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Sailing the Internet Sea

To Byzantium, Cathay, a peak in Darien, the wonders Marco Polo and Cortez encountered, lose significance compared to the far-off sites visited daily by late 20th century adventurers sailing the Internet Sea.

The Internet laps the shores of continents, penetrates land masses, vaults the Andes, washes over the Himalayas, and in a micro-second spans great lakes, prairies, deserts.

The voyager on the Internet skims the surface, bores through earth, flies through the skies, unhindered by any material element of geography. There are no borders.

Conventional time and space lose meaning. A thought born in Canada can be shared by thousands in Australia simultaneous with its publication on the World Wide Web.

Early civilizations depended on physical transportation of goods and ideas, the latter best exemplified in the pottery mail system of the Persians and the knotted-cord postal system of the Incas. Now every sailor on the Internet is his or her own postal service, transmitting mail not just to individual recipients but to hundreds, thousands, literally millions, twenty-four hours a day.

The written word came into existence to capture the edicts and speeches of rulers. To keep pace with vocalized thoughts, shorthand was developed. Transcription from shorthand to papyrus, bark, wax tablet, paper, was a natural progression. Scribes were followed by printers, book publishers, newspapers and magazines.

In recent years shorthand was digitized. Spoken words appeared on television and computer screens in "real time". The most graphic illustration was the "trial of the century" emanating from a California courtroom and viewed world-wide on a daily basis. Canada had an opportunity to show leadership in this field in the 1980s, using the parliamentary television channel. That is a story that remains to be told.

Today the Internet is open to everyone. Light can be shed by rulers and on rulers. A judge imposes a publication ban on the media. Poor media! Less than an hour later, seven Internet sites are broadcasting the banned news globally. A central European dictator closes down radio stations and censors all televised news. Students set up Internet sites, alert the democracies, and within days the radio stations are reopened. Poor dictator! King Canute's attempt to hold back the sea was just as futile. The Internet sea cannot be coffer-dammed, cribbed, confined.

Transparency is the catch-cry of the times. The Internet is not a catch-cry. It is transparency itself.

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