All this began to change when in 1874 Joseph Glidden was granted a patent for wrapping a small wire in between two longer intertwined wires. This short, sharp wire, called a barb, would become the critical part of what is now called barbed wire. This simple invention would radically revolutionize the shape and character of the American West (and would go on to change warfare, fortifications, security and crowd control). Over the next few years barbed wire would divide up the historically open range land and would restrict the free and open movement of people and cattle.
The change was not immediate, but over the next several decades the change came in fits and spurts. In some cases the changing dynamic was manifest in the Range Wars of the late 1800's. The open range cowboys and ranchers fought the fences and farmers for access to water and grazing land. This type of conflict became so typical that it would later be immortalized in the many Westerns made in the 50's and 60's. Perhaps one of the most famous movies in this genre was The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
Despite all this it was not until 1893 that Frederick Jackson Turner declared the closing of the American frontier, and wondered how the closing would change American society. Even though we "ran out of new land" to populate, Americans were able to find new frontiers. We moved into new technologies. We were inspired to go into space and even reached the moon. For a while space became our final frontier.
Due to some minor issues with space travel it seemed that that frontier would have to wait. This is when the frontier of cyber space opened up to us. Again we had before us a seemingly endless and uncharted territory where we could go and range free. Just as in the 1800's the frontier is being populated and is playing a significant role in the shaping of our society. But just as history repeats itself (or at least rhymes) we are again faced with the barbed wire of our age. It is coming in many forms, and most recently it has made an appearance in the form of two bills before the American Congress.
Some people are staunchly opposed to these bills (or any form of control, for that matter), while others are concerned about the apparent lawlessness of the Internet and think that something must be done. I have seen some comments about how people are just over reacting and that this will not actually change the face of the Internet since the same powers that be that are pushing these bill have an interest in keeping it the way it is. It is hard to say how these bills, or any other approach would change the Internet, but if history is any clue then we are in the midst of a modern day electronic range war. The question is, will the Internet remain open range land or will we accept and keep some form of electronic barbed wire. The are benefits to both, but it is debatable if the American psyche will allow the barbed wire to happen or if it will force the frontier to remain how it is.
Now I must admit that there important differences between the range wars and barbed wire of the 1800's and the issues of Internet freedom but as I mentioned before, even if history does not repeat itself it will at least rhyme. Still, we are perhaps in a pivotal moment in history where our last immediately available frontier may be closing and we are left to wonder how that will affect our lives, our society and our future. Or this may not be the pivotal moment in history, but we won't know until the history books are written.