Why You Should Care About Net Neutrality and What You Can Do to Preserve It

Image of a Network Neutrality icon released into the public domain on WikiepdiaAs far as I can see, the only people arguing to allow ISPs like Verizon and Comcast to start charging for preferential bandwidth and download times are paid shills and free market fanatics. This issue, commonly referred to as “net neutrality,” might seem to be the domain of techies and webbies, but it has real implications for every human being on the planet.

It might be easy to forget in this age of the widening wealth gap, but the promise of  the web wasn’t just Step 3: PROFIT! The promise of the web was the free and democratic sharing of information. This is the promise that made it possible for people to start successful businesses without the massive cash required in the world before the web — businesses that employ people who then have the money to spend on things like food, housing, and maybe even toys for grown-ups. This is the promise that makes information available to from anyone to anyone, all at the same speed — and if you think that’s not important, consider the Arab Spring. This promise makes it possible for a blogger in the Bronx to bypass all the gatekeepers and editors of traditional print media and broadcast a story the editor of the New York Times might not want to run. This promise makes it possible for an engineer with a dream and a dime to build a better widget and sell it out of her garage — that’s how Google started, after all.

As traditional media outlets have moved their news online, as the web development industry has matured, and as more and more people have plugged in, independent voices and businesses have already begun to lose their edge. Little websites get crowded off the front page of search engines in favor of stories in the New York Times and CNN. Independent sellers of all kinds of goods — not just books — watch more and more of their business get sucked into the maw of Amazon. But even while all the carnage (and innovation) of a free-market system happens, Net Neutrality preserves some modicum of a level playing field. That’s because nobody gets to pay Internet Service Providers — the folks who build and maintain the roads of the Information Superhighway — huge amounts of cash to ride down a special high-speed road. LittleWidgets.com arrives at your computer (or phone, or tablet) at the same speed as HumongousWidgetsIncorporated.com. Net Neutrality is what makes that happen.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is the government body standing between industry lobbyists and Net Neutrality. And the FCC is once again considering rules changes that would kill Net Neutrality. It’s not too late for you to make your voice heard on the issue:

And if you’re still confused (or need further convincing) I offer you:


River, by Denise Levertov, Stripped of Proper Spacing by the Web

A singular consequence of the modern age of font-elasticity and many-sized screens is its effect on the ability of poets to reliably communicate how their lines are meant to indent and break. I taught myself how to type by writing poetry on an Apple IIe computer, before Steve Jobs stole the idea of GUIs and computer mice from a Xerox research lab in Palo Alto, California. Levertov (and e.e. cummings before her) most likely relied on a typewriter for idiosyncratic line spacing — spacing which is often intrinsic to the meaning of the poem. Neither Levertov nor cummings face the particular challenge of a poet caught in the crux of the major technological shifts of the late 20th and early 21st century. On the whole though, I find the ways in which form and content affect one another fascinating and try not to complain too bitterly when my pocket-sized computer can’t accurately reflect the line spacing of a poem designed to be read on the printed page.

In other words, Levertov’s poem looks completely different when you see it printed on the page. The lines are broken and indented in way that affect their meaning, and which don’t translate in straight-up HTML unless I cheat and use the PRE tag. And if I do that, the poem becomes unreadable on smaller screens. Levertov and cummings never had to worry about responsive design.

Levertov’s poem captured me in part because I glossed over the title on initial reading. Without the word “river” in mind, the more human — and perhaps spiritual — elements of the poem spring to the fore. Plus, I’m a sucker for water imagery. As with many modern poets, Levertov’s spare use of language can be deceptively hard to replicate. Think of this poem like a zen garden, artful in its minimalism.

I recommend seeking out Levertov’s book Evening Train, where you can find the poem in its original incarnation.


Dreaming the sea that
lies beyond me
I have enough depth
to know I am shallow.

I have my bowls, my pools
of rock I flow
into and fill, but I must
brim my own banks, persist,
vanish at last in greater flood
yet still within it
follow my task,
dreaming towards
the calling sea.

– Denise Levertov
From Evening Train
New Directions, New York:1992

All I Want for Christmas Is a Robot Friend

My downstairs neighbor and I hit it off almost as soon as he moved in. Turns out we’re both huge geeks with just enough of an overlap in interests to loan each other books we don’t actually own. Yesterday, he loaned me something way better, though:

Widdershins, the singing, vaccuum-cleaning robot.

I know Roombas aren’t new, but it’s the first time I’ve had one in my own house, merrily chugging away. When you push the little button, it sings a happy little I’m-going-to-clean-your-floors song. When it chokes on an item of clothing you forgot to pick up off the floor, it sings a little HALP! song. When it’s all done making your floors shiny and clean, it sings a happy little I’m-done-cleaning-now song. And when it runs out of juice, it sings a sad little I’m-all-run-down song.

A few months ago, when they installed the new super-duper security gates in the downstairs lobby of my office building, I had an epiphany. We have little robot friends everywhere! The robots in the lobby read my RFID card, think a little while, and then beep and let me in. They’re posh robots, all stainless steel with some wood detailing and frosted-glass gates.

More and more people have little robot friends in their houses, chugging away sucking up dirt, mopping floors, or reading them their email. And the designers have wisely made them as cute as the DRDs from Farscape.

I can has robot frienz?