It Was Twenty(-odd) Years Ago Today When The Internet Looked Much Different Than It Does Now

from the time-machine dept

Last week, Mike and I were at a conference celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Reno v. ACLU, a seminal case that declared that the First Amendment applied online. What makes the case so worth a conference celebrating it is not just what it meant as a legal matter – it's a significant step forward in First Amendment jurisprudence – but also what it meant as a practical matter. This decision was hugely important in allowing the internet to develop into what it is today, and that evolution may not be something we adequately appreciate. It's easy to forget and pretend the internet we know today was always a ubiquitous presence, but that wasn't always so, and it wasn't so back then. Indeed, it's quite striking just how much has changed in just two decades.

So this seemed like a good occasion to look back at how things were then. The attached paper is a re-publication of the honors thesis I wrote in 1996 as a senior at the University of California at Berkeley. As the title indicates, it was designed to study internet adoption among my fellow students, who had not yet all started using it. Even those who had were largely dependent on the University to provide them their access, and that access had only recently started to be offered on any significant a campus-wide basis. And not all of the people who had started using the internet found it to be something their lives necessarily needed. (For instance, when asked if they would continue to use the internet after the University no longer provided their access, a notable number of people said no.) This study tried to look at what influences or reasons the decision to use, or not use, the internet pivoted upon.

I do of course have some pause, now a few decades further into my career, calling attention to work I did as a stressed-out undergraduate. However, I still decided to dig it up and publish it, because there aren't many snapshots documenting internet usage from that time. And that's a problem, because it's important to understand how the internet transitioned from being an esoteric technology used only by some into a much more pervasive one seemingly used by nearly everyone, and why that change happened, especially if we want to understand how it will continue to change, and how we might want to shape that change. All too often it seems tech policy is made with too little serious consideration of the sociology behind how people use the internet – the human decisions internet usage represents – and it really needs to be part of the conversation more. Hopefully studies like this one can help with that.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: cda 230, first amendment, free speech, history, intermediary liability, reno v. aclu


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  1. icon
    PaulT (profile), 14 Dec 2017 @ 5:08am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Nice story

    The basic, fundamental concepts are still beyond you, aren't they?

    "Why does an online distribution company get a pass when the real world one would not?"

    Why would the distribution company be held responsible rather than the creator of the magazine?

    Plus, one of the very simple concepts you remain wilfully ignorant of is very simple - a physical publication has an editorial staff who choose which content goes into the paper, leading to a final product which is approved by said staff. An online platform does not. They may have moderation after the fact, but that still leaves inevitable times when there is objectionable content in place, without any approval or control by staff.

    Do you understand yet, or do I need to keep to single syllable words for your thick skull to accept the knowledge?

    Ads for the rest of your bullshit, you're actually whining that sites like Wordpress won't just hand over your personal information to anyone who asks for it? No wonder you also get so confused in discussions about privacy and the right to due process, you think every details about you should be free to everybody!

    "Explain to me carefully the magic that somehow manages to get you the name, address, and other personal information of someone writing a free hosted blog."

    Explain to me the magic that gets it to anyone ho walks off the street into a brick & mortar premises. I doesn't, you need to have to have law enforcement and a warrant at the very least in most circumstances. Depending on where you live, that might even still be breaking data protection rules until certain procedures are followed..

    You, again, are making shit up and basing your comments on a fever dream.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.