The Internet is a new frontier for humanity. That much was clear from the start.
To figure out what might happen from here, the most obvious thing would be to look at other times there were significant human frontiers and see what happened then.
Fortunately, in the 19th century, there were three major frontiers developing at the same time. The Western part of North America (Canada and the USA) and Australia.
I say fortunate because in the 19th century, technology had developed to the point where it was fairly easy to record data, and there were enough people who could read and wanted to know what was happening in the frontiers, that we have a pretty good record of what happened.
So, What does Happen on a Frontier?
Lawlessness: Frontiers lack the social structures to enforce legal codes so an initial period of lawlessness ensues. Robbers and Pirates and Gunfighters rule the day. People who read about these people, but don't encounter them, have a tendency to romanticize their antics. On SecondLife, this was the age of the griefer and it's coming to an end just like the age of the Gunfighter in the old west.
Vigilantism: As the lawlessness rises, vigilantism rises to counter it. It's fairly difficult to tel the difference between the two sometimes and the vigilantes sometimes are worse than the people they fight. People forget that the KKK began (and still see themselves) as a vigilante group. I fear this is what will become of the internet vigilante group Anonymous. There are already many chilling similaries between them and the early KKK.
Prostitution and Gambling: The first people to actually turn a profit in a Frontier are often the gamblers and prostitutes. During the Dot Com boom, we saw this pattern repeat itself as pornographers and gambling sites became profitable long before Amazon.com and Yahoo. The same held true for SecondLife. The first four years of SL, casinos and prostitutes were the only ones besides Linden Labs making much money.
Rest for the Weary: People who find themselves marginalized in the larger culture often find solace and refuge in the frontiers. The same lack of social structure that allows the outlaws to operate with impunity also provide safe harbor for sub cultures excluded from the civilized world.
End of the Era: Just as the frontier gets big enough for people to start thinking that's how it'll be forever and the frontier will always be free, a tipping point is reached because there's now enough people and social structures in the frontier to start civilizing it.
Robbers become dentists, Prostitutes become soccer moms. People buy meat at the grocery rather than rustling cattle, and the frontier is no more.
We're getting close to that point with the internet. Social and Legal structures are catching up to what we've created and people are starting to realize they really would rather live that way.
Even as we speak there's a showdown between Anonymous and groups like the MPAA that looks remarkably similar to the gunfight at the OK corral.
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