Democracy in action ?
The Internet has been the most fundamental change during my lifetime and perhaps since the Industrial Revolution. It is over 10 years ago since I first switched on my computer and made my first tentative journey into cyberspace. I had enabled access to the computers of millions of fellow travellers. It was exhilarating and daunting at the same time. It was argued that the internet was the first thing that humanity had built that humanity didn’t understand and was the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had. Today the danger of virus continues to blight our daily lives but the barriers are far stronger. While the internet made absolute communication possible it created absolute isolation. At the beginning it became addictive but as with caffeine and alcohol one learnt to keep it under control. It became my window on the world in the same way that a trip to my local hostelry reflected the immediate and necessary contact at a personal level. So the chat rooms that lay along the superhighway became places to stop and exchange views and more importantly, learn about the ordinary day lives of people worldwide. Every venue we visit is full of both genuine and not so genuine characters. It was no different when online but unlike in the office, pub or coffee bar you cannot see who is at the other end of the line! In the same way as we are selective in our choice of friends in our civic lives so the same decisions were made on line and as in our everyday lives mistakes were made. Who you spoke to was, and remains, up to the individual or in the case of minors, up to parental control. As a last resort, as with a poor tv programme, there is always the ‘off’ or ‘delete’ button. The very first hint of censorship on the web came with the closure of group sites. At the flick of a switch they took away free browsing within the network and that killed it dead simple as that.
The internet began to remove the shackles of state censorship which had until then reflected a society’s lack of confidence in itself. In Britain we said it was the hallmark of an authoritarian regime yet continue to this day to hide facts from the populous at large. Bill Gates was quoted as saying “The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.” Sadly just like victory squares in Cairo, Tripoli and Bahrain the users of the internet are surrounded by governments and corporations hell bent on removing our ability to speak with whomsoever we want, when we want. Writing this I remember friends in Iran, Iraq, Turkey, India and the USA with whom contact has been denied by Mr Gate’s company. Oscar Wilde said “Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.” He refrained from saying who wielded the club! Here is the official notice in precis:
“Windows Live Spaces will close on 16th March 2011 your space will be closed. Windows Live Spaces blog will be transferred to WordPress.com where you will get a number of enhancements to your blogging experience, [free only if you remain in basic mode], tools help track how your blog is doing and who’s visiting.” People who were regular visitors to Spaces have disappeared forever. French,Chinese,Australians and Americans. I have yet to find the ‘widget’ which allows access to the authors of blogs.
Internet browsing isn’t free but neither is freedom to roam the internet as was once the case. Depending on policy, whether political or economic, access is being manipulated thus removing totally free access. E. M. Forster said ‘We are willing enough to praise freedom when she is safely tucked away in the past and cannot be a nuisance. In the present, amidst dangers whose outcome we cannot foresee, we get nervous about her, and admit censorship.’ Today censorship is alive and smothering free interaction on the www whichever continent we dwell on. Again I am minded of another quote from Thomas Jefferson: “I am opposed to any form of tyranny over the mind of man.” Tyranny it would appear is a democratic process,depending on whose search engine one uses… .. .