Protecting the Social Ecosystem

I spent most of Saturday working outside. Between trimming bushes and washing cars, my forearms and biceps feel like “giant monkey fists.” There’s something particularly rewarding about physical labor, different from the satisfaction of pounding away on a keyboard. And it definitely makes it easier to justify eating that Fat Boy.

One of the cool things in my backyard is the hundreds of pine trees planted almost 12 years ago. They’re beautiful and come in varying shades of green. Some have a blueish tint that look very cool on cloudless days. I love these trees. They block the wind, they give the rabbits a place to hide, and they always smell like Christmas.

John Muir loved trees too. “One of the first modern preservationists,” Muir translated his love of nature into action and founded The Sierra Club. Muir’s activism helped spur President Theodore Roosevelt‘s conservation efforts, including the creation of the U.S. Forest Service in 1905. In August 1897, Muir wrote a piece for The Atlantic that “drew upon his ecstatic grammar of the wild:”

Any fool can destroy trees. They cannot run away; and if they could, they would still be destroyed,—chased and hunted down as long as fun or a dollar could be got out of their bark hides, branching horns, or magnificent bole backbones. Few that fell tress plant them; nor would planting avail much towards getting back anything like the noble primeval forests…God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand straining leveling tempests and floods; but he cannot save them from fools,—only Uncle Same can do that. (link)

The Social Ecosystem

Muir’s enthusiasm reminds me of today’s technology proponents and the battles waged for Net neutrality or for greater access to broadband internet. However, these battles are not as visible as deforestation. Cutting down a giant sequoia makes a big noise. Few people pay attention to how many providers offer broadband internet.

Over 110 years ago, John Muir raised his voice, and he made a difference. In some ways, trees are a bit easier to defend because we have hindsight. But even knowing the importance, the battle still rages to protect these valuable ecosystems. In comparison, the Internet hasn’t been around that long. But I believe the Internet is already an integral part of our social ecosystems.

I worry that we take the Internet for granted. It’s easy to do because it’s hard to remember there not being an Internet. But issues like Net neutrality, censorship, access, and copyright to name a few are no longer fringe issues. They dominant conversations in this social web. The issues aren’t going away. Which leaves me wondering—who’s the Internet’s John Muir? Or does the medium we work in demand millions of John Muirs, raising our voices and demanding protection for this invaluable social ecosystem?



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June 2007
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