Re: cr> MEME/Bennahum: excellent cyberspace perspective (long)


Henry Huang

An interesting read.  However, I must disagree with the following:

[long quote follows]

On Feb 20,  8:29, MEME wrote:
> Electronic Mail, one-to-one.
> Internet Rely Chat (by invitation only.)
> File Transfer Protocol (Password protected.)
> CU-SeeMe Video conferencing (point-to-point, by invitation only.)
> Internet Audio Telephone (point-to-point, by invitation only.)
> World Wide Web (password protected sites.)
> Electronic Mail-based distribution lists (like MEME).
> File Transfer Protocol (Anonymous, no password required.)
> Usenet News.
> Internet Relay Chat (Open, no invitation needed.)
> World Wide Web (no password required.)
> CU-SeeMe Video conferencing (open reflector site, no password required.)
> There is a precedent for seeing media this way (in the United States).  The
> content of telephone conversations is seen as private, and moving through
> the spectrum of media the other extreme is broadcast television.  Broadcast
> television is the ultimate public medium (and hence faces the most public
> restrictions on content).  In between the telephone and television you get
> a series of media, moving from private to public, with print,
> videocassettes and film falling in the middle.  The tricky thing with
> cyberspace is that it is all these mediums rolled into one.  When Yahoo!, a
> popular Web site, gets 14 million hits a day, that starts to look a lot
> like television.  This newsletter, sent to several thousand people who
> subscribe, looks a lot like print -- bit more regulated than a phone call,
> but a lot less regulated than a television show.  Yet the technology behind
> MEME and Yahoo! is the same.

You're confusing the term "public" with "broadcast media" -- and there's
a crucial difference.  ANY Net service, by definition, is not really
equivalent to TV.  With TV, there's a limited, KNOWN number of choices,
and the interaction is one-way.  On the Net, there's an unlimited, unknown
number of choices, and YOU can create your own.

Information on the Net does not seek you out and jump out of your
monitor.  You could sit around all day and stare at a UNIX prompt, and
still be "on" the Net.  Nothing happens unless you make it happen.  If
you want something, YOU have to request it.

Of course, there are some similarities.  I think the WWW is about the
closest thing to Web TV we have right now in that it's basically a
one-way medium (although the ease of competing voices to create
alternative Web pages tends to balance that out).  Even so, it's far
more interactive than TV -- you can't call the shots on TV content,
but you CAN call the shots when surfing the Web.  And if you don't like
what you see, you can put up your own page (vs. grumbling about how
there's "never anything good on the tube").

The interactivity of the Net must NOT be taken for granted in your
analysis.  In your listing, you place E-Mail lists in the "Public"
category -- the one which you define as being more prone to society's
restrictions.  Except for the fact that it has the POTENTIAL to reach
millions of people, I can't think of a single other reason why you
would want to classify it as such.  The ability to reach lots of people
is NOT a bad thing -- and the reaction of people and gov'ts who want
to restrict that is a direct result of the FEAR of spreading ideas.
If you think of "erotica" as an idea, this makes intuitive sense.

The battle over pornography and "indecent" communication boils down
to a simple fight over the power of an idea.  For some reason or another,
people have become convinced that some ideas are SO dangerous that to
permit their expression would be equivalent to spreading poison.  (In
the terms of the Exon movement, it would be like poisoning your kids.)

The trouble with this is that it DIRECTLY contradicts the notion of
a "marketplace" of ideas, wherein the value of such ideas can be openly
debated, and either supported, or criticized.  The end result of this
is that ideas deemed to be "bad" would end up being stomped on by
concensus, and ones deemed "good" would rise to the top.

In that context, the notion of repressing even the discussion of sex
OR pornography (under auspices of banning "indecency") is rather
bizarre.  If it's so bad, then the people who believe so should have
no problem showing this -- to others and to their own children.  They
should have absolutely no fear of the outcome of the debate.  The fact
that this is not the case betrays a FUNDAMENTAL fear and distrust that
the outcome will be positive.  In the case of Christianity, this can
be explained through the Biblical theory of sin (i.e. the spirit is
willing, but the flesh is weak; we are all born sinners, etc.).  However,
there are likely many reasons for this.

So, instead of debating our ideas, we are reduced to fearing them.
This is progress?

All the hyperdemocratic optimism I've seen generated by the Internet
seems to be based on a (dare I say it?) universal hope that the ability
of groups of people to communicate with each other on a global scale
will bring about understanding, and ultimately positive growth and
social change.  It is the ability to mass-communicate that you seem
to argue should/will be regulated by societal (probably national)
standards -- simply because it reaches so many people.  I find that
logic to be quite dangerous, and I hope I misread your intentions.
China reached a similar conclusion a long time ago -- and I don't
see anyone standing up for them.

I realize that you were merely postulating one possible model, in the
hopes of generating further discussion.  Well, it worked.  =)  Even so,
I urge you to clarify and further develop your "public-private" model,
and specifically the logic behind which you make your classifications.

In particular, try to realize the danger of relating ANYTHING on the
Net to the broadcast medium -- they are not equivalent, and the broadcast
medium has the particular burden of very restrictive content regulations
which should not apply here.  TV is not a do-it-yourself thing; you
can't simply get up and start your own TV station if you don't agree
with the viewpoints being broadcast on another.  It's the "captive"
quality of the audience (and the act of shouldering well-financed
broadcasters with some responsibility for their investment) that
brought about the FCC regs -- and there is no such equivalent in
cyberspace.  If you don't like something on TV, you really have no
alternatives.  On the Net, the alternatives are limitless, in part
because WE create them.

> own potential undoing.  Greater power for each of us requires greater
> responsibility.  That's the flip side of the equation -- are we up to that
> challenge?

Please do be careful with the use of this phrase.  In free-speech circles,
it's a euphemism for censorship -- i.e. "one can only be responsible for
speech when one is not ALLOWED to say certain things".  And yes, that's a
contradiction.  ;)

> behavior in cyberspace?  Can we reach a consensus, as a global medium?  Do

Do we want to?  Does there have to be one solution?

> debate, which speaks to you?  Do you think, as a group, Internet users can
> form a community able to justly govern itself?

Yes.  Ref: USENET.

I don't think you can have anarchy in reality ... you just end up with
a non-Gov't government.  The USENET is explicitly governed through its
organization, and implicitly through social standards of conduct.  Having
freedom does not imply living in an anarchy -- hence removing freedom
"solves" a problem which does not exist.


Hmm, that came out better than I expected.  Maybe I should send this
to "24 Hours in Cyberspace" ... =)


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