Originally created 01/04/03

The seeds of freedom



Human progress has always been uneven. The Information Age is no different.

A current television commercial - beamed by satellite across the country - talks about a tribe in which a man announces news via clicks of his tongue.

And consider the incongruity in this: Japanese are said to be quitting their cell phones by the thousands due to the fact that 90 percent of their messages are solicitations for dating services, while Chinese, hungry for morsels of the wider world, see their government closing 3,300 Internet cafes - ostensibly due to fire hazards, but any excuse to control the flow of information, you know.

The truth is - and China will find this out eventually - controlling information in the Information Age is next to impossible.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, however.

True, we could all use a little less spam - junk e-mail - in our lives. In fact, a recent news report indicated that experts are increasingly concerned that junk mail "threatens to keep the Internet from reaching its full potential as a method of communication."

Like the Japanese cell phone users, people may turn away from using e-mail just to avoid the hassle of the junk mail.

"We're approaching a time when people are going to stop using e-mail," said John Mozena, spokesman for the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail.

That may be exaggerating the situation - but junk sure takes the joy out of the Internet experience. And what cretin came up with those insidious pop-up windows?

Moreover, with the global nature of the beast, the Information Age's uncharted limits are being tested. Australia's supreme court, for example, ruled recently that a businessman there could sue a Web site for libel in Melbourne - even though the site was based in the United States.

That's frightening. And it's indicative of the fact that we've got a lot of Information-Age ground rules to hammer out across a very unevenly informed and regulated world.

Still, the benefits of all this information overload will always outweigh the inconveniences and hardships. Information - not anyone's army - is what will free the Chinese. It will free others, as well. Information is empowering; that's the universal truth that underlies the First Amendment freedom of the press.

There need to be reasonable limits - and AOL's landmark $7 million verdict against an alleged "spam ring" may help set those limits.

But Chinese officials are sorely mistaken if they think they can use a fire at an Internet cafe as a ruse to control the flow of information.

The seeds of freedom will germinate anywhere and everywhere. And that's to the good.