By Johnny Caryopsis
Pussy willows have always been one of the great harbingers of spring in Manitoba. I can remember, as a kid, going down to the creek, armed with my trusty pen knife, and cutting stems of pussy willows to bring home to my mom. I'd catch heck for going near the creek during the spring run-off, with its high waters, getting my boots all muddy and my socks soaked, but I'd get a hug for the pussy willows, too. And I'd get something special for lunch.
So, my first thoughts about doing an article on pussy willows brought back happy memories. I wallowed in these for some time, then decided not to get too maudlin and to let sleeping stories lie. Instead, I talked to the guys at NatureNorth and asked if I could philosophize a bit about the internet (And we reluctantly agreed to turn him loose - the editors.), as well as put together some information about pussy willows.
By now you may have surmised where this is going, so be warned. Yes, I'm going to talk about freedom of speech, access to information and responsible publication! If you want to go straight to the information on pussy willows, click here. If you've got a few minutes and want to read my tirade, then carry on.
Search on: +"pussy willow"
This all grew out of a naive attempt to track down some information on the web. Of course, with only the purest of intentions I pulled up my favorite search engine and entered the following phrase in the search form: +"pussy willow". After a brief wait - I had a good line that day (remember dial-up speed?!)- up popped the results. I was, at first, surprised to see how many articles the search located. But you can guess why, can't you? As I browsed down the list of sites, I became increasingly amused - yes, amused, I'm no prude - at the staggering array of web sites out there that included all or part of my search phrase in a decidedly non-botanical context. There were some fairly rude listings, which I won't dwell on, and a number that involved people, usually women, who referred to themselves as "pussy willow", but who clearly had no leanings toward plant science. There were even some listings for regional cat-fanciers societies! In retrospect I mused that they must have an interesting time trying to navigate on the web, too. And there were actually a handful of sites listed that held out promise of providing me with what I had originally been looking for, information on pussy willows, the plant.
Pussy willows inspire thoughts about free speech?
There are many people out there - so I've been told - that don't appreciate inadvertently bumping into unsavoury topics on the internet; people who'd rather that certain things not be published on the web; people who don't want children coming into contact with such things. And believe me, I sympathize with their objections to some of the content that's published out there in cyberspace. But I'm a firm believer in freedom of speech and the right to choose, and I'm alarmed by the spectre of censorship on the web. As I see it, the big problem we have right now is that people who are not involved with the internet are the ones who are most vehement about some of the crud that's being published via the web. They're probably the same kind of people that gave Gutenberg a hard time, too.
The great beauty of the web is, that for the first time in the history of humanity, the ability to publish - to truly express oneself on a broad scale - has fallen into the hands of individuals. Virtually anyone with a computer and an internet server can post information about whatever they want and have it available to millions of people around the world. Before the internet, real broad-scale publication was in the hands of a very few people: commercial book and magazine publishers; newspaper, TV and radio editors; and governments. Before the internet it cost a lot to get your message out. Now, publication is cheap and nearly universally accessible. At least to those of us on the right side of the technology tracks, but that's a different tirade I'll save for another day.
Some might claim that the internet represents information overload or perhaps even information anarchy; that we need control, review and adjudication of what is made available to the masses. Those types scare me. What we need is to let nature - the communicative nature of human beings - take its course. Moreover, we must not stand in the way of the coming generation to whom the internet will be THEIR publication medium. For years we have raised our young people to blindly accept what is told to them by their parents and teachers, and written in the latest government-issue text book. But now that they have access to whatever they want, they're actually going to have to sift through information and decide for themselves what's good and what's not, rather than have everything spoon-fed to them in text books and other traditional media. This generation, faced with mountains of uncontrolled, unverified information will have to think for themselves when it comes to accepting or not accepting what someone else presents. And that's good!
Should there be restrictions placed on who can access certain kinds of information? Sure, I have no problem with keeping young kids out of places they're not mature enough to deal with; once somebody can figure out how to do that effectively. The anonymity of the home PC and internet hook-up will always make that difficult. But what we really need to do is teach our children, and ourselves, to be more open minded and to view everything objectively; not just slap up "CENSORED" signs all over the place.
The internet and the Web will survive its awkward, adolescent phase, just as we all did. Rest assured, it's not going to go away. We are witness to the dawning of a truly new age of communication on this planet. Don't be afraid...be amazed!
Thanks for humouring me, now you can carry on with the pussy willow article.
Carry on for the Biology of Pussy Willows!
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