Monday, July 04, 2005


In one of those sniffy scoldings the clergy like to inflict on us from time to time, the Archbishop of Cantebury sets his beady eye on the Internet, which he says is “close to that of an unpoliced conversation”. Well yes, and we’d really like to keep it that way.

The world of cyberspace is not so much an unpoliced conversation as a new version of the wild frontier. It’s the return of the spaghetti western, go west young man, there’s gold in them thar hills.

We're living in the golden age of the Internet and long may it last, chaos and disorder reign supreme and the powers-that-be are quaking in their feather- trimmed slingbacks. The sky is falling on Chicken Little’s head and it’s only natural that vested interests are going to squawk as loudly as they can.

Take the issue of land, time was when you could ride your horse for a few days, chuck in some pegs and the land was yours until, whoops, reached the end of the land and the free-for-all had to stop. Because land was no longer infinite, value came into the equation; some areas became more valuable than others. On the Internet, no piece of land is worth more than any other, Amazon might occupy a large portion of attention space, but you and I, a bit of startup and a good idea can sit in Pofadderspruit and give the big boys a run for their money. It turns the zero-sum game on its head because space-greed makes no sense, land is infinite and because it doesn’t have any value per se, there’s no need to take any more than can be fenced off and maintained.

There’s no shortage of wannabe sheriffs patrolling the plains of cyberspace, they swagger down the street taking potshots at teenage file sharers and baby boomers downloading the Best of Zepplin, but still the rustlers come, sneaking in under cover of a dialup they snatch the new Coldplay in its entirety on the day it’s launched and mosey on down the mesa with their haul. All the marshals can do is put up Wanted posters about how it’s a crime and all that, when we all know those music varmints earn far too much money for their own good.

The saloons of the Internet are packed with beautiful women showing pink, hacker bank robbers, hacktivist cowboys and over in the corner cigar-chomping robber barons, owners of the satellites, the fibre optic cables, the infrastructure, being eyed out by the bandits of the open source movement. All those people who got suckered by the Internet bubble are nothing more than the naïve guy who strolls into town and gets cardsharped by the pro’s in the Crazy Horse Internet Saloon.

Bloggers are like old-style pamphleteers. Believe it or not, there was a time when walking down the street you were handed a pamphlet which you actually read before stuffing it in the bin. Sure the pamphlets weren’t for Tuscan-Provénce townhouse complexes and how to make impossible money working from home, but time was when anyone with a printing press could churn out opinion and shove it in the hand of passersby in the street. Scurrilous articles about the doings of politicians and the aristocracy were an excellent way to bypass the heavy hand of newspaper censorship and influence public opinion, and blogging is nothing more than a sneaky way to get yourself heard without having to become a continuity announcer on SABC. Some bloggers are more like revivalist preachers, setting up tents and ranting and raving about hell, damnation and evil, which brings me back to the venerable Archbishop of Cantebury.

“Paranoid fantasy, self-indulgent nonsense and dangerous bigotry“ he bleats. Hmm, I don’t know what sites he’s been surfing, but for every bit of bigotry on the Net there are a hundred bits of counter-bigotry, and as for mayhem, anarchy, paranoid fantasy and self-indulgent nonsense, isn’t it fantastic?

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