Last week’s column was a segue into this week’s completely unrelated topic. In the previous column, I related the story of CellMate, described as the world’s first remote-controlled, self-locking male chastity belt, and how things went terribly wrong when the internet-connected chastity belt locking mechanisms were hacked so as to imprison the wearers. I closed out by reporting that the manufacturer’s webpage, cellmatechastitycage.com, has now disappeared from the internet. Well, that last statement is not entirely true for those in the know, including those who read this column.
It just so happens there is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization named Internet Archive, and one of its initiatives is to preserve a digital library of websites and other cultural artifacts in digital form. “The Wayback Machine” now has more than half a trillion web pages saved over the last two decades, including a few as far back as 1996. Anyone may access this public library of old websites simply by pointing their browser to https://web.archive.org (no www) and then entering the name of a website where it says “Enter a URL…”. If you enter the aforementioned cellmatechastitycage.com you will next see a calendar of the dates on which that web page was preserved. Click on one of those calendar dates, and then click on one of the hours. What you should see next is an archived copy of the web page as it appeared and was saved on that date.
The preservation of information on the Wayback Machine is intentionally incomplete. Parts of websites that are password-protected, such as your bank account, are not saved, nor are personal emails included in the archive. And people can request that their content be excluded from their “permanent record,” which raises some issues of its own.
Entering the third decade of the 21st century, we find ourselves living in an Orwellian period of rampant online censorship driven by extremes of political ideology. Both sides of the political divide are guilty of extremism, the most pernicious example being “cancel culture,” with its historical echoes of pogroms, the Spanish Inquisition, and book burnings. Throughout human history, civil societies have placed importance on preserving artifacts of their culture and heritage, those both worthy and shameful. Without this, civilization has no memory, nor any mechanism to learn from its successes and failures. Today, much of what our culture produces is in digital form, and much of that is found on the internet.
During the first generation of the internet, any idiot with a modem was free to broadcast news and their opinions about it to a worldwide audience. In many ways, that easy access to technology changed journalism forever. Today, in what is effectively the internet in its second generation, we are struggling to come to terms with the fact that control over much of what is available online has wound up under the thumb of a few zealous oligarchs. It remains to be seen what the next generation of the internet will be.
Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981, and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8@SMAguru.com.