Abstract: The Imaginary Internet: How Utopian Fantasy Shaped the Making of a New Information Infrastructure

Patrice Flichy


An entire society is busy shifting into a new technical domain. The Internet has become the heart of information processing and telecommunications in business and at home. In this paper, I explore the reasons behind the engagement of all these social actors. I argue that the many utopias or ideologies accompanying the conception and diffusion of the Internet are among the key elements in explaining the mobilization of both computer specialists and the public. These ideologies are used to legitimize the new technique, to attract and integrate new users, to provide a framework for use of the innovation. They also afford a set of justifications that enable designers and users alike to explain their engagement in the digital world. The imaginaire is at the center of design and use of the Internet. Based on an in-depth analysis of writings by U.S. experts in various disciplines, and in the specialized and popular press, I present the technical imaginaire of the designers and promoters of the Internet. I show how these innovators used information technology to transform their technical dreams and projects into reality.

BEH On-Line Paper