Monday, July 10, 2006

End of the Golden Age of the Internet?

John C. Dvorak’s June 21 column in PC Magazine deals with internet trends. His main thesis is that the “Golden Age” of the internet is about to pass because

. . . we are already seeing a combination of government, carrier, and business interactions that will eventually turn the Net into a restricted and somewhat proprietary network, with much of its content restricted or blocked. Only a diligent few will actually have access to the restricted data, and in some parts of the world even trying to view the restricted information on the Net will be a crime.

Dvorak gives some examples.

1. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998:

It's already a crime to post intellectual discussions about copy-protection schemes that are protected by the DMCA. If the American public tolerates that sort of onerous restriction, then it will tolerate anything.

He’s right about this being an outrage. U.S. legislators voted against the public interest for this. Most legislators are in the pocket of Hollywood/Entertainment big business. In fact the Senate vote for The Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998 was 99 to nada . . . zip . . . zero-- with only Senator Judd Gregg from New Hampshire not voting.

Where were all the civil liberties defenders? And this was before 9/11. The Patriot Act affects people in the name of saving lives from another terrorist attack. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 affects everyone who uses technology that holds or transmits content–-and anyone who wants to speak about copy protection schemes. And what is its purpose? To protect the fortunes of big entertainment/publishing figures and corporations.

The DMCA is an affront to free speech and the protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. But, it is a bit strange for Dvorak to use the DMCA as an example of the decline of the Golden Age of the internet. The DMCA was signed into law in October 1998 by President Clinton. So, if the DMCA is a blow to the Golden Age of the Internet, it was struck before the Golden Age really got rolling.

Two more Dvorak examples.

2. Filtering/blacklists:

Filtering and blacklists now common. Most U.S. government agencies now use filtering mechanisms to keep their own computers from accessing blacklisted Web sites. Third parties maintain these blacklists, and they put whatever they want on the lists. For example, my blog was blacklisted for a while, with no explanation.

3. Monitoring of internet traffic and e-mail:

Most companies go much further and carefully monitor all network traffic. They can then pinpoint the use of streaming media and other verboten uses of corporate computers and simply block such usages and blacklist the sites involved.

Even e-mail is lost in the shuffle. The New York Times has a system in place that prevents certain press releases from getting to the reporters.

These last two points really have nothing to do with free speech except that the folks who run the NYT apparently don’t want anyone management doesn't approve of mucking with their reporter’s minds. So much for the boilerplate about the public’s right to know. They don’t even think their reporters have a right to know.

That the government and corporations (including the NYT) want their equipment, including computers, used for purposes they consider official business is not out-of-bounds. All those employees have complete access on their home computers on their own time.

Dvorak is myopic at this point. He seems to see the internet as primarily a work-based medium or for entertainment file sharers. Even though he has a blog, he doesn’t think of that as a key to the Golden Age of the internet. Probably because he has a print column that he gets paid to do. His blog isn’t important for him to express his opinions.

In terms of widespread access to public discussion, blogs are the Golden Age of the internet. That Golden Age is rapidly expanding as more and more people enter the list of bloggers. Before blogs, other than running for office, most people had few options for entering the public discussion forum. They had the outlets of a bumper sticker, lawn sign, letter to the editor (of which this past week the Oregonian published only 84 of 435 letters received). Not a great shot at getting heard.

Compare that to the Orblogs site which added 25 new Oregon-based blogs in the space of less than 3 weeks (June 20 to July 10). And that’s just the new blogs related to Oregon listed by bloggers who happened to hear about the Orblogs site. There are 1,100 blogs participating in the Orblogs site. I’d bet that less than 1% of those bloggers had or have real access to traditional forms of media expression.

Multiply that by 50 states (most of which have a higher population base than Oregon)–-not to mention the 250+ countries, territories and colonies in the world most of which haven't even gotten a foot into the blog door.

John Dvorak, the Golden Age of the internet is just getting started.

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