It’s ironic that as computers and other communications technology have become more accessible to the general public over the last thirty years, they have actually become less accessible to a segment of the population, one to whom access is everything: people with disabilities. More ironic still is that the history of communications technology is intimately tied to the drive to integrate people with disabilities more fully into society.

On Saturday, September 26, 2009, the US network Nickelodeon did something unusual: it switched itself off. This was in observance of the “Worldwide Day of Play,” an event Nickelodeon inaugurated in 2004. The network – along with its sister channels Noggin, the N, and Nicktoons, and their associated Web sites – went dark for three hours to encourage its young viewers to “ride a bike, do a dance, kick a ball, skate a board, jump a rope, swing a swing, climb a wall, run a race, do ANYTHING that gets you up and playing!”

After the controversy surrounding last year’s proposed copyright bill C-61, which eventually died on the order table when Parliament was prorogued, the Federal government has decided to hold consultations across Canada before introducing a new version of the bill. While only time will tell how responsive the government will be to the public’s submissions, the series of town halls and round tables is definitely a good start in making the process transparent and taking the views of a wide variety of Canadians into account. Below is an expanded version of MNet’s submission to the Round Table held in Gatineau, Quebec on July 29th 2009.

The history of the Internet – and the history of technology in general – could be described as one big demonstration of the doctrine of unintended consequences: a system designed to help researchers collaborate, and developed to protect military communications in the event of a nuclear war, wound up being used primarily for shopping, socializing and entertainment. The same is true of many of the products and services on the Internet as well. In its early years it was mostly seen as a one-to-many broadcast medium, like TV or radio, but over time it’s the more interactive elements that have proven to be most popular, with users producing at least as much online content as professionals.

It’s a persistent phenomenon: the faster we move into the future, the more we find it embedded with the bones of the past. Why else, for instance, would we still talk about “dialling” a phone, and later about “hanging it up”? Few people remember the early TV remote controls that worked by sending high-frequency sounds, but we still call remotes “clickers.” We still say “stay tuned,” “CC” (carbon copy) e-mails, “rewind” DVDs, and “post” online messages. Even new media darling YouTube contains an old-media artefact of this kind: the name is obviously meant to make us think of television, the “boob tube,” but few TVs have tubes in them anymore.

With the recent spate of marine piracy off the coast of Somalia, culminating in the abduction and rescue of Captain Richard Phillips, it’s a bit disorienting to see the word “piracy” used to refer to, well, pirates. That’s because for the last few decades the word has been much more often applied to those who “pirate” intellectual property such as software, music, and videos. In fact, the use of the word in that context has a surprisingly long history: Daniel Defoe, in 1703, used the term to describe printers who made unauthorized copies of his work.

With the tremendous success and spread of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, along with home-broadcasting sites such as YouTube and Flickr, many people have become concerned about what effect they will have on our attitudes towards privacy. Now a new question has arisen: whether Facebook postings violate the Youth Criminal Justice Act if they identify suspects or victims covered under the act.

One of the most noted aspects of the Internet is its anonymity: by and large, people online will treat you as whoever you say you are. In the West, this is often used for mischief or identity play, but in other parts of the world anonymity can have a much more significant and liberating effect.

Today is Safer Internet Day, an annual international event sponsored by Insafe to promote a safer Internet for children. Recent research on Internet life has shown that the greatest threat to kids online comes from kids themselves, both in the form of risky behaviour and online harassment, or cyber bullying. Cyber bullying can take forms such as harassing e-mails or text messages, social exclusion and spreading private photos and videos, among others, and presents a particular challenge for parents and teachers because it often happens outside the home or classroom. Because the Internet has become an essential part of kids’ social lives, cyber bullying can also have more devastating effects as youth feel they have no escape.

With all the recent attention focused on stories of teenagers charged with distributing child pornography for taking sexually suggestive pictures of themselves, jobs lost due to Facebook and MySpace entries, and libel suits over blog posts, people are justifiably concerned about the permanence of material posted to the Internet. Many a teacher or parent has had to carefully explain to children or teens that whatever they post online might be seen by people other than the intended audience, and might be out there for a very long time.

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