A vortexJoin the McKelvy House Scholars online on Sunday at 4 p.m. for a discussion led by Jon White ’21 and Victoria Puglia ’21 on whether universal internet access is intrinsically good. Email the group for the Zoom link. Jon and Victoria provide this background:

Broadly, Sunday’s discussion will analyze technological progress within the digital era and the intricacies involved with making a value judgment about it.

In hopes of having a clear discussion, we will be operating under the following definitions and assumption:

Useful terms*

  1. Intrinsic value is the value that something has in itself because of what it is and not because of its relationship to other things.
  2. Extrinsic value is the value something acquires because of its relationship to other things.


  1. Technological progress has extrinsic value, it is not good in and of itself.
  2. One of the aims of technological progress is to provide universal access to the internet.
  3. Universal access to the internet provides universal access to knowledge.

We understand that there might be disagreement about the aforementioned assumptions. However, in order to have a productive discussion, we think it is valuable if we are all addressing our subsequent questions stemming from the same assumptions. Feel free to email us if you vehemently disagree with any of them.

We want to question if universal access to knowledge, via universal internet access, is intrinsically good.

That said, progress does not function in a vacuum. And while it might bring about positive change, there might also be adverse implications with widespread proliferation from technological advances. When thinking about the value of technological progress, we would encourage everyone to think about it as a curve with time as the X-axis and increased utility as the Y-axis. The figure below illustrates this:

The following questions will guide our conversation:

  1. What is the value of universal access to knowledge?
  2. What are the benefits of universal access to the internet? What are the drawbacks?
  3. With all this in mind, is it intrinsically good to have universal access to knowledge via the internet?
  4. Which curve most accurately depicts technological progress? What are the implications?
  5. How can we ethically provide universal access to knowledge knowing it is up to end users to make the judgement between real and fake information?
  6. Do we think where we are currently in terms of technological progress outweighs the harmful physical, mental, and societal effects it has caused?

Mandatory readings

  1. Universal Access to Knowledge as a Global Public Good
  2. Why we study digital misinformation

Optional readings

  1. Universal Access to All Knowledge (video)
  2. Bangladesh: Internet Ban Risks Rohingya Lives
  3. SpaceX Wants to Conquer the Internet
  4. Benedict Anderson – Imagined Communities: This reading looks at the role of the print press in the formation of imagined communities and nationalism. While it is not directly related to modern-day technology or the internet, it raises interesting concerns related to the universality of any sort of technological advance.
  5. Also, The Social Dilemma (Netflix documentary) is quite interesting when thinking about the ever-increasing role of technology in our lives.

*Comparing money to happiness illustrates the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic value. Money is only good in achieving some end, while happiness is good in itself. As its value is based on something else, money has extrinsic value. Meanwhile, since happiness has value independently, it has intrinsic value.

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