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The Internet Is History


Sarah Gibson

Note: This essay was written in response to the metaphor, "cyberspace as 
place." This phrase has caused a great deal of controversy over such issues 
as prosecuting criminals of the internet. I was asked to come up with 
another metaphor for cyberspace.

While history is simply the recording of past events from which an  individual can learn, it can also go deeper than what is perceived at first glance. Throughout history, people have created, thought, developed and  manipulated ideas, inventions and theories. In the process, many products have come into existence and from those products even more ideas, inventions and theories have been formed.

A great example of this is a connection made by James Burke about the  development of the United States Constitution. One of the reasons the constitution could be created is because of maps. Due to technological  advances, back in the day, new information was being gathered all the time about navigation and such. People "like to organize things. Maps made it easier for Europeans to go out and look for cargo. These trips could bring back 600% profits, but required investments. So, a land register was  developed to give property a value. This brought about the mortgage company,  which brought about the insurance industry to protect the investments. A limited joint stock company allowed people to invest in these new businesses, a national bank had to be invented, which brought about the credit agency, then the invention of the business contract and finally, the Constitution of the United States."

Today, with technology developing at a rate so fast that once you figure out how to use the mechanism it is already outdated, a new way of thinking and learning is needed in order to promote "knowledge." The Internet helps with  this, but can also be a burden.

Problems in the modern world are being solved in a virtual environment that is free of space and time (in some aspects). Yet, so is history. Everything that happened up until this very moment is no longer in existence. It has become a memory; the same thing used by computers. Burke suggests that, "we need to start the process of teaching web learning, where problems are worked through by using imagination rather than memory. The new skills will be following pathways of information, accessing and retrieving data and weaving through problems."

Internet is History because it takes past events and presents them to the mass public around the world as a link to a memory from someone's imagination once upon a time. These "memories" or facts or dates or general information  is not in existence on the web. Technically, they do not even exist in someone's home until they print them off the computer and then there is still debate over whether or not the situation really happened. How do you know the Boston Tea Party really happened? It was documented, but it could have also been mass hallucination, although this theory is not likely. An individual in today's society can sue history. They can receive benefits from an event that took place when they were four years old. In the Internet, if the crime is committed you have the same problems. Which laws should you abide by? In the case of suing your childhood trauma, the laws could have changed. What is illegal now may not have been twenty years ago. In regards to the Internet, does the location of the victim or the criminal hold which laws are to be used?

Since the Internet is merely a bunch of connections made by people and so is  history, it is up to the people to decide where one can prosecute a thing that only theoretically exists. Where we go from here is up to, well, history.

Works used: all quotes taken from speech given by James Burke at 
Univercity, Muncie In. 9/16/00 

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