Who Controls Your Tools?

It’s been over a week and this post has been bouncing around in my mind.  As I walked the dog last night, I think that I have it fleshed out in my mind.

Like many people, I am trying my best to stay on top of the events in Egypt.  It’s been all over the television but television does have its filter and editorial content to contend with.  Twitter lets the commentary shoot from the hip.  In addition to the traditional news sources, I have found that @acarvin from NPR has been a non-stop source of commentary and retweets about the situation.  One of the things that did come across was the stoppage of internet access.

There are some graphs that show the flow of information to and from Egypt illustrating the communication outage.  This article from the Huffington Post really does a nice job of illustrating it.  Given the way that I learn about current events, I just couldn’t fathom not being able to turn to my news and learning sources for just in time information.  With the flip of a switch, the citizenry of Egypt were denied information entering and leaving the country.

But, that could never happen on this side of the Atlantic, right?  Not so quick.  There are a couple of things that hit my radar as well.  The first is the concept of a "kill switch" that the US president could flip, if necessary.  This article from Security Week is a good read about this topic.  Given the recent hype about the Stuxnet virus, this may well be more than just a sensationalist story.

And here, north of the Great Lakes, we have a CRTC decision that could potentially change the way that we Canadians think about internet communications.  With a usage based billing system, you’ll have to think before you make the next online click.  Are you willing to pay for that piece of learning or entertainment?

The internet was originally just something that techno-weenies (me included) used to communicate.  For serious information, we could always turn to the Grolier or Canadian Encyclopedia in the library or on the bookshelf.  Eventually, that changed and we could get to that information on CD-ROM.  This was a passing phase because we recognized that information was changing so quickly that we needed to be able to access it online.  But, that wasn’t enough and Wikipedia allows us to document for humanity literally the moment it happens.

How many times have you resolved a bet or argument by pulling out your cell phone and doing a quick check?

These are the tools and we have come to rely on them in ways that we could never fathom years ago.  Imagine also, that it could just as quickly go away should someone flip a switch and deny access.  Too far out in the future?  Ask anyone in Egypt who needed to communicate during this time?

Or, ask a student or teacher who works on a project or lesson at home and comes to school only to find that some content filter and someone at the switch has decided that she/he should not have access.  They may feel just as removed from the tools as any of the other scenarios.  There’s just someone "in the cloud" who is controlling the tools.

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