Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Internet: Too good for us?

The Internet is an unmediated form of communication between humans all around the planet. It was designed that way and so far it has stayed that way. It’s different from the telephone, which allows targeted one to one communications, and from broadcasting which is one to many, although it does provide those as well. Through blogging, twitter, even email lists, the Internet has allowed us to build many-to-many communications systems. That’s a first.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the Internet is the greatest engine of prosperity since since, say, the telephone or even since mass transportation. It allows us all to interact with people and business around the world without using up fossil fuels and personal resources in travel. It provides businesses with a customer communications channel connected directly to their back-end systems. On the Internet, life is good. And, as I have said on numerous occasions, it only got that way because the Internet is an open conduit for anything people can think of.

It has been recognized by lawmakers for years that openness is the key to the Internet’s usefulness. But, increasingly, that is coming to an end. The Chinese government routinely censors its domestic Internet and forces all Internet traffic entering and leaving the country through a giant gateway it controls. The US allows private companies to remove material placed on the Internet by third parties on accusation of copyright infringement. Australia looks likely to implement a national Internet filter in the name of pornography suppression. The UK is considering a “Digital Economy Bill” which would force Internet disconnections and filter access to websites. Even the New Zealand government is looking at a limited filtering system to combat child pornography.

All this brings me to my point: Can we, humankind, actually stand an open communications medium? One that lets all of us talk to all of us? Along with the huge list of economic and social benefits that brings? Observing the actions of government world wide, I’d have to answer “no”.

It appears that the Internet is just too open and too useful for humanity to come to terms with. Since the Internet is just a communications tool, this means that we, as a species, can’t tolerate open communications between all our members. That’s why I question whether the Internet is just too good for us, whether we deserve it at all.

But then, what can you expect from a species that can’t organize itself to operate in an environment of finite resources? There is no functioning mechanism for us to deal with global environment destruction or fossil fuel exhaustion, for instance. You don’t have to accept anthropogenic climate change to agree that we don’t have a way of dealing with it.

So, then, we are a deeply flawed race careering off a cliff of our own making. Does that mean we shouldn’t fight – that we should just eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die? I don’t think so. For me, each of us who recognizes the problems should act as best we can to hold a mirror to human activities. That means calling governments and industries when they try to hold progress to ransom. It means arguing for cooperative approaches to dealing issues that face us. It means not hiding our heads in the sand about limited resources.

I certainly don’t have all the answers. But until we at least accept the questions, neither will any of us.

How we deal with the Internet and its ability for us all to communicate will the question I posed in the title: is the Internet too good for us?

posted by colin at 9:40 am  


  1. The internet is only too good for those who give in to the temptation to act like complete idiots under the cover of anonymity. For examples of this, simply visit any gaming forum you like.

    Comment by Benneh — 11 March 2010 @ 6:10 pm

  2. Colin,

    This is a great opinion piece. I think you are really on to something. Free and open is just too scary for many countries and companies. Just imagine the hypothetical matter creation device that could make food for free.

    Comment by Noah Gift — 16 March 2010 @ 4:25 pm

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