Net Rises to the Occasion
By Dick Kaser
In their new book Social Consequences of Internet Use, scholars James
Katz and Ronald Rice call the Internet "Syntopia," literally meaning "together
place." The book challenges both those who think of the Internet as Utopia,
an egalitarian paradise, and those who think of it as Dystopia, a dangerous,
dark, and shadowy realm full of predators. Think again.
"Neither [of those extreme views] is correct," the authors say in their preface. "The
little computer mouse hooked to a keyboard ... has [resulted] in an intricate
tapestry of individuals engaging in what they already do in other arenas, for
good or bad, while expanding possibilities for new kinds of thought, interaction,
In other words, it's WYSIWYG. What you see is what you get. The Internet
is what we collectively really are.
Enter the war in Iraq.
National and international crises always put the Net to the test. How far
has it come? What's it capable of doing now? Or, in more Syntopian terms, how
have we managed to incorporate this new tool into our common, ordinary, everyday
On the eve of the conflict, BBC provided streaming video of
Tony Blair's eloquent, compelling, and historic address to Parliament in
justification of the war. A very fine moment. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/2870581.stm)
RealOne offered its SuperPass members streaming-media updates
from CNN, ABC, and other affiliates.
From the first day of the war, MSNBC dropped breaking-news updates
e-mail, including at 9:18 a.m. on April 9 the headline "Baghdad Falls" (even
if it was a day or two premature).
As a public service, LexisNexis opened its newsfeeds to the
general public, hosting"Free News from LexisNexis: War in Iraq" at http://www.lexisnexis.com/iraq/tv.asp.
As rapidly as the war unfolded, so did information about it. And it came
in all manners of presentation and form, including the Net's latest innovations.
There was the blogger from Baghdad, whose "Dear Raed" Web log, which charted
events in the Iraqi capital leading up to the war, ended dramatically on the
third day of fighting with these words: "[22/3 4:30pm (day3)] Half an hour
ago, the oil-filled trenches were put on fire. First watching Al-jazeera they
said that these were the places that got hit by bombs from an air raid a few
miniutes [sic] earlier but when I went up to the roof to take a look I saw
that there were too many of them, we heard only three explosions...." (http://dear_raed.blogspot.com)
And the blogs weren't limited to text. Photojournalist Kevin Sites (http://www.kevinsites.net) put
a human face on Iraq by posting pictures of Iraqis going about daily life in
the days preceding the conflict.
The Internet even made room for comic relief. At http://ilovetheiraqiinformationminister.com,
you can still find "Comical Ali's" (aka Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf) propaganda
statements, including the infamous "There are no American infidels in Baghdad.
From private journal musings to multimedia streaming reports, the Internet
rose to this perhaps regrettable occasionbut an occasion nonethelessto
prove that it has come of age.
Utopia? Dystopia? Syntopia? I'll leave it to the scholars to decide. But
I know a good thing when I see it. And in my mind, the Internet truly measured
up this time.
How do you think it performed? Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dick Kaser is Information Today, Inc.'s vice president of
content. His e-mail address is email@example.com.