22 June 2008

The Twonky

I read in the news that China is blocking still more websites in honor of the Olympics, and I see that ERV is still at war with the semicolon, so nothing much has changed. My brother's macaw has quit squawking now that I figured out that she wanted food in her dish, which quiets things down some here. I spent the time today I would have written something trying to figure out where much of the internet had gone. I tried to check out CNN--nothing. I tried to read something in National Review--gone. Yahoo was still operating, and most of the blogs seemed to be up and functioning, but virtually all news sources (except FOX, for some reason, if that counts) had disappeared.

Being me I quickly jumped to the conclusion that right-wing terrorist militias had taken over the news outfits of the world and that from now on we would be forced to rely on government handouts for our alleged information. It wasn't at all reassuring to find that Comcast appeared to be broadcasting a news show where CNN Headline News was supposed to be on the TV. One of my nephews, however, suggested that I should try accessing CNN through an internet proxy, and sure enough, that worked. CNN was still there; I just couldn't get to it from my usual point of departure.

Feeling a little like a character in that recent episode of South Park--the one where the internet disappeared--I sent my nephew down the street to his father's house to see whether they still had the internet up there. (This is my other brother's house--not the one who left his macaw here with me for the week; he's in Pendleton for an aerobatics competition. This is the brother who keeps fish, brews beer, and cooks the most amazing Chinese food.) A few minutes later my nephew returned, reporting that there was still internet a mere three blocks away, so whatever was keeping us from CNN et al was only targeting us, seemingly. (Okay, that's generalizing from very selected instances, but still--it's a straw in the wind, an augury of the cosmic powers.)

"It's got to be the router," my nephew explained, launching into a short dissertation that conveyed to me little except that apparently tiny demons live in our router and one of them had got lazy and was refusing to do his job. A high-ranking demon, apparently, or there wouldn't be so much of the damn internet missing. A few minutes and a couple of resets later the internet was back up and running again, and I was back at my keyboard launching data into cyberspace.

So I guess there were no terrorist right-wing militias clamping down on my news--this time, anyway. And it wasn't an evil corporate plot to destroy the internet either. Still, I've got used to living my childhood fantasy of having all the news of the world brought to my doorstep and available at my command--The Guardian, the Times of India, The Podunk Gazette and Cross-Time Wanderer--and it's downright unnerving to have it taken away from me at the whim of some internet demon. What if next time it's my ISP making decisions about what I should or should not be reading or listening to over the magic intertubes? Or some anonymous functionary in the depths of the great bureaucracy that passes for the free enterprise system here? The Department of Appropriate Content has decided that your choice of information is not acceptable by the community standards established by Free Information Act of 2007 and from now on you will abide by the Decency Provision (Subsection 3A, Paragraph 72) as determined by a committee of your peers....

A million years or so ago, in the golden age of sf, a fellow named Henry Kuttner wrote about a futuristic record player that took it upon itself to censor its owner's choice in music, books, and--well, everything. It ended badly. The day that the machines that bring us content, whether it be food, music, or news, start telling us what to eat, listen to, or read, is not yet. Still--

I can't help wondering, what the hell is it like to live in China?

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