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Stott: Internet will not fit into our box

Published: Thursday, May 3, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

Now that websites such as Facebook and Twitter have become mainstays in many users’ day-to-day lives, rules are being made.

Employers make rules about how their workers can and cannot portray themselves online.

School districts are creating rules for teachers about being Facebook friends and Twitter followers of their students.

We even create personal rules for how we connect with others. Whether it be refusing to “friend” co-workers or deleting those friends we never interact with, social media users have a sort of policy when it comes to associating with others online.

What we typically consider social media has been around since the early 2000s. It seems like a long while in Internet chronology – at least long enough to cement some basic, enduring rules about what is admissible online.

That is the typical evolution of most concepts. Imagine something as basic as food. Hunters and gatherers developed methods of feeding themselves, and we have built upon their cornerstone for nourishment.

But the Internet isn’t a basic necessity. It is, as some might argue, becoming more ubiquitous. The evolution of the Web is more complex and harder to navigate. Our relationship with the Internet is new and uncertain. Rules cannot simply be made and followed. They are changing, and fast.

A microcosmic example is Facebook.

Facebook, when it first was conceived, was limited to just college students. Users had to prove their student status with a .edu email address. That rule is long gone.

Now the website is trying to again segregate users based on their student status with group designations by university. In just eight years, Facebook has created rules, allowed them to be broken, and tried to re-establish them again.

Many users have done the same thing on a personal level, allowing grandparents into their previously private online social circles or creating groups for co-workers instead of avoiding them on the Web.

The Internet itself is a being of broken rules.

Email means work isn’t left at the office after 5 p.m. Instagram gives everyone photo editing capabilities. Blogging is a means for virtually anyone to be a publisher.

The overarching theme is that the changes will never stop.

There may be ebbs and flows of stability, but the Internet age is too dynamic to reach a definite peak. We have embarked on the beginning of time that includes the Web, and it would be foolish to think we have reached any sort of cohesive direction. The Internet is moving out instead of forward. It won’t stop.

This is the beginning of the rest of our lives, which will forever include the Internet. There is no turning back, no switching it off.

This is the most dynamic time the world has seen, a sort of societal renaissance, and the Internet will be changing every step of the way.

So before we settle on rules and regulations of the way the Internet works – and how we want to utilize the resource – let’s remember that what we decide will not be permanent. The Internet is too big to be constrained by how we think it should exist.

• Lauren Stott is a Maple Park native and a graduate student at Northern Illinois University in the master of public administration program. She can be reached at lauren_stott@yahoo.com.

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