The relative equality when it comes to the internet now seems to be in question. The idea of “net neutrality” relates to the fact that it costs the same amount of money to access any part of the internet. For the fee that you pay your ISP, you can access any site equally. But what if that neutrality was gone? What if people had to pay more to access more popular sites? What if you were charged a different premium every time you wanted to access Google, Netflix, or Amazon? Or you were charged more to view a site over a mobile device?
There is such a movement that stands before our congress now, and it looks to be gaining momentum. Of course this shouldn’t really come as a surprise. If businesses can find a way to increase profits, they’ll do it, and quite frankly I’m surprised companies have been letting people access their sites for free out the goodness of their hearts for as long as the internet has been around. Critics charge that this will unfairly skew how the average American accesses information. That’s a fair charge, to be certain.
But then I think about a world where people can’t really afford the internet, or can’t afford constant access to it, and I question whether or not that would actually be a bad thing. Think of how much complete and total bullshit and misinformation there is on the internet, and how much is added every day. Would it really be a bad thing if this new economic model for the internet made it so that people were less able or willing to access sites that contain erroneous bullshit?
And then I think about the media that we’re constantly inundated with. Would it really be a bad thing if people weren’t bombarded by talking heads and pundits and advertisements from their tablets, phones, TVs and other other devices 24/7? Seems like that might be a good thing to me.
I also think about the Google culture we now live in. Would it really be a bad thing if people couldn’t just Google the answer to something, and instead had to, I don’t know, figure something out by themselves? Before the internet existed, if you wanted to know the answer to something you had to educate yourself on the topic. But you don’t have to do that anymore thanks to Google. The internet instantly and blindly feeds people answers to their questions. Maybe it’s not a bad thing that instead of turning to Google to be told how to think, people regain some of their common sense and critical thinking skills.
Maybe I’m being too critical of the internet and technology. There certainly are a lot of good things about the internet. It puts us in touch with people and places we otherwise probably would never have made contact with. There certainly is something to be said for the access to what quality information does exist on the internet. But is the double edged sword worth it? Is it really worth being flooded with misinformation and opinion masquerading as fact? Is it really worth conditioning people to expect instant gratification? Is it really worth conditioning people to stop learning because they can just Google it? I don’t know that it is.
When I imagine a world where the internet is priced out of reach for a lot of people or where pricing makes people much more selective about where they go and what they do on the internet, I picture a place where people actually talk to each other, go outside, or read a book instead of binge watching some TV on netflix. I imagine a world where people read the newspaper again. I imagine a world where people visit public libraries again!
I just think that the world without net neutrality wouldn’t be such a bad place. I think there might be some upsides to it, actually. At the very least, perhaps it would force people to discriminate more when it comes to what they choose to access online. The loss of any convenience is always a hard transition to make. But people adapt and life goes on. And sometimes conveniences do take something away from us.
Of course, in reality the internet probably does more good than harm. And it’s probably here to stay. Maybe I’m just being too critical.