As I alluded to before, we still fall into the trap of thinking of the Internet the way we thought about it in 1997 -- as a frivolous luxury used for porn, copyright theft and ALF slash fiction. When the government pushed a plan to help improve lines and accessibility, the opposition across comments sections Internet-wide went nuts, with cries of, "You're fucking with this bullshit in this economy just so people can download their furry porn faster?!"
The only thing I can guess is that this is what happens when you have a debate about technology being held by old politicians who don't completely understand what this "Internet" gadget is. "It's that 'Facebook' thing my secretary is on all day, right?"
But tell that to the people who work for those same politicians, running entire campaigns online. Tell it to the people who used online voting to get their wrinkled asses into the office in the first place.
But if you lose, it casts your vote the other way.
But more than that, online retail is expected to be worth $279 billion by 2015, and as entire industries shift to a world that presumes that everyone has broadband, offline choices will continue to disappear. Every bank has online banking now, and in turn, makes it more of a pain in the ass to do it the old way. With streaming services like Netflix, brick and mortar video stores disappear (in this town, there used to be four movie rental places, now there's one). Hey, did I mention that Netflix is now the largest user of streaming bandwidth in the United States?
That means that in many cases, the choice is between doing the commerce online and not doing it at all. Downloading games off Steam isn't a matter of me being too much of a lazy ass to get down to a Wal-Mart. The vast majority of Steam's library simply isn't available for purchase off the shelf, even if I offer the cashier a suitcase full of cash and 10 grams of top-quality meth to get it. I guess I could just order a physical copy off Amazon ... oh, wait. Right.
Earlier I compared Internet access to the early days of universal phone service, but that's really not even close. Nobody in 1950 was working entirely over the phone. Nobody was doing all of their purchasing, banking and entertainment over the phone. And even then it was still considered a necessity because the powers that be realized that soon, the whole civilized world would operate under the assumption that you had one.
As proof, here's a picture of my current cell phone.
We're so reliant on the Internet now that you don't even realize how much of what goes on behind the scenes depends on it. Last week, I didn't get a chance to grocery shop. The kids were getting hungry, so I rushed up to the store, grabbed a couple of things and pulled out my debit card. When I swiped it, the machine told me to see the cashier, who then told me that their Internet connection was down. Which meant I either had to pay with cash or check, or put all of my shit back on the shelf and serve the kids some loafs of "go fuck yourself."
Eat up, bitches.
And then there are the millions of telecommuters, like me. Let me be clear -- as I mentioned in my article about being poor, having Internet access is the only thing between me and homelessness. In an area of the country where every non-meth industry has stopped hiring, finding a work-from-home job online was what saved me from god knows how long a stretch of unemployment. Moving to a new, more economically viable town costs money I don't have. The Internet was the difference.
For those looking to improve their prospects with a degree, college is often only possible thanks to online courses. My nearest community college is an expensive and time-consuming two-hour round trip away. I could go on and on.
But I won't because I plan on exceeding my bandwidth shortly.
I have a feeling the UN is going to take a lot of shit for declaring that Internet access is a human right. It sounds weird to say when you think of "human right" as "the right to not have electrodes applied to your nuts for attending a protest." But having tried to go without it for a stretch, I can fucking see where they're coming from.
And while I have no interest in getting into a debate about federal funding for new fiber optic lines or whatever, it seems like we've progressed to a point where having Internet is less like phone service and more like having water lines or sewage or roads. It's not so much a thing you buy as the thing that makes it possible to function in society. The sooner the world figures that out, the better.