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
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
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, naïve 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