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Is it time to dump the Internet and move on?

By DOUG THOMPSON - Capitol Hill Blue
July 1, 2013

The Internet: Too much of a threat to continue?

The Internet: Too much of a threat to continue?

Robert Samuelson, economic columnist for The Washington Post, says it’s time to admit the Internet was a colossal mistake, shut the damn thing down, and move on.

He might be right.

Writes Samuelson:

If I could, I would repeal the Internet. It is the technological marvel of the age, but it is not — as most people imagine — a symbol of progress. Just the opposite. We would be better off without it. I grant its astonishing capabilities: the instant access to vast amounts of information, the pleasures of YouTube and iTunes, the convenience of GPS and much more. But the Internet’s benefits are relatively modest compared with previous transformative technologies, and it brings with it a terrifying danger: cyberwar. Amid the controversy over leaks from the National Security Agency, this looms as an even bigger downside.

Samuelson argues that the threat of interruption of society is so great that life without the Internet is not only possible but preferable for America’s future.

He continues:

In a report, the Defense Science Board, an advisory group to the Pentagon, acknowledged “staggering losses” of information involving weapons design and combat methods to hackers (not identified, but probably Chinese). In the future, hackers might disarm military units. “U.S. guns, missiles and bombs may not fire, or may be directed against our own troops,” the report said. It also painted a specter of social chaos from a full-scale cyberassault. There would be “no electricity, money, communications, TV, radio or fuel (electrically pumped). In a short time, food and medicine distribution systems would be ineffective.”

Are such threats real or imagined?  The news daily is filled with the threat of hackers.  Americans have lost millions through email scams.  Financial institutions have been hacked.  Our government spends billions defending itself from cyber attacks.

Recently, a malicious script that was supposed to add a needed technological repair to ADSL modems that supply high-speed Internet to the Blue Ridge Mountain community where I live instead disabled hundreds of them and left residents in a Southwestern Virginia county without Internet, email or IP television.

The most common complaint from those who could not use their data services was not a lack of email or even the inability to watch their favorite soap operas or other television shows.

Nope.  Most complaints centered on an inability to get on Facebook and social network.

Texting on smartphones has become an pervasive — and some might say invasive — part of society.  It’s also a threat and too many fatal auto accidents are attributed to distractions from texting and talking on wireless phones while driving.

Samuelson goes on to identify specific cyber terror attacks that hit oil companies and other parts of infrastructure.

He concludes:

All this qualifies our view of the Internet. Granted, it’s relentless. New uses spread rapidly. Already, 56 percent of U.S. adults own smartphones and 34 percent have tablets, says the Pew Internet & American Life Project. But the Internet’s social impact is shallow. Imagine life without it. Would the loss of e-mail, Facebook or Wikipedia inflict fundamental change? Now imagine life without some earlier breakthroughs: electricity, cars, antibiotics. Life would be radically different. The Internet’s virtues are overstated, its vices understated. It’s a mixed blessing — and the mix may be moving against us.

Life without the Internet.  Not that many years ago it wasn’t even part of our lives.  Now it is dominant, both in lifestyle and structure.

But is it necessary and worth the risk?

Good questions.

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25 Responses to Is it time to dump the Internet and move on?

  1. Bill Cravener

    July 1, 2013 at 10:23 am

    No where on this planet can someone so easily attack you personally other then on the internet. The things said to one another anonymously would never be said face to face. Psychological research has proven again and again that anonymity increases unethical behavior. Attacking other posters and illegal activity on the net are the most obvious drawbacks to todays internet.

    By allowing anonymous communication we are destroying the fabric of our society. The price of our freedoms is not anonymity but accountability. Cowering behind a cloak of anonymity hardly seems an auspicious basis for profound social upheavals from my point of view.

    So to answer the question is it time to dump the Internet and move on I would have to say when it comes to anonymity on the internet and what it is doing to our society, my answer is yes!

    • griff6r

      July 1, 2013 at 11:29 am

      Really? So our societal decay didn’t begin until the internet?

      • Gregg

        July 1, 2013 at 1:34 pm

        Close, Griff. It didn’t begin until anonymity on the Internet took over.

        You know how anonymous posters took over the news outlets, retail merchants, e-books, Internet radio companies who refuse to pay artists and writers for their work, movie and TV streaming companies, eBay, social networks, etc. Shambles I tell ya, shambles.

        Dang those anonymous people who spend billions on the Net. Oh, wait…they can’t be anonymous to buy stuff.

        All we need to put the Internet back into the healthy for humanity zone is to outlaw anonymity.

        • griff6r

          July 1, 2013 at 3:03 pm

          Music, movies, television, video games…have all at one point been blamed for culture corruption. And now the internet.

          All of the above?

          How about our government? Progressivism? Poverty? Hopelessness? The welfare state? Our faltering education system? Degradation of families? Single parent households?

          The internet is only the latest abdication of responsiblity for ourselvces and the society that we have created for ourselves.

          In the politicians we vote for. In the government we allow to do unspeakable things in our name. In the media we endorse with our dollars.

        • Danny Adams

          July 2, 2013 at 1:15 pm

          “…Internet radio companies who refuse to pay artists and writers for their work.”

          This started long, long before the Internet–in fact in the case of musicians, it was worse before the Internet, thanks to bad contracts which the labels were able to get away with for decades.

          In the case of writers, their problems are less due to the Internet than the publishers being bought out almost completely by megacorporations, and that was well underway by the 1980s.

          Musicians have better outlets now with the Internet, and while writers may get paid less than they once did, more are able to publish and make money at it as a result of the Internet.

          The only big downside to the Internet for artists of any sort is that it’s made piracy more widespread. But having an electronic media at the population’s fingertips has also meant more artists are becoming recognized.

  2. Danny Adams

    July 1, 2013 at 10:43 am

    Speaking as an author and genealogist, and even as someone who owns several thousand books, the Internet has become invaluable to me. I don’t want to go back to the pre-Internet days for a multitude of reasons. The problem isn’t the Internet; the problem is how dependent we’ve become on it. When we use it to the exclusion of everything else in whatever capacity, that’s when we set ourselves up for so much danger.

  3. Sandy Price

    July 1, 2013 at 10:58 am

    I remember when I first heard of the wonders of the internet. I was on from the beginning. I used it for research on the facts surrounding the candidates running for office.

    My problem is assuming that all people interested in factual information necessary prior to elections would gather on line. I found instead that 80% of the people on line watch television for their political information.

    Even here, we are too q

  4. Sandy Price

    July 1, 2013 at 11:03 am

    Cat on the keyboard! I will continue…..

    Even here, we are too quickly labelled and therefore hated for our opinions. I am quite able to set off a bomb when I speak of my respect for Ayn Rand.

  5. larry

    July 1, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    I find it a stupid question. While, I understand the motivation.

    Some folks are scared of it – life was so much simpler yesterday. Where all the secrets had to be kept in the closet. To hell with that reality – had enough of it.

    Absolutely worth it. The pain is the growth of society dealing with this next stage. And we still have a bit to go. All your examples are whines. Grow up.

    Going back means you want to be spoon feed your information.

    Who’s feeding you that data and calling it information?
    Consider the following. I still remember working on a program, where a colonel said if they knew what the fall out of the internet. It would have been a top secret program and never given to the public.

    Of course that was in the early 90’s and way to late.

    We need better technology to deal with this information problem.

    Some of the next set of problems that are being solved, should help. Consider the ability to filter noise vs. truth. Very doable.

    Hec, the NSA biggest problem is finding information within all that data. They really have no edge other the being a giant repository. And their internal secrecy prevents any type of effectiveness. Add to that human greed. NSA – Doesn’t develop new technology. They just apply it. Noble goals, but in a crazy moving system.

    My favorite technology of interest for the next generation of AI is based on Neuromorphic approach. Such system will start cutting through those giant data sets as a hot knife through butter. Look at what’s Google is doing with Dr. Kurzweil.

    You can’t even call it a search engine. Imagine the cloud with 1 million of these AI services by the end of the next decade.

    • Danny Adams

      July 2, 2013 at 1:18 pm

      “Where all the secrets had to be kept in the closet. To hell with that reality – had enough of it.”

      And where the Washington Post was part of a large media monopoly, and wasn’t existentially threatened by alternate media sources the way it is now.

  6. Jon

    July 1, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    I will defend both the Internet and anonymity.

    My professional life is entirely dependent upon the Internet. I manufacture physical objects on a contract basis, but every order, every confirmation, every meeting and discussion, takes place online.

    I still deliver product by hand. I haven’t been on Facebook yet this year. I still subscribe to paper magazines. I still go out and dig in the garden from time to time, but without the Internet, everything would change, and drastically for the worse. There’d be no CHB, after all… ;-)

    The allegations that the Internet has problems are not disputed, however their significance very much is.

    Let’s address a few individually:

    Cyberwar!! Oh dear, we might get attacked! They hate our freedoms, so we must get rid of them! We didn’t ban jet airplanes after September 11th, 2001. We didn’t ban rental trucks after Oklahoma City. Yes, we might get attacked. Yes, the risk of such attacks is so stupidly minimal that unplugging the entire Internet *because we might be attacked* is preposterous.

    The allegations that ‘our weapon designs were stolen and could be used against us!’ is entirely irrelevant to the Internet (it’s also moronic hyperbole). Anyone recall the story of the hydrogen bomb? Espionage is very much old hat.

    There are frauds afoot on the Internet. And yes, people fall for them. Still, neither Bernie Madoff nor Charles Ponzi needed it, neither did Goldman Sachs nor Countrywide. If you’re worried about fraud on the Internet, then just use elementary precautions just as you look both ways crossing the street. Accusing the Internet of fraud is misguided in a big way.

    As an aside, the major reason why software is insecure has to do with liability issues. Microsoft is not, according to their license terms, liable for ANY failure of the Windows OS, security or functional. The fine print says it has *no fitness for purpose*, even the purpose of operating a computer. Imagine if Microsoft had to recall their software at tremendous expense every time another security hole was found (akin to car manufacturers today).

    You may find the fine print in your ISP contract also says that you have basically no guarantee that it actually works ever, for anything, at anytime. If those contracts had performance clauses in them detailing penalties for outages (which some business contracts do), you would have much more reliable service (not unlike the classic POTS telephone).

    Finally, anonymity. No, that’s not the problem. No, banning it will not help. There are several problems with that; Here’s just a few:

    One: Some people misuse anonymity. Most don’t. Will you criminalize many just to not have to be bothered by a few? Realize that the damage done via prohibition will be far greater than the benefit from (not least the damage done to the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which I happen to think is worth defending).

    Two: Some people have perfectly valid reasons to remain anonymous. Simply expressing unpopular opinions can lead to threats of violence from those who believe that argument is best done with fists (and/or from the government itself). Some threats may be carried out. Some people are being stalked. Some need protection as witnesses. Et cetera.

    Three: It’s not going to work. You’d need a huge government or corporate (or both) infrastructure backing it. If you like highly intrusive government, you’re welcome to it, but I prefer freedom from having to ‘show my papers please’ just to comment on a website. How do you know those ‘realistic-sounding’ names are actually the real name? Who’s going to do the inspection and proof? What’s the punishment for getting caught calling yourself ‘Dan’ instead of ‘Daniel’? ‘Joe’ instead of ‘Joseph’? ‘Bill’ instead of ‘William’?

    Once again, it’s just a wildly stupid idea that deserves all the respect that, well, I give it.

    Jon

  7. Pondering_It_All

    July 1, 2013 at 5:23 pm

    Gee, a columnist who makes his living writing for newspapers, thinks the Internet is bad! Who would have guessed?

    The problems he brings up are simply cases of poor system design. Companies have rushed to put everything online for the convenience and economic benefits, often with little regard to the big picture: Some information and most control systems should never be connected in any way to a public network! The military understands this pretty well, so they have long had their own private networks that have never been hacked via the internet. Take note that all of the mentioned weapon system hacking took place at defense companies who screwed up and made that information accessible.

    Same problem with power companies, chemical plants, railroads, air traffic control, etc. Somebody decided they would save some money by using the internet as part of a communication link in those systems but that was a moronic choice.

    When the only tool you [think] you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Right now, the internet is everybody’s big hammer but it is critical that some smart system designers really think about what should and what should not be on a public network. And that the people who make management decisions pay attention to what those designers have to say.

    • larry

      July 2, 2013 at 3:18 am

      Some good thoughts..

      I just have to push this a bit further.. .. :)

      It was your point about the military and other internet references. Just hit a cord.

      I don’t normally do this, but I have to address the original author Doug. I realize their a huge gulf between us via technology.

      Please understand there is huge disconnect from the public internet and various private internets.

      Their exist networks supporting private internets that the public has no access. The exist on well known distributed fiber optics networks not hooked into the public network.

      When I worked on test equipment – we called these networks dark nets.

      Most of the cables were laid along railroad tracks on land. Ocean is a different problem.

      It’s late – research it.

      So, the internet exist regardless. Your question in this context ask should it be public or not, from my perspective.

      Who do you want to spoon feed you? And tell you what you are consuming.

      The question is access to data and determine what’s information

      Isn’t that the job of a journalist?

      My ability is to help keep the data available.

      The correct question to ask is hard to determine what is information within the data. From my experience, other folks are more then willing to provide context to data to convey their perceived information.

  8. Carl Nemo **==

    July 1, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    I have to laugh at folks that are obsessed with ‘letting it all hang out’ concerning their internet participation.

    Yep, post your face and the family photos along with your posessions, home, cars etc. and daily itinerary on the internet and there’s a high probability you’ll become a victim of cybercrime to various degrees.

    I’m going to share a link on “How to Disappear” which provides a guide on how to erase your internet tracks and to keep your digital footprint to a minimum. It costs a nominal $27 and is worth every dollar.

    I’m stunned when I visit friends homes and they show me their Facebook participation, me thinking, what idiots. They evidently haven’t watched many if any episodes found on the ID Channel (Investigation Discovery) with plots of both murder and fraud hatched as a function of surfing the web and engaging in haphazard communications with unkown entities; I.E., the equivalent of engaging in unsafe sexual contact by not using a condom.

    It’s my sincerest hope that those of you who wish to bare the most intimate deatails of your lives in order not to appear as a ‘web cowards’ never have to pay the supreme price for such irresponsible and dangerous behavior in our times.

    https://www.patriotprivacy.com/video/

    I have no vested interest in the sale of this video and associated web published books, but am thinking it just might give saner, web safety conscious folks a way to protect themselves from web predators including our government.

    The web is a wonderful invention of the times, but as in every human endeavor, criminals and snoops will find a way to pervert its benefits for their selfish gain.

    Carl Nemo **==

  9. Sandy Price

    July 1, 2013 at 6:50 pm

    Carl. I had great visions of knowing that many other folks would receive the spark of information and then broaden it by reading the great writers that are feathered on television talk shows that promote their books. I started with Don Imus 38 years ago as he did the best book reviews on the ‘net. When he was dumped I focused on Morning Joe. He tried to make a comedy show and I cut back to 3 or 4 mornings a week.

    I am more than content with this setup and learned to skip over Reader Rant. I’m looking for an action group who will learn and discuss how to push for the good laws that need to be passed.

    Several MSNBC shows do attract many who want to work for changes in our Congressional laws.

    I want Doug’s opinions. Many of you criticize his words but add nothing in their place. I’m running out of time and I do receive some good writing from Huffington, Politico and several other writers. We debate like grown ups and labels aren’t necessary. Don’t close the chief down. I respect his input.

    • Carl Nemo **==

      July 1, 2013 at 9:28 pm

      Greetings Ms. Price…

      I don’t quite understand where you get the idea I ‘disrespect’ Mr. Thompson’s opinions. On occasion we have differences, but many times I augment his editorials and also praise his content.

      You surely cannot accuse me of not adding something in their place. In fact my posts tend to be a bit ‘windy’ at times, but hopefully having some merit.

      The www is truly a wonder and represents the greatest resource for access to the world’s knowledge base with simply the click of the mouse.

      Facebook and other social networking venues are no doubt fun for many folks, but they need to understand the hazards of posting photo’s and personal information on a public forum. Criminally disposed predators along with business and government snoops are gleaning information from this freely posted information. All I can say to readers is you do so at your own peril, the risk being far higher than one can imagine.

      I prefer to maintain my security. The goveernment knows who I am for sure. Three of my brothers have operated at the highest levels of our government’s surveillance machine while on active duty and now as government contractors.

      So too, I’m not anti-NSA, DIA, NRO, CIA, FBI etc. We need to glean intelligence from all sources across all platforms. The question is: Is it being done in a Constitutionally, protective manner relative to U.S. citizens that have not committed any crimes or are even suspected of such? When these agencies sweep in too much data, then you end up with a blizzard of data packets that for the most part are useless even with special parsing and analysis techniques. I think the process needs to be refined in order to increase their effectiveness rather than to pitch evermore money in growing a marginally effective behemoth with the end result being public embarrassment and hostility from both our citizens and allies.

      Carl Nemo **==

  10. Gregg

    July 1, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    All silliness aside. I agree with much of what Jon posted. I also agree with much of Ponder_It_All.

    We’ve come to the realization that much of our physical infrastructure is fragile and even dangerous. Obviously our virtual infrastructure is at risk in some ways. As PIA noted – system architects and decision makers will need to make more careful, smarter system designs to protect all concerned.

    The Internet is a profound technology that’s not going away.

    As consumers, just like TV or radio…don’t like what you see or hear, change the channel or turn it off.

    The current woes can be blamed on poor planning, bad politics, etc…the reasons are probably many. Too much is at stake to abandoned the possibilities.

  11. Bill Cravener

    July 2, 2013 at 6:39 am

    If there’s one activity that makes me lose faith in humanity it’s reading the comment sections on news sites. There have been countless times over the years in visiting Doug’s site where he was damned for posting an article because it contained information from an anonymous source. And yet it’s perfectly fine for those who complain about his sources to themselves post anonymously.

    Posting comments is a public act on a privately owned website. You are responding to an author who makes his or her identity known and your purpose in posting a comment back is to inform the author of your point of view. If you want to do something so public you are naturally ceding some measure of privacy. If you’re not happy with that trade off don’t take part in the first place.

    Look at any comment section under an article on the net and you find individuals too cowardly to attach their real name to a post. The internet has created a world with no accountability, a world in which we each have the opportunity to anonymously drop bombs on others. With the internet comes anonymity. With anonymity comes a facade of impenetrable protection and with a facade of impenetrable protection many people become despicable a-holes.

    • griff6r

      July 2, 2013 at 9:57 am

      Of course, the difference between a news site using an anonymous source and an anonymous commenter posting his opinion should be obvious. One is considered to be news, the other opinion.

      Cowardly? Ha. How do you know that a poster using a “real” name is actually using his own? You can’t.

      Personally I could care less. I take poster’s comments as mostly entertaining, sometimes enlightening.

      We should spend half as much time worrying about the “accountability” of those in power.

  12. Sandy Price

    July 2, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    My world is based on finding the solutions for success in our individual lives as well as how we interconnect as individuals. I have no interest in Facebook or any of the social sites.

    Who cares which of us has some of the answers? I’m concerned only with why so many are afraid to share their successes. I’m winding down in my life as most of my pals have died of old age. My husband was terrified of losing his intelligence to some silly blonde who spent 90% of her life buried in books. I also gave up searching for anyone who could spend time (a lot of time) sharing my music room that played only classic symphonies, operas and chamber music.

    The world, including the internet is interested only in what is found on television. Being an Atheist gave me no hope for locating a culture of people who could share my love of art and music.

    My trying to locate a little morality in our politics blew me out of the internet forums.

    I find it ridiculous how anyone could criticize the words of Doug Thompson. There isn’t a single person who could have built this site as well. Sure, he suffers, like the rest of us disabled by horrors of the consequences of our government at all levels. He uses his talent to bring out the words based on any level of fixes.

  13. Jon

    July 2, 2013 at 8:17 pm

    Here’s one more thought in defense of the Internet:

    I have a dream that one day nationalism will be seen as just as backward and anti-social as racism is now.

    As a human being, it matters not whether I was born in Bejing or Paris, Chicago, Moscow, Cairo or Dhaka. I am a human being, and so are you.

    The best way to bring something like that about is through a global communications medium. Just theough talking to each other. Amateur Radio and Pen Pals made some efforts along those lines, but it really is the Internet that is bringing us together as a human race.

    I swap programming tricks with Germans. I shop with Malaysians, flirt with Australians, and read the news from Qatar. I learn insults from Mumbai, politenesses from Bogota’ and random fascinating facts from Vladivostok and Santiago. I sigh when Russian rockets fail and cheer the Chinese when theirs succeed.

    I am a citizen of the world, and that is what the Internet did for me. May it do the same for you.

    Jon

  14. Almandine

    July 2, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    Yep – Doug’s just jerkin your chain again…

    • Carl Nemo **==

      July 3, 2013 at 12:42 am

      Hi Almandine…

      Glad to see you’re still kickin’. You don’t post all that often of late and as you know I always value your input to these pot boilers.

      Hopefully you are in good health etc. : )

      Carl Nemo **==

      • Almandine

        July 7, 2013 at 8:21 pm

        Hi Carl –

        Rumors of my demise.. and all that. Things just seem kinda stale lately. Lotsa big happenings elsewhere to keep up with.

        Best Wishes for your own fine health.

  15. woody188

    July 8, 2013 at 12:22 am

    Someone that confuses the Internet with GPS technology probably isn’t going to have much good to say about either or even technology in general.

    One must even wonder how one could “repeal” the Internet?

    Our government doesn’t own or run the Internet, they just intercept, archive and data mine everything that crosses portions of it.

    Seems Samuelson doesn’t have any real understanding of what he is railing against other than it’s different than what he grew up with.