I disagree with the sentiments of some pundits that technology has to be simplified (or dumbed down) in order to be understood by the “normals.” Rather, I believe we are living in a time where technology has gone remarkably mainstream and its lingo is understood by more people than ever. For two year’s running in his State of the Union address, President Obama has name checked companies such as Apple and Google. Technology is now an important part of modern day culture. As a result, it is no surprise that people are beginning to understand concepts such as throttling data in the context of their monthly smartphone data plan, not being able to tether or use FaceTime or Hangouts without a special plan.
Without Net Neutrality, ISPs can increase their bottom line by segregating their network so that some internet services (say their own services) get priority over that of their competition. Imagine a world where some websites are only available if they strike a deal with an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to make sure their content is visible to users of that ISP. It will be a draconian day when choosing your ISP also requires you to factor what websites you want to see and can visit (sounds like cable channel packages).
We, the connoisseurs of technology, alone cannot stand up for this cause. Everyday people are beginning understand what Net Neutrality is and why it's important. Net Neutrality is the idea that ISPs cannot make anything run faster or slower on their network, nor can they decide what websites people can visit.
In attending high school, I have mostly known what my friends’ interests are: technology goes as far as smartphones and apps. As a result, it was a pleasant surprise to me when I began to see my friends post on Facebook this We the People petition to the White House asking the FCC to insure net neutrality. (The idea of We the People is that petitions that get 100,000 signatures are insured a response from the White House.) I was filled with a remarkable sense of hope that my young friends are caring about such an important issue. One friend wrote a passionate paragraph encouraging others to sign the petition.
It is not too much of a surprise, that my generation (those born right before the dawn of 21st century) care about policy that pertains to the internet. We have lived most of our lives on the internet. Computers, even rudimentary ones, were available to us in elementary school. As teachers get more technologically savvy, so do their instructions for homework assignments. Most essays at my school are submitted to an online service that checks for plagiarism. All people in my age range have smartphones (that are usually more powerful and capable then the computers found in public schools.) This trend will only grow stronger with future generations as the internet and technology will be introduced at earlier and earlier ages.
A petition on Facebook may sound like circumstantial evidence, but discussions with friends have revealed that they understand what net neutrality is. One friend of mine compared it to throttling of internet speeds when he reaches his monthly data cap, but applied to online services like Hulu or Netflix. Again, it is because of the fact that we grew up on the internet that we are aware of it so well. I’m sure kids won’t be the only people who care about their Netflix being cut out. That is why Netflix’s threat to ISPs to rally their users if net neutrality is compromised is a very smart and interesting idea.
Petitions on Facebook may seem childish, but it is a start and it’s working. Petitions like these make it clear to our government that we the people care about a free and open internet. This movement and caring for a resource we use daily will only increase as older generations are replaced by more technologically savvy people. Of course, we shouldn't pin our entire strategy for reclaiming net neutrality on waiting for the future generations, but at the very least, it’s an increasingly large demographic of young people who do understand what’s at stake.
And that’s not nothing, because after all: Children are our future.
Graphics & Editing by Cameron Burgess
This Original was written by Abner Li, he's probably writing right now.
-You can follow him on Twitter: @technacity.