The Threat the Internet Represents to What We Value in Life

Back from California, I had a great brief visit with family after a wonderful return to Macworld. During my family stay I spent some time doing the tech-support thing and got some work done bouncing between whatever computer I was working on, my MacBook air, iPad and iPhone. My niece exclaimed at one point, “how many computers do you have?!” I just smiled.

One thought that lingers came from a heated conversation that I had with one brother-in-law about the anti-SOPA movement. If the conversation is any indication of what the masses feel about what happened with the anti-SOPA movement that the message is getting really mangled out there.

My brother-in-law, a former science-teacher, is a fellow affectionado for all things NPR and one of the few remaining humans that I personally know who still reads the local LA Times in paper form pretty much every single day. So we’re not talking about some Fox “News” unfortunate. Anyway, the gist of his argument was that stealing/piracy is wrong and that the anti-SOPA movement must be the outcry of those websites and individuals who are benefitting from the continuation of this unregulated, mostly lawless Internet. Hmmm. Did I mention that he’s a pretty smart guy? He admitted that he understood that SOPA was a poorly written law, but this was another example of those connected with the Internet trying to get away with what in “normal life” would be understood as theft. And the fact that there was such a huge backlash that reversed what looked like a governmental done-deal must have meant that these Internet players are pretty big. It’s a safe bet that he feels like these Internet people are all an anarchic selfish bunch who are completely self-absorbed with their Twitters and Facebook.

Trying to explain that SOPA/PIPA had the potential of breaking the Internet, downgrading our first amendment rights and throwing the copyright balance of power to the already powerful media companies, didn’t seem to break his resolve that the anti-SOPA people were just trying to get away with theft. I tried to explain that the infinite copyable nature of digital goods changes the business practices. Nope. Theft. I tried to explain that music and musicians can and are being supported because fans understand that if they want more music from their favorite artists, that the only way for that to continue is to support them by attending their performance and buying their music on amazon and iTunes, and that by keeping the prices low it makes piracy impractical. Nope. In his mind the vast majority of music on the Internet is stolen. Okay. I think this goes beyond distrust of the Internet, to feelings that Internet culture is undermining what is good in life, period.

On the way to the restaurant one night I showed him the little blue dot representing where we were on the map on my iPhone. On the way back from the restaurant he asked if I’d ever unplugged for a week before. I’ve had crappy Internet for a week but I’ve never just unplugged. He asked if I would consider unplugging (for a week). Nah, not really. I tried to explain that this is what I do, being plugged in is part of my fun. I tried the pager analogy, that when I worked for the phone company driving all over Orange County I looked at my pager as a means to have some freedom, that I was always about 15-minutes away from being where I needed to be. So the pager freed me from having to be tied to a desk in an office. My brother, however, thought of his pager as the means for others to keep tabs on him, so he was always leaving the little thing at home. Same device, but I saw it as a means of freedom while my brother saw it as a device of control. Yeah, my brother-in-law wasn’t buying it and I felt the distinct impression that he felt sorry for me because I was deluded enough to believe that my life online was real. Wow.

I know that I live and have lived ahead of the technological curve for some time now. The world has changed and continues to change and it’s not just about pretty toys but the real connections that these pretty toys can enable. Friendships, politics, the classroom, entertainment, they’ve all changed because of these pretty little toys, in ways that even their creators could never imagine. I understand that some of us don’t like change and only see the destructive potential of these things. But just like the pager, this change can something that brings out the best in us and doesn’t have to destroy all the things that we love. I have to wonder what the distrust says about the worrier. So, whether this is the end of what we love or an opportunity for something good will depend on the user of the tool(s).