Why we fight (for the Internet)

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I was recently invited to speak at an event put on by Gen Why Media Project called the "Why We Do It Party". What made the event interesting, besides the eclectic mix of speakers, creative performers, and participants, was that speakers were asked to talk about why we do what we do. We were asked to speak about what motivates us, rather than the usual talk about what we/our organizations do, our accomplishments etc.

It was nice being forced to step back from the day-to-day excitement of OpenMedia.ca's Stop The Meter campaign and actually take a moment to remember what got me started in the first place, and reflect on what keeps me engaged and motivated now.

Considering my work, the question really boiled down to why I care about the open and accessible Internet. It was an ideal time to contemplate this question as phone and cable companies had recently stepped up their efforts unleash new Internet usage fees that would fundamentally change how the Internet works. I find the question interesting because I'm sure the answer is 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 connect with family and friends via skype, download baby pictures, to debate on forums, for research, learning and self development, gaming, to facilitate meet ups around an area of interest, and innumerous 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 had to say.

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

Some people offered touching personal stories: "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: academic writing, psychology, anthropology and several courses in behavioral 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 access."

Others found that the political and empowering dimension of the Internet resonated most: "We are in an information age, where we know more about anything then any previous generation. We can call out the corrupt, we can prove truths, and fight for change. All at our fingertips."

The Internet is also looked at as more of a practical tool for innovation: "My job (a high tech, small, mobile company) flat-out needs the Internet to innovate and connect with clients. We are small and just starting up. This would definitely stifle our ability to teleconference, skype, etc with clients."

"As a student in university or college, the Internet is definitely worth saving. Students already pay ridiculous amounts of fees for tuition, and on top of that, books, transportation, food, etc. with little or no help from our gov't. Making them also PAY more for Internet access is another obstacle for them in obtaining their goals."

Some people feel the Internet is most worth saving because of its ability to make us better as a species: "I think the Internet is important because it has both helped to create/facilitate/flourish a more insightful, compelled, curious, motivated, diversely knowledgeable, productive, and inspired breed of humans." (oh, this is me!)

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."

These comments are just the tip of the iceberg and you can check out the rest yourself on Facebook.

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 for a more just, engaging, and democratic society. The Internet itself will not solve the world's problems, but it does help break down barriers between us making it easier to collaborate and self organize. It helps us transcend isolation.

In a world that can feel economically and ecologically precarious, the Internet represents opportunity and hope. Open communication holds the possibility that our ingenuity and creativity could lead to a future that we get to shape and define. It's the freedom to connect in new ways.

Saving the Internet is important to me because it holds the possibility for a better world. Lets not let that possibility slip away.

Steve Anderson is the national coordinator of OpenMedia.ca.

Reach him at:
[email protected]

Media Links is a syndicated column supported by Common Ground, TheTyee, rabble.ca,and VUE Weekly.

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