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Wiki Shuffle

The Internet? Is that thing still around? – Homer Simpson

I’m kind of fuzzy on this WikiLeaks deal, and suspect that this puts me squarely in the middle of a large section of the population. The website publishes previously unseen documents gathered from anonymous news sources and leaks – some of which, while not disputed as accurate, are deemed volatile and potentially threatening to diplomatic relations and even national security. Like “Wikipedia,” it was initially geared to accept contributions and amendments from readers, but no longer does. Its founder, Julian Assange, is an Australian dude and “Internet activist” who kind of looks like a cross between Johnny Winter and Martha Stewart. He was remanded in custody in London and is facing extradition over some potentially trumped-up sexual assault charges in Sweden.

This is where the aforementioned fuzziness starts to creep in. Possibilities for an ulterior government motive in Assange’s detainment abound. He’s enabled any rube with an Internet connection to tap in to information previously allowed only privy political insiders and provided “anonymous sources” with an immediate, pervasive outlet. None of the revelations are particularly shocking, unless you’ve been under the impression that our military never screws up big-time or that various heads of state don’t share opinions on reputed kooks in positions of world power. But Assange has made some powerful enemies and drawn criticism from Obama himself, all of which can’t be entirely unwelcome for a self-described “combative” personality. It truly is the Golden Age for uppity Internet activists.

Some of the published documents could potentially foster greater government accountability, while others likely place a match that much closer to a fuse nobody wants to see lit. More relevant are transparency issues and the potentially explosive ramifications of these developments in what still amounts to the nascent stages of the Internet. Despite the existence of a generation that’s never known anything but an Internet world, this thing is just getting started. Consider that WikiLeaks contents are banned by the Library of Congress, yet I can pull them up on my Android phone while walking home from yoga class. (OK, I don’t do yoga – but I’m trying to make a point here.) And while the western world may follow China’s lead in restricting access, it isn’t that simple. Assange’s site has skipped domains several times and uses multiple online servers. As soon as a piece of relevant, verified information appears on the Internet, it is picked up and distributed by numerous sources. Simply put, once it’s out there it’s out there.

For those leading the charge for absolute transparency, the question is what comes next. Just because we all have digital proof of a naked emperor doesn’t mean anyone knows how to work a sewing machine. And really, what good would a one week heads-up on the Cuban Missile Crisis have done anybody, besides denying a few more nights of decent sleep? My guess is that the same thing that’s kept me behind the curve on all of these WikiLeaks developments – innate apathy and indifference – will probably be what squeezes a few more quality days of clueless bliss out for the general masses before everything comes crashing down. When or how it all comes crashing down is anybody’s guess. If the biggest calamity thus far is some egotistical Australian doing time in the Stockholm pokey, there’s a good chance bigger injustices are occurring elsewhere.

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