Another Modest Proposal

Dear Readers,

When mass events take place, I often post some sort of lengthy essay meant to act as a catharsis for whatever thoughts and emotions are evoked by the event in question. This seems to be the case in respect to the mass suicide that has taken place in San Diego.

I am shocked and saddened by the tragedy and the extent of it. But I have another agenda in writing. It appears that the participants in this cult were web page designers who had posted their bizarre beliefs about extraterrestrials on the web and on Usenet newsgroups. In turn, we have two sets of casualties: the victims themselves, and additionally, the Internet. Due to the connection made between the cult and the Internet by the mainstream electronic press, it will be the Internet that will take the hit. Now, aside from risks posed by a paranoia about child-seeking pedophiles and pornographers, parents are now being warned to keep their kids from accessing cult-related material on the Internet. Yes, another risk of web surfing has just reared its not only ugly, but deadly head, at least according to those who make their money by reporting their interpretation of the news.

The Internet has become such an integral part of global society that it is now taking on the characteristics of its users, who are increasingly becoming a broader cross-section of the population. In 1993 and 1994, when the web was still in its infancy, its denizens were mostly government defense analysts, academics exploring a mew medium of information exchange, and a few enterprising businesses who saw a chance to sell their wares in an innovative way. Now the Web is a more accurate reflection of those who have taken advantage of it. These new users include those who would expound their beliefs on this highly unregulated medium, and subsequently, when they choose to commit some heinous act, they create a connection in the mind of the public between the horrible act and the medium that carried their message.

Throughout history countless tragedies have taken place at the hands people who have printed literature, used telephones, or broadcasted their message over airwaves. Yet, no one, in good conscience, would advocate banning or over-regulating the communication, print or electronic media.

I am the last person to advocate regulation of the Internet. It is ourselves we must regulate. We must control our impulse to condemn the Internet for being the way this cult made its livelihood or for being the way it shared its views. We must regulate our reaction to the senseless loss of human life when it is quick to find some scapegoat, even if the scapegoat is an amorphous network of mindless machines connected by telephone wires. The network is made up of users, and I am confident that a good part of those users are transforming the technology into a tool for the expansion of the greater good through education, prejudice reduction, and global communication. I am praying for the souls of the victims in the San Diego tragedy, but I am also praying for the efforts of Internauts who stand to be chastised for utilizing the same Internet that the victims did.

Thanks for reading this far.

George Cassutto
Teacher of Social Studies

George Cassutto's Cyberlearning World

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