Saturday, June 06, 2009

Those were the days

Matt Yglesias points to this entertaining clip of a c. 1991 CBC TV news report on the amazing new phenomenon of Internet.

I love that c. 2:18, we switch directly from a shot of the names of usenet groups to a paean to the no-cursing, no-swearing, no-putdowns, no-personal-attacks norms of Internet from the guy who looks like Steve Gutenberg. Yes, it's true that usenet groups did have norms, and norm-enforcement. But they sure as heck also had flamewars and viciousness-- and indeed had flamewars and viciousness about what the norms were and who had authority to enforce them. As one would expect, the more intimate and specialized the group, and the more the participants had real-world reasons to care about one another's opinions, the more civilized things were. High-traffic groups with regular influxes of newbies (e.g. every September when a new generation of college freshmen got internet access), or groups about controversial topics like politics or religion, or fandom groups where geek passions ran high-- all of these were prone to, well what we now recognize as normal internet behavior.

It was only a couple of months after I first encountered Mosaic in 1993 that I met a guy who told me about the huge quantity of porn he'd downloaded from online sources. (This conversation was in front of his sister, which I found especially odd.) I think he was spending his time on porn BBS sites, not on the newly-html'ed World Wide Web, but it did serve as an early hint to me that adding pictures and graphics to the existing online universe of words wasn't necessarily going to improve the world.

Also chez Yglesias: the safety of bike-riding in cities goes up as the number of riders goes up. I think that the terrific new bixi program in Montreal has already noticeably increased traffic in the city's bike lines-- and that drivers are learning to respond appropriately, and remembering that the bike lanes exist.

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