The Optimistic Christian
We're Becoming a Bunch of Babies
A melancholy truth was brought home to me this week as I visited with young nieces and nephews who participate—as they all do—in the wonders of modern technology. Rest assured, this is not another rant about how "kids these days" always have their heads down, regardless of the social situation, pecking away at their i-Thises and i-Thats. The etiquette and comportment discussion is for another time. Today's column is about how everything in life has to be—or will soon have to be—adjudicated by the government.
The real beginning of this thought lies with the Federal Communication Commission's decision last week to go forward with its controversial "net neutrality" regulations. There are potentially serious consequences from this regulatory gambit for our Internet freedom, but in the short term the consequence everyone will feel is an increase in the cost of Web access. The reason for the increase is that service providers will be channeled into charging customers for the total amount of data they interact with, rather than for a data-streaming rate, which is the current basis of service.
Downloading videos and images, or participating in online gaming, is extremely data-intensive, as almost everyone today knows. We have internalized a set of lore about the Internet; most readers understand the difference between data rate—the difference between high-speed and dial-up service—and the total amount of data bits involved in different files. The latter will become the basis for pricing Internet service under net neutrality. If you haven't yet thought about this, your eyes may be starting to bug out of your head. I know mine were when this first became clear to me some months ago.
It was with this concept in mind that I watched my nieces and nephews cluster around an iPhone, waving it in the air to find a wireless Internet signal in Mom's living room. It struck me forcefully that the quiescence of Internet rate-payers about unauthorized use of their local wireless signals is not going to last much longer. With service priced on a total-data basis, their motivation to defend their wireless hubs from third-party access will hit a critical threshold. They will have to take action: either spending money to encrypt or otherwise defend their signals, or—any bets on this one?—demanding that government regulation do the defending for them.
Considered dispassionately, this "problem" is entirely artificial. Created by government regulation, it will create new costs and new pretexts for regulation. It is also a wonderful example of the phenomenon with which I am ultimately concerned, which is our modern tendency to orient ourselves on government brokerage of our every human interaction—instead of on face-to-face communication and resolution directly with our fellow citizens. When it comes to our social relations, there increasingly seems to be no intermediate setting between "indifference" and "regulation or litigation." Yet the richness and rewards of community life are bound up in that very intermediate setting: the stage at which we turn to each other, in our capacity as private individuals, to work things out.
It is instructive to reflect on which passage of life imposes this posture on us. It is when we are small children that we have to appeal to an authority on issues large and small. We don't have the maturity or self-control at that point to deal with one another reasonably. Among toddlers, the basis for trust is the existence of an authority, mere feet away and ready to issue basic instructions like "Share the toys" or "Stop pestering your brother."
J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval intelligence officer and evangelical Christian. She retired in 2004 and blogs from the Inland Empire of southern California. She writes for Commentary's CONTENTIONS blog, Hot Air's Green Room, and her own blog, The Optimistic Conservative. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.