Pax Internetum – Day 4:The Global Beach Hut Goes Nuclear

I finished yesterday rather abruptly on the subject of flamebait and Channels.nl, which was a useful and informative board before it became a troll’s paradise. This might have been because I accidentally posted it from my mobile. So, I’ve got through the first three days without getting into those pointlessly snarky internet squalls. I haven’t stopped posting, even on Channels, which was something I was sure I would have to do.

I’ve always loved the internet. I’m a massive technology geek, and the idea that so many apparently diverse systems could be connected in such a useful and meaningful manner still astounds me to this day. I remember vividly the first time I sat in front of an internet-connected computer, I remember signing up for my first email account and especially the first time I ever used IRC.

It’s difficult to imagine, now that many of us have unlimited SMS and real-time chat services on our phones, how magical that experience of talking to someone live on the other side of the world felt. Back in 1995, it was like a private club, a meeting place for people with shared passions. Arguments happened but weren’t too disruptive because on the rare occasions when politics varied enough to cause significant friction, they were always overruled by a shared passion for the internet and the technology that made it possible. We were like a group of travellers, weary with the tourist resorts of the world, who had chanced upon a private lagoon secreted from prying eyes that was ours alone. It was The Beach, but without Leo. It was our place. It couldn’t last, of course: it never does. Five years later, in the year 2000, internet penetration had increased by almost twenty times the 1995 number.

Our oasis had become a Benidorm, a Hawaii, a Faliraki, a Bali. No longer could we sit by the harsh, dim light of the digital campfire finding gentle friends, all but anonymous and free to invent ourselves. The chains had moved in and they demanded. They demanded data, verifiable identities; age/sex/location had become name/location/income. The internet was becoming faster almost by the month, but what were we losing for that extra bandwidth? Dare I use the word ‘soul’? This new commercialisation coincided with a new brashness on the internet. In a few short years, it progressed from what was fundamentally a largely text-based document-retrieval system with rudimentary communications systems and a few low-quality images to a full-tilt multimedia web of sound and fury, a participatory experience where everyone could have their say, a place where a news organisation without a comments section wouldn’t last long.

And now we get to the point of all this.

From its roots as a democratic, flat-field space where everyone’s opinion counted equally until shown otherwise, the internet gold rush has spawned another space that favours those who shout the loudest, those with the biggest marketing spend, those who can afford to monitor and lobby 24 hours. People and organisations who never give up on pushing themselves. Politicians, corporations, lobby groups, one-issue nutcases who think that their deeply held convictions somehow give them the right to hold political office…they’re all here. And they’re all shouting louder than you.

And they’re shouting longer and louder than you because they have nothing better to do.

And Channels: I don’t suspect that it has corporate trolls – I don’t think its influence or readership are sufficient for corporations other than the occasional misguided SpamBot to bother – but it is peppered with people who cannot and will not change their views even when those views do them no credit and in many cases actively harm them.

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