Since I am old enough to have grown up without the existence of the internet, I am always aware of the change it has made in our lives.
In my own life, I often see this in the simplest of ways, such as when I'm watching a movie, and wonder, what else have I seen this actor in...? I used to call my mother and say, "What was the name of the Alfred Hitchcock movie where Ingrid Bergman's husband is making her think she's losing her mind...?" Those days are gone. I still call my mother, but we talk about other stuff. (Answer: Gaslight.)
How has the internet changed my own life? Just off the top of my head: making friends all over the world, who I meet in person whenever possible; the complete transformation of political organizing (the costs have plummeted and the reach has skyrocketed); planning a trip (does anyone remember planning trips before the internet?); getting directions; following an out-of-town baseball team; reading non-local newspapers, and reading newspapers and magazines from anywhere in the world; staying in touch with friends and acquaintances from past jobs or activities; selling or giving away unwanted stuff, or buying someone else's; getting help with every day problems.
And for me, above everything, always: emigrating. Before we moved, every person we knew in Canada, we met through the internet. I have said this so many times, but it's a bedrock truth of my life: this experience would have been far scarier, and far lonelier, without the internet.
One of the things I love most about the internet is how it has fostered a spirit of giving. The free exchange of ideas and the ease of connection has led to, I believe, a greater willingness to help strangers.
Generosity is contagious, and it spreads quickly. So many people have extended themselves to us in our move here and our adjustment to our new lives. I try to help people who email me for information, and I assume those people will do the same for others. We've all seen it in forums, blogs and bulletin boards: people helping each other, just because.
These connections are more than just information exchange. They put us in touch with our ability to give help and to receive it, two essential aspects of human society. They expand our humanity.
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Another arena the internet has transformed is consumer activism. Allan recently hit paydirt in this department, when he blogged about a huge problem he's having with downloads he bought from Major League Baseball.
Readers ran with it, including someone who posted it at Boing Boing. From there, it's been on Slashdot, Wired, TechDirt, and many other tech-related sites. Writers picked it up on Yahoo, AOL, Tech Wag, Privacy Digest, Daily Tech News, the Guardian's technology blog, Consumerist and probably several others we haven't seen. The Globe and Mail called for an interview, as did the L.A. Times; the The Washington Post emailed. Several lawyers have mentioned class action suits.
And here's the really big news: by the end of the first day, Allan was on a conference call with representatives of Major League Baseball. They claim they're fixing the problem, now and for the future. You can be sure everyone is watching to make sure they do.
This would have been impossible without the internet and the blogosphere. Allan already had been sending emails and making phone calls - all ignored. He could have tried to interest some media, but that's extremely time- and energy-consuming. Without the play online, it's unlikely that he ever would have gotten either a refund or access to his downloads. Now Baseball has been forced to fix the problem, not just for one consumer, but for everyone.