Today, at 12:26 (Damascus time), every single one of the 84 IP address blocks in Syria became unresponsive, effectively cutting off the entire nation from the Internet. Almost every single person in the country is without access to the easiest and most modern method of spreading information and connecting with the rest of the world. A few people, including foreign field reporters, have access to satellite phones, but the ability to communicate with people inside the entire country has been effectively disabled.
Unfortunately, this is a somewhat common occurrence within recent years. Last year, when Egypt and Tunisia did the same thing within their countries, the UN released an official report condemning blocking internet access as a human rights violation, saying “Indeed, the Internet has become a key means by which individuals can exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, as guaranteed by article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”
The Internet is a powerful place. Utilizing it, an entire nation of Minds can feel connected and protected by the rest of the world. They can organize themselves and change the world. When cut off from it, the nation becomes vulnerable to oppressors and internal conflict.
I recently built my own computer from scratch. I went to the store and bought all the different parts, by which I mean I spent fifteen minutes carefully looking at the labels and pretending I knew what all the numbers and fancy words meant, and ultimately doing with what the nearest employee told recommended. I took the parts home, somehow got it together and working, and downloaded Steam, a popular gaming community application. I was excited to start playing all the fancy games my new computer could handle, but first I had to make my most difficult decision this far; I had to choose my Steam Name.
This would be my online identity. The name which all of my new online friends would know me by, which would determine the likability of my online identity, and which will be the name I would be known by If I somehow became famous in the gaming community.
I could never use my real name. Nobody does that. The closest I could get to that is a pun or a clever change of my name, but my name doesn’t have much of a nicknaming rhyme to it. I eventually decided on a clever image, of a person trapped in the computer trying to communicate with the outside world. Therefore Imtrappedinabox was created.
The use of pseudonyms online is a trend that I find increasingly interesting. It isn’t really to create an anonymity on the Internet, because people tend to use the same pseudonym in different places, and can even become well known for it. Online legends such as Notch and Jeb of minecraft (as well as most of their staff) are known primarily by their nicknames. Could it be a remnant of the childhood fear that parents instilled when they said, “Never use your real name on the internet, you don’t know who you could be talking to”? Or does it have a deeper meaning, by creating a way to distance their online identity, their “Mind” from their IRL self?
Personally, I believe the former reason progressed from the latter. Even though there is not as much fear among adults as children of their IRL identity being discovered, privacy is still a major concern. The pseudonyms created by the users of the internet are not only a veil of privacy, however, but also a way to express yourself and create a first impression. Many usernames are references to popular shows or pop culture items. Ironically, you can often tell more about a person by looking at his username than you can by his real name.