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I watched the Internet grow up. I don’t want to watch it die.

November 26, 2011

I wrote this for my NaNoWriMo book, but I’m breaking my “you can’t see it” rule. This is a special case.

I feel like a kid at the start of an essay assignment: “What does the Internet mean to you? (Double-space, no more than 12pt font.)”

Very much from a consumer (not an expert) point of view, I have watched the Internet grow up. Nobody knew what the fuck a WAN or an IP was in 1985, but we sure as hell had heard of all that in 1995. I hadn’t conceived of a worldwide communications and media sharing network, but my first forays into BBSs gave me a little inkling of something truly wonderful. Yes, kids, we did have phones in the 1980s, and we were familiar with the concept of speaking to people far away, and even the technological advance of leaving voice messages far away. The old AT&T ads used to say “reach out and touch someone”.

BBSs let us do that with computers, and there was a definite difference. Yes, it was all science fictiony because we were using cool machines, but there was more. You could find a group with shared interests, leave messages, have conversations, meet people. Ever since then, we’ve made the internet do all kinds of things, but at the heart of it, nearly everything online is about reaching out to the rest of the world.

Corporations get financial and other info online, and provide data to shareholders and customers. Retailers reach out for broader marketing pools, entertainers reach out for broader audiences, individuals dip into a much wider pool for friends and lovers. We share pictures and video and words on words on words. We find the communities we belong to. I know I do, anyway. There is knowledge to be gained out there, there is education and art and culture, free access to a wealth of public domain books and art. It’s fucking wonderful! And of course, there’s all the porn. The internet has become, among many other things, our dictionary and thesaurus and encyclopedia, our communication with friends and family near and far, newspaper, fax machine, map, our go-to guide for just about everything. It’s become quite a lot.

Of course it’s not all noble and friendly and businesslike (and porn-y). There are gross misuses of the internet, and a whole lotta stupidity and useless crap floating around out there. Show me any halfway decent invention that isn’t similarly misused, I dare you.

Let’s take a quick look at the Wikipedia entry on “Internet”. (How meta is that?) There’s some damn interesting information, and some things strike me that I already knew. For one thing, the U.S. essentially invented the Internet in the 60s. (Other nations: You’re welcome.) And as of 2011, one third of the entire population of the WORLD get online. Damn.

From Wiki:

“The Internet has no centralized governance in either technological implementation or policies for access and usage; each constituent network sets its own standards. Only the overreaching definitions of the two principal name spaces in the Internet, the Internet Protocol address space and the Domain Name System, are directed by a maintainer organization, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The technical underpinning and standardization of the core protocols (IPv4 and IPv6) is an activity of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), a non-profit organization of loosely affiliated international participants that anyone may associate with by contributing technical expertise.”

In the last few years, and at this moment, there are United States lawmakers trying to shit on the Internet. They’re ostensibly taking aim at one of the abuses committed online – piracy – and trying to push a bill through that will slash an individual’s rights online. Any given site could be shut down, for the slightest suspicion of a reason. Access to portions of the web could be limited at the domain provider level. In short, the government would have and exercise the right to tell us what to give and what to get online.

That’s bullshit.

Some governments, such as those of Iran, North Korea, Myanmar, the People’s Republic of China, and Saudi Arabia, restrict what people in their countries can access on the Internet, especially political and religious content. This is accomplished through software that filters domains and content so that they may not be easily accessed or obtained without elaborate circumvention.

In Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden, major Internet service providers have voluntarily, possibly to avoid such an arrangement being turned into law, agreed to restrict access to sites listed by authorities. While this list of forbidden URLs is only supposed to contain addresses of known child pornography sites, the content of the list is secret. Many countries, including the United States, have enacted laws against the possession or distribution of certain material, such as child pornography, via the Internet, but do not mandate filtering software.


The greatest invention of my lifetime – a thing that has brought people together, spawned entire movements in art and culture, even started revolutions around the world – is under attack by the same body that brought us the rights-slashing, extended-remix edition Patriot Act. (Here’s a fun fact: Here in 2011, ten years after this act was signed, it’s still “legal” for the government to wiretap its citizens with barely a wink at due process. Good times, y’all.) This is one of the few issues that ever got both me and Sean to start publicly and vocally getting involved in politics.

The greatest, most impactful, full of potential, freeing invention in my lifetime is under threat. It’s one hell of a time to be an impassioned computer nerd, my friends. One hell of a time.

-Jen McCown, Enraged Nerd

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 27, 2011 2:24 pm

    Ok I’m angry, your angry, and a bunch of other people way more smarter and influential than us are angry. What are we gonna do about it? Most of us have jobs, so were not going to occupy anything. We all went to the EFF page and sent form emails to our senators. To risk sounding like one of the suits, what are our next action items?

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