“We’ve heard that a million monkeys at a million keyboards could produce the complete works of Shakespeare; now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true.” — Robert Wilensky, University of California

When I was a kid growing up in the Chicago suburbs I loved westerns. Maverick was my favorite, of course, and James Garner — along with Mad Magazine, Rocky and Bullwinkle, and the Cubs — did a lot to shape (warp?) my personality during my formative years.

When I grew out of Mad Magazine I graduated to the Chicago Daily News and Mike Royko. I remember one column in particular, in which Royko took an alderman to task for complaining that teachers earn less than garbagemen. Royko favored better pay for teachers but complained about the comparison with garbagemen. After all, he pointed out, if garbagemen walked off their jobs the city would be rocked by disease, whereas if the city council walked off its job the city would be rocked by applause.

Royko taught me to respect everyone who does something useful. The Daily News went to the great beyond years ago, and now Mike Royko has followed it. Requiescat in pace.

Good westerns are mostly a thing of the past too, so today’s youth don’t know much about the fencing in of the Old West. Since Hollywood scriptwriters take care to ensure historical accuracy, I can say with confidence it was a tough and dramatic time. Cowboys were the last rugged individualists, and closing off the range with fences durned near killed ’em.

Life weren’t worth livin’ no more in the Old West once those fences went up, but even so, I think we need to seriously consider fencing in the modern equivalent of the Old West, the Internet.

The Internet’s technology has proven remarkably scaleable. The Internet’s culture, like the Old West’s, has not. Anarchy can’t survive population growth, because you just don’t want your neighbor building a slaughterhouse right next door, and you’d rather not have to kill him to prevent it.

The signs of cultural breakdown are everywhere on the Internet, from spam-based marketing schemes to trademark disputes to the most recent and telling symptom: lawsuits over hypertext links.

Ticketmaster, for example, has sued Microsoft. Ticketmaster claims that Microsoft’s link dilutes the value of sponsorship on the Ticketmaster Web site. Ticketmaster is undoubtedly right, and since it costs money to run a Web site this is serious business.

On the other hand, it is the unrestrained ability to put in hypertext links that gives the World Wide Web its charm and value. Having to ask permission may be a perfectly reasonable requirement when two corporations interact, but it is the antithesis of the Web.

It’s time to enact zoning laws for the Web. Zoning is an appropriate reward for businesses on the Web, which have been an ungrateful bunch anyway. Every time I hear criticisms and complaints over the Internet’s poor security, lack of guaranteed packet delivery, and so on, it sounds like someone’s wealthy Aunt Petunia who moves in, demands breakfast in bed every day, and then complains about the cooking.

So let’s zone off a section for businesses. They can set up rules, regulations, and conditions for lawsuits and arbitration. Each site in the business section can include a page of terms and conditions, and visitors will be held responsible for understanding the restrictions before entering or linking.

Then we’ll fence off a Hobbyists’ Free Zone (HFZ) where you can do anything except spam or transact business. Here’s where you can pretend to be the Christian Coalition Home Page, complete with thousands of pornographic images showing only really ugly people and text explaining in graphic terms just how awful it is that “you can find pornography like this all over the Internet!” It’s okay in the HFZ, because Internet users know that for reliable information they should set their filters to the Trusted Information Providers’ Zone, or TIPZ, which will have its own rules and standards.

For the most part, this zoning could be accomplished without government intervention, with each zone established as a for-profit business by various enterprising Internet service providers.

All the feds would have to do is accept each zone as a private community and recognize the right of adult Americans to engage in acts of anarchy within the privacy of their own zone.