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Comparative network histories illustrate how politics shape the design of technological systems. This essay compares efforts to build national computer networks in the Soviet Union and Chile. It argues that networks in practice cannot be categorized neatly as distributed, centralized, or de-centralized, nor is there any correlation between freedom and distributed or de-centralized network architectures. The essay uses this observation to suggest that the distributed network configuration of today’s Internet does not automatically increment freedom of information or flatten the ways in which governments and enterprises exert their power and influence.
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