The Internet Isn’t Special. Real Space Is. Larry Lessig on Our Failure To Regulate Tech.

John Battelle
19 min readFeb 14, 2024

I’ve known Larry Lessig for more than 25 years, and throughout that time, I’ve looked to him for wisdom — and a bit of pique — when it comes to understanding the complex interplay of law, technology, and the future of the Internet. Lessig is currently the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership at Harvard Law School. He also taught at Stanford Law School, where he founded the Center for Internet and Society, and at the University of Chicago. He is the author of more than half a dozen books, most of which have deeply impacted my own thinking and writing.

As part of an ongoing speaker series “The Internet We Deserve,” a collaboration with Northeastern’s Burnes Center For Social Change, I had a chance to sit down with Lessig and conduct a wide-ranging discussion covering his views on the impact of money in government’s role as a regulator of last resort. Lessig is particularly concerned about today’s AI-driven information environment, which he says has polluted public discourse and threatens our ability to conduct democratic processes like elections. Below is a transcript of our conversation, which, caveat emptor, is an edited version of AI-assisted output. The video can be found here, and embedded at the bottom of this article.

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John Battelle Hi, everybody, thank you for coming in today. Today we’re welcoming Professor Larry Lessig. Larry is one of my heroes, a key actor in a story I’ve cared very deeply about — the evolution of the Internet. I want to thank the Burnes Center, which is the underwriter and sponsor of this event, as well as the Khoury College of Computer Science.

Just this week I saw a full-page ad in The New York Times that said something to the effect of, we need to build the “Internet we deserve.” And given the name of this speaker series, I said to myself — wow, thanks Burnes Center! I really appreciate the $40,000 full page ad in The New York Times! But it turns out that the advertisement, which was essentially a short essay on the glory of blockchain as the next version of how we’ll organize ourselves on the Internet, was sponsored by VC firm Andreessen Horowitz. And it was a promotion for a book that one of the partners has written. I guess that’s how you promote a book

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John Battelle

A Founder of The Recount, NewCo, Federated Media, sovrn Holdings, Web 2 Summit, Wired, Industry Standard; writer on Media, Technology, Culture, Business