The recent kerfuffle over SOPA got me thinking again about how relatively free the Internet is–not in terms of cost, but as a beacon of freedom.
Consider three of the online world’s greatest success stories, Wikipedia, Craigslist, and Ebay. Each exists with minimal interference by the managing authority–those who run each site merely set up the forum and restrain abuse (in Wikipedia’s case, by checking edits to articles for accuracy; in Cragslist’s and Ebay’s by monitoring legality and honesty of postings). Other than that, users are free to participate and contract with each other as they will. The managing authorities of each site generally stay out of people’s way and let them live.
Isn’t that how government should work? Maintain a framework for successful societal operations, as per the constitution, but otherwise stay out of the way?
If someone points out problems with these sites (like a Craigslist killer), I’d respond that punitive regulation causes more problems than it solves (OSHA, anyone?). The freest society is the one that causes the fewest problems.
Truly, the Internet’s success is due to the unfettered innovation of individuals (Facebook, anyone?). I think it would be hilarious to see a satire of what Wikipedia, Craigslist, and Ebay would look like if they were run by liberal governing ideals. Does anyone really think that heavy-handed interference and proscription would make them better?
Watching an old silent movie this week inspired an analogy. In the early decades of film, the acting was exaggerated because the actors were trained for the stage–they were playing to the back row of a theater. It wasn’t until we adjusted to the nature of the new medium that people started to use it in a more productive manner (thank you, Marlon Brando).
Is writing undergoing a similar metamorphosis? We still generally compose electronically online with the same basic rules we’ve always used for print writing, but obviously an evolution is underway: the writing that we do for screens is getting shorter, more flexible, and more casual.
But print-based writing won’t disappear. Just as movies didn’t destroy theater, but simply evolved in their own direction from the parent art, online writing will likely develop in its own unique way, and traditional writing will thrive as it ever has. Consider that, while Hollywood grew, that distinctly American genre of musical theater likewise developed into the wonderful subspecies it is today. Despite the near-ubiquity of film, people still see plays of all kinds, and I’m sure that there will always be plenty of people who write and read traditional, standard English, too.
What’s most surprising about the explosion of a uniquely online style of writing, though, is just how many technology boosters themselves are alarmed by it. Continue reading
I just sent the following email to “firstname.lastname@example.org,” a complete stranger who I can only assume exists. I remember in college in the mid to late 90’s, there were plenty of people who figured that all email addresses were “@aol.com,” so it makes sense that some awesome individual snatched up “bob” in fairly short order.
Hello, “Bob,” you don’t know me; I’m just a random blogger who wondered how awesome someone would have to be, and just what a plugged in, far-seeing, cutting edge type they would have to be, in order to have an email address as basic as “email@example.com.” That one must have gone pretty quickly! I figure you must have registered this address no later than 1995.
Would you be willing to answer a few quick questions for me and my readers? I can only imagine that you must be a fascinating person, and I’d like to know some more about you. Certainly, no personal information is needed. Thank you in advance for your time and any help you can give.
1. When did you register this address?
2. Has anyone ever tried to get you to give it away, or buy it from you?
3. Do you get a lot of emails like this one, or spam, or email meant for someone else?
4. What other interesting experiences have you had as “firstname.lastname@example.org?”
5. Anything else you’d care to share with us?
Thanks again for satisfying our curiosity!
I’ll let you know what response I get.