If you've come to this page, you probably use AOL as your Internet Service Provider. If that's true, all I can say to you is get out while you still can. I've been planning this rant for a while. When I first set up my web page, I was getting visitors from everywhere, including a bizarre number from Sweden (Nedster probably means something pornographic there :-)). As you can tell from my index.html page, I love getting visitors from nearly 30 countries and 5 continents. But lately, the flow of visitors from exotic countries has slowed to a trickle, and now more than half of my visitors are from AOL. Now, I'm happy with the hits (I'm nearing 700 visitors, by the time you read this I'll probably have got there) but I'm not happy with where they're from.
Technology pundits thought AOL were doomed when the Web diversified, but they made a series of clever moves and now they remain by far the biggest service provider in the world. Internet virgins try to get connected, but they don't know where to go. So many companies, so many services, so many things that aren't all exactly the same... it 's overwhelming, dammit! But they've seen those glossy AOL ads on TV and in magazines and on billboards, and they've got some new offer this month which sounds impressive, and they've got a free CD in their mail, so they sign up. They get the stunningly slow connection and the inept software, not to mention the absurd censorship and constant spam, but they don't care because they don't know any better. Maybe this person is you. Well, no offence, but you're an idiot if you don't leave. Staying with AOL has always been a dumb thing to do, but after the events I heard about earlier this afternoon, it's a really, really dumb thing to do.
Today, I heard that AOL was merging with Netscape. Much of the English press seems to have been treating this as a brilliant event: a bold step towards the inevitable technological convergence of media. I can see no way to treat it, however, other than a blow to free speech. AOL Time Warner, soon to be one of the biggest companies in the world worth $350 billion with $30 billion profit a year, will control every media. It will have a grip one what is currently the free-est media in the world, the Internet, with ICQ, Compuserve, Netscape and AOL itself. Time Warner will be the master of the conventional media, with CNN, Warner Bros, Time, People, the Cartoon Network, TNT, HBO, DC Comics, Warner Music...
Marx believed that capitalism, if left unchecked, would end with corporations slowly subsuming each other until they formed organisations so big and powerful that even the government would have little hope of controlling them. This seems to be what's happening here. I'm lucky living in the UK, because the AOL Time Warner empire will have less control, but for you Americans, AOL's main customers... suffice to say, if this merger goes through, I pity you. A single giant corporation will have control over a major chunk of your news, your entertainment and your education. It will have more control over the hearts and minds of America than any politician, simply because it will have control over every outlet for information we have. Together, the many parts that make up the AOL Time Warner media deity will be able to cripple a president or veto an amendment. They could start a war. However much you protest your independence and your freedom of thought, a large part of the authoritative input to your mind will be controlled indirectly by four men in suits.
Maybe you think I'm overreacting. After all, when AOL bought Netscape, a major event in the tech world, they didn't interfere with them, did they? Did they?
We have absolutely no way of knowing. Maybe they didn't combine logos or management, but that means nothing. Here in England, it's been exposed many times how the Australian media tycoon Rupert Murdoch's highly influential publications and channels (he runs Fox in the US, by the way) are forced to carry the same political line and support each other commercially. It would be very, very naive to assume the same thing won't happen with this new conglomerate.
True, this was happening before, with Time Warner's television channels complementing it's magazines. But now our best hope for continued media freedom and flexibility, the Internet, is coming under their control too. The Internet's brilliance was it's diversity of thought and feeling, and now even that's going to be homogenised. And if you use AOL, you're helping. Get out now. Take a look around my site, sign my guestbook, do my poll, then take my pledge.
'I've been to Nedster's Funky Web Page, the best site on the Web. I am no longer an Internet virgin, I am a clued-up member of the wired community. I will do my part to keep the Internet free, even if we've lost the television and the newspaper. I renounce AOL, and everthing it stands for. I'm getting out now.'