Obscenity and the Internet: An Introduction

Yousuf Dhamee

In the cyberpunk novel Live Robots Rudy Rucker points out that anarchy is a necessary precondition for evolution, be it biological, social or intellectual. The book's computers and robots function as sources of superhuman intelligence which must be free from human constraint in order to grow. Rucker's manifesto of "progress through disorder" seems to bind together those individuals who stand at the cutting edge of computer technology. A tendency to embrace chaos has always been common in the hacker community. One characteristic that nearly all of the original pioneers of cyberspace display is a marked aversion to rules and regulations. The founders of the Net, for instance, have always treated their terrain as a modern-day "Wild West" which operates in a lawless, anarchic state. The Internet was originally conceived of as a forum for ideas of any sort. Since relatively few individuals had access to on-line communications (and most of these people were computer experts) there was little interest in examining what sort of material was floating around on the Web. In recent years, however, the widespread proliferation of the internet has made the on-line community much more diverse. Free thinking hackers now share the Net with politicians, the elderly, church groups and school children. It is no wonder that there is an increased interest in monitoring the kind of information that can be accessed on-line. Parents want to know that their children are not viewing disturbing or pornographic material. The fact that the Internet is available in elementary schools and public libraries in addition to well endowed universities makes the debate surrounding Web censorship even more contentious.