My Sticky Web – Mon 7th May 07

I’ve been having some computer problems lately. It could be the large volumes of illegal material I download, or perhaps every computer has a built-in limit to how much non-nude teen-tease porn it can hold, I don’t know. Another likely explanation is that Windows in every incarnation is another shitfest of poorly-assembled over-written badly-coded junk, but that’s harsh and besides, Vista is so pretty if I saw it at a bar I’d ask it out, if it wasn’t for the fact that like any hot girl, it would probably ask me out first.

But is there any solution to any (computer) problem that can’t be found sooner or later in the ethereal world of the internet?? I don’t think so.

And this got me thinking how important the internet is. History is full of great discoveries that happened by design and a great many that happened by chance. The internet is one of the latter. But how does it stack up against some of the most important discoveries of all time? I don’t know. But it has gradually (yet on the human timescale incredibly quickly) revolutionised the way we work, live, shop, educate, communicate, love, hate, and entertain.

When you think about it: for a very modest fee, you can access the sum total of human knowledge, instantly, at any time of the day or night! You can meet and talk to anyone anywhere in the world! From the comfort of your home (or swordfish-esque chick-magnet luxury hi-tech penthouse suite on the French Riviera in my case) you can buy almost anything in minutes and have it delivered to you!

You can meet friends, make contacts, fall in love. The social circle for a “networked” person can in theory, be limitless!

All of the advantages of the internet can be summed up I think in one word: communication.

Communication makes the earth a small place. It brings people together. It connects us. And this is something that doesn’t happen enough.

Humans are a paradox. For all our isolationism and xenophobia, and tendency to border ourselves off by continents, countries, cities, districts, streets, and houses…and be suspicious of anyone different, all people are crying out for a connection with other human beings. Humans are nothing without communication; it is the single most important reason we have evolved to be the dominant life form on the planet. Our brain is more specialised for language and communication than any other task.

I believe the internet fulfils a human desire to be a part of something greater like nothing else before it could. It doesn’t matter if you have a hundred friends or ten. In fact, loneliness and sociability are irrelevant. The popular stereotype of the internet being for geeks, nerds, or people without real friends, is very quickly on the decline because more and more people are realising that this simply isn’t the case. Everyone is beginning to realise how useful and fun it can be!

A social networking website like MySpace is a perfect example. I was loathed to ever sign up on it. But after some arm-twisting by a friend of mine (he’s a Manc though so I’m not going to say too many nice things) I did it for a laugh and now I’m glad I did.

There are people who don’t like the internet for serious reasons. That is, they’re serious but their reasons aren’t to be taken that way. People who warn against the dangers of the internet on the grounds that it can allow terrorists to collaborate and spread information, or teach kids to make a taser gun, or anyone to buy weapons online, or paedophiles to spread illegal pornography, don’t know what they’re talking about. These are the same types who might denigrate science because “it gave us guns, nuclear weapons, exocet missiles, bio-terrorism etc.”

The internet is another application of science, and like science, it is a means of acquiring information. Now, acquiring information in and of itself is almost always a good thing; censorship is the first sign of a totalitarian regime. It is odd and pretty silly for anyone to blame science for the things certain people do with that information! “Joey Terrorist used a nuclear dirty bomb to kill a thousand people, so damn science for giving us nuclear technology.” Hang on a sec there pumpkin, science doesn’t tell you what to do with your knowledge. There’s a little thing called human responsibility that you can’t just ignore. Science might answer “if you want to kill someone from distance, here’s how”, just as it might answer “if you want to cure cancer, here’s how”…but these are just answers; the responsibility lies with the questioner! Don’t blame science for the answers it has, but with the people who ask the wrong questions. If a war is fought over religion using weapons of science, don’t blame science for the weapons! Blame religion for the war! Science is a means to an end – the end is the responsibility of humans; this is where the buck stops.

The internet is like science. It can be used or misused. Arguments against the internet are similar to the ones in the paragraph above, or they are based on censorship. But if someone is arguing against the dangers of the internet on the grounds of information they don’t want you to have, either they have something to hide or they don’t trust you to regulate your own life. (This doesn’t apply to parental controls of course).

But the internet is the only place on earth where free speech really exists. You can say what you want about anything for free. And you can read the opinions of anyone else, anywhere on earth.

The internet is about connecting people and allowing free access to information, and like I’ve said previously one of the biggest problems in this world is that people don’t talk enough, which means they don’t get to know each other. And if you don’t know someone, it’s easy to mistrust them and doubt their motives. This leads to suspicion. Suspicion leads to fear. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. (That sounds vaguely familiar).

I don’t know if it’s possible to judge discoveries on the grand scale because you can’t always know all the far-reaching consequences for better or worse, but surely the internet, as accidental as it initially was, will go down in human history as one of the great intellectual revolutions of all time.

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