Is the Internet Worth Celebrating?

Last Saturday was a holiday you might have missed: the second annual "One Web Day." Celebrated at locations around the world, its organizers promote it as "an Earth Day for the Internet." I attended part of the festivities in New York City, but I'm still unclear about why exactly the Internet needs an Earth Day. Compared to the natural planet, which seems daily to face new human-induced threats, it doesn't feel like the Internet is in any imminent danger.

So maybe instead of a new kind of Earth Day, this celebration was really a way for technologists to pat themselves on the back about the way the Internet is changing our global community. The New York event, for example, featured Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales relating anecdotes from his visits to Wikipedians around the world (which included an African school that made children stay a couple extra hours so that he could see them using the site). He believes that Wikipedia can act as the great collector of human knowledge as well as a bridge to people in third-world countries who will finally have a voice.

Check out video highlights of his talk:

Just by looking at the Wikipedia entries alone, One Web Day has a long way to go before any Earth Day comparisons carry any weight: the only real similarity seems to be occurring on the 22nd day of a month. I walked away from the event a little skeptical that the Internet really deserved a day of celebration at all.

But today's headlines reminded me that it's all too easy to take the benefits of the Internet for granted. The New York Times reported that the Junta in Myanmar have locked down Internet access and shut down blogs to limit the information leaving the country. In the isolationist state, such communications provided much of what we've heard so far. While the tactic may work temporarily, Internet communication has too often proven impossible to contain.

The world is wired and the fact that Western news agencies are reporting on the Internet blackout indicates just how much things have changed. One Web Day might be a bit preemptive in its self-celebration, but when information is power, the Internet can still be one of the most democratic things around.

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