Thoughts on Paranoia and the Internet

Some (very?) scattered thoughts on things (written in one sitting).

Just to set things straight, Paranoia is run "not-for-profit". I personally provided all the initial equipment and have supported the system's costs (in finances and time) at a personal loss because I feel so strongly about the presence of a system like this on the net. It's been very rewarding to watch an idealistic dream turn into reality! I've met a lot of really great net-denizens and seen firsthand how this project has been able to empower people who wouldn't otherwise have nice net access at a low cost. As the user base has grown in the 7 months since I first offerred low-cost secondary accounts, Paranoia's resources have also been able to grow.. the community's ability to allow its users to communicate is much better than each user could provide on their own.

Internet access without silly restrictions, censorship, or fear tactics is good! When offerred the chance to act responsibly in an open-minded environment, people actually will! I've been thoroughly impressed with the quality of users who have come to Paranoia in the first six months. Those who didn't join with a lot of unix and Internet experience have wanted to learn! People who joined without ever having seen the source of a web page are starting to put up better pages than me! It keeps my hope alive for the future of the net. Speaking of the future of the net, here comes some scattered observations and editorializing..

The Internet (especially with the recent WWW boom) provides an opportunity for a company, organization, or individual to have an impact around the world like nothing else has ever offerred. It's a new form of media and communication with the potential to give anyone the ability to speak their mind freely.. a radical concept! Widespread communication has been limited to the mass media powerhouses that own or control nearly every major newspaper, radio or television station, cable network, publishing house, and anything else that gives them the ability to feed the population's thoughts and beliefs with their own version of things.. most people believe the reported news as absolute truth just because Dan Rather said it. That's the best reason not to believe it!

A "fringe" group doesn't stand a chance at getting widespread favorable recognition in the traditional media.. there's no way it could ever happen. The beauty of the using the net is that the group could speak for themselves directly to anyone that wants to listen! It's downright cheap (compared to traditional media) and provides a medium for instant access to group literature, other materials, or communication with people in the group itself. It's no small wonder that the politicos are running around like freshly beheaded chickens calling for regulation, licensing, and government control. Easy access to inexpensive and uncensored communication is never in the best interest of those in power (at least when those in power have things to hide).

Any multimillion dollar company can have an incredible Internet "presence" (the marketing types are wetting their pants.. 30-second TV commercials in QuickTime over the WWW! selling and advertising left and right! direct marketing via email to people who fit your desired profile!). A lot of companies seem really fond of allowing some employees to have "internet access" in the form of letting the employee try to get around a badly setup firewall in order to pick up their own e-mail.. much less do anything useful. Of course, they reserve the right to examine your files, e-mail, Usenet posts, or just about anything else at whim. Universities and governments can run wonderful Internet services with your tax dollars. It's probably also safe to say that most of these kind of big organizations really don't care about the individual or the minority viewpoint. In a lot of cases, expressing "unacceptable" personal views can put your job or career at risk (even if they are expressed only on your personal time).. what a bunch of crap! That's one of the biggest reasons behind Paranoia's initial creation. But back to the "imminent downfall of the net" for a little bit more..

Commercial "Internet Service Providers" are popping up left and right.. three cheers for a free marketplace! As more people began to need connectivity, providers appeared to fulfill it. Some commercial providers are actually shaping the Net in a lot of positive ways, but it seems to be a pretty small minority who is actually interested in that.. greed is a far more common motivator. There are also a lot of people jumping on the "provider" bandwagon who really couldn't care less as long as they can make some money. They're charging sickening prices for poor service and taking advantage of the fact that a lot of their customers won't know the difference between good and bad service. Those kind of services can only do damage to the Net.

There are how-to books coming out on using the Internet for cheap promotion and advertising. Two lawyers (who will remain unnamed) seem to have transformed from dime-a-dozen paper filing types into some kind of "Internet marketing gods" (at least in the eyes of those who don't know anything about the Internet) because they made a pile of money from the investment in a $20 account. It doesn't seem to matter that they caused Usenet a lot of grief by spewing their message everywhere as often as possible.. they were told in no uncertain terms that they were doing something unacceptable but they kept on doing it anyway. Maybe the saddest part of it all is that their method worked.. spew your advertisement everywhere and you'll find some percentage of people who will send you money. The same two lawyers did an even more annoying variation of their first stint again recently.

Parts of Usenet are practically overflowing with advertising now.. maybe it's just become accepted. A year ago, I would have responded to an unwelcome advertisement with a nasty letter just to be sure that they (and their postmaster) knew how unwelcome it was. Now it isn't even worth the effort. The message poster doesn't care, postmasters are usually too busy to want to deal with that kind of email even if they wanted to, and there will be several more ads posted right away anyway. I like to blame the people who actually respond to stupid mass-mailed and mass-posted advertisements.. there wouldn't be so many ads posted every day if they weren't getting responses.

What does this all add up to? Our planet is overpopulating but most people seem really content to pass that problem on to our children or their children.. but someone will eventually have to deal with it. Our Internet is overpopulating at a much faster rate, but I'm really not so much worried about the number of users as I am those who would pollute the net for their own profit because of the number of users (consumers?) there. The power balance has already shifted away from educational and scientific hands.. if it hasn't already swung in favor of commercial interests, it won't be too much longer. If a large segment of people began to use the Internet instead of watching so damn much TV, the advertising will have to follow them somehow. I am all for services like Prodigy (or whatever others) that contain a lot of advertising.. or for the creation of a new commercially-oriented internet (not the proper name) supported by advertising. Leave the Internet that I know and love out of it!

If the money-grubbers (who probably run everything anyway) don't trash the Net, it seems pretty likely that a governmental body (or several) will feel the need to step in and take some control for itself. With government (either the U.S. or governments in general) getting away with controlling so many other aspects of our lives for us, it's only natural to extend that control into our "online" lives if we sit idly by and let it happen. Imagine the shift in public opinion if millions of people were allowed to talk (in secrecy even!), buy/sell (without paying taxes even!), learn (without being told what to think!), enjoy (maybe even do something a little nasty!), or otherwise live an "online" life in freedom without government involvement. Some people might even start to realize just how controlled their "real" lives have been and want to change things there..

I hope that Paranoia has had some minor positive influence already.. not only in its users but in the countless others who might pick up a little bit of our good vibe and take it back home with them. Paranoia will continue to provide reasonably priced, fairly anonymous, high quality access with a minimum of restrictions to those in need. Whether that need is for a good unix shell account, a nice cozy place for personal web pages, or a place from which to speak your mind without fear of reprisal from your school or workplace.. there's something here for everyone and you certainly don't have to be a radical to take part in a nice service.

If you have the means to spare a donation toward the cause without expecting anything in return, let me know! If you don't have the spare cash, don't worry about it.. there are others who can spare it. Every dollar donated goes toward making Paranoia the kind of place that scares those who would try to tell you what you can and cannot do on the net. Somewhere that all different kinds of information will be made freely available with absolutely no censorship. Somewhere that you can get an account to use mail, Usenet, etc. without silly restrictions or having to be afraid that speaking your viewpoints is going to jeopardize your job. Somewhere that you are treated as a responsible adult who doesn't need to be told how to think.

Feel free to mail me with comments, questions, or just general bullshit mail. I don't get to reply to all of it, but I try to read everything. I've met a lot of really interesting people so far and I'm looking forward to meeting more of you as our trip continues..

April 6, 1995

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