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It’s Called The Internet
by vice staff
illustrations by rick froberg
If you’re among the lucky 25 percent of Americans who own a PC in 1994, chances are you’ve graduated from futzing with crude drawings of human and animal genitals in Microsoft Paint to sidling up beside your screechy modem armed with one of those internet trial offers America Online delivers in the mail. Five hours and three dozen chat rooms later, you discovered you have a real knack for trolling screen names in search of lonely souls who’ll help you practice your one-handed typing technique and play along as you try to convince some guy pretending to be a girl to stick a marker up his/her ass. And you want more.
We’re guessing cybersex wasn’t the first thing alpha nerd J.C.R. Licklider had in mind when he envisioned his Intergalactic Computer Network (the theoretical underpinnings of the internet before the internet became the internet as we know it). And yet here we are. But was it so hard to predict? Even the most pit-stained, obnoxiously optimistic Radio Shack hobbyist had to expect that the internet would evolve from a crummy, inaccessible collection of wires and plastic chips into a clearinghouse for all of humanity’s basest and most inane activities. In fact, the only question left to answer is: How long before we can watch a virtual Sharpie slide into a polygonal asshole? We believe people will have to exhaust all the different ways of getting their rocks off online before realizing the internet’s potential to spread and share information, unite the world in peace, and bleed serious cash out of the grandest invention since the melon-baller. It will be possible soon through a little development called Virtual Reality (VR).
In the future, everyone will be stationed at personalized home internet terminals for eight to 14 hours a day. Each individual will wear a special helmet that mimics and supersedes at least three senses. Our VR stations will have the capacity to digitally teleport us to Tel Aviv for hummus or to the middle of the Amazon for a mass orgy. Laugh it up, but the Japanese are already moving forward with this business. At the Second Industrial Virtual Reality Show & Conference, held outside Tokyo in late June of this year, they prophesied electronic life in 4-D. That’s an extra fucking dimension we didn’t even know about!
Which brings us to downsides we’ll have to put up with before things get wonderful: Currently, the internet is an abomination of design and aesthetics. It doesn’t really work or have that “Holy shit!” factor we expect from life-changing technology. Mostly it’s a jumble of words, logos, and terrible pictures affixed to solid-colored backgrounds. When do we get it to actually do stuff, like, say, buy a one-eyed Chinese baby? Following the Computer Security Act, the power to develop internet standards shifted from the National Security Agency to the National Institute for Standards and Technology, a division of the Department of Commerce. So let’s do some commerce! We want to, in ascending order of priority: shop, talk to people without fees, read news, research dinosaur bones found in Fiji, bank, read books, date, have VR sex, day-trade, converse with people who can’t speak our language, partake in fun quizzes, eat, and listen to all our favorite music for free without either of our cheeks leaving the seat cushion.
Why are we not doing these things yet? It’s practically the year 2000 already, and lots of sci-fi authors and filmmakers think some big shit should be happening really soon. Perhaps the policy-making overlords who are trying to figure out how to control this thing are simultaneously gumming up the works. After all, this unregulated place where anything is possible sounds like kind of a nightmare for people who get richer when things are controlled.
If you think a future of free things is a bad thing, more likely than not you’ll be the sucker lobbying for subscription-based services like the unbearable Ayn Randian cunt you’ve been ever since Uncle Lance molested you. Services like Prodigy and AOL already prepackage and water down the internet like busybody mothers who won’t let their seven-year-olds watch Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. In other words, you both suck. Luckily, we’re not there yet. It’s still very likely that the internet will avoid becoming a monotonous cesspool run by haggard media moguls working on behalf of rich people and pious half mutants.
But even if we can avoid the meddling of corporate oligarchs, there’s still the government’s intelligence community to contend with before we get to the unadulterated digital fucking and free shit. The FBI, for example, has been phreaking out over the development of digital telephone service. In 1992, the bureau’s Advanced Telephony Unit somehow surmised that it would only be able to crack approximately 60 percent of encryptions once phones lose their land legs. Only 60! That is but three-fifths of all American cellular-phone calls! And with the internet allowing people to share ways of keeping hackers—civilian and governmental—out of their business, the sad Feds are starting to wonder how they’re going to continue to spy on US citizens in peace.
Weirdly, the Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility found that the FBI’s panic is based purely on paranoia. The Digital Telephony Proposal debuted in 1992; if passed, it will force telephone companies to install technology that makes it simple for law-enforcement agencies to wiretap unsuspecting chatterboxes. It’s kind of like locking yourself in a chastity belt and mailing the key to a guy with the biggest hymen-busting dick on the planet. Next came key escrow (aka the “Clipper chip”), which would leave the government a mandatory backdoor entryway to any and all communication systems. Most government officials like to pretend that these two initiatives are totally separate, but the truth is that fancy wiretapping technology is practically useless if you can’t spy on the people who are spying for you.
The Digital Telephony Proposal didn’t pass this year, but the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act sure as shit did. It’s practically the same thing, making sure telecom companies allow the government to listen in on phone conversations. The pus-filled cherry on top of this bullshit sundae is that it also makes phone records available to the Man and includes a bonus clause regarding triangulation—a nifty little development that identifies where you are and when. Guess what else falls under these telecommunication laws? The internet, the world wide web, and basically anything else you use to speak with the outside world other than your own vocal cords. VR sex included.
This all sounds like one hell of a nice racket, no? First telecom companies are regulated so that all your digital cookie crumbs are sucked up and preserved. Then the market is de-regulated so the same digital crumbs are siphoned into a bunch of other places. All that’s left is to lock up the back door to your info and make sure copies of the keys are doled out to the cops.
But in the end, it is all pretty desperate for governments and corporations. In the race between the agencies that want to monitor nerds screwing 4-D facsimiles of Taiwanese preteens and the nerds who would rather they didn’t, there is no way governments can win. There is no derailing the plight of the undersexed, to say nothing of the downright anarchic. Ultimately, this is their internet. Thanks, guys.