A Decade on the Net

by Eric Schwartz
AmiTech-Dayton Gazette, September 2006

Greetings Amigans. As I write this, I consider the various implications of two anniversaries that take place this month. One is the 5th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11th, which has overshadowed a country, a presidency, and caused bouts of widely differing opinion on how the international world works, or should work. We've all been affected, either directly or indirectly, though I count myself relatively lucky in that I haven't been directly affected. I pass along my best wishes to all those who have been affected. Sometimes it's difficult to believe the event is 5 years past, as it's still very much in many people's minds.

The other anniversary is more superficial, but more personal. September 15th marks the 10th anniversary of Sabrina Online, my monthly web-comic (www.sabrina-online.com). It's weird to look back and consider that I've kept anything rolling for that long. After ten years and 400 comic strips, I don't believe it's had an appreciable impact on the world at all, but it has made me think about what has changed in the world, and especially on the Internet, over those ten years.

Within those ten years, the Internet has graduated from something relatively few people made use of to a juggernaut which permeates everyday life. It's one of those things that, like other technologies, has become something people just assume you have or use nowadays, like past technologies like the car, TV, cable TV, cell phones, VCR, DVD Players, and of course, computers. People will give you URLs or e-mail addresses today and assume you know exactly what to do with them. If your reply is "I'm not on the Internet" (and you are under sixty) that person will look at you as if you just grew a second head, and possibly beat you to death with a a shovel. It's already obvious that broadband cable and DSL Internet access is already starting to approach that point, as people will happily point you toward gigabyte-size files you could never hope to download within your lifetime over a phone modem. The Internet showed so much potential for business and commercial applications ten years ago, which has largely been realized, along with spam accounting for 70 percent of all e-mail traffic and hackers trying to steal your personal and financial information.

The big thing on any new technology, and the Internet is no exception, is that we're developing a generation of youngsters who don't remember a time when it didn't exist. In some ways, we're already there. My problem is that, at least in the relative timeframe of the computer world, I'm officially on old fart, and I have old-fashioned expectations of the people I share the Internet with. I tend to expect people to treat other people like ... people, instead of using the relative anonymity and un-reachability of the Internet to say or do things that would get them beaten if they said in a real public area. I also tend to expect people not to feel justified about stealing intellectual property, like music or software. It's nothing new that things get stolen or copied, but now there's an attitude of "how dare those guys try to make money" or "everyone does it, so no one has the right to criticize me" about it. I'm not expecting the stealing to stop, but they should at least admit that wrong is wrong.

Of course, people believe a lot of things in odd ways, so I can't say too much. Some people think the moon landing was faked, the government intentionally flooded New Orleans, and Windows is a better operating system than anything else. Some people are just crazy, especially after spending a decade on the net.