The Internet has changed and enhanced my life in so many ways. For one thing, I met my husband there way back in 1992, when America Online was still running version 1.1.
Of course, the Internet isn't really a place. It's not like saying, "We met in a grocery store." or "We met on a blind date."
One Valentine's Day, Arthur surprised me with a shadowbox containing both of our 1992 modems and a handmade paper angel with mica wings created by local artist Scott Begnaud. Now if someone ever asks where we met, we just point to the shadowbox.
The Internet had grown and evolved immeasurably since those early days. Who would have thought that in just a few years we'd move from those jerky, postage stamp-sized images to streaming everything from TV shows to full-length movies?
Now, anyone with a video camera or even a high-end cellphone can be a cinematographer. YouTube has democratized filmmaking and redefined celebrity. It's also a good way to learn about world events firsthand rather than filtered and condensed by some news producer.
In summer 2007, the Ku Klux Klan held a rally in Knoxville. A group of local environmental activists from Mountain Justice Summer showed up dressed as clowns. They marched through the streets, dancing, singing and playing kazoos. Video cameras captured the moment when they came face to face with the Klan.
Separated by a cordon of police, they sang and danced, drowning out the Klan's hate-filled invective. Finally, the Klan gave up and left a half hour early. Videos of the confrontation were posted on YouTube. It was street theater at its best.
If you want to get me started, just mention Westboro Baptist Church. These loons somehow decided that the deaths of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan were divine retribution for American tolerance of homosexuality.
They began showing up at funerals of fallen service members, sporting rainbow hued signs proclaiming "God hates fags" and "Thank God for dead soldiers."
Enter the Patriot Guard Riders, a group of motorcycle enthusiasts formed in 2005 to shelter and protect the deceased's family from exposure to the protests. They position themselves to physically shield the mourners by blocking the protesters from view with their motorcade. Members hold American flags, creating a wall of red, white and blue.
The group also drowns out the protesters' chants by singing patriotic songs and revving their motorcycle engines. Countless YouTube videos show these heroes being honored and their families being protected.
Between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, there's a town called Beit
Shemesh. A small portion of the community is ultra-Orthodox. They have been making increasingly strident demands that women be excluded from public events and for segregation between the sexes on buses, sidewalks and even in lines in the supermarket.
They have demanded that women's clothing stores carry only one color of clothing and that men's and women's clothing not be displayed in the same shop windows. Protesters badly damaged a half-built shopping mall because its owners said they would permit men and women to shop together. The mall was never completed.
The situation received international attention when 7-year-old Na'ama Margolis was spat on and called a "whore" by an ultra-Orthodox man who claimed she was not dressed with appropriate modesty. Extremists like this are to Judaism as Westboro Baptist Church is to Christianity.
Even in a country that bends over backward to accommodate these zealots, enough was enough. An estimated 10,000 people took to the streets of Beit Shemesh in protest.
A few days later, 250 women of all ages and from across the religious spectrum gathered in Beit Shemesh's city square. Then, to the music of Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now," they danced. The beauty of it filled my heart and misted my eyes as I watched the video posted, of course, on YouTube.
Earlier this week, thousand of websites large and small, led by Wikipedia, mounted the largest online protest in history. It was against the "Stop Online Piracy Act" (SOPA) and the "Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011" (PIPA). They made their sites completely unavailable for 24 hours.
Should these bills pass, they will change our unfettered access to information in ways we can't even start to imagine. It flies in the face of the First Amendment, which allows everyone from me and you to the KKK and the Westboro gang to have our say.
If you want to watch a insightful TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) video on YouTube explaining the history and potential fallout from SOPA and PIPA, just Google "SOPA and TED."
That's something you may not be able to do if these bills are become law.
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears biweekly on Fridays and on gainesvilletimes.com.