Sunday, 7 January 2007

INTERNET - HOLES OR WHOLES?

anticant took some thinking time off to ponder his views about the Internet. He is far from reaching any clear conclusions yet, but offers a few initial reflections.


The Internet is the earliest wonder of the 21st century. For the first time in human history, it is possible to communicate instantaneously with people all over the world, which now indeed has the potential to become a Global Village. Since I started to blog, about five months ago, I have had discussions and conversations – mostly friendly - with people in several European countries, the USA, Asia, and Africa.

Two hundred years ago, people were still travelling by horseback and stage coach. Transatlantic crossings by sailing ships, and voyages round the Cape of Good Hope to India, took several weeks, and mail often arrived months after it was written. By the mid-19th century railways, steamships, and the telegraph and transatlantic cable [the Victorian Internet] had transformed the speed of communications, but they were still at a snail’s pace compared to those of today. My grandfather, born in 1867, thought that the catswhisker radio of his old age was a technical marvel. Even in my lifetime, long-distance broadcasts from America and other far distant places were faint and crackly.

Now, we switch on our televisions and see live reports and newsreels of events that happened the other side of the world an hour or two ago. We open our computers and in less than a second send messages to our dearest who no longer need to be our nearest to keep in touch with us. Surely the potential for greater global understanding and togetherness is enormous.

But there are also downsides. Unasked for messages cascade in from total strangers. Many of these are scams, inviting you to lower your computer’s defences so that the senders can glean personal information, or even gain access to your bank accounts. A few are downright unpleasant, and even threatening. People with vicious motives seek to worm their way into the confidence of the young, na├»ve and vulnerable.

As always, many blame the messenger instead of the message. The Internet is held to be responsible for a host of wickednesses. How much better if it had never been invented! say its critics – most of whom have never used it and do not understand its potential for good. Exactly the same thing was said about the wheel – it makes it so much easier for villains to get from one place to another – about printing – how much better if the ignorant and gullible masses weren’t taught to read – and probably about fire. It has certainly been said, often, about explosives and nuclear energy. Yet there is nothing in any of these devices which is inherently evil. It is their misuse by the ‘crooked timber of humanity’ that is at fault.

Another school of thought treats the Internet as if it were a sort of phantom cyberworld, less ‘real’ in some significant way than other social realities. This strikes me as a profoundly mistaken, and indeed mischievous, view. It permits its proponents to feel entitled to behave on the Internet in ways that they would not do in other social relationships, on the spurious pretext that what they say through a computer is somehow more detached from real life than other forms of communication. This pretence would be all very well if entered into with mutual agreement by people who want to amuse themselves by playing cybergames. But it does not otherwise hold water as a genuine modus operandi , and snarls up fruitful exchanges rather than promoting them.

Because in all our dealings with others – whether face-to-face, by letter, telephone, e-mail or blogging, there needs to be mutual trust in the other’s authenticity and honesty if the transactions are to be worthwhile. Trust is of course one of the most difficult issues in life. If you espouse the principle of never trusting anyone else until you are certain you can do so, your social relations will be impoverished and fraught with anxiety. If, on the other hand, you decide to trust everyone until you find them to be untrustworthy, you will be taken for many a ride. Where the balance must lie is, in each case, a matter for sensitive intuition rather than for blind faith.

The integrity of the Internet depends upon the integrity of those using it. We who see it as a shining hope for a friendlier, more peaceable, and ultimately more united, world must strive to preserve our own integrity and to demand integrity from those with whom we deal on-line. Used in this way, with all the opportunities for networking in concert with like-minded people, the Internet can become a powerful – indeed, an unstoppable – force for remedying the democratic deficit currently bedevilling political life. But if this is to happen, the Internet must be preserved from the clutches of would-be governmental and other censors. There is an interesting US site concerned with this at

http://www.savetheinternet.com/blog/

25 comments:

Jose said...

Everywhere there is a crowd of human beings the dangers of wickedness will be present, the Internet is not an exception, but there is also another danger which is present: the greed of dominance.

The Internet has proved to be the widest means of diffusion. The best means for us to understand one another. Little by little the Media have been losing their clout among us and it has been proved that through the Internet we have been able to see things that were hidden before by the strength of that media.

We have seen how some media moguls have made their presence patent in blogs and other internet sites. A first step to exercise their influence? I believe so.

We, unlike we have done with our democratic rights, should make them feel our presence and not let them disrupt our normal way of communication. I know gullibility is the main weapon the media have and they will no doubt use it to achieve what they are after which is no more no less than contrive to the dominance of the world by the New Order, which I don't know why it is called so because since its appearance it has created but Disorder.

Excellent article, Anticant. Less could not be expected from you.

anticant said...

How right you are, Jose! It all happened by accident, of course, as the Internet was originally developed by the USA military for their own not necessarily benign purposes. They realised, too late, that they had opened a Pandora's Box, so that governments and other thought-controlling influences have been attempting to censor and curb, if not smother, it ever since. It is up to us, the people, to make sure they don't succeed.

With regard to media moguls, I am sure that the Internet is seen as a threat not only by such as Murdoch, but also by supposedly 'liberal' journalists such as those at the 'Guardian'. What I find fascinating at CiF and elsewhere is the disdainful irritation, sometimes amounting to fury, of hitherto unassailable well-paid 'pundits' who suddenly found that not only were their readers answering back and criticising them, but were even expecting them to enter into debate!

By the way, what constitutes an 'expert' journalist? I've always wondered. Like all those fishy 'think-tanks'.....

zola said...

Like that I do.
Jose and Anticant : Your points seem to me to be more significant than the point concerning the compression of time and place. I say this because the Eiffel Tower was equally important in this "taking away of distance" and that was early 1900s.

In one way chat lines and blogs are akin to pen-friends of old. The difference being, as you both recognise, is that pen-friendship is in the public domain and therefore open to all bits and pieces of society.

In the end i guess that it is really up to us as individuals to act in the ways we believe to be just and worthwhile. Both of you enjoy a lark and both of you enjoy a bit of serious debate. in those ways some kind of example is set through your own actions.

I find a similar situation with democracy and other such happenings.
But i am an idealist.

Merkin said...

I was watching the Toynbee and Gove show this morning on Beeb 24.
Gove, whose physog I would never tire of hitting, and Toynbee who is well.....errrr Toynbee.
Of course the poor presenter was obviously in awe of two of the brightest stars in the pundit firmament and could do little apart from nodding a head in agreement.
Me?. I was trying to see if I was fit to tie myself. I was particularly incensed when Toynbee suggested that poor people could sell their Carbon permits to richer people - ie my aged mother who can't afford to run her heating doesn't need that excess allowance.
Then it struck me.
The bloggers have won(!!) and these talking heads are less and less relevant as is their power to influence.
For me, I have had consistently better information and seen far better prognostication through the net.
Consequently, I know when to simply laugh at the likes of those talking heads. They are on their way out, albeit, slowly.
Of course, some of them will remain employable by VinegarTits till well after the first bombs are falling.
Start the week, Merkin style.

zola said...

Oh you wicked Merkin : Take the hemlock and refuse to lose that kind of "Torpedo Shock" that matters.
Socrates was OK until Plato got onto the act.
Or, rage rage .....
We are all human all too human.

Merkin said...

Zola, my man, have been taking the hemlock solid for 3 weeks now with negligible effect. hic
Something stronger is required, methinx. hic
Anyway, I learnt a lot about Socrates. His beautiful mind.
I learnt the test of Truthfullness.
I learnt the test of Goodness.
I learnt the test of Usefulness.
I also understood why Socrates never found out that Plato was banging his wife.

anticant said...

Big Pike FF says [on his site]: "this is the Net. It's the place where you're meant to wind people up, start flame wars and generally be an arse". He has told me by e-mail that "where there are no rules, there ARE no rules".

To my way of thinking that is just another unilateral, arbitrary rule. Frank's rule, not mine. Nothing happens without explicit agreement or implicit collusion, and if we go along with what's happening and participate in it, we are responsible.

What do others think?

Jose said...

It is an arbitrary rule. And arbitrary rules can only have a reaction in my opinion. My reaction is discarding the site as a haunt.

ExpertJournalist said...

Got to agree with the majority on this one (and particularly with Jose).
For some time I only visited there to spray a bit and make sure the floor was not left to the blue meanies.
That is no longer relevant and the need to visit less and less important.
While respecting the Grumpy One a lot, on many issues I do not agree with him. Some sites would have rules to regulate the level of argument to the extent of allowing the abusers to rule the roost. However, amongst the participants here we have reached sensible limits which allow the right balance comment,COMMENT and abuse.
To that end it was necessary for mine host to un-invite only one person.
Simple, and necessary to allow others the possibility of free speech.
PS The Merkin's an arsehole.

anticant said...

My point is that there are ALWAYS rules in operation, whether formal or informal, explicit or implicit, open or secret, acknowledged or denied.

Even more important than rules is the tone, or evolving group ethos, which characterises the debate. The Awkward Squad has only been in existence for about six weeks, and already a clear consensus is emerging on a majority of our sites about acceptable boundaries.

My objection to CiF is that it is hypocritical - the rampant PCness and censorship belying its name. My objection to a lawless jungle is that the phonies and bullies will inevitably waste an inordinate amount of every else's time, even if they don't end up totally dominating the site.

My own personal bottom lines are good faith - that any opinions expressed are genuinely held - and relevancy, because I swiftly lose interest if a discussion thread veers - or is wrenched - completely away from the post's ostensible topic.

In the end, it all boils down to how much time and patience each of us is prepared to invest, and where.

Szwagier said...

A purely linguistic comment/question. Is there a distinction in your mind, actually, in anyone's mind, between "relevancy" and "relevance"? I ask because "relevancy" seems to be gaining currency (or "currence"?).

Jose said...

Relevance, relevancy. You can use either.

Currence, currency. Use only the second.

Szwagier said...

Thanks, Jose. I know both can be used, but I was asking if anyone else senses a difference in meaning or use between the two forms. I don't want to a)derail the thread by turning it off-topic, b)prejudice anyone else's intuitions by revealing my own.

anticant said...

If you carry on like this, Szwagier, you will be accused of deviance, or deviancy.

Szwagier said...

No hesitationce or repetitionce allowed either, presumably. 35 seconds on the clock.

anticant said...

Shall we switch to Esperanto?

lavenderblue said...

Esperanto ?
My mother and the Sherriff of Nottingham used to converse in Esperanto..........
Hell ! I used to have a do-it-yourself book...
can only remember
'mi estas Lavender'.

anticant said...

Was your mother Maid Marian?

I thought you still had a do-it-yourself book, which you use as a telephone instruction manual.

lavenderblue said...

Anticant !

My Mother had John Profumo as an Overlord....she could have been many things.......
As for my 'telephone instruction manual', ah ! I have a vivid and quite naughty mind....not, however, as naughty as your's, should you feel so inclined.......

anticant said...

Lavender, I don't feel so inclined. Illness is the biggest turn-off of all. I'm not censorious, or offended by smut. I just think it's rather silly, and purely as a matter of taste I would prefer not to have it brought into the burrow. There are plenty of other sites for that sort of thing. Verbal wit around sexual topics is something else.....

lavenderblue said...

Anticant !
I was not aware that I have brought smut into the burrow.

anticant said...

lavender, dear - people who do never are. [damn; I've got a smut in my eye.....]

Customs Officer: "Is that book pornographic?"

Traveller: "How do I know? I haven't got a pornograph!"

lavenderblue said...

Anticant ! thank you - you have made me smile........

tyger said...

Jose is right- yes, great article.

Conservative-minded people will always decry a new medium. The novel was dismissed as tawdry and subversive when it emerged - proper - in the C17th.

Any organ which empowers those who do not enjoy traditional power is a threat, and the institutional string-pullers will seek to close it down.

Totalitarian regimes do not suffer the Internet. China, Iran, and North Korea do not allow their subjects free speech or freedom of movement on the web - they fear it. But don't be fooled into thinking that more liberal 'democracies' do not monitor and record the legitimate political discourse on the net, or that they will not try and curb it.

---

As we saw with the build up to the Iraq War; the institutional media is in lockstep with the established power structures. They may slap a party around, but ultimately they kow-tow to power (see BBC - Gilligan - WMD). It is because of these failures that blogs have become indispensable in filling the vacuum.

anticant said...

We should pay less attention to the conventional media and to party apparatchicks, and concentrate on mobilising global peoplepower via the Internet.