How I Learned the Internet

The web used to scare me, so I had no power there. Pushed and shoved by privacy policies and fears of censorship, my speech froze solid. I did not know my rights, and felt confounded by the internet. I didn’t know the rules. So, I backed away from the keyboard, daring only to post surface-deep information on Facebook, and worried that searching certain topics would get me on some government watch list. I had paranoia. But, at the core, I hadn’t a clue as to who had the power I feared.

I don’t think money is the reason specific groups have power — although money still talks, loudly. No, the web is run by those who study it. Those who know or care little for the internet will control nothing.  Financial status still impacts the digital divide, separating the lords from the peasants of the Internet. But there is more to the hierarchy than socioeconomic status. Dan Gillmor explains how “short-sighted” journalists have been in feeding their content to social networks like Facebook. In this sense, the journalists are users, and the social media platform(s) remain the owners.

But how can I own a thing in this mess? Richard Stallman spent many years fighting to free up software so people can control their own devices. Software merchants usually maintain rigid ownership of their creations, even after selling them to customers. As I studied, anxiety gripped tighter. I don’t own the function of the computer and phone I purchased, with my money? This must mean I’m not positioned where I thought in the web-based rift between those who are users and those who get used.

How do we learn media, and will we?(Media being an official word which means, essentially, the conduit for conversation from one person to many) In part, it is teaching ourselves digital literacy, and owning some portion of the Internet. Otherwise you will always be one someone else’s turf. From this point (knowing and owning) the levels of power are divided by the amount invested. Monetarily? Yes. But also intellectually. Giving one’s time to gain knowledge and use of the Internet is crucial.

Keren Elazari frames this entire topic beautifully in the video below. Hackers? Well of course they have power! But Elazari is suggesting that’s problem. In fact, a hacker is a shining example of how people gain power on the Internet. Those active, and not just in living on someone else’s site (such as Facebook or Twitter,) are those we should learn from.

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