I spent some time composing an email to a friend about the proposed internet censorship, and thought it deserved a wider audience. Here it is (slightly edited for context):


I've long held the idea of the internet less as a communications tool and more of a commons. That is, it's not so much about the getting of information, as the sending, if that makes sense. Let me put it this way - radio, television and other broadcast media are about sending out information that people want to hear. If people hear enough stuff that they don't like, they'll switch off, complain or whatever, and the content will (reactively) change. The internet is almost a polar opposite (and is fast becoming more so with the web 2.0 phenomenon) - every day people put content out there and if people don't read it, it doesn't matter. The content on the internet changes according to the whim of the people creating that content, not according to the whim of the people reading it. Of course, some things become popular (think the cheezburger franchise for a good example), but for the most part the content available on the net will still be there, even if no one reads it. Does anyone really care what old mate's Facebook profile says? If I stopped blogging tomorrow would there be a public outcry? If all the lolcats disappeared would anyone protest? OK, they're all some pretty flippant examples, but hopefully you get the point I'm trying to make. To use a few buzzwords - it's content-driven, not consumer-driven. Most people (with a few notable exceptions) blog because they have something to say, not just because there's someone out there to hear it.

The point I'm trying to make is that the internet really cannot be classified as a "communications tool", a "broadcast medium", a "mass media outlet" or any one of a hundred other terms that can be applied to television or radio. Strange as it may seem (and stick with me here) I actually think it can be more readily likened to a town square. It's not about the content, but about how it is distributed. In the traditional town square, there would be a number of people moving in and out of it throughout the day - imagine the old guy sitting on the bench, he's there every day, and knows all of what's going on - he's like the news sites - you go straight to him if you want to know what crimes have been perpetrated, whether it's going to rain tomorrow or if you want to know when to put the bull in with the cows. Then there's the other locals, they stop when they see someone they know, and have a chat together - that's your Facebook, MySpace, personal blogs and the other 'social networking' stuff. You use these people to catch up on gossip - find out if Mary's pregnant, if Bob is having an affair, if their tulips have bloomed this year. Imagine you also have the hawkers from the shops on the Main Street - they're telling you what their specials are, trying to convince you buy from them, just like the commercial sites and other ads. It's a fairly rough analogy, but to me it gets to the heart of what the internet is all about, especially with the advent of the Web 2.0 stuff, it's a place for people to get together - to share knowledge, to share information, to share mindless gossip. What happens when a flasher makes it into the town square? Well, some might get a bit upset, but mostly, people would turn their backs or leave, to return later on when they felt safer, or not at all. Imagine a whole group of flashers turns up - outnumbering the benign passersby. In that case, the townsfolk would abandon the town square. The interesting part is that they would reconvene somewhere else (if not as a large group in another part of town, in knitting groups, coffee shops and council meetings) - there will always be a commons.

Now, in a roundabout way, to the point at hand - the idea of introducing any kind of limiting or measuring tool on the internet (including classification) means that you're thinking about the internet in the wrong way. You're thinking in technical terms - about what's possible and what isn't. You're thinking about how to keep the flashers out of the commons, so that it's safe for the children to ride their bikes there. What you're not thinking about is the social and human aspect of things. Using my town square example, imagine the local policeman. He doesn't know where the flasher lives, so he can't go after him that way. What he decides to do instead is stand in the middle of the square, and interview everyone who wants to come in to it. The old guy sitting on the park bench is kicked out, because he matches the description of the flasher. Mildred isn't let in, because all she ever wants to talk about is her gastro problems, and that's potentially offensive. Next, he decides he's not going to let the butcher in, because his apron is all covered in blood, and that could scare the kids. What happens? Will the people come in anyway, submit to the policeman's idea of what's 'offensive' and what's benign? Of course not - they'll go somewhere else. They might decide to meet at the park, or at the library. What happens then? The policeman is left upholding 'order' in a commons that no one uses.

When you impose censorship - in the form of blacklisting certain content, classifying content into degrees of 'offensive', or showing warnings before potentially offensive content - on direct mediums like radio and television, the result is fairly predictable. A certain, small number of viewers will turn off, never to return. Many more will accept the regulation and continue consuming. Another fairly predictable number will applaud the move as 'protecting the children'. When you impose censorship on a commons, the effect is a lot more unpredictable - to start with, many people will move around the blockages (access the information they want in another way. Whether that's through technical solutions like routing, or non-technical solutions like buying a newspaper and phoning their friends). Of course, many will just shrug and accept it, others will applaud the move (although the percentages may vary, these people will always exist, but they're not the interesting ones). What makes it interesting is what happens to the people who thwart the blockages - after a while, thwarting it won't be enough and the most likely result is they will find a new commons. The ARPANET was designed to withstand nuclear attack, and it does that. The new commons - whatever it ends up being - will be designed to withstand censorship.

To conclude my diatribe - a classification system or a blacklist or a kiddie-porn filter is not the answer. All it does is put a policeman in the town square. My blog can not in any way be considered offensive, but if every post I wrote was subject to classification by a government body, I would stop blogging immediately. I wouldn't be the only one. Pretty soon, the internet would be devoid of everything that makes it great.

Since the last several hundred thousand years, almost all the mutation going on around here, in this species, has been cultural. Every new invention is a cultural mutation, and so is every new idea ... The idea is, we're mutating already. Around here, we're mutating like crazy. Nice.

While I can fully understand the reasons behind a wish to classify the internet, the differences between 'classify' and 'censor' are really only semantic. Humans have always had commons. Usenet, message boards, Web 2.0 and 'social networking' have come about because television and radio isolated us as individuals, and so we found a new commons. If that new commons is violated, another one will be found.

Conroy's Folly


It's not enough to bash in heads
You've got to bash in minds

It's been burning up the blogosphere, somewhat. It's had the tech community tittering for more than a week, and it hit the mainstream media with a vengeance today. Of course, I'm talking about "Conroy's Folly", the "Great Australian Firewall" - the plan to provide a "clean feed" to all Australian homes, businesses and schools. I am going to assume that you all know what it is, and at least most of the technical reasons why it won't work (false positives, slow speeds, all the rest). The push is on for all people who are feeling the least bit miffed by all this (and, let's face it, the word "miffed" does not even come close to how it makes most of us feel) to write a letter to dear Mr Conroy, advising just what a stupid idea we think it is. Many letters are available to read online (either in their entirety or in part), and I have been reading along with interest. I find it fascinating that most writers have begun with their technical qualifications - "As a [system administrator|senior programmer|web developer]" and continued on with all the technical reasons why a filter is Not a Good Idea. While the technical reasons are all valid, and for the most part have been explained very well, I can't help but think we're fighting the wrong fight. To me, it really does not matter how the filtering will work, what they want to filter, will I be able to get around it, what percentage of false positives will there be, how much slower will my connection be. The thing we need to be fighting is whether or not we will have a filter. That's it. Simple. I worry that if we get too bogged down in the technical details we'll end up in a compromise - we'll accept the filter if this isn't blocked, or if it's done with this technology, or if there's an opt-out. And then when this issue is handballed to the next communications minister, we start from a weaker place of negotiation. In short, once we have the filter in place, it's only going to get tighter; and with every crank of the wheel, we're another step from personal freedom.

I will be writing a letter. But I won't be listing my technical credentials, and I won't be discussing why the technology won't work. I'll be writing as a mother, and why it's bad for my child. I suggest you consider doing the same.

I'll leave you with a quote I've used before:

Better ugly speech than enforced silence

Thanks must also go to Brian for coinage of the term "Conroy's Folly". Cheers Brian!


Apparently inspired by my last post, I have been sent a most wonderful limerick by William:

There was a girl from Canberra with sheep
The garden fence they often would leap
She mended the fence
And said "no leaping from hence!"
But in truth she still worried a heap

Sheep Worries


We have some sheep. That's them in the picture. Lily and Pixie. Lovely little Dorper ewes they are. Well we got them home on Sunday morning, T promptly fell in love with them of course, and by Monday morning they were happily wandering the house yard, munching away. We patted ourselves on the back and told ourselves how clever we were!

Then the fun began. A storm came over - just a little taste of a bigger storm to come, according to the Bureau - and I looked outside to check on the sheep. They had found a protected patch under some trees near the fence, and seemed content to just lie there and wait it out. Before too long, the sun came back out, and the sheep resumed their roaming and munching.

I was just about to leave the house to go out for dinner when the storm came back. With its mates. I looked outside again, and noticed the sheep were on the wrong side of the fence. Dinner was going to get delayed. I headed out - in the rain, wind and hail - and herded the two sheep back up into the house yard without too much of a problem (except for the rain). I wandered the fence line (in the rain), worked out where they had managed to crawl out under the wire, and fixed the patch (in the rain).

Patted myself on the back again - what wonderful farm girl skills I have! I went and had a shower and, feeling quite pleased, went to entertain a couple of friends with my sheep wrangling story over dinner.

We got home about 10pm only to find - no sheep. We did some cursory wandering around (vainly, and rather stupidly, calling out "Lily! Pixie!" like they were going to come!) and fell into bed, determined to track them down in the morning. When morning came, my dear SO had a good wander around, but failed to locate even the merest of "baaas".

Morose and disheartened, work progressed as usual on Tuesday, the primary thought in my mind - "how am I going to tell T?". I had all but decided that they had both become fox-food overnight, but we dropped a couple of notes in the neighbours' letterboxes anyway. Well, within minutes of dropping them, lo and behold, the phone rings! It's the neighbour - she saw the ewes this morning, and could we come and collect them. "No problem!" says I, and off we ran. One of the sheep (Lily) was in a yard with a bunch of Belted Galloway bulls. These aren't little bulls, I might mention. So, to cut the long story, well, not quite so long, we chased her around the yard a bit and, with the help of our lovely neighbour, managed to bundle her into a dog collar and whack her in the back of the car. We drove home, get her back into the yard, and I set to fixing the fence. Again. But better this time. I'm determined that there's no way a sheep can escape from the yard. Nuh-uh. No way, no how.

The next morning, wouldn't you know it - no sheep. So seven o'clock sees me out in the back paddock again, chasing a sheep. After about half an hour of successfully chasing her further away from the house (despite my best efforts) I start to lose my temper. It's something that happens quite easily before my first cup of tea for the day. I left Lily meandering around the neighbour's yard and went home for a shower. The phone rings. It's the neighbour. Again. "I have one of your sheep" she says. "I know" I say. As I am speaking to her on the phone, Lily decides to make friends, I can hear her bleating in the background. The neighbour manages to bundle her into a small equipment shed on her property, and I jump in my car and head around. In the tiny space afforded by the shed it's easy to collar the sheep, put a lead rope on her, and lead her to my car. I hoik her up and stick her in the back of the hatch. Thank the neighbour - again - and drive her home - again. This time, I'm determined not to be outsmarted by the dumbest animal on the planet. I tie her up to a tree with a bit of rope and head down to the Rural for chain, a dog collar and an assortment of clips and hooks. I also picked up some antiseptic cream from the vet for a scratch on her nose (which is bright yellow, and makes it look likes she's been sniffing highlighters).

At home, I assemble the apparatus and gleefully tether Lily to a tree. She hasn't budged. To be honest, if she tried, she'd be turned into Saturday night's lamb roast. With gravy. And mint sauce. *evil grin*

PS: If you live in the area, and spot Pixie ... let me know, and I'll come and wrangle her into the back of the hatch and tie her up with her friend!

UPDATE 16 October:

The prodigal sheep has returned! Pixie was found by the neighbour this morning, locked in the equipment shed a la Lily yesterday. Successfully collared, returned home in the hatch, and is now happily tethered in the yard. She doesn't appear to have hurt herself (miraculously!) although she seems to be extremely tired - who knows what she has been up to since Monday night. Instead of fighting me when I got her out of the car she just lay down on the grass, which seemed quite unusual.

The two seem quite happy to have found each other again. There's been nary a baaa since Pixie has been back.

And I need to buy something nice for the neighbour ...


Unrequited Love

He sat in the car. Waiting. Just waiting. His gazed rested on the vista outside of the car, but he didn't see it. His mind was a blank page. He was just waiting. Shallow little breaths, barely enough to fog in the cold air. Waiting.

Inside, a war. One woman sat in a kitchen chair in the middle of the room. The other, circling slowly as she spoke. The tone was low, but emotions were high as daggers were thrown, parried, sent back, and thrown yet again. The questions, always more questions. The seated woman was tired, but her accuser showed no signs of weariness. Eventually, she stood and with some well chosen words, left the room.

She left the building, stepped onto the street. Watching her feet as she walked along the icy footpath. She didn't notice the waiting man as she crossed the street. Had she seen him waiting there, perhaps she would have stopped to discuss the argument. But perhaps she wouldn't have.

Alone now, the other woman sat in the chair so recently occupied. She put her head in her hands and began to weep.

The waiting was over. Now the time to think had begun. He turned the car stereo up so he could hear it. Cool jazz washed over him, completely failing to ease his mind.

Crying without an audience was difficult to maintain. Before long she started to feel foolish. She got up to wash her face. Fixed a drink. Returned to the chair. She sat staring out of the window. The snow had started, flakes sticking prettily to the window. She wondered how long before he would arrive. Come and tell her his lies about love, and trust, and betrayal.

Following her own puffs of breath home through the icy streets, her footsteps lost in the noise spilling from the restaurants she passed, she considered her position. She came to a conclusion that would surprise those who knew her. It didn't surprise her perhaps as much as it should have.

He had made his decision. He stepped out of the car. Reached back in for his coat, the weight of it uncomfortably noticeable as he shrugged it on. He hesitated only slightly at the entrance to the building. Then pushed the door open and went upstairs.

A noise behind her. She didn't turn. She watched the snow beat against the window. A key in the lock, the snicker of the door against the jamb. Sludge now, the pretty flakes melted. Footsteps, and a gust of cold air from the hallway. The ice slithered down the glass, obscuring the world outside. She turned to see what prettily packaged falsehoods he had for her.

She didn't go straight home. Instead, she stopped in a cafe next door. Nearly deserted at this late hour, but pleasantly warm. The waiter asked her in a quiet voice if she wanted her regular order, and she nodded assent. She found a table in the back, and smiled to herself. She was going to be alright. It was a good plan.

It was quick. And almost silent. She gasped. Not just an exhalation, but surprise, confusion and, eventually, realisation. She fell gracefully, her skirt billowing around her knees as she dropped. A rose spread dramatically in the carpet beneath her body. He didn't stay.

Sipping her coffee in the trendy cafe. The snow beat against the plate glass window. She wasn't surprised to see his car drive past, pulling up just out of her sight. It would take him a little time, but she knew he would turn up at the cafe. She waited.

He knocked at the door. He was nervous. His jacket hung better without the gun. It made him more aware of the little box. And the little box made him more nervous than the gun had. He waited for her to answer the door. He had no key to this building.

The coffee was gritty dregs in the bottom of the cup. Cold now. She waited for him to arrive. Practising her words.

She wasn't home. Knowing her habits, he turned to the left, walked the few steps to the coffee shop. He stepped into the warm space, and the waiter looked up, expectant. He shook his head, pointed to the only occupied table at the back, indicated that he was just meeting someone. The waiter went back to cleaning the coffee machine.

She looked up, gave a tiny smile, but didn't speak.

He pulled the little box from his pocket. Held it uncomfortably, then, like a child offering a bunch of dandelions, proffered it. He knelt awkwardly, and asked her to be his bride.

Her smile twisted into a frown. Now it was her turn to ask questions. He answered them, but left the gun out of the story. She frowned some more. The little box lay unopened on the table. They both ignored it.

Before too long he left the cafe. Alone. Like a leaf, loosed from the bounds of the tree, at the whim of the wind and the snow.

Written Sunday 5 October

Just Empty Space

Just spotted this little gem from Laura over at That Grrl, and wanted to share it around.