Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Political Update

      Since my post about the online piracy legislation, it has been semi-killed, meaning they reserve the right to tweak it and push it through at another time when the world isn't paying as much attention. There are still 56 members of Congress that have their names attached to either SOPA or PIPA. Here is a handy website listing those people.
       Like a good little voter, I researched where the people in my district stood and wrote letters. The bad news is that I had to write two letters expressing disappointment. Both of my senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson were cosponsors. The day after the protests, Chambliss pulled his name from the bill and sent me a form letter letting me know that he had come to understand that it was flawed and not going to fix the intended problem (score one for the protest. Isakson, however, is still attached and sent me a form email with the same old line of how it will only effect foreign websites. It made me mad, not because I am so wrapped up in this particular bill, but because it shows a lack of understanding about the modern world, the people in it, and also because I looked at the amount of money his campaign received from the entertainment industry.
     On to the good news. My congressman, Tom Graves, was against it before it was popular to be against it. I wrote him an encouragement email thanking him for taking the time to understand the repercussions. He also sent me a form email in reply. Here is the good part of what it said.
            "While I believe it is essential that U.S. copyright laws are upheld, this should not come at the expense of technological innovation that should be encouraged, and not prematurely stifled. I also have concerns that in today's rapidly changing Internet, individuals who willingly violate U.S. copyright law will find new technology to commit these acts at a much faster pace, only making SOPA ineffective in eliminating copyright infringement.
             More importantly, each American's right to free speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution must be protected, and I believe SOPA's sweeping authority to block websites, as we see in China, encroaches upon that right and sets a dangerously precedent."
Wow! It's like he actually read the bill or something. Imagine that.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

My Day Offline

I spent yesterday offline. It was not easy. At times, it was down right frustrating. In addition to the SOPA issue, I've been seeing all these articles about internet addiction, and it had me curious.
I should note that I did allow myself 3 email checks spaced out through the day since it is the way teachers and some other important people primarily communicate with me. I checked for important messages and left the rest. This taught me that I get way too many junk emails that I need to unsubscribe from. I guess since they usually trickle in through the day, I never noticed how many there were.
I also found out that I have gotten really use to having knowledge at my fingertips at all times. Several times I had to resist the urge to ask Rocky something, knowing he'd look it up online. Someone called me and asked me a question that I had to answer with, "I don't know." That one hurt. I knew how to find out, I could have answered the question in 30 seconds or less, but it involved the internet, so I had to let someone else do the search. The answer was the first thing I looked up this morning when I went back online. Easter is April 8th this year, just in case you were wondering.
The strangest part of going offline was how isolated I felt. I talked to people on the phone, I was even face to face social with a few people, but still I felt like there was a wall between me and the rest of the world. I'm not sure how I feel about that. It was an unexpected weird sort of anxiety. I think it was that anxiety that kept me from being more productive. I had thought that going offline for the day would increase the time I had to do other things, but it really didn't.
All in all, I am very glad I did it. I do think I will do it again soon. I also think I need to curb daily usage a bit. I'm going to continue to limit the number of times I check my email, and turn off my phone alerts. It has been an enlightening experiment.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

SOPA Explained (sort of)

If you read many blogs or follow any blogger types on twitter or are just a fan of the internet, then you may have heard some rumblings about something called "SOPA". That stands for "Stop Online Piracy Act". The name sounds fantastic. I work for a photographer who has to deal with piracy. Ending it would make life easier. After all, are we all against internet theft? Of course we are. But wait!
When was the last time our government came up with a simple direct answer to a problem with no unintended bad consequences? Yeah. That is kind of what I figured. So, I went digging for information. It wasn't easy finding an even handed article explaining what SOPA is. This one at CNET was the best I could find. It is at least the clearest one I have read.
I read the whole thing and gleaned a few things out of it, and then I asked Rocky what the rest of it meant. He started on a list of "simple" ways that he could get around it all. I understood none of what he said.
This is what it boils down to. If you read the article and understand it all then you probably know ways around each and every road block they want to throw at you. If you read the article, your eyes kind of glaze over, and you are pretty sure that some of those words have been made up to confuse you, then the internet as you know it will end, or at least get a lot more complicated. In addition to that, there is wording in this that not only encourages your internet provider to track your usage, it requires them to monitor it. Because it is so broad in the wording, one person could post a YouTube clip on Facebook that is not licensed and not only would that person get shut down, but YouTube and Facebook as a whole could get shut down. People who support the bill reply with, "They wouldn't do that. It is an extreme example to scare people. To that I say, yes it is an extreme example meant to scare, but that doesn't mean it isn't true. The federal government will be given the legal authority to do that. Whether or not they exercise that power is not the point. The point is that instead of stopping piracy, this bill will become the first big step in United States internet censorship.
I think it is important to mention that this is not a Republican or Democrat thing. This is one of the most bipartisan bills on the floor right now. It is also contested by both sides. I encourage you to read the article I linked to. Hunt for what you understand and judge for yourself.
Next Wednesday several websites will be going dark in protest of the bill. Don't panic! They will be back Thursday.