From the 1970s on, the power of these developing technologies is unleashed and the battle for the future begins. The revolutionaries recognize that corporations and governments are institutions that will wield electronic technologies not to build communities but to control them. Media theorist Marshall McLuhan reveals how electronic media make the world into a "global village" that fully connects all humanity—perhaps too closely, and with power in the hands of perhaps too few. Activist Abbie Hoffman argues in word and action that the information age can bring with it a free society, based not on competition but on cooperation.
Visionary Ted Nelson conceives of a global hypertext system in which information is linked associatively and nonlinearly and is disseminated through personal computers worldwide. He imagines it neither censored nor controlled by any government or corporation. In the early 1990s physicist Tim Berners-Lee creates the World Wide Web, designed from the start as an open, free network. Meanwhile, hackers Richard M. Stallman and Larry Wall create "free software," or "open source" code, to save, and then foster the spirit of collaboration among programmers that is threatened by software companies. Their alternative is to keep code open and available for the entire programming community to develop, modify, and use. Anyone with a personal computer can tap in and contribute to a repository of information. This becomes a new paradigm for the creation and distribution of knowledge in the twenty-first century.
Commerce encroaches on the Web, and in the mid-1990s the largest corporations are those that control electronic media and software. The threat of authoritarian governmental regulation looms over the personal freedoms that the technologies enable. Software activist Eric S. Raymond and legal scholar Lawrence Lessig explore the reasons for hope and fear as the information architecture becomes as important to society as laws and roads. There can be a society that thrives on the competition, not control, of ideas, but wrongminded corporate and governmental regulation could make information technologies even more controlling than the machines in industrial mills. Without intelligent regulation to keep the information architecture open and interactive, technology could become the means of oppression instead of empowerment.