MEME 2.03


MEME 2.03

In this issue of MEME:

o Untied Nodes of Internet -- are we forming a digital nation?

o Call for Comments from Around the World.

If you're like me in just two ways -- you live in the United States and subscribe to a lot of electronic discussion groups -- chances are your email box is brimming with alerts, updates and invective about the "end of the Internet."

The Internet -- or cyberspace -- reached one of those rare and crucial junctures in its history this February. As you probably know, the Congress of the United States passed a law called the Communications Decency Act (CDA) making it a felony to transmit "indecent" or "patently offensive" material on- line. This law, signed by President Clinton, is now in quasi-limbo, awaiting a final verdict from US judiciary on its constitutionality. I will not tire you with the logistical details of this process, other than to invite you to visit Voters Telecommunications Watch which contains plenty of information on the timetable and the bill's history. You can also read my editorial opposing the bill, printed in the New York Times last May.

But why is this a critical juncture? No, it is not because the Internet will be "shut down" as some argue. It is not because the CDA passed. This is a critical juncture because the CDA is pushing avid users of the Internet towards a self-defining decision, a decision with long-term consequences. At the heart of this decision is a basic question: will we deal with the real world or retreat into our own private delusion -- one which places cyberspace above and beyond the realities of the physical world?

The Myth of Digital Nirvana

Some people believe cyberspace is separate from the realities of the physical world. They argue that cyberspace, because it is "not where bodies live" is the inevitable catalyst which will usher in a new, better world. The CDA is then just another example of foolish, ham-fisted government. Government, according to these prophets, a vestige of primitive society, will soon become obsolete, replaced by a society of mind. So who cares what governments think? Why not just wait out these times of troubles until the new world is unveiled? Don't roll your eyes yet -- serious people, at least serious in the sense that they get media attention and the public sees them as representatives of cyberspace, argue that:

"This bill was enacted upon us by people who haven't the slightest idea who we are or where our conversation is being conducted. It is, as my good friend and Wired Editor Louis Rossetto put it, as though 'the illiterate could tell you what to read.'

Well, fuck them.

Or, more to the point, let us now take our leave of them. They have declared war on Cyberspace. Let us show them how cunning, baffling, and powerful we can be in our own defense."

That quote comes from "A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace," by John Perry Barlow. Barlow, a co- founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, former Grateful Dead tunemaster (an American rock and roll band) and cattle rancher is perceived by the public and the media