It occurred to me a while back that I’m part of the first generation to grow up with the Internet. I was twelve when my family first got internet access and I remember being very excited when we fired up our blazing fast 14.4Kbps dial-up connection. Compared to the present, there wasn’t a heck-of-a lot to do, but it was still an amazing experience. There were very few web-pages that had pictures and communication took place mostly through bulletin boards and internet relay chat (which was brand-spanking-new). Still, it was a wonderful place to escape to and find people with whom I had a common interest.
Growing up is hard, growing up and being a geek is harder still, but growing up as a pre-internet rural-American geek is flat-out miserable. I think all teenagers experience some degree of loneliness; this desire to relate to others helps us build social skills that are important in the adult world. But as much as I tried (Looking back, I tried way too hard.), I had a lot of trouble finding my “community” and it drove me further into loneliness and depression. I was on my way to becoming a statistic of some sort, be it suicide, substance abuse, or spontaneous combustion. I think the Internet probably saved my life.
Once online, I found other geeks. (At this point, they were pretty much the ONLY people online.) Not only were there geeks, there were geek variants. There were technology geeks, music geeks, literature geeks, and a thousand other varieties. This was pretty mind blowing. The Internet was still relatively small and it felt very much like a community. It was the first place where I was comfortable being myself and felt like I was part of something. Through the relationships I built, I gained confidence and a sense of self. I was a part of the new Internet geek empire. We felt a sense of responsibility for it, we knew then that the Internet was going to become very important. It was our digital tree house, but more than that, it had the possibility to be something that could change the world.
Early on, there was a lot of naivete in regards to the Internet’s problem solving capability, but I still see it being used to accomplish some amazing things. It can’t make food, but it can facilitate the efforts of starvation prevention organizations. It can’t overthrow dictators, but it can expose their evils to the world. The Internet cannot give someone a hug, but it can connect them to friends all over the world and help them to not feel so alone. The intrinsic freedom, equality, and openness of the Internet have led to its success.
That is why the debate over network neutrality is so important. If we cannot maintain those qualities that have made the Internet such a powerful platform, we stand the chance of losing something very precious. When I read about “tiered service” and the “control of data,” I worry for the future of cyberspace. This is a medium that has democratized information, making vast amounts of data available to the entire world and empowering millions of people. I think we often take that for granted. We’ve got to protect it and make it a sort of virtual wildlife refuge.
The arguments I’ve heard from companies fighting against net neutrality come off a bit like salesmen trying to pitch the benefits of bottled water. “It’s better for you because we’ve filtered it and put it in this nifty container.” Their talking points are saturated with profit motive and disdain for the populace. The Internet is too important to be fragmented off into have’s and have-not’s; it is much too valuable to trade in for increased margins. I’m not in favor of many laws, but network neutrality is a policy I feel is worth supporting. The Internet needs our help.
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