2011-07-28 / Sam Bari

Ruining of the last bastion of free speech

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand

Remember back in the day, when the Internet was fun? You could go online and visit with like-minded geeks and nerds who wanted to chat about subjects of common interest. It was commercial free and it didn’t cost a dime.

Going online still doesn’t cost anything in dollars and cents. Now, you pay with your sanity. You can’t go to a website without being bombarded with advertising, pop-ups, videos and audio bits. A visit to any news outlet is maddening. What happened?

The advent of the personal computer and the commercialization of the Internet started around the mid-1990s. For practical purposes, the Internet has been available to the average user for less than two decades.

In that short period, inventive computer-savvy entrepreneurs have become multi-billionaires by devising ways for people to benefi t from the new technology. The Internet was intended to develop as an educational tool offering instant access to more information to more people than any other method of communication in history.

For the most part, the Internet has been self-policing with few laws governing its use. It has been a free source for people to share political, philosophical and religious views with impunity. It has had its downside with deviant behavior that has required regulation. Other than that, it has been the last bastion of free speech for much of the world where free speech was all but nonexistent.

The Internet has become the new television. Back in the late 1940s and early ‘50s, television revolutionized the world. It was widely acclaimed as the be-all end-all of communicative efforts. Visionaries and entrepreneurs were supportive of the medium as a new outlet for entertainment and information. Television offered instant gratifi- cation and made a better-informed world.

Skeptics claimed that television would cause the ultimate demise of the film and music businesses, and the downfall of radio. To a degree, they were right. Hollywood didn’t fold, however; it just changed its tactics. Radio suffered for a while, but managed to stay afloat. Today there is no lack of radio programming, and the prices for radio advertising have not diminished.

They also claimed that people would stop reading and the book industry would collapse. Well — that didn’t happen. The book business blossomed during the television heyday. And when the networks gave way to cable TV, the publishing industry grew even more.

It did, however, chip away at the newspaper business. Then, when the Internet developed, the newspapers suffered even more. Nonetheless, the will to survive won in the end. Newspapers adjusted to the modern technology by going online and charging the expense to their advertisers. Some even charge subscribers for full online editions.

Many small hometown newspapers are thriving because of their Internet presence. The online editions are often expanded to include more than local news, and their readership has grown as a result.

Today, if a business does not have an Internet presence, it is not taken seriously. Many television, radio and newspaper ads do nothing more than encourage viewers and readers to “visit us on the Internet at www.etc.”

Because of this huge shift in business to take advantage of the barely regulated World Wide Web, the Internet ceased to be fun. Now, it’s like a Wild West show.

Every day, Internet users are forced to wade through a sea of spam, pop-ups, and video commercials that interrupt every news bit, and half-page swatches of advertising links that break up articles and blogs.

The ad brokers relentlessly tempt website owners with defraying their costs and making extra money by allowing advertisers to permeate their sites. The Internet is an attractive target for the advertising sharks because results of advertising dollars can be monitored. Additionally, it offers the best response, beating the results of radio, television, and print of any kind.

The Internet cannot be beat for market penetration, and the costs are dramatically less than its competition.

Consequently, the unbridled, free-spirited world of cyberspace was harnessed, tamed and commercialized, again by big business and greed, the deadliest of the seven deadly sins.

The question remains, will the proverbial Phoenix rise from the dust and offer the free thinkers of this world a new outlet, where freedom of expression and imagination can remain unimpeded and with impunity? We can only hope.

Until then, the commerce demons will continue to stalk us and perpetuate a banal existence in a system we cannot understand.

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