Monday, November 29

In-Home Sin-Delivery System - It's come to my attention that, for some Bhaus readers, the networked home computer is a gateway to a panoply of educational and entertainment resources in their many-varied splendors. Yet a lot of these recreational options meet with disapproval from more conservative members of the community. So it should come as no surprise that there are right-wingers with newfound political clout who wish to wield and governmental powers to prevent immoral uses of web technology. WSJ technology columnist Lee Gomes takes a look at what could be the next battleground in "values" legislation, the Internet-enabled personal computer.

Gomes says that while videogame violence and televised sex have long been targets of the morally righteous, "it's easy to imagine a 'values' campaign involving computing that would be more divisive." He notes that some crusaders are likening the easy availability of erotic material online to "the worst sort of drug epidemic":

"To have a drug pumped into your house 24/7, free, and children know how to use it better than grown-ups know how to use it -- it's a perfect delivery system if we want to have a whole generation of young addicts who will never have the drug out of their mind," said Mary Anne Layden, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania.

While the antiporn forces may be trying to shape the debate as one of public health rather than public morals, Gomez argues that there is unlikely to be social consensus developing around the issue:

If nothing else, there is a strong laissez-faire streak in America that holds that consenting adults ought to be able to do what they wish in the privacy of their own DSL connections. Removing all the porn from the country's PCs would involve yanking it out of a lot of cold, dead hands.

But while pornography, he suggests, has become a sacrosanct American institution, there are other more contentious areas where sex and values converge:

Rural gay teenagers, for instance, say the Web has changed their lives, allowing them to meet other teens just like themselves and, in the process, delivering them from a world of often-suicidal isolation. However, some people say that making teenagers more comfortable with their gayness is the problem, not the solution.

In my own opinion, would-be chaperones haven't come close to clamping down on the Internet, and there's no chance they'll succeed any time soon. Information wants to be free, and the World Wide Web has defeated every challenger from Donald Wildmon to the Chinese Communist Party. So fear not, gentle readers, I predict your personal choices for home computer use shall remain safe from the nattering nabobs of 'Net censorship.