Recently I was contacted by a very nice Canadian chap called Lee. He writes for a big Internet blog and news source — the kind of site that has a million unique visitors a month — and he asked me if I’d like to write for them! Apparently, I’m a bit snarky. Apparently that’s what they want; someone that tells it like it is. Someone that isn’t afraid to step on a few toes.
And that’s cool. I can do that. Artists will do anything for a cheap buck.
But I can’t believe he actually called me SNARKY! Of all the things he could’ve called me! Intelligent, wise, bright, charming, charismatic… even tall or hairy would’ve been fine. But snarky? Who the fuck does he think he is? I wouldn’t mind if he was American — that would explain a few things — but a Canadian? A civilian pawn of the mighty, Earth-spanning British Empire? Really, some people ought to know their place.
Which brings me neatly onto the topic of the Internet class system. Or the sickening and complete lack thereof. Online, everyone is born equal. From the moment you plug that cable in and battle your way through Internet Explorer’s shit MSN homepage redirection, you are… A NETIZEN — an Internet citizen — a very grandiose term that basically means you belong to the Online Community. A small monthly fee, a modem and a computer — that’s all you need to become a fully paid-up member of the largest, most powerful and ubiquitous community in the world.
You can become a civilian of the modern society — the only real society that counts — where rules and etiquette are created and destroyed as technology and peer pressure dictates. This often happens so quickly that no one really knows what’s going on: The Internet is in disarray! Anyone and everyone rules the roost, or their small part of it. The Internet is an anarchic system of authority. And therein lies the problem: there is no social structure.
Historically the citizens of a country are those that are born there. Changing your nationality was something that very few people did; you only emigrated or sought asylum during the most dire of situations. Why? Because there was a class or caste system in place; a pecking order. Jobs would be given to specific families first. If you were born into a family of cleaners or chimney sweeps, you really didn’t have much of a career choice. The rich died rich; the poor died poor. When you move country you drop down to the bottom — and trust me, there is always someone worse off than you — a thought petrifying enough to scare off all but the most desperate emigrants. In a world where class means everything, losing your class is not unlike dying. Social status, perks, opportunity — all gone.
But there’s one exception: a new country. You can move to a new country where everyone is equal, at least for a short time. A new, primordial society, amorphous and malleable. A new culture just waiting to be defined by creative and daring individuals. A New World. America.
Is it really a surprise that five hundred years later we’ve created the virtual equivalent of America?
The Internet is still at that stage where everyone is equal. The loud-shouting neophyte is as much a patron of the new world order as the venerable Internet veteran. Is that correct? Should we be born equal in this New Virtual World? After being on the Internet for 15 years should a jumped-up newbie with bold, brash ideas be able to tell me what to do? No! Should I defer, prostrate myself and shuffle nervously around those that have been online since the very dawn of our current epoch 40 years ago? As much as it pains my ego to say so: yes, yes I should.
In the hope of achieving a more sane and useful society, in true Virtual World style, I propose a level system. When you first connect to the Internet, you are level 1. Every year of continued use thereafter, you gain a level. It would need to be tracked by some kind of governing body — like the Censor’s Office in Roman times, or the peerage registers in the UK.
Each level would bestow rights, privileges. Perhaps you could mute lower levels in chat rooms or on forums. You would be eligible for more bandwidth when downloading illegal movies and music. Perhaps if the level difference is great enough you could even bestow ‘time outs’ on particularly irritating runts by cutting their Internet access for an hour.
You would be forced to use an Apple Mac until level 5.
Smileys would be banned until you reach level 10.
Streaming porn would remain unavailable until you reach level 15.
How about it, peons?