George Bush caused quite the stir when he referred to cyberspace as "The Internets". Those who know me well know that I generally use this language of "the internets" in my everyday speech. Those same people also know that I really don't know anything about technology. Nor do I claim to. What's really interesting, though, is that we all make assumptions about the internet despite the fact that there are so few people out there that understand both the technical and ideological sides of the equation.
It's no surprise that I have an insatiable appetite for knowing about the social, economic, and political implications of the internet despite my glaring lack of understanding for the way it works. Enter "CBC Spark", one of my favourite productions on CBC Radio One. This programme really looks into the aforementioned intersection of technical and ideological components of the internet. The main idea that I get is something like this. The internet is both entirely abstract and an actual physical construct, though as I mentioned, it is rarely recognised as such. Education around the internet and technology in general is exceptionally poor in my opinion. The primary reason for this, I would argue, is because we are taught only to embrace technology as a necessary tool for economic and social survival. This emphasis ignores an important concern - understanding it the internet through a deconstruction of what it means on a personal level and on a wider political plane.
The reason why I'm writing this short blog is because I just came across a story earlier today and it troubled me deeply. A 17-year-old survivor of sexual assault is facing serious legal issues after publishing on the internet the names of the minors who attacked her. In North America there are already troubling enough discourses around sexual crime, notably blaming the victim and letting the perpetrators off. I think it's evident where I stand on this issue, but I will make it patently clear regardless. The fact that sexual assault still happens to roughly 25 per cent of North American women is despicable. What's even worse is the pervasive idea that these sorts of crimes aren't happening and don't need to be talked about. The worst part, however, is that our legal systems aren't prepared for the twenty-first century realities of the internet.
On the macro level, the issue that the aforementioned case brings up to me is that the internet is so new (in a historical sense) that its affects on society are barely understood. The cultural ideas about law (which are traditional) and the internet (which are just forming) often aren't being discussed together. I find this very troubling, though not at all surprising. Just how should publication bans work in the digital age? Is someone's social networking page, blog, or website considered public or private? The lines are being blurred, and the legal ramifications are much more significant than people would initially believe.
A more critical discourse of the technology in our lives is a must. It already exists, but its on the fringes of public consciousness: academic reports and blogs by activists. I understand people just want the convenience, the immediate gratification, and the status that comes with social media, the internet, and new technology. I really understand these social expectations.
I hope that in the near future people will start realising that the internet is a merely a repository for society - a mirror that reflects the myriad ways we construct the world around us. The internet, as a form of mass communication, needs to be taken seriously by law. We need to learn from history - the introduction of the printing press in the sixteenth century radically changed the way that information was both produced and consumed, and laws changed to reflect that. The same needs to happen today, but it won't unless people fight against the status quo of the internet being a tool used to support the status quo of privilege for monetary expansion, for expressing hate, and for strengthening conformity.