The Problem With The Internet

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Did you ever wonder what the problem is with the Internet? Well, you’re in luck, because I’m going to tell you.

No, it’s not that it’s too slow. It’s not that it costs too much. It’s not that you can’t get broadband on your wristwatch.

The problem with the Internet is that it puts us in contact with people with which we never would have had contact before the Internet existed. Now, clearly, this is a wonderful thing, too. The world is filled with wonderful people that we never would have had the good fortune to meet, had it not been for the wonder of the World Wide Web.

However, the world is also filled with bad people too. I’m talking Bad. Evil. Sick. Selfish. Twisted. Scary. And now they have a way into your home, your digital assets, and your mind.

It used to be that such people were far, far away. You never had to worry about encountering them, unless you wandered into the wrong neighborhood. But, today, they’re dropping email into your inbox, trying to install bad software on your computer, trying to steal your identity. It’s enough to make you consider becoming Amish.

That’s one part of the equation. Part two is the fact that the Internet, and particularly Web 2.0, has made everyone a publisher. Everyone is creating content. We used to have three television networks, a handful of magazines, and a few radio stations. Now, there’s more online content than anyone could possibly consume. Blogs, podcasts, videos, social networks, comments on all of the above, etc. It’s as if every moment on the planet is available online from every perspective, not to mention the commentary on it all.

Part three of this equation is the anonymity of the Internet. Since people are not looking each other in the eye and have no need to provide their actual identity during all of this publishing, there is no accountability. Standards of quality, morality, and ethics are easily lowered. So what gets published is far from the best that we have to offer.

Combine these three, and you get the “perfect storm” of social decay.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the Internet is a wonderful thing. It has the potential to do so much good that it is almost utopian. But that can only happen if we as the inhabitants aspire to such high ideals. And with so much that is less than ideal, we face a mighty challenge.

I suspect that society will eventually demand some accountability in the online world, at least in some areas, or the Internet will fail to live up to its potential. I’m not talking about legal reform; I’m referring to social mores that dictate what is socially acceptable and what is considered outside the realm of acceptable behavior. And I suspect that anonymity will begin to become frowned upon.

In fact, I suspect that something like the online equivalent of a Drivers License will become essential for having your blog read, your comments accepted, your email delivered, etc. Preventing anonymity would go a long way toward extending our social values to the Internet. If we don’t bring the same values to the Internet that we bring to our real world interactions, it will eventually fade to nothing more than a source of entertainment and escape, rather than an extension of our “real” lives.

We already see the beginning of this with eBay feedback and new Web 2.0 reputation services. While it seems like a shame to lose the freedom to just be free, a little bit of shame goes a long way toward building a society that really works. Some of us need such pressures to keep us in line.

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