October 1997


Date: Fri, 22 Aug 1997 13:19:03 -0500
From: Dave Clark <>
Subject: So Long, Highway

John -

Today I stumbled across your brief essay titled "So Long, Highway," and I found parts of your argument troubling. Isn't saying that Clinton "deliberately attacked free speech . . .in _his_ CDA" a little misleading, given that the CDA was written and proposed by Exon (D) and Gorton (R) and passed by a largely Republican House and Senate? I'm no fan of the ludicrous CDA (or of Clinton, always), but Clinton's almost always, even when waffling, argued for technology rather than law as the solution to Internet "decency" (see Wired's piece on the CDA overturn [], C/Net's piece on Clinton's tech stance [,4,12492,00.html], or virtually anything about the [ecch!] V-Chip and its proposed Internet mirror). As such, he's the wrong strawperson for your rant against government control (and as for "political opportunism being his modus operandi," find me an altruistic politician :)).

I think politicians, like everyone else, are subject to media blitzes, and the CDA was a misguided attempt to deal with the image of "net as pornography machine" so convincingly portrayed to us first by that guy at CMU, then by Time, Newsweek, et al. ad nauseum. But I don't think we should argue for _no_ legislation just because the CDA was about "political control" (what isn't?). Instead, we should push politicians to focus on education and, yes, the "grants and advocacy" stuff you're worrying over. I think depending on the free market to provide egalitarian access and educational opportunities (of the kind Clinton's pushing for in his "Educational Technology Initiative" []) will only result in wider gaps between the technological haves and have nots, as firms train their newly-hired college grads in technology and those with fewer educational opportunities get no training (and what jobs they have are exported overseas).

We need to push not for _no_ legislation but for _smart_ legislation, because it seems to me that we don't really get to choose between government regulation and a chaotic, hierarchy-free Internet separate from the effects of power. This chaotic, hierarchy-free vision of the Internet is every bit as "utopian" and "non-existent" as Clinton's and Gore's "superhighway," because while power on the Internet may not be "central," there is still power--individuals and organizations with access, education, expertise, and commercial backing who shape who gets access to the Internet, what is on the Internet, and the future direction(s) of the Internet. Assuming these individuals and organizations will be more benevolent and less self-serving than the government is, to say the least, naive.

If what you want in the future is more "human communication and relationships," then we need more humanity (as opposed to corporate entities) on the Internet, and that means providing education and access, giving people from all backgrounds and economic classes the chance to be among the famous "anyone" who can Web publish. Providing this education and access should be a cultural priority, and we shouldn't wait hopefully for the free market to decide to provide it. And if what you're most concerned about is "gradual co-opting . . . into the framework of 'commerce'," why not focus on the powerful corporations that are working day and night to re-fashion the once anti-commerce (remember?) Web into a business platform? They're using rigid high-end design (requiring ever more powerful hardware and software) and now push technologies to shape the once flexible and fairly accessible Web (I used Lynx!) into vaguely interactive television. Talk about your "co-opting."


Dave Clark
Ph.D Student in Rhetoric and Professional Communication
Iowa State University

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