November 1995

Meet The Next Big Computer Lie...

The Balkinization of the Online World

AMERICANS need to be lied to -- by their religious leaders, their pop figurines and most of all -- it seems -- by their computer pundits.

Remember how the PC was going to empower the weak and make every cripple the equivalent of Ken Griffey, Jr.?

Like the Crusader army which sacked the Christian city of Zara to pay its way to the Holy Land, PC development has been waylaid into empowering the accountants and not the single mothers on welfare.

Similarly, remember when computers where going to make information free and bountously flowing as the springs of Bath?

Well look again! What the PC revolution has done is to open a myriad of information markets, where those with money and technical sophistication hope to buy the tools to dominate their business, country, or world (choose one).

As a reporter 20 years ago, I witnessed how government information that had been made available free in mimeo or photocopied reports began to cost money when it was only available in computer form.

Where fisherman, for instance, used to get information from the Washington Department of Fisheties free, computerization made it so only the biggest news organizations could afford to obtain it.

In fact, the PC Revolution is fundimentally antithetical to free information -- it is about the commercialization of information. The information may be valuable, and it may be cheap, but it is never free.

Now comes the next Big Computer Lie.

Get ready for The Oneness of the Online World, which if you believe in the tooth fairy will draw us all together in some sort of colossal Coca-Cola commercial for world peace in which everyone (including Andy Warhol) gets a 20 second solo.

In fact, the PC revolution has enabled people to form communities in different ways before -- based on their interests rather than their physical locale. The result is that many people are actually spending more time with people like themselves, and less time "rubbing shoulders" with the wide river of humanity.

Meanwhile, on another level, the World Wide Web is rapidly Balkinizing the online universe. For the last decade, Compuserve, America Online and Prodigy have served as great repsoitories for online information and culture. They charged a lot for their services (you’re not surprised are you?), but they gave a lot too.

Now their proprietary world is coming apart so fast it almost looks like flesh attacked piranhas. The World Wide Web Rush is scattering a lot of what used to be available on Compuserve and company to the winds, where it may be harder to find and less convenient to obtain.

The web has become a cultural force because it allows to more fully indulge several of our most powerful impulses, including self-deception.

-- B.B.

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