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The creation of a global system of interconnected computer systems, a network of networks, is typically one of the final steps a civilisation makes before it reaches out towards the stars or drowns itself in inanity. On Earth, the Internet heralded an unprecedented age of information sharing that unshackled knowledge from its gaol of guilds and specialised groups and made it freely available to all. The fact that the knowledge came with a cute kitten riding on its back was simply seen as a lovely bonus.

This was typically the paradigm for most other races, though there were notable exceptions: The World-Grid on the Ascetic homeworld was, as usual, the harbinger of that planet’s Information Age, though it had the distinction of being unfettered with cute animal videos since the Ascetics had eradicated everything on the planet that they deemed unnecessary, like adorable little paw prints. Consequently they achieved FTL travel and a established a galactic presence ten times faster than the average race, controversially being granted leadership of the Galactic Community within six years of joining. The former leader, Premier Oct, later admitted he had in fact accidentally approved the leadership bid while trying to forward a video of a baby blorunutan to his deputy, so perhaps there is something to be said for the Ascetic approach to information sharing.

When a newly-spacefaring civilisation is admitted to the Community, they are asked to upload their Internet-equivalent to the Galactic Vastnet, a repository of all species’ knowledge. A network of network of networks, if you will. The goals of this system are threefold:

  1. The accumulation of knowledge that might benefit all Community members
  2. To aid cultural understanding, for the purpose of Peace
  3. In the hope that a new species might purge its pornographic archives before upload, thus bringing down the deplorably high percentage of the Vastnet taken up by illicit images. Thus far no species has done so.

Since all species pre-Community technology is designed differently, direct transfer of information is usually impossible. Consequently upload is done manually by a hard-working team of billions of information technology specialists, all of whom, according to tradition, are looked down upon by the Community as a whole and afforded no respect.

Access to the Vastnet is made possible by the use of telematic implants, installed into newborns of all species (albeit with a rigidly enforced censorship filter). These allow users of all species to access the Vastnet simply by willing it, at which point they simply acquire all the information they need in a form carefully catered to their own senses: Early experiments in providing the information via the most Galactically-common senses, smell and electroreception, tended to leave humans feeling a tremendous urge to sneeze, so the new system is much preferred. Once an individual reaches maturity, the censorship blocks on the Vastnet are removed and they are allowed to experience it in its entirety. Their friends and family are expected to care for them during the subsequent fugue state, a period that has been known to last up to a few decades. Only a handful of civilisations choose to remain apart from the Vastnet, including the Ascetics, who consider implants to be about as necessary as fuzzy little tails brushing against your leg.

Unfortunately for those hoping that the Vastnet might provide a means for every member of the Community to become an autodidact genius, this has not been the case. It has been observed that is due to the following reasons:

  1. Little baby kittens are so cute.
  2. In a community where anyone can acquire knowledge without performing the preliminary work, there is no impetus for those who have done the work to upload it.

When information is shared for free, there is no reward for those who have done the research. As a result knowledge now tends to be even more concentrated among select groups and guilds than on pre-Community Earth. These prosperous, powerful guilds skirt the edges of the Vastnet, only dipping in a toe to advertise their highly advanced, incredibly specialised knowledge. They maintain monopolies precisely because they do not share their knowledge.

In consolation, the rest of the galaxy has cats, blorunutans and pornography. So nobody’s really complaining.

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