On the Web

     At a family dinner party, the subject of the Internet, and more specifically how it is used to communicate, came to the fore as a debate between the generations. My niece and nephews, college kids, are familiar with and adept at communication on the Internet.
     They make reservations at youth hostels, for example, through the Internet on the night before they arrive in a foreign city. They call home for free from all over the world, using Internet phone services.
     They carefully regulate their friends on Facebook, limiting the distribution of information about themselves.
     On the other side the generational divide, their parents look upon the Internet as a dangerous and powerful instrument used to break down the barriers that family and a sense of privacy place between those who we love and those that make up the great unwashed of the Earth.
     My sister has a friend at work, for example, who posted a rant about her boss on the web and was then called into his office where her posting was discussed and the matter ultimately resolved without any punishments.
     My sister defended her co-worker as an innocent who was simply getting something off her chest.
     The younger generation thought she was foolish to post something on the Internet and not know that it was likely to get back to her boss. They were entirely and utterly lacking in sympathy.
     This difference of opinion veered off into a discussion of the difference in connotation between innocence and ignorance, two terms which I argued were in fact very similar in their literal meaning but vastly different in the favor or disfavor connoted.
     An “innocent” is lacking in a combination of knowledge, education and world experience and yet absolved of responsibility. An “ignorant” is lacking in knowledge and education and yet blamed for his ignorance.
     I threw in “naïve” as a third word that also, when analyzed, would mean lacking in experience and common sense, with a slightly but not overly critical connotation.
     A person can be naïve and still gain substantial sympathy if not the absolute carte blanche that an innocent would get, while the naïve person would also largely avoid the black mark laid on the ignorant.
     So while my niece and nephews believed the young woman was ignorant, my sister was adamant in saying she was innocent, and I allowed that she was perhaps naïve.
     The discussion veered further, as dinner discussions accompanied by good food and good wine will do, but that older generation’s sense that the Internet is a powerfully invasive force returned a couple days ago when a co-worker Googled my name and immediately found the precise amounts and dates of my contributions to Democratic candidates in the last presidential election.
     A site associated with Ariana Huffington allows you to search my ZIP code in Pasadena and see how much I have given in political contributions, who I gave those contributions to, and for good measure throws in my home address.
     But this power runs both ways, I have learned, when you run a Web site.
     Because we can see or make a good guess at who is looking at the Courthouse News Web site. A program we bought identifies the Internet protocol address of those looking at the site. The ip address is a series of numbers that can be looked up and associated with the owner of the address. In some cases, the addresses are those of an Internet service provider, such as Cox Communications.
     But the big commercial enterprises use their own servers and they can be recognized.
     For example, Google crawled our site 24 times in the past 24 hours, Yahoo crawled it 25 times, Bloglines – a news aggregator – crawled it 24 times. Bloomberg News checks the site regularly. Individual visitors to the page come from Japan (35), France (28) and Sweden (27).
     And in the past day, we had one visitor from Denmark, probably my friend Henrik.
     Ultimately, I believe the free flow of information is a great thing, in any medium, and the Internet certainly promotes the spread of knowledge and information, and, as a democratizing force, it has broken a host of writers, bloggers and small publishers free from the rusting manacles of traditional legal publishers, traditional newspapers and the back-scratching, self-referencing elite of the book publishing trade. At the same time, it is an extremely powerful medium and not a great thing for privacy.  

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