My first real experience with the Internet was subscribing to a Usenet on a symbolic modeling language. I remember reading a response from a researcher in Switzerland and deciding to write my first entry into the thread. Every time someone would write from a different country I was awed. Where else and in what other circumstance could people from different countries and different cultures converse in such a way that the topic at hand becomes the focal point, not the differences of those speaking.
Where governments have trodden through the front door with fanfare and progressed with little steps, or failed, the Internet has moved quietly through the back door and succeeded. Until now.
While the Internet was nothing more than an insider’s tool, it was for the most part unconstrained and relatively open. Now that the access to the Internet is open “to the masses” we seek to impose constraints and limitations. Worse, where before each country’s boundaries were transparent, they now seek to make them not only opaque but a virtual brick wall. The main benefit of the Internet is taking down boundaries not putting them up. The Internet is owned by no Man, no Woman, and no Country.
I was following some forgotten path through the Web once when I stumbled on a letter from an Irish environmental terrorist. He wrote the letter in prison after he was captured while attempting to bomb a factory that he believed was damaging to the environment. This letter was fascinating. It was not an interview on some slick TV show, or in some slick magazine. It was an unsolicited recitation of facts and beliefs of a person that most of us would have an easy time dismissing as a nut after a two paragraph word byte in the press. Did I agree with the person? No, and I do consider myself an environmentalist. Bombs and bullets are never the way folks, nor are bricks and bats. However, the letter did give me a perspective that I would never have had if I had not read it. I cannot as easily dismiss an act of terrorism as an act of a mad person, which in a way makes the act even more frightening. Would this letter be considered “excessively violent”? Would the group that posted it be in violation of the law?
Could something like this be considered obscene? In some countries and in sometimes it could be. In certain countries, a picture of a woman bare faced and holding a career would probably be considered obscene. Full frontal nudity is considered by many in the United States as obscene but is probably considered perfectly normal in other countries. The very thing that makes the Internet great, the absence of borders, makes it virtually impossible to determine a common point of obscenity or a common point of decency.
We in the United States cannot agree within our own borders what is ‘decent’. One person believes in allowing free choice for women, and another would consider this indecent and obscene. Would information on the Internet on abortions then be considered illegal? If your child read this material, and it was presented in a scientific manner and presented only facts, would the originators of the material be in violation of the law?
If all we read in books, or all we see on TV, or all we hear on the radio, and all we can discuss on the Internet is material suitable for small children neither they nor we will ever and can ever grow, and we as a society will never mature.
Perhaps that’s what some people, including Congress, really want.
That’s it, folks.