Davis: Gutenberg never thought of this one

The Internet has changed everything. Specifically, it's changed the nature of news and information sharing, but if you're an astute reader, you knew that already.

What you may not have known is that the Internet is also changing the very fabric of government and society in ways that would have been inconceivable to our grandparents.

The Pentagon is preparing for a massive - think 500,000 documents - leak of official government records related to the Iraq conflict by WikiLeaks. Read that sentence again and think about the bizarre implications of this situation. First, the United States government apparently can't hold onto its own intelligence. That's a little scary; it's like M in James Bond misplacing dossiers on the subway. Actually, that already happened in real life.

Second, the government knows about the leak - is anticipating it, in fact - and is doing nothing to stop it. Can you imagine if The New York Times came out and said they'd be publishing the names of every undercover CIA agent in America sometime in the near future? They'd be stopped by the government, because Times is an institution and it can be stopped. Users on a website exist in cyberspace and can be neither found nor litigated against. So there's that: the Internet has made illegal things legal, because it's like a giant lawless country floating in the air.

Third, and I think most importantly, this is a huge triumph for the idea that America is a democracy and its citizens are in charge of how the place is run. If you want to, soon, you'll be able to sit down with 500,000 or so revealing documents about just exactly what is happening in Iraq. This is primary source stuff, not filtered through the brains of, admittedly, biased journalists or talking heads. You'll be able to form actual, factual opinions about the prosecution of the war, and you'll be able to vote accordingly. Or even write newspaper articles about it!

So back to the original point: The Internet has changed everything, and it's awesome. There exists, right this moment, a virtual planet of ethernet cables, servers and tag clouds populated by anonymous users and consumers, producers and artists of information. It sits in your pocket on your cell phone, it lies in your backpack on your computer and it begs you to fill it with things.

No invention in the history of mankind has had this power; the same way Gutenberg made every man a reader, so the Internet makes every man an author and a consumer of information that has no precedent for publication. Censorship is essentially dead.

The death of censorship comes with a mandate for the people of the world: Use your freedom. Of course, you already do, but with such a great resource at your fingertips, realize, perhaps, that there's more out there than a cat who is in yer computerz, eatin' yer bytez. Personally, I'll be starting with a crash course on the Iraq war.