11 05 2010


I wrote to my CongressCritters recently on this subject:



“Net Neutrality is the cornerstone of innovation, free speech and democracy on the Internet.

More than 1.9 million Americans have expressed support for Net Neutrality at Congress and the FCC. They want control over the Internet to remain in the hands of the people who use it every day.

Please stand with the public by protecting Net Neutrality once and for all.



I recently was reminded that several years ago the FCC decided NOT to regulate ISPs  as ‘common carriers’. I was amazed to discover this! If you happen to be as old as me, therefore perhaps not blinded by the anything-business-wants! mood of the last 30 years, you may feel the same way. ‘Common carriers’* is obviously just what they are.

If we ever let ISPs be anything else, they’ll eventually work that modest regulatory specialness around to having as much power as the TV broadcasters of the last generation. Remember all those years of mindless TV that was ‘given’ to you on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis? Did you really enjoy being a passive couch potato? Do you really want the Internet, with all its promise of universal FREE (in both senses) communication to descend to that?

If ISPs become able to pick and choose the content they deliver, and control the speed and convenience with which it’s presented to you, rather than just accepting it for a standard payment proportional to the size of what’s delivered, you’ll be back on the couch forever.”






Seriously folks, especially my fellow baby boomers, have you forgotten all those years of sitting down on your sofa for a bit of TV, finding only the usual boring drivel, and sighing and sitting there and watching the junk anyway, ’cause there was “nothing else on”? A person could spend a whole evening vegetating like that back then — and end up more than slightly sad because so little had been accomplished, or even enjoyed. When it came to home entertainment, we had NO CHOICE.

Having way more fun with the Internet now? Of course you are. The interactivity, and above all the control of what you experience, the Internet provides is wonderful.

But the amount of money to be made on the Internet by ISPs that succeed in controlling its content would also be wonderful! And those ISPs have lots of lobbyists, and money to buy CongressCritters with.

CongressCritters love money, but they also somewhat fear US. Every marvelous new technology comes to a turning point where the corporations involved in it are on the verge of getting complete control of it (e.g., see the history of radio in the 1920s). For the Internet, that turning point is most likely this decade.

So get up from playing with the marvelous Internet for a bit and throw some fear into your CongressCritters on the subject of net neutrality!

Unless you just WANT to go back to being a couch potato again, this time in front of your computer instead of your TV.






6 06 2009

TV functions as the modern equivalent of the fire that thousands of generations of people sat around each evening for as long as we were us. My guess is that a lot of storytelling always went on in that setting. Most of the stories were probably told by the elders. The stories would be funny or dramatic or sad or uplifting, and many times they would be instructive about how to live in the surrounding society — even if the lesson was only implied. And other members of the family could tell stories too, even the children — getting to be the center of attention and feel important in the family in the process. Storytelling explained the world and passed cultures on in a warm, community-building way.*

Commercial TV, as practiced in the United States since the 1950s, took all that away from us. A brand new kind of mesmerizing ever-changing light for the family to stare at in the evening darkness, it might have been a worthy replacement for the old ways, except for the differences in motivation of the old and new storytelling. American TV has always told stories that were motivated by one single desire — the desire to grab and hold your attention in order to sell you stuff. That means that every aspect of the storytelling art became meretricious. There is little or no “art” per se, left, in fact, because creators don’t get to make decisions freely about what will be in their stories. Choices are dictated mostly by the need to sell, sell sell!

The worst aspect of this is that TV stories have increasingly tried to show the most extreme aspects of everything, because that’s what the manipulators behind them know will grab your attention. That’s why we have so many shows about inherently disgusting things, like serial killers, and how to figure out who killed decomposing dead people. (“CSI” comes to mind.) Cumulatively, this has the subliminal effect of making people believe that crime is much more of a danger to them than it is. We become nervous, ever-watchful, and ever more eager to buy guns to defend ourselves from the unlikely “dangers” that have been made to seem to surround us on every side.

TV stories also routinely misrepresent society, because no-one will be in a buying mood if he’s reminded that he lives in an economically perilous society that cares nothing about him.  So all stories on American TV take place among the upper middle class or the wealthy. Poor people are never mirrored positively, and the reality they live is therefore marginalized. On TV they are nothing, zeroes. That is not good for their self esteem. And their excision from the TV world also subliminally mirrors our society to us in a falsely positive light, promoting right-wing politics.

In the last and worst place, by taking over all storytelling, traditional, non-Internet TV took away from children, and in fact all “everyday” people, the chance to shine in an extended, creative way by successfully telling complete stories. There are only so many pleasures to be had in the course of a human life. We couldn’t afford to lose one that cool.

Now, luckily, the age-old gathering around the fire has been rekindled in the form of the Internet. On sites like YouTube, Twitter, and untold millions of blogs, we can all participate in telling stories again. True, the people who want to “drive” us (as they are tellingly fond of saying) to their selling sites still predominate, but before we could not turn away from their offerings without turning off that hypnotizing central light — a very hard things to do. Now we can flit away in a moment to another web page or video. It is a golden age of information, interaction, and participation.

But unfortunately, in the USA at least, the “driving” power of greed is immense and ever-renewing. We’re seeing ever more elaborate ways being developed to track us as we navigate the Internet, so that, though we may now escape junk programming as we never could while watching TV, we cannot escape advertising**. In addition, watch for sites like YouTube to be increasingly morphed toward the top-down model of program creation. The history of American electronic media is a story of ever-increasing narrowing of the fare that the people who run the media will offer us. (Listen to commercial radio — a selection of stations — for a few days, and you’ll get the idea. In the early years of broadcast radio it offered everything from farm reports to soprano recitals.)

This narrowing reflects the practice of “programming to the lowest common denominator” — meaning only providing stuff that the most unsophisticated viewer could love, on the assumption that everyone else will turn off half his brain and watch it too, rather than have nothing to watch at all. The great virtue of this approach for content producers is that they only have to produce the entertainment equivalent of burgers and fries, yet they will still get big audiences.

For the foreseeable future there will be tremendous pressure from powerful interests to control the Internet and narrow its options so that this time-honored approach can be used on us again. I will fight against that, and I hope you will to.

The best way to do so, IMHO, is to support net neutrality.


* See this review of a really interesting book:

Review: How storytelling shaped humanity

  • 25 May 2009 by Kate Douglas
  • Book information:
  • On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition and Fiction by Brian Boyd
  • Published by: Belknap Press
  • Price: $35/£25.95


** That is, unless you use Firefox with the add-on called AdBlock installed, in which case you don’t have to see much advertising at all.


10 02 2009

As happened 86 years ago, when the brand-new technological miracle of radio broadcasting took off, all kinds of interests are today churning the legislative and judicial waters trying to get the law on the subject of Internet management set to their liking.

They are smart to do so. Once that law is established, it will be nearly set in stone. Back in the 1920, there was great hope that radio could bring information and culture to the masses–and some stations even tried to do so. But without a financing method, such as the BBC tax on radio usage, everything came down in the end to sponsored entertainment programming.

That actually worked out pretty well for about 75 years, until radio began to become a passe medium in the late 1990s as the Internet was rising. Now radio is nothing but “all right-wing vituperation all the time” on AM, and a very narrow selection of sucky music on FM (country, rap, old rock — that’s all, folks!).

Only NPR, created in the late 1960s and which has had to fight for its life many times since, actually gives us expert information and in-depth news.

SO….you might want to keep track of the struggles that are now shaping the Internet for the next generation. Here’s a good place to do it: