Geiger's Culture Counter: An ode to the internet
Earlier this month the Federal Communications Commission voted to strip away protections preventing broadband providers from throttling, blocking or otherwise restricting websites and content. Known as “Net neutrality,” those regulations kept the web a level playing field free from corruption.
I’m worried about you, dear internet.
Technically, I should call you by your true full name—the World Wide Web—but I hope you don’t mind me referring to you by your older sibling’s name for simplicity sake.
You see I’m only a few months older than your public birthday. We practically grew up together, going through our awkward growing pains simultaneously.
I remember spending Saturday mornings listening to the sounds of a dial-up modem as I waited for webpages to load. You introduced me to Adobe Flash gaming with Disney’s and Cartoon Network’s old portals. I explored the online world of Neopets—a pseudo-spiritual successor to the Tamagotchi craze—before discovering the artistic community of Newgrounds, which fostered my love of animation with their creative videos and games.
When I played “StarCraft” late at night the beloved dial-up tone became a horrifically loud wail that I would try to muffle in order to not wake my parents. Years later the habit would be replaced by “World of WarCraft” and I’d do my best to whisper to my adventuring party over Skype.
In computer labs I would ask your pal Jeeves for assistance on school reports long before Google turned into the de facto search engine and Wikipedia became the new know-it-all. With a wealth of information at my fingertips I could learn about any subject, even if the relevant book was checked out of the library. Now, you’re in my pocket ready to assist me whenever I draw a blank.
You became vital for preservation, internet. I spent a summer downloading emulators to play games that would be otherwise inaccessible on old and rare consoles. My brother and I mashed on the keyboard to move Donatello and Raphael in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time” years after the arcade machine left the local Chuck E. Cheese’s.
We can thank American Online in part for your success. Can you believe that we used to get CDs in the mail from them in order to use you? Unfortunately AOL Instant Messenger also kicked the bucket this month. Before texting and Facebook we had to wait for a friend to log on to communicate with them in cutting-edge shorthand.
Having a unique chat icon, usually referencing a piece of pop culture, was a status symbol and bonus points were awarded if it was animated. Tweaking preferences led me to the exciting domain of free fonts, only to discover that the person on the other end of the screen needed to have the same font installed to experience my painstakingly curated collection.
Teens across the globe, myself included, got butterflies in their stomachs when AIM’s signature door creak would signal the appearance of their crush in the buddy list. If they had an away message up, it was over-analyzed in an attempt to parse out vague references to fellow classmates. Or, more likely, they were simply favorite pop song lyrics.
Will future kids be able to foster similar memories? Companies say they won’t hurt consumers but you know that makes us the foolish frog believing the scorpion won’t sting them.
A few years ago Comcast forced Netflix to pay the telecom company millions in order to not have their service slowed. And, as most of us know, you often anger more people when you’re slow than when you’re down. That cost was then passed down to the people when they increased their subscription cost.
The sad thing is that people don’t seem to understand that your freedom is a non-partisan issue.
A conservative CEO could block important LGBTQ resources while progressive ones could restrict access to gun-related websites. AT&T, which once blocked FaceTime on their older data plans, could slow down anything not watched on DirecTV unless users pay up. If you think America is divided by ignorance now, wait until only the rich have access to information.
To be fair, internet, you do have a bit of a dark side. Harassment communities and trolls should be silenced as much as possible. But everyone deserves to view adorable cat videos without issues. Even the United Nations believes access to you is a human right.
There is a faint, blinking diode of hope, however. So far the FFC’s vote remains the only official action. Courts are expected to challenge the ruling and senators have introduced bills to void the recent decision.
I owe friends and jobs to you and these are just a few my personal memories that I’ve shared. I’m sure countless others have their own unforgettable experiences thanks to you. Please, don’t leave us.
I’ll miss you, internet. We’ll all miss you.