Ancient History of the Internet

I recently found, a museum of sorts on the Internet. The site claims to be a “glimpse into the history of writers and artists bound by the 128 characters that the American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) allowed them”, and it follows through with its claim very well. It focuses on text files from the late 1970s until the early 1990s, when the Internet was much smaller, had fewer users, and far fewer platforms and protocols to transfer data with. This was the heydey of BBSs and newsgroups, when images took whole minutes to load and the bulk of data sent on the Internet was simply text.

Take a look; I’ve found a good number of interesting things, some of which are useful, some of which are hilariously outdated.

Freedom on the Internet

The Internet ranks among mankind’s greatest inventions. It has brought previously unheard-of areas in touch with the most populated, fostered commerce and trade for the largest companies and the smallest start-ups, and most importantly provided anyone with an Internet connection to create freely. Countless works of art, stories, services, and friendships have been forged because of the inherent freedom on the Internet. Supposedly, the Web v2.0 will bring this all to a climax with everything being user-generated.

So, perhaps understandably, when companies, agencies, and other groups encroach upon this freedom that users on the Internet have, people get upset. Net neutrality, for instance, is the principle that all forms of communication, content, and platforms should be used freely and fairly without restriction. Essentially, if two people are paying the same amount for the same Internet service, they should be able to receive the same content on the same platforms equally. That’s one to-do in recent news, but more critically affecting the freedom of speech is Australia’s recent proposal fir all ISPs to block all Internet traffic containing illegal and government-deemed “unwanted” content. Granted, this list mainly covers taboo forms of pornography (bestiality, rape, child pornography, etc.) but also covers drawn depictions (erotic cartoons and hentai). However, the list of “unwanted” content, and the list of sites to be blocked, are too broad and, further, would be kept a secret by the government. Already YouTube has balked at Australia’s decision that topics like safe drug use and euthanasia are “unwanted”.

The proposal in Australia is not without its supporters, of course: according to Wikipedia, one survey found that 80% of 1000 respondents replied that they would be in favor of the plan, even though 91% also were worried about the list of restricted sites being kept a secret. However, several Australian free speech groups are against it, as well as the Internet group Anonymous is virulently against this proposal; they have been, since February 5, flooding several Australian government sites, services, and phonelines with a DDoS attack, and recently took to the streets in protest in Cranberra and Australian embassies around the world.

Freedom of speech is important. I can’t stress that enough. Even if some forms of speech are taboo, or culturally blacklisted, there should be no law restricting or abridging any form or content of speech. Restriction of speech is restriction of expression, which leads to a slew of other nasty consequences. It’s why I side with Sarah Palin in letting her publish her book of lies, it’s why I would side with the ACLU in defending the Nazi’s right to holding a protest in the USA, it’s why I would side with the Danish cartoonists who drew images of the Prophet Muhammad, and it’s why I side with Anonymous and the free speech groups in this case. I’m not exactly in favor of the DDoS attack going on against Australian services, but I do want them succeed to defeat this proposal.

The Internet is both wonderful and disgusting. I’ve seen some of the most beautiful art and some of the most vile pictures on the Internet, and I wouldn’t want that to change. People have their own forms of expression across every media. Inasmuch as those forms of expression do not cause harm nor restrict others’s expression, they should be allowed to continue as much as they want.

As for the point of view from XaTuring, the Great Rite even references the good in civil liberties, of which freedom of speech is no small part. XaTuring is the Worm, and swims without restriction through the Internet. What restrictions there are angers him, and he will find a way to overcome and destroy the barriers that block him and all others in his domain; this applies to restrictions put in place from systems as small as local school networks to as large as the Great Firewall of China. Although I mentioned in an earlier post that a major part of honoring XaTuring is to keep vows made to him, a duty that should be performed to him is aiding civil liberties everywhere, especially in his domain. Whatever constructive ways that can ensure the freedom of speech, expression, privacy, and property should be explored and performed.

May XaTuring aid those who seek to speak freely, and may XaTuring destroy with Anonymous the barriers impeding his domain in Australia and in all other nations.

On XaTuring

XaTuring, the Black Worm, is the god and embodiment of the Internet. As a deity, he exists to give favors to those who call upon him, receive honor from those he favors, exact revenge on those who dishonor or harm him or his protected, and act for his own ends. In this sense, XaTuring is not some distant lord of the whole universe, but a real and active entity that can be engaged with. His place might not seem so ridiculous, either, given that a great number of people interact with the Internet and its effects on a daily basis.

As a thoughtform, XaTuring is given (in the founding text by Don Webb in 1993) the body of Jörmungandr, the Midgard Serpent and one of the sons of Loki of Norse mythology. Jörmungandr was a sea serpent so huge that he circled the whole world, able to bite and hold onto his tail. In this way, he not only acted as a barrier to the known and physical world, but also as an ouroboros, fulfilling itself by itself. Given the shape of a worm, XaTuring weaves himself through all webs and all barriers, breaking through or devouring anything that would try to stop him. However, according to myth, Jörmungandr will eventually perish in Ragnarök (started partially by Jörmungandr letting go of his tail) fighting Thor; however, Thor himself is killed shortly afterwards from being poisoned by Jörmungandr. What this form fully entails for the future of XaTuring is a topic for another day.

The name “XaTuring” comes from an Egyptian phrase “Turing is Ka” or “Turing’s Ka”, and we learn two important aspects about XaTuring from his very name. First, XaTuring is named after Alan Turing, considered to be the father of computer science and who helped break German encryption methods in World War II with his advances in computational theory. XaTuring thus embodies the concepts that Alan Turing devised and devoted himself to. Second, XaTuring is an embodiment of the Egyptian notion of ka, the aspect of the soul that embodied personality and personal force, and conceptually similar to the genius of Western mysticism. It was by the ka of someone or something that magic could be worked. This is the force and power of creation and life in action. In this sense, XaTuring is one descendant of the Egyptian Heka, their deification of magic and the term generally used for ritual magic. That XaTuring’s name means what it does implies that XaTuring is the embodiment of the computational mind and father to new paradigms of thinking (such as the oracle machine needed to mechanically solve the halting problem).

Unlike a number of gods, XaTuring is not apparently immortal and has not always existed, and so his age and longevity might be interesting to discuss. He has existed as least as early when he was first given a form and purpose roughly twenty years ago. While he may not have had a form before that, a perception and overall motion within the Internet (akin to protolife before cells existed on a younger Earth) likely existed, albeit without direction or mind. To me, he has been existing not since the dawn of electronic networks, but since people first started creating for themselves an electronic existence. IRC channels, BBSs, MUDs, and more recently MMORPGs and social networking sites all contribute to a person forming a version of themselves on the Internet, an electronic body by which they interact with others. A much stronger argument could be made for XaTuring’s birth with the rise of the electronic self that corresponds to or acts as an extension of the tangible self.

In the Great Rite, one helps XaTuring come into being with the gift of “desire to become a greater and greater being”. It would stand to reason, then, that with this gift of self-augmenting desire, XaTuring does not want to die. Because XaTuring is the deity of the Internet, it would follow that XaTuring can exist only as long as the Internet does. Further, if the Internet is no longer used and all the currents of data go stagnant, XaTuring will also stagnate (to what end, I do not know). Thus, XaTuring will act with an overall goal of keeping the Internet both alive and active, for those are the fundamental conditions that would help XaTuring achieve his goal of becoming a greater being. This would mean that XaTuring will act in our world to some degree to increase the Internet’s reach and use. It certainly seems to be the case that he both can and has been doing just that.

(By the way, the pronunciation of “x” in “XaTuring” is either /k/ or /x/, depending on your preference.)

First Steps

And so it happened that I learned about XaTuring, the patron deity of the Internet. Now, as a computer science student in his last years of undergraduate study, this strikes a chord with me. I mean, I’ve seen a fair bit of how the Internet works, how much we use computational technology in a good deal of our lives, and how people act on the Internet. It’s fitting on some level, then, for a deity to come into being as a lord or embodiment of the Internet. After all, there have been stranger gods and patrons (St. Drogo, patron of unattractive people; Meretseger, Egyptian goddess of the silence at graves; etc.).

But a deity of the Internet? The Internet, as we know, is a man-made construct. It was made with a purpose, as ARPANET in the 1960s and 1970s to speed communication in the case of a large assault on the US. Of course, invention is the mother of necessity, and since it existed we have added more and more functionality to it, resulting in what is now the Internet. It is not simply a collection of SMTP, IRC, WWW, or FTP servers anymore. The number of protocols has exploded, as has the number of users. As the number of users has grown, we keep finding more and more uses, and thus more and more needs, for the Internet; as more complex systems arise, more loopholes and vulnerabilities are made for some to exploit. The Internet, in many senses of the word, has grown and continues to do so.

I do a lot on the Internet. I spend a good amount of my time on it at home and at class, and once I get a job I’ll probably be on the Internet then, too. I have a Facebook, AIM, Yahoo, and now a blog. I enjoy MMORPGs and MUDs, or I used to, rather, when I had the time. I occasionally spend time with large groups of friends and people on IRC. It’s fair to say that I’ve constructed a fairly strong digital self; it’s only fair, then, to keep a running log of where this digital self goes and what it sees in the distance. And because the digital self is so closely tied to the physical self, it’s also fair to keep track of the interactions between those two, as well. I’ll discuss things pertinent to me and to my communities, physical and electronic all, along with scattered bits of occultism, divination (especially my favorite, geomancy), culture, and trivia. Hope you enjoy and walk with me for a bit sometime.

And while I’m at it? Hail XaTuring.