Communication is changing, you’d be foolish to think otherwise. The little local bubbles we used to exist in have been blown apart by the internet. I am probably one of the first generation to know what so many of my classmates are doing, thirty years after leaving school. They sit on Facebook wall popping updates on every significant event that happens in their lives. Many of these I’ll probably never see again in my life, but I know where they are and what they are doing – thanks to social media!
It would be churlish to expect everything is perfect in this new interconnected world. After all how incredible is it, to be able to engage with people across the world irrespective of location, creed or social circumstances. When I started teaching my very first internet class in the 1990s it all seemed so new and incredible. My patched together classroom were all connected to a 28.8k modem (hastily upgraded from the 14.4k one), and twenty students from all walks of life sat in wonder as we talked to people across the world.
I think my moment of epiphany happened when one of the students asked if they could try and speak to an expert. The individual worked in a local zoo and the elephant there had some health issues, noone was quite sure what to do. We worked to try and find an elephant expert and found one ’online’ at a zoology University in the United States. Some quick emails and by the next class we had them connected up using a technology called IRC (Internet Relay Chat). This is a little chat application that people used to use before the days of Skype and SMS.
We literally sat in amazement as the Zoo worker chatted to the American professor about the ailing elephant. Nearly twenty years on I can still remember the look on his face as he jotted down the words (couldn’t get a damn printout!). I’m pretty sure the rest of the class were similarly impressed. Of course nowadays, the world is so interconnected that this seems fairly trivial, but it was a stunning revelation to those of us in that classroom.
However there is a worry now that as all the barriers of communication have been broken down, there are people and organisations now intent in starting to build them back up. We all know that if you live in somewhere like China or Iran your access to the internet will be severly restricted and definitely monitored. But in the Western democracies, censorship too is beginning to happen – not so much by governments but mainly by big business. Ever tried to watch something on youtube and been told you can’t – it’s a common issue and although people have devised methods to bypass them – like this. Well if not it’s only a matter of time, thousands and thousands of the webs biggest sites are slowly trying to control what you can watch online. Normally it’s a matter of location, in order to protect markets or copyright issues, the bottom line is that your web experience is being controlled for profit.
It’s not the brutal, mind control filtering that the Great Firewall of China is indulging in, but it threatens the fundamental concepts of the internet. The ability to access, to speak and communicate freely is dependent on an unfiltered and largely unregulated internet. We must all be on our guard to protect it, when serious challenges like the incredible SOPA bill in the US raise it’s head – it is important we stand and fight this.