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Spare Me the Theme Song, Dave
Editor's note: consider this week's piece my contribution to the "24 Hours of Democracy" thing.
A couple of Thursdays ago, Clinton signed into law the "sweeping" Telecommunications Bill, which pretty much deregulated the entire telecom industry. Phone companies can now sell me cable television. Woo hoo. Oh, and in case you hadn't heard, they also passed the Communications Decency Act, which makes it illegal for anyone to transmit "indecent" materials to minors over the net.
And then the blue ribbons and black pages appeared. Damn, was it fun. The Obvious jumped on the bandwagon -- I've got one of those nifty blue ribbons, and I went black for a couple days. It felt good to "do something." As the Sucksters said, "it was almost as exciting as signing the petition to get a cig machine installed into the high school cafeteria."
(And hey, going black made me finally get my act together and make my images transparent!)
To keep the "protests" rolling, and in response to the stillborn (and politically lifeless) "24 Hours in Cyberspace" project, Dave Winer has gone and organized "24 Hours of Democracy." You see, everyone's supposed to take time out of their busy schedules surfing the web for X-Files plot summaries to write an essay about what democracy means to them, what their hopes and dreams are for the internet, share their ideas, spread good cheer, etc. And then put them up on the web on February 22nd, George Washington's birthday. Cooooooool, Dave. You're zoooooooming. Dig you must. Whatever.
OK, fine. A grass roots response to "24 Hours in Cyberspace." Very bottom up. Let everyone state their peace with the world. Let all the people on the web tell each other how great we all are and how much we love democracy and freedom of speech and how the government should get off our backs and bla bla bla.
And it will all just be more of the same. Preaching to the converted.
Dave Winer has a tendency to get a bit, shall we say, overfocused. In one of his pieces last week, I realized how out of control this whole thing has become. He wrote...
Where are the creative people of the music industry on this stuff? I wish Jerry were here! We need a theme song. Who wants to write it? We need something to dance to!
What is this, We are the World? A theme song for a first amendment debate? Give me a break. Jerry Garcia's dead, Dave. Get over it.
On second thought, maybe we can turn to John Perry Barlow, former Dead lyricist for a theme song. Or, better yet, how about a brand new Declaration of The Independence, just for Cyberspace! Because the one we've got must not be good enough. In this new declaration, Barlow writes...
Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. You have neither solicited nor received ours. We did not invite you.
Bullshit, Barlow. Whether you like it or not, the Internet exists in the real world. The people that inhabit "the new home of Mind," as you call it, have homes, in cities, counties, states and countries. We pay taxes. We (yes, you and me, Barlow) elected the Government that passed the CDA. We did invite them.
In my more cynical moments this past week, I've thought that the protest around the CDA is really just a lame attempt by baby-boomers to return to their golden sixties. "Finally!" they shout. "I can feel good about spending four grand on my Power Macintosh, because now I can use it as a tool against the government! Power to the people! Down with censorship! How dare you tread on my right to download porn!"
But in my less cynical moments, I've actually thought about how I'd answer Winer's challenge. What does the first amendment mean to me? It means having the right to disagree with Winer and Barlow's tactics and still believe in what they're doing. It means having the right to publish my writing once a week, regardless of what it says or implies or whose community standards it offends. It means having the right to communicate freely and openly with family, friends and strangers.
We have to protect this right. But we have to do it sensibly. Cyberspace Declarations of Independence aren't going to be enough. Black web pages aren't going to be enough. Essays about democracy aren't going to be enough. We have to do it in the real world. With things like real world education, real world law suits, real world political action committees.
P.S. For more ranting on the Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace, check out David Bennahum's latest Meme, which rails against Barlow for inviting "people to ignore reality, and sit with their thumbs in their eyes while the real world passes them by."
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