Ubiquitous. That’s the word. World Wide Web addresses tacked onto billboards, magazine advertisements, television commercials. They’re everywhere! And the myths about the internet are ubiquitous too. Freedom of choice. Access for all. No discrimination.

The history of the internet and of advertising reveal how truly these are myths. The internet started as a military network to ensure American cross-country communication despite nuclear attack and destruction of any major city. This should hint that the original intent was control and the motivation was paranoia. Now, the American government is trying to regain control of the behemoth. As they try to get a universal key to decode all internet traffic, freedom of speech activists cry out. I doubt they will be heard. With their universal key, the American government will be able to monitor any internet communication they choose. As more services (like banking) get on-line, the government can look further into your life.

And freedom of choice? Any serious “surfer” can tell you that much of what’s out there is pure advertising. Every company is in a big hurry to set up a kiosk on the internet. Try this: think of a big company then type in what you think their address would be. For example, if you typed in http://www.pepsi.com you would find that Pepsi Cola Corporation really does have a web page. So the myth of freedom of choice is also perpetuated on-line and is just as false as on television.

And who is hailed by all this advertising? People on the web are hailed as white, male, and middle class in part because these are the people principally producing and consuming web pages (there’s a disgusting visual!). Buying being the key term here. This insidious discrimination is the worst kind because neither the producers nor the consumers are aware of it and therefore are not inclined to change their behaviour. The more obvious discrimination is the limited access of the internet: to university students, businesses, and those with enough money to afford a computer, modem, and access. This feeds right back to the advertisers who have found the perfect audience: an audience with money that is coming to them (what marketing nirvana is this?).

Of course, things change quickly. Maybe soon, web access will be as ubiquitous as phones are today and although the advertisers will always be there, more useful information should also spring up.

By Richard Munter

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~ Richard