Why care about the Internet?

INDEPENDENT MEDIA by Steve Anderson with Alicia Girard 

I was recently invited to speak at an event put on by Gen-Why (www.genwhymediaproject.com) called the “Why We Do It Party.” What made the event interesting, besides the eclectic mix of speakers, creative performers and participants, was that the speakers were asked to talk about why they do what they do. Instead of speakers giving the usual talk about what they or their organizations do or about their accomplishments, we were asked to speak about what motivates us to do what we do. It was nice to be forced to step back from the day-to-day excitement at OpenMedia.ca and actually remember what got me started in the first place and also for me to take some time to contemplate what keeps me engaged and motivated now.

Considering my work, the question really boiled down to why I care about the open Internet. I find the question interesting because I’m sure it’s different for each one of us. For some, it might be about consuming content of your choice; for others, it might be the ability to share your art, to reach your family via skype, to debate on forums, to facilitate meet-ups around an area of interest and innumerable other activities.

So while I came up with my answer for the Gen Why event, it made me curious as to what others would say if the question were put to them. So I put a call out on my blog and the OpenMedia.ca Facebook page to see what people would tell me.

The answers I got were as diverse as Canadians are themselves. Some common themes were benefits to humanity, education, free speech, dissatisfaction with traditional media, and my personal favorite: the Internet is basically everything.

Some had touching, personal stories to share. One person wrote, “I am on a disability for brain trauma. I have had the opportunity through the use of online learning and special programs to attain a B-average in university [studying] academic writing, psychology, anthropology and several courses in behavioural analysis and autism support. My goal is to become a support person for others who may also have challenges. It would mean the loss of my ability to forward my education and be of service to others if I were charged for Internet usage as well as access.”

Others expressed wonderment: “I am a normal adult who grew up in the days before there was any such thing as an Internet. I never would have believed that all this is possible and it has changed the world in both good ways and bad. However, I believe that the Internet has changed the world in at least one very good way – and that is in our ability to share with each other.”

For me, the efforts to close the open Internet (by metering or throttling) are a war on sharing, a war on creativity and ultimately a war on human potential. Perhaps I’m a bit too much of a romantic for my own good, but I think the Internet can bring out the best of the human spirit; I think it has the capacity to reflect back at us and encourage us to reach the potential for a more just and democratic society. The Internet won’t itself solve the world’s problems, but it does help break down barriers between us; it does make it easier to collaborate and self organize. For me, saving the Internet is important because the Internet holds the possibility for a better world.

Steve Anderson is the national coordinator for the Campaign for Democratic Media. He has written for The Tyee, Toronto Star, Epoch Times andAdbusters.

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