Why I Love the Internet

I came across this video from Cory Doctorow today. It was posted on Boing Boing. For a YouTube video about books and book issues it’s on the long side (just shy of 13 mins), but I urge you to watch it completely, even if you don’t agree with with Mr. Doctorow. It may be the last time you see something of its kind.

Yes, this post is about Net Neutrality, here is why. Herein lies an instructive tale about what will happen should industry and money gain the liberties that they seek. Before us we have a book, written by a person with other-than ‘Merican citizenship, living in other-than ‘Merica location. From all indications it’s a pretty good book too. It says something about ‘Mericans that has been said by quite a few outside our borders (note to self, add LITTLE BROTHER to reading list), but it is a position which is not commonly given much of a media platform. From the article on Boing Boing, in Doctorow’s own words.

My publisher, Tor Books, is sending 200 free copies of the paperback of my novel Little Brother to Booker T Washington High School, because it’s the first school where any of my novels has been challenged by the school administration. Little Brother had been selected and approved as the school’s summer One School/One Book reading pick, and the school librarian Betsy Woolley had worked with Mary Kate Griffith from the English department to develop an excellent educational supplement for the students to use to launch their critical discussions in the fall. The whole project had been signed off on by the school administration and it was ready to go out to the students when the principal intervened and ordered them to change the title.

In an email conversation with Ms Griffith, the principal cited reviews that emphasized the book’s positive view of questioning authority, lauding “hacker culture”, and discussing sex and sexuality in passing. He mentioned that a parent had complained about profanity (there’s no profanity in the book, though there’s a reference to a swear word). In short, he made it clear that the book was being challenged because of its politics and its content.

Ultimately, the entire schoolwide One Book/One School program was cancelled. Little Brother is now an optional title for grade 11 AP English students.

The control of the flow of information is a mighty weapon indeed. One man’s tea is another’s turd soup, to be sure, but if the internet is to remain a level playing field, upon which we can all frolic than both princelings and privilege need to exposed, judged and marched along la Monte-à-regret.

When faced with an opportunity to objectively examine his own political ideologies, Michael J. Roberts, principle of Booker T. Washington High in Pensacola, chose to turn off the tap of debate, on ground that appear to be little more than hearsay. The impact of this action is limited. In fact, given that Doctorow and Tor are now shipping in bulk to anyone who want’s one a free copy of LITTLE BROTHER, it is possible that this action may backfire.

“But,” a thoughtful person might ask his or her self, “what might happen if a person with similar tastes to Roberts, in a position of control within the router infrastructures of America, should decide, for our own good, to restrict access to information?” Right now, this is illegal. No one is allowed to cut you off from information you feel is worthy of your time. But this is the reality of the proposed changes in consideration by the FCC today. Lanes of speed are created, these are levers of control.

I have been a member of this vibrant, online, global community since I learned the basics of telnet (late 80’s, yes I’m that old). The freedom to exchange ideas was what first drew me into grand kerfuffle. Back then it happened so slowly, an ASCII character at a time, drawn across a poison impregnated piece of glass by a moving pin prick of light. As I sit here, banging away on a keyboard, I am amazed at how much better it’s gotten. How much easier it has become. But my passion for this network remains essentially the same. I love the internet because it is a place where everything weighs the same.

Should Big Monied interests prevail, should leavers of control be granted to a very few, I predict that we’ll see the emergence of grey nets – perhaps built on the backs of cheap, dumb, slow and unregulated communities of relays. Packet radio, PirateBox, and DIY laser network bridges passing our thoughts over distance. Why more people with concerns about their privacy are not currently developing these sorts of independent, stand-alone capabilities today is somewhat beyond me, but I suggest that when access to ideas is interrupted there will be a ground swell of interest and creative involvement. And of course, something more to write about.

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