outcome of political choices. This has implications for how we understand the “open web”, and limits what it could be.

The aim of this talk is to foster a critical understanding of the web, going beyond the purely technical details to sketch out the political economy of digital infrastructure. The goal will be to challenge our preconceived notions of what the internet is and could be, in order to suggest a more radical interpretation of the “open web” that we could be fighting for.

Wendy Liu is a software developer and former startup founder who left the tech industry to study inequality at the London School of Economics. These days, she writes about the political economy of the tech industry and is an editor for New Socialist and Notes From Below.

Her current area of interest is developing the idea of ‘abolishing Silicon Valley’ as a way to suggest that the present conditions of technological development are sub-optimal, and that improving them would require a fundamental transformation of the economy. You can find Wendy on Twitter @dellsystem.