The internet lasts forever, the internet never forgets. And yet it is also a place in which I feel confronted with an almost unbearable volume of daily reminders of its decay: broken links, abandoned blogs, apps gone by, deleted tweets (miss you always, ah-well-nevertheless!), too-cutesy 404 messages, vanished Vines, videos whose copyright holders have requested removal, lost material that the Wayback Machine never crawled, things I know I’ve read somewhere and want to quote in my work but just can’t seem to resurface the same way I used to be able to.
Transcript of a lecture by Stephen Fry.
When I first found out about and joined the internet and watched it grow with the arrival of the www I described it to friends, whom I was anxious to convert and get themselves email addresses, as the greatest gathering of human beings in the history of the planet. As new services came on line and web 2.0 blossomed into the social media services we now know and perhaps rely on, I believed, I really believed, that humankind might well be saved by the all-gifted net. It would spread, art, literature, music, culture, philosophy, enlightenment and knowledge. In its train would come new freedoms, a new understanding between the peoples of the world, a new contract. This was to be our millennium’s Pandora, an all-gifted organism that would bring nothing but learning, understanding, amity, comity and friendship. I looked at budding projects like Wikipedia and I saw Diderot’s enlightenment dream becoming a reality. I saw art galleries and archives becoming freely available to all. I saw special interest groups able to exchange information and ideas with their fellows across the globe: whether it was coin-collecting, a love of a particular style of music, a shared pleasure in gaming, hiking or cosplay, a rare physical or mental disorder in common – suddenly people could contact each other across the world. Free translations, free lectures, tours, user-generated advice on travel, hunting for the best deals and bargains, sharing experience in all fields of human endeavour. Borders, barriers, frontiers and boundaries would melt and dissolve. An end to tribalism, racism, ignorance and fear. A new dawn for mankind. It was all good. You are allowed to laugh at my naivety, I do myself.
Internet has become a way of life. But, just like the market it needs some regulation to make sure it is not used by rogue elements for their benefit. The difficult question is where to draw the line.
It might be tempting to simply have a high bar and not fret about all these possibilities—terrorists are terrorists, after all. But a high bar can easily interfere with legitimate users in the name of counterterrorism. Facebook, for example, took down the iconic and disturbing image of a naked Vietnamese girl fleeing after a napalm attack on the grounds that images of naked girls are, well, child pornography. (After an outcry, Facebook restored the image.) Likewise, a high bar on encryption might prevent terrorists from communicating securely with one another, but it could also prevent human rights dissidents from doing the same.
How much stuff is getting added to internet every minute? Any guesses. The below picture gives us an idea and it does not mention Whatsapp!
For instance, the collective internet watches 4.1 million YouTube videos every minute, and users post over 46,200 images on Instagram (which must include an absurd amount of brunch photos on Sunday). And if you’re curious about something and head over to Google, you’ll contribute to over 3.5 million searches, which translates to more than 5 billion queries every day.
A lot of people around me, and I am certain around you, make a distinction between their lives online and offline. This distinction is a lie. Our civic responsibilities do not disappear just because we are on Snapchat or Tumblr or Facebook. Whatever we choose to say has the exact same impact on the person at the other side of the conversation as it does afk.
Telling someone to go offline to get away from trolls is like telling them to stop leaving the house. Maybe it’s safer in there, but you can’t survive if you never leave. Many people need to be online to do work, attend school, and get important information. We literally can’t find out what our president-elect is saying if we don’t log into Twitter once in a while. “Going offline” isn’t a real option anymore.
As we continue forward into the twenty-first century, we need to take seriously the fact that every aspect of our lives has an online component, whether we like it or not. There is no such thing as an exclusively online movement or social experience. Our real lives, what we do in the streets, are wired into computer networks. The way those networks are run and the rules that govern them are explicitly political.