TFW The Internet is Actually a Cloud: Thoughts on Internet Culture & Net Neutrality in 2014

by John Facey

    Dear Internet,

    I want to be the name on the books that line the shelves of your first true love’s bedroom floor. I want to stay with you in dreams which occasionally waft in through memory’s open window. I want the artsy kids to drop my name in conversation with dates they met on the internet; dates whom they are trying to impress and eventually have sex with. I want those same artsy kids to fall in love and have children, and for their children’s children to discover my books in their parents’ attic long after I am dead. I want to find security in knowing there will always be someone to dust off my pages. I want to smell like old paper. I want to exist with all the pastoral romance of the high modernist tradition. I want to exist outside the cloud.

    The internet: It is not a big truck; it is series of tubes! Is it plagiarism if I write that quote without citing it? You could just Google it. This is the internet, after all. And on that note, shouts out to the internet! This essay is a message to the trolls, the cyberbullies, the cyberpunks, the seapunks, the soft grunge, the powder goths, the hashtag activists, the tumblr feminists, the facebook likers, the people in memes, the gifs, the sex, the violence, the power, the glory, forever, amen. It seems, sometimes, that all has already been written within this strange prayer of ones and zeroes. It seems immortal at times; omniscient, even. The internet is no longer simply a piece of technology we invented; it is a place we go, many of us multiple times a day. Where are you? I’m online. Where are you now? Offline. So does that mean you’re away from your keyboard? Yes, I am Afk. (Lol)

    Not long ago, this conversation would have sounded like the unintelligible utterances of a raving madman. Nowadays, applying such internet-specific terminology to our colloquial dialogue is the norm. But as new generations continue to grow with the internet, so evolves the language we use to understand it. Undoubtedly, todays acronymic lexicon of omg’s and btw’s will sound quaint and old fashioned to future generations growing up with the internet. The modern desktop metaphor is already being phased out in favor of the more postmodern “cloud” metaphor. This means that researchers and technicians no longer feel the need to associate personal computing with real-world tangibles like the desktop, file folders, trash bin, and mailbox. Another good example is the chat room; what ever happened to those things? With the rapid integration of our communications technologies, the business of marketing the computer internet has been a journey toward the most seamless, user-friendly computing experience possible. We no longer see ourselves as entering “rooms” on the internet; we simply enter the internet. The simulacral nature of our online avatars is beginning to dissolve as the technology itself becomes more natural to the user.

    In my opinion, the fruition of cloud computing signals the dawn of an era in which the internet is no longer just “a place we go,” but rather, a place we are. Constantly, it seems, many of us exist in the cloud: a nebulous and aetherial setting, yet one which is easy to identify once you know the signs to look for (nearby people with faces glowing blue, glued to their laptops, smartphones and tablets watching cute animal videos). We no longer understand the internet as something contained within the hardware through which it exists; we are beginning to see it as something with a certain independence of matter itself.

    My generation will be known as the last to have grown up in a time before the internet went mainstream. This is what makes Millennials significant; not that we are broke, not that we are quote-unquote apathetic, but that we are the last of an era. I guarantee my grandkids will one day read about 56k dial-up modems in school, and I can guess with equal certainty that they’ll be asking my old ass to do their homework for them.

    Since the prehistory of internet technology in the 1960s, writers of both fiction and nonfiction have been keen to draw attention toward the possibility that computer technology might one day “get ahead of us.” But perhaps it is taking place in a different manner than how the likes of Philip K. Dick or Stanley Kubrick imagined it. Perhaps it is not the horrific HAL-9000 science fiction meltdown we would expect, but rather a generational shift in global thought and ethics which is taking place as we speak. This could be a good thing, it could also be a bad thing, but it is most certainly a thing. I see this shift taking place in a reality beyond the understanding of hypothetical utopias and dystopias. In my opinion, we are reaching a moment at which the collective human consciousness has begun to string together into a living, evolving cosmic web; not unlike the fractal geometry studied by theoretical physicists who look to nature’s own mathematics for answers. It is an historic landmark in the evolution of the human species, and we should all be very proud of our memes and cat pictures.

    But enough with all that silly talk; the internet is serious business. Especially now, in the era of wiretapping scandals, hacktivism, and anonymous, net neutrality is becoming a fairly mainstream topic of concern for many Americans. Is the web equal? Who can see my stuff? Am I being spied on? Is someone at the pentagon reading my sexts? All important questions to consider, but here’s one you might not have thought of: how can the NSA give civilians the illusion of security without constant and invasive surveillance to stay up-to-date on the norms of civilian life? My guess is that the NSA is full of people watch way too much Law and Order and think they are James Bond. Maybe I am getting a bit irreverent here, but of course they’re spying on us; it really is not that difficult for anyone who knows the technology. Where there is a will, as the old adage says, there is a way, and such is certainly the case in the world of computer tech.

    But unfortunately for the NSA, the internet is one arena in which knowledgeable civilians may arguably both outnumber and outperform knowledgeable government agents. This can’t be said for every government institution, but the NSA is no match for a handful of well-equipped nerds who are willing to fight for their freedom. If that isn’t a bit pastoral and romantic, then I don’t know what is. With that, I leave you with my solidarity in the battle for net neutrality; stay cloudy, my friends.

John

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