[Cyber]space, the final frontier

By Christian Louden

The Internet has become one of the most popular media of communication in the world, allowing its users to develop, organize and exchange ideas. It has become a community that has its own dialect and etiquette, rules both written and unwritten. Many have come to love the freedom associated with the Internet. Anyone, anywhere at any time can contribute something-whether it is of value is another question. Nowhere else in the world can you find the freedom found on the electronic ether. As more people have begun to use the Internet, smaller communities formed that have gained a great deal of credibility in determining what will be popular in music, film, videogames and even politics. So, it should come as little surprise that the online community is becoming a demographic all on its own to which politicians may soon have to sell on their platform. So far, this hasn’t been the case. Legislation is constantly under debate that has great potential to cripple what makes the Internet a libertarian utopia, but it seems you can only push so hard before people start pushing back.

The spread of information worldwide is easier now than ever before, with websites such as Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, MySpace and Slashdot dominating in the way people access information. Facebook has evolved into a political tool as much as a social networking site. Whether it be used as a fansite for musicians and actors, or for the organization of petitions and rallies, it has a clear influence in sorting people into communities, where they can identify with one another on the things that matter to them.

A couple months ago, members of the 4chan subculture declared war on Scientology. While nothing can really be taken seriously from Internet forums that frequently invoke the phrase “tits or get the fuck out,”-which, incidentally, are most Internet forums-the ability to organize enough people who were loosely affiliated through a website into a anti-religious movement is quite impressive. Closer to my own heart, rights advocates in Canada organized and formed a petition on Facebook in an effort to subvert the Canadian copyright bill Jim Prentice brought to parliament. Protestors ambushed Prentice in a scrum, asking questions about where the bill was coming from and what he hoped to accomplish. The unpopular bill was quickly tabled following the protest.

United States presidential hopeful Ron Paul, a Republican member of the House of Representatives, had immense amounts of popularity within his party despite almost no mainstream coverage. The significance of his popularity on the Internet is evidenced by Internet users who contributed to an independently organized online fundraiser that set the record in U.S. political history, raising $6 million dollars in 24 hours.

Independent music owes much of its success to the Internet. MySpace has given many talented and untalented people an excellent opportunity to get their music out to people around the world, while the RIAA is constantly at war with the free exchange of music, under the auspices of protecting the intellectual property of musicians. Websites have sprung up dedicated to reviewing more than just mainstream music and are deciding what will be found on your average indie kid’s mp3 player. Independent film that would otherwise be condemned to obscurity also has an excellent opportunity to get out and get noticed. The film Donnie Darko, now a huge success, was doomed until it found great popularity within certain circles on the Internet and became an incredibly popular film.

In many ways, this seems to make hardcore online elite the arrogant social elite when it comes to matters on the ‘Net. I’d be lying if I claimed not to have on occasion uttered words of disdain for those who I felt were riding on the coattails of nerds-especially when they’re blissfully unaware of it. The elite are well informed on the issues and they owe their position of pseudo aristocracy to the Internet. As our society becomes increasingly connected, various online communities may become a demographic to target social and political policy of the future. P2P file sharing is a big issue among piracy advocates on the Internet, and is under constant attack from lobby groups to stop in its tracks. It’s not by divine intervention that P2P file sharing has somehow limped by and continued to remain in a political grey area that makes it so difficult to legislate.

This isn’t to say that Internet users are some manner of superior folk compared to the rest of the world. The Internet really isn’t any different than any other community, with the exception that there are certainly a much larger number of users who can potentially contribute to it. The reason they seem to have managed to hang on for so long and make a difference and cause an impact is because of the large audience that is so easily reachable.When people care about something, they’re going to protect that something. Sooner or later, politicians are going to have to realize a war on the Internet is not a war so easily won.

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