The next stage of the digital economy will involve trillions of networked devices across every industry and sphere of human activity: The Internet of the World. Early manifestations of this evolution through on-demand services such as Uber and Airbnb raise a host of serious legal questions. The stage seems set for a decisive battle between regulation and innovation. Yet this perception is mistaken. In the end, the emerging businesses will welcome government engagement, and regulatory actors will accept creative solutions to achieve their goals. Why expect such a resolution? Because the same story played out twenty years ago, in the early days of the commercial internet.
Contemporary debates recapitulate a familiar error: the artificial division of virtual and real-space activity. Now, as in the past, this “digital dichotomy” feeds both excessive skepticism about legal protections and excessive concern about the threats from technology-based innovations. The history of cyberlaw shows the importance of overcoming such perceptions and recognizing the potential of government as an enabler of innovation.