Some 500 years ago, education was considered a luxury and was controlled by a few elite groups, who held their grip over the expensive enterprise of handwritten manuscript production and distribution. They shared and coded information and knowledge in their own chosen elitist language that was insulated from the masses.
Then the printing press and the Gutenberg revolution, way back in 15th century, hanged all that. Eventually, written words and the writings of the Greco-Roman philosophers and scientists and mathematicians were revealed by printing press to the ordinary people at an affordable price. Even then, the Church and other such right-wing entities had tried hard to control and own the printing press but had failed in their mission. Thus we had the Reformation Movement in Europe and thus we had the birth of scientific revolution and the European Renaissance that had ushered our current modern era.
The last 22 years since the birth of the Internet many corporate media houses, right-wing shenanigans and vested interest groups have tried their best to privatise and establish control over the content of the Internet. They were very uncomfortable with the idea of Wikipedia, Wikileaks, Google, Netflix and the Facebook that let the users contribute and choose their information, entertainment and socialisation at will. They wanted to install a faucet on that information flow for a profit.
The Internet has been a two-way communication unlike television, thus the control over its content has always remained unregulated in the hands of millions of end-users across the world. This naturally makes it an unpredictable and an organic proposition outside the purview of big media influence.
The Internet-driven cyberspace is the only space where demographic markers such as class, race, gender, caste, nationality, and ethnicity do not define our identity. Entrepreneurs who had historically put together the complicated rigmarole of technical convergence that ultimately resulted in the creation of the World Wide Web and the subsequent development of the Internet were mostly individual upstart young talents who had began their innovative ventures in their respective garages, backyards and abandoned storefronts. No big corporations, at the beginning, could anticipate the future economic potential of the Internet as a mammoth value generating enterprise. Thus, the Internet has remained and flourished in the safe hands of the geeks, the young and the dreamers who eventually could discover endless possibilities within the virtual world to enhance our social interaction, e-commerce, information storage and knowledge generation.
The Internet has always been a great leveler. It opened the doors for anybody to contribute, to broadcast and to gather information through a mass media domain with no impediments, no bureaucracy or corporate control. In a sense, it comes very close to the Utopian space that John Lennon had imagined in his now-famous song.
It has not only given control of information in the hand of the minutest micro ender-users, but also gave them the choice of anonymity. As a result, gay men, from geographically diverse and sporadic places, could now come together and express themselves and raise an organisation to fight for their rights. Minority groups, caste untouchables, women and other social undesirables could now share their heart-wrenching suffering in the hands of traditional exploitation to each other, in solidarity and without looking askance. Unlike previous innovations in the domain of mass media such as printing, telephone, automobile, and television, the Internet has spread the fastest, trickle-downed the quickest and enabled the multitude to participate in a collective discourse like never before.
But all that could change. The two legislations — Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) — presented recently in the US Congress propose to deliver the control of the Internet in private hands. In the name of privacy protection and piracy mitigation, these two deceptively named legislations pose to impose a corporate regulation on content and distribution of information on the Internet. Both the Bills have recently been placed in the US Congress for voting. If they receive 218 votes in the 435-member house and 60 votes in the 100-member Senate, they would become laws of the land that will affect the whole cyberspace aka the world.
Here’s a quick look as to what the Bills propose:
It is been reported that both the legislations have currently 40 senators supporting and around 180 House Representatives lending their support. They propose to make it unauthorised to share music, watch copyrighted videos, read news and other useful information on Wikipedia. We wouldn’t be able to upload/share copyrighted news articles, videos, photographs on platforms like Facebook, Google Plus or YouTube. This could also mean taking down an entire site if any user posted some copyrighted links as just comments. In the guise of preventing piracy and protecting intellectual property, these draconian acts could throttle the end-users from contributing and enjoying free information on the Internet by imposing a premium on every shared information. (For a quick look at what the Bills really mean, read: A technical examination of SOPA and PROTECT IP)
The revenue generated thus would fill the coffers of few Wall Street media houses as they turn the Internet into another television. This is an ominous sign that will have far-fetched implications in the future usage of the Internet and could possibly change the way we connect with each other. The Web as neutral medium will be forgone forever.
We should stop this dumbing down of the Internet. We should support the online petition immediately to the US Congress urging them to stop this bill from becoming a law. It does not matter if we live in the US or any other country. If passed, these Bills will affect all Internet users irrespective of which side of the international border they live in. In a true spirit of a global citizen connected by cyber optic wires, we should rise and protest against this attempted colonisation of our beloved Internet.