We should have known it would never last. Nothing lasts forever. Our community was unique. Mostly, we were professional people associated with universities, research centers and government agencies. We all got along and those who didn't, were careful not to offend. We prized and promoted knowledge, courteous debate, and above all, mutual respect. We accepted all life styles.
We were big on freedom of speech, too. We built cozy bars and coffee houses that promoted personal expression. After awhile, they began to specialize. To talk politics, you went here -- sports, there. But we also had places where you could discuss anything.
Visitors occasionally came to town. They sat in the back of the coffee houses, in the shadows, and listened. Some left, unimpressed. Other liked what they heard and moved in. We townspeople dubbed them "newbies". They usually blended in and were accepted over time. Ours was a thriving, albeit exclusive community.
It seemed like we could go on forever that way. Until the tourists came. The first few were not a problem. But they carried back tales of our quaint ways and outmoded values. And that's when the trouble started. Bus-loads of curious people began arriving. Some came to experience our life style, but others criticized and wanted to change our ways. Still others came just to cause trouble -- yahoos and bozos looking for a good time. They went to the nude beaches and kicked sand in peoples' faces. They stormed the Foss Inn and other gay locales, making loud and inappropriate remarks. At the coffee houses, they picked fights and silenced those who disagreed with them. We had no police. Law and order was maintained through mutual respect.
As a result, our town began to change. Some of the inns closed, some became private. Towns-people stopped going to the coffee houses because they didn't care to be bullied and insulted.
Then the commercial interests arrived. As in other places, they were often thoughtless and insensitive to the local mores. They bought up land. They posted shrill advertisements that intruded and stifled discussion. New businesses clashed with our lifestyle. Things really began to go down hill.
We surely have seen a lot of growth. I suppose many people would call it progress. One thing's for sure. The Internet will never be the same.
From Milwaukee, Wisconsin, this is Neil Trilling for Marketplace.
(c) 1995 Neil Trilling, Center for Community Computing, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, P.O. Box 413, Milwaukee, WI 53201-0413
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