About UsResearchOpportunities
PublicationsResourcesSite Map
 

Highway Robbery

Of all the possible metaphors for cyberspace, why the "information superhighway"? Why not another metaphor like "the public park", or perhaps like "the public library" or even "the information superlibrary"?

You see, a highway is a place where you need a permit to drive. It's a place where movement requires a license. You must wear a number on your sheet metal uniform called an automobile. Like walking down a prison corridor, your movements are constantly tracked. Although public parks and libraries are certainly not without their rules and regulations, you can generally walk into a library and read anything you want (at least within the library) without telling anyone what you are reading, and without any record of what you are reading being made.

A highway, on the other hand, is RIPE with the visual detritus of billboard advertising, along with the constant surveillance of an increasingly corporate government.

Government with a Capital C.

Let's not bother making a political distinction between Right or Left - between corporate control or government control. This issue is not about where we sit along the political spectrum, and for simplicity let's collapse the matter down to a single point, and call it Covernment, Government with a capital C. It could be Big Brother watching us, or it could be his Corporate Cousin. When the Government recently sold the Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) records, including picture database, to a private corporation, it further blurred the line between G and C. In a world where driving is a privilege and not a right, a little soul theft on the Surveillance Superhighway is just Covernment business-as-usual.

And the pictures cost a mere penny (that is, if we take the cost of the database and divide by the number of people in it). Stealing our souls and selling them for a penny. Pretty pitiful!

You see, Covernment is King on the highway. Ordinary folk have little or no say (whether we vote left or right, some things will always be the same).

So do we want the Internet to be like a highway, complete with automatic license plate readers, Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software, and pay-per-thought usage tracking. Imagine a toll plaze at the library where you had to pay one millicent for every word you read? And they would keep a record of exactly what portions of what book you read, and take a photograph of you and sell the photograph, your name, age, sex, height, weight, and exactly what words of what books you read to the highest bidder. That's not the Internet we really want.

Well, that's not all. The highway is also for transporting goods. Yes, goods, as in articles of commerce, also known as wares. The highway is the perfect metaphor for carriage of wares. Let's see now, how would the Information Superlibrary measure up? That metaphor somehow calls to mind the right (not just a privilege) to wander freely around and read any bookware you want. Any literaryware you please! And none of this "consumption" of "wares" tracked or recorded.

In a library we're CITIZENS. On the highway we're CONSUMERS.

Maybe we should start thinking of the Internet as a library!