The tendency (esp. in the Western world) is to only contemplate China in the sense of what we perceive it as having done wrong. Just look at all the coverage of the shifting censorship of the Internet by China that fills the news.
And there is a lot that China does that people of certain ilks and beliefs do not approve of, but it doesn’t do any of us any good to lose sight of what China is doing that is right.
China is trying to answers some questions for itself.
Now, the first part of answering questions is deciding what questions are being asked. Not all of us choose to recognize the same questions at the same time but almost all of us will wind up answering the same questions at some point.
If we learn to pay attention to how other people try and answer their questions we (gasp) have the potential for learning and (no!) could make of our own process of finding answers a much less painful thing.
But it is not really about finding answers, but about finding a way to go about doing things.
China stated that they want to exercise control over the Internet and its contents within their country’s borders.
Now think about that.
Forget the issues about freedom and censorship and look at the other question that it poses.
Does the Internet have a geography, complete with countries separated by borders?
The first reaction is to say “no,” but look again at how we use the Internet. Language alone creates a boundary, even though there are some stellar instant translators they aren’t used a lot.
Mostly because people recreate the borders they know in landlife on the Internet. But the borders they follow are much smaller then the country they live in. We stay with our friends, our languages, our inclinations in cyberspace – their isn’t really a habit of expanding one’s horizons so much as recreating what you have known only now you can carry it around with you all the time in your pocket.
Which is having an odd effect on our societies and cultures.
Way back when the Internet was only available to those of us who knew enough Unix to navigate around there was no imagery and very little options for different alphabets for language variety. English was fairly well the standard online. You met people through their words and that was that. There were usenet groups and chat rooms that you could go to that were divided by interests, but not so specific that they were the highly specialized rooms one can find now. The Internet was kind of this wild, blind jungle.
Then came the GUIs, the graphical user interfaces that let people who didn’t know Unix click buttons and see images and things began to change and get a little more based in image, interests and then language in how people determined who they were going to interact with.
Then came music and video.
And then came Facebook and others like it that allowed you to connect primarily with only people you had known first in real time. Facebook originally restricted you to finding friends from your college or place of business. The inclination to take the risk of meeting someone knew was pretty much rendered null and void.
Now, when you go online, you probably have at least a passing real acquaintence with most of the people who are your “friends.”
The process of meeting and sharing with strangers has lessened in importance. One can use the shortspeak of status updates because people already know what you are about and can fill in the gaps.
Your world…got smaller in a way.
And gone too is that part of life in which you lose touch with people and find yourself in the position of having to make new friends.
You can, should you so choose, opt to remain in 8th grade forever. Or college, or at camp.
Part of being in a position where you have to seek new friends is that you are made to self-evaluate yourself and see a reflection of where you are in the present by who you attach yourself too.
Rather then being a rolling part of life that has become optional.
You need never be confronted with the evidence of your own change.
So, China, in declaring that the Internet has geographical boundaries has merely stated what is in fact real.
The question that comes next is…does it benefit the society of a country to have boundaries in the internet, or should more be done to encourage people to explore and grow through the strange opportunities possible in cyberspace.
We have made it through Part 1 of What is Wrong with the World by GK Chesterton.
Here is the last chapter in that part:
Chapter 11: The Homelessness of Jones
I will start on Part 2 shortly.
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