Four People Who Don’t Get “The Internet”
It’s interesting how “the Internet” has come to be a singularly collective, authoritative entity. On a radio morning show today, a woman called in and said, regarding concrete foundations, “the Internet said you needed footers.”
“The Internet” said it. It seems many people regard “the Internet” the way they regard “the paper,” as the go-to, authoritative information source, without a thought of the individual sources making it up. It’s as though “the Internet” speaks with one voice and all descriptors used apply to all parts of it rather than a discordant symphony of infinite voices singing the impossibility of one size fitting all.
Some prominent people—well, at least they are given prominent pulpits—have been really trashing “the Internet” lately, but don’t seem to really get “the Internet.” The first one on the list disappointed me the most.
I respect what Ralph Nader has to say usually; I put him up there with Ron Paul as one of two guys who came the closest in the last century to being very nearly mostly right about things. Nader recently addressed a group of Washington, DC college students and implied they were too obsessed with “the Internet,” that “the Internet didn’t do a good job of motivating action,” and instead does a good job of massively trivializing communication to no truly productive end.
Guilt is a tried and true motivator, and Nader laid it thick onto the college students, asking them how the Internet generation would explain to its grandchildren what they did to prevent the ills of the future world:
"You know. The world is melting down. They’re nine years old. They’re sitting on your lap. They’ve just become aware of things that are wrong in the world: starvation, poverty, whatever. And they ask you, what were you doing when all this was happening: Grandma? Grandpa? That you were too busy updating your profile on Facebook?"
I almost thought he was right since I have curmudgeonly tendencies. Internet campaigns are most effective at saving cancelled TV shows. But “the Internet” sort of did get Barack Obama elected, too. It seems like Nader is bemoaning what all elders have bemoaned forever: the yet unrealized potential of the youth. He could just be coming down with a case of oldmanitis, growing impatient with the new batch of lazy will-be activists.
Besides what would be, if allegations were accurate, a blatant assault on freedom of speech and fair use, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and her Attorney General’s legal threats to a Texas DJ show they don’t really understand “the Internet” either. Shoe Latif, operator of crackho.com received a cease and desist letter from the State of Alaska alleging violation of Alaskan law by using the state’s official seal on the site.
During the election, Latif says she actually just used a simple redirect to drive crackho.com traffic to Palin’s website, and never hosted any of Palin’s content, official seal included, on her servers. What came up was more like framing, kind of like what Google does with Google Images. In essence, visitors were rickrolled, which so far isn’t illegal.
Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton
Before becoming CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment, Michael Lynton served as CEO of AOL Europe and president of AOL International. So it’s naturally confusing to hear him say something like this: “I am a guy who hasn’t seen any good come out of the Internet.”
Of course, Lynton is Sony’s boy now, and he gets paid a lot of money to deride the very medium upon which he built his success. His perspective now is that “the Internet” is bad for the entertainment industry—worse, apparently, than twice-baked movies, bad acting, bad scripts, formulaic, lowest-common-denominator drivel the industry floods TV, radio, magazines, theaters, video stores, news programming, and, yes, iTunes, with.
But perhaps richer than the line about nothing good coming out of the Internet is the next one about copyright law. Lynton said Washington needed new rules to protect copyrighted material rather than expanding broadband further: “Somebody has got to realize that we need some rules.”
Somebody like the cast and crew of the former US Senate, who unanimously passed sweeping, tougher copyright legislation, upping fines and penalties last year? Somebody like the Congresspersons and White House officials making international copyright treaties matters of national security so they can hide from the public and “the Internet?” Somebody like the five RIAA lawyers currently implanted in the Department of Justice?
Somebody like those guys, Lynton? How about somebody who thinks a teenager downloading songs (or his parents) shouldn’t face $150,000 fines every time he does it?
Writing for Britain’s TimesOnline, erm, an Internet site, Bryan Appleyard reduces Web 2.0 to something created and popularized by California cultists, whose creation has led to Appleyard coining a phrase sounding as close to buggery as he could muster:
“Bloggery is forming itself into big, institutionalised aggregators such as The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast, and remains utterly parasitic on the mainstream media it affects to despise. Even Twitter is already coming to be dominated by conventional, non-web-based celebrity — Oprah Winfrey in the US and Stephen Fry over here.”
Yes, “bloggery” does sound like a filthy, depraved habit. It’s one of those words requiring the speaker to turn up his nose a bit at the stench of it. The rest of the piece reads like a diatribe delivered over crumpets in a newspaper mogul’s—what would they have?—sitting room.
The problem is not “the Internet.” It’s not the fragmentation and trivialization of communication. It’s not the rampant freedom of speech and fair use liberties. It’s not the free promotion fans offer entertainment companies. It’s not a few innovators having world-changing influence.
The problem, for the establishment, isn’t any of that. It’s that the world is changing, at all. Entrenched power and money structures need predictability and control if they are to continue to succeed. And that makes the Internet a problem for them, not for the rest of us. “The Internet” carries the only current populous hope of the people and it’s driving the powers that be absolutely crazy, save for Nader, who just thinks it’s pointless.
It isn’t lack of control that’s the problem, nor populism, nor cultists, nor fragmentation. It’s the ever-increasing desire of the few to control what has become the masses’ medium of choice. Governments, ISPs, Entertainment, Newspapers, and Others want this new Wild West reformed into something orderly, something controlled, something (immensely) profitable. The desire to lump "the Internet" under one easily understood label is only very nearly as strong.