“You guys,” a friend tweeted on Thursday, “today was what the Internet used to be like ALL THE TIME.”
He was talking, of course, about “the dress“—the image of a garment that looked white and gold to some people and blue and black to others, or even looked different to the same people at different times of day, and drove what seemed like the entire internet crazy. BuzzFeed said its coverage of the dress garnered 41 million views in less than a day.
But the tweet might as well have been talking about that day’s decision by the US Federal Communications Commission to adopt strict “net neutrality” rules that treat the internet as a public utility. Both were expressions of the internet in its purest, most democratic form—the way its idealistic pioneers imagined.
Net neutrality, in plain English, means that internet service providers (ISPs) can’t censor stuff and can’t give preferential treatment (e.g., faster data speeds) to some stuff over other stuff. Without it, the power of governments and large companies to control what people see online, already considerable, would grow even stronger.
The dress was just an optical illusion. It became #TheDress because everyone could see it, and wanted to know what other people were seeing, and could find out, and tell each other, instantly. While websites vied to profit from their curiosity (and some succeeded hugely), they were just riding the wave. The wave itself was hundreds of millions of moments of direct, unmediated communication, the raw collective power of a society talking to itself—the internet as the ultimate public square.
This is the internet that net neutrality is designed to protect. It would, of course, be wonderful if as many people used it to try to solve poverty or global warming as went apeshit over a dress. But we’re glad we have it, all the same.—Gideon Lichfield
Five things on Quartz we especially liked
Greece’s bailout deal in plain English. Tim Fernholz and Jason Karaian translate blunt messages from bureaucratic jargon: “Thanks for ruining our weekend,” and other things the leaders of the troika of Greece’s lenders meant to say in their letters affirming the bailout extension this week.
An ugly side-effect of China’s Great Firewall. Chinese internet users who try to reach banned websites are supposed to be re-directed to non-existent IP addresses. Lately, what appears to be a glitch is sending all those web requests to real, random sites, which are instantly crushed by the traffic influx. Unwittingly or not, writes Adam Pasick, the Chinese government has weaponized every computer in the country.
The Ukrainian city that’s become a haven for Jews fleeing another European war. Misha Friedman’s photographs document the lives that refugees from the fighting in the east are building in Dnipropetrovsk—a city with a dark history of persecution that’s now the unlikely home of what may be the world’s largest Jewish community center.
That part of the India-Pakistan border that’s all beer and gunshots of joy. The Cholistan Desert Jeep Rally is a sandy two-day festival of machismo that drew over 100,000 people this year. But the flaunting of booze, cars, and money did little to distract Saim Saeed, writing for Quartz India, from the grim shadow of border politics.
Alberto Nisman’s death isn’t the Hollywood thriller it’s been made out to be. The Argentinian prosecutor who turned up dead after accusing his country’s president of a cover-up for a terrorist plot was not a hero “fighting for truth and justice against villainous conspirators.” Those kinds of prosecutors don’t exist—at least not in Argentina, writes Gabriel Pasquini, who has covered the case for years.
Five things elsewhere that made us smarter
What if a nuclear warhead detonated above New York City? A mile-wide fireball would vaporize most of Manhattan and ignite fires across a 100-square-mile area, above which a “hurricane of fire” would form. And Steven Starr, Lynn Eden, and Theodore Postol in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists don’t even begin to explain what comes after the radioactive fallout arrives.
One of Wall Street’s brightest prospects was also an undocumented immigrant. Bloomberg’s Max Abelson profiles the accomplishments and burdens of Julissa Arce, who spent seven years rising in the ranks at Goldman Sachs and other banks while keeping her immigration status secret.
Meet the man who could buy out his insurer with its own money. A young Frenchman (well, his dad) bought a life-insurance policy in 1997 that lets him invest with hindsight and make a guaranteed profit. It’ll soon be worth more than the insurance company that issued it. It made sense at the time, explains Dan McCrum at FT Alphaville.
Why Boris Nemtsov was a threat to the Russian regime. One of Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critics, Nemtsov was gunned down early Saturday morning in Moscow. Michael Weiss and Olga Khvostunova interviewed him in 2013 for the Atlantic about his detailed allegations of corruption around the Sochi Winter Olympics, involving friends of the Russian president.
The clash of civilizations becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Graeme Wood’s ”What ISIS really wants” in the Atlantic last week reignited a debate about whether the Islamic State is really “Islamic.” In the New Yorker, Robert Wright argues that the question itself only contributes to the climate of fear on which Islamic extremism feeds.
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