My first contact with the Internet, or rather the version of the Internet that was available to the public, occurred in 1995. That is, eighteen years ago as if this writing. I am not going to do stupid things and go on about how it has changed or how I prefer the Internet as it was, or that kind of shit. Things change for a reason, regardless of whether they change for good or ill. And trying to stop change is like trying to stop death.
But ever since the commercialists of the late 1990s realised that the Internet was never going to go away and even threatened to make their ways of doing business obsolete, we have had a problem. One of the many reasons why people who consume media find the Internet a boon is because it puts them more in control of their experiences with different forms of media. Note that I said more in control, not totally in control.
And let me share a little secret with you. I can sum up the amount of control that corporations like Fox, Apple, or Sony want you to have over your media experience in one word. None. They do not want you to even be able to pause the programme in order to cook a muffin or do a piss. They want you to see, read, or hear media on their terms, and only on their terms.
This can also be seen in the manner in which media is copy-protected. Content creators bend over backwards to try and restrict how media can be viewed and watched. Whilst the idea of backing up every Blu-ray Disc in a collection like mine onto a three “terabyte” drive is a little ridiculous, the ability to transfer a disc onto a hard drive and port it around or back up rather than maintain a collection of hundreds of discs would be welcomed. But the model of film distribution that the “everything has to be online and only online” moron crowd propose is such a step backwards that it is not even worth thinking about. Feature films do not merely look inferior to Blu-ray Disc when they are offered online. They look ghastly by comparison.
But this is a side-track to my biggest problem with the Internet as it is today. In the Internet of eighteen years ago, there was a buzz about how the exchange of ideas and documents would be opened more. And in some ways, that buzz is correct. But anarchic societies or places tend to have one terrible flaw. The strongest entity in the arena, or the one that exploits advantages the best, ends up owning the whole circus. This has proven to be the case many times during the life of the Internet to date, even when the market of power changes shape.
A few years ago, normally interesting and inspiring director David Fincher helmed a film called The Social Network. I have not seen this film, so I will not comment directly on its content. However, I will make this commentary based on the advertising materials. It looks to me like a lionisation. Like a propaganda piece. The real history of what I refer to as Fudgebook or Fukkheadbook is a complicated mess, but can be broken down into stages. First, a group of programming students at a university created an information exchange for themselves and other students. Second, Mark Fukkheadberg essentially took it, commercialised it, and cut the people who really put it together out of the picture. Third, he makes millions of dollars a day selling information about Fudgebook users to anyone who will pay.
I think that in itself is a clear indication of the problem with the “everything has to be online” culture. If I have documents that I use to prove my identity to authorities, then I would have a natural tendency to regard them as being mine. But Mark Fukkheadberg seems to think that they are exclusively his property, and his to pass along to whomever offers him the most money. No, Mark. They are mine because they are so deeply tied in with the fact of my existence that merely letting people see them without my knowing it could have grave consequences for me. My identity is mine, Mark, and is not for sale to the highest bidder. In a world where there really is justice for all and not merely for those who can afford it, you would be bitchslapped with so many lawsuits for invasion of privacy and compromise of customer safety that you would be lucky to have five cents leftover when it is all done.
It is not a coincidence that information technology is the only industry I can think of that has never been under any serious form of regulation. By the time it had matured sufficiently to experience real commercialisation, the deregulation frenzy that started under Ronnie Raygun’s watch had reached such a fever pitch that the mere idea of regulating prices for software and service was impossible. The idea of laws stating that consumers of an information service have a right to say what data pertaining to them can be used and what for is too impossible to consider. Yet it is exactly what we need in this day and age. A law saying that if the individual whose birth certificate or passport numbers you have just solicited does not want those numbers being passed to others, you have to listen. Given the mountains of concern devoted to the security of our information or what is done with it in this time, the fact that there are no such laws demonstrates how much control corporations have over governments now.
Probably the biggest annoyance about this situation is that I have literally seen it all before. A company and its figurehead claimed ownership over something that was mostly made by others, got away with it, and a whole industry as well as its consumers suffered for that. In a recent interview, we even saw how one of that company’s former chief executives believes that the US government’s much-too-late attempts to intervene were violations of that company’s rights. And I am willing to bet that if Fudgebook loses its de facto monopoly status tomorrow, ten years from now we will be listening to Mark Fukkheadberg moan that he was being treated unfairly. It is enough to make a person want to throw themselves off a roof.
There is a popular belief among the public that all things governments do are necessarily bad. The source of this belief, oddly enough, is the Rethuglican party that enjoys the conceit that people do all things that they do entirely on their own. The reality is the exact opposite. Some of the things that governments have done in the past have been extremely noble. Trust-busting is a classic example of this. Today, we live with numerous effects of monopolised markets. Standards that keep products safe and enjoyable for all are reduced and skirted. Prices are dramatically higher than they need to be for companies to stay afloat. And in the end run, what we end up with is a market governed by a very small number of ultra-rich players whose whims customers have no choice but to follow.
I am not in favour of censorship. I am, however, in favour of an environment where all who patronise it are able to feel completely comfortable in it. I think the 300 posts I posted prior to this one make that much perfectly clear. But after reading a number of articles about the rape culture we live in, I have to be clear about something. I am far more in favour of an Internet that my sister and in future her daughters would be comfortable being on than what we have today.
The image above is a good example of what I am talking about. This kind of harassment happens every day, but it is utterly rampant on the Internet. One reason it is rampant on the Internet is that there is little to no immediate consequence for it on the Internet. The recipient in this conversation must have known from past experience that revealing this kind of behaviour to people the harasser knows, or the threat thereof, gets results.
The Internet was a lawless land. And unfortunately, the assholes who keep trying to impose rules upon it are the same people who do not understand it at all. They think we need censorship of all content on it for all and sundry “in order to protect children” (everybody now!). But just like the majority of people in the world are not children, so too the vast majority of individuals with unfettered access to the Internet. We are not children, and if they think I do not see what they are trying to do when every second word out of their mouths is “children”, they have another think coming. The problem, in a nutshell, is that we need more to protect ourselves from people like the clown in the image above. People need places they can easily access in order to report the unsolicited transmissions of images like that. An Internet version of emergency services, a Report Sexual Harassment function for the Internet. Call it what you will.
And therein lies my point. The Internet is a public utility that has never known any real sort of regulation, leave alone regulation that meets its real needs. And in this context, real needs means the ability to get online and do what one needs with a feeling of being safe. Safe from harassment, safe from stalking by authorities who clearly do not have a warrant or justification for their actions, safe from having one’s personal information sold to the highest bidder, and so forth. Laws are frequently denounced by folks as being out of date or out of touch with the reality of the common man. But you will be hard-pressed to find an example of how out of touch our laws are than when they attempt to police the medium in a manner that was neither asked for nor desired.
Even before the Internet became a public utility on which private corporations can loan connections to the public, people engaged in the use of connected computers to share data had high hopes for this new medium. Echonet forums reflected this. Discussions of health matters, discussions of unusual life minutiae, and so on. It was basically the Internet without the flashy useless graphics and bullshit. And we hoped it would continue a useful tradition of educated use and information distribution. Unfortunately, without someone to provide repercussions for distributing false information, the value of the medium decreases exponentially.
I think the main point here is that during the last thirteen years, people who fail to understand the Internet but also fail to realise that they do not understand it have been trying to wrest control of it into their hands. The Internet has grown beyond nations or corporations. It is essentially the new manner in which an entire world (almost) communicates. Which means that policy and law should be decided by the educated users of the medium, not a bunch of governments with agendas or ignorant voters.
But like the true meaning of the word democracy, the ignorant voters will fail to understand what I have just said.