blank (by way of Pit Schultz <>) on Wed, 24 Jul 96 08:49 MDT

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nettime: Content Pollution
     Forget About Getting More Net Content; First We Have To Get Rid of
     All the Garbage
     By Jonathan Friendly

     It has become commonplace to see alongside highways signs
     announcing that this or that organization -- the Kiwanis, the
     Girls Scouts, Something Manufacturing -- has adopted a couple of
     miles of road and is keeping it cleaned up. Occasionally you can
     see orange-vested representatives of the organization wielding
     spiked poles to collect the trash along the shoulder.

     We need that kind of volunteer group to start working on the
     information highway. The Internet has a litter problem that makes
     the Interstate system look as spic and span as Zurich or

     Anyone who has spent any time surfing the Net knows that four
     minutes out of every five go to wading through the garbage. Even
     if piety and wit were not notably absent in the Information Age,
     they are surely ineffective about calling back any of what the
     Moving Finger seems to be writing so incessantly.

     It's all well and good for learned persons to discuss Increasing
     the Content of the Internet, but the real problem is getting rid
     of what we,ve got in such noxious overabundance.

     It's not just the dead-ends -- "This server has no DNS entry" or
     "The server is not responding."

     More often it is the frustration of finding that the first 22
     groups Yahoo located for your search have no bearing on your
     interest and no real likelihood of being interesting to anyone
     except the egomaniacs whose pages compete to offer the most
     current ratings of the 1,235 pages that mention tuna fish.

     With equal frequency your search returns a news group with 4,421
     entries. After burning up your last free quarter-hour on America
     Online downloading the headers, you find that 3,105 consist of
     "Yes please" responses to an exchange that began "Would you like
     to learn how to make money fast?" One thousand, two hundred and
     thirty-nine articles are flames directed at "all you jerks who
     waste bandwidth saying 'Yes please.' "

     Seventy-four entries propose alternative schemes for harming AOL.
     And the three entries that would have had content are "no longer
     available on this server."

     What we have, in short, is a major digital pollution problem, and
     somebody better do something about it.

     It would be nice to pretend this is not a problem. After all, we
     say, it's just electronic zeros and ones and it will all dissipate
     harmlessly in the ether.

     That's what we've always said about our out-of-sight, out-of-mind
     wastes, the stuff that shows up 30 years later as Love Canal or
     greenhouse gases.

     How do we know that this stuff is not just piling up somewhere in
     cyberspace, waiting to poison our grandchildren with an epidemic
     of carpal tunnel syndrome? What do you think happens to all those
     backup tapes that the mainframes so dutifully make in the wee
     hours when only the Asian subscribers are accessing their ISPs?

     The best answer, of course, is citizen action. Each of us should
     pledge to reduce our e-mail output by 35 percent over the next
     five years and to recycle 200 megabytes a day. We could have days
     of the week designated for pickups on our strands of the Web, and
     burly guys could appear on our screen-savers at 6 a.m. clanging
     electronic garbage pail lids and shouting "M'on back, m'on back."

     More likely, we will need government action. A bit tax could be
     levied on Compuserve, Delphi, Prodigy, AOL and the like, with the
     promise of a Packet Mountain where this stuff will be safely
     entombed for 10,000 years. Of course, 10 years later inquiring
     reporters will find that the I-way Superfund has been spent in a
     planning process that enriched the lawyers and academic research
     engineers but left insurmountable bandwidth blockage at the Net's
     most crucial intersections.

     As long as the Net is going commercial anyway, this is an
     opportunity for the Browning-Ferris Electronic or Waste
     Management/CyberWorks. Let them cable it off to toxic incinerators
     and bill the Internet community at a million bucks a gigabit ~
     less if we drop the government overregulation and those nasty
     insurance premiums.

     But perhaps we oughtn,t to be too hasty. It's trash, but it's OUR
     trash. A clean-up effort could succeed too well, wiping out the
     cyberglyphs that might be the electronic Rosetta Stone for
     deciphering the birth of the Internet.

     Before we rush to drag all those useless digital outputs to the
     electronic shredder, we should pause for posterity. Otherwise in
     some distant future the archaeologist probing the electronic
     midden heaps of the 20th century may be appalled to find the only
     revelation is that universal tiding of disaster -- "C:\> No files

     Jonathan Friendly ( is editor of the Internet
     and Society News.

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