A few days ago I posted on a serious subject in my blog, which I maintain and update regularly, and it is free (or is it?) A friend responded after she read it, asking why it included adverts for lady’s underwear. The simple response was I don’t know but the clue is in the terms and conditions of my website host, that it will include adverts of their choosing. I long ago took the view that this was a fair exchange: I pay nothing and they can advertise and no doubt receive revenue from the companies whose products they do advertise.
If asked what the most important development in my lifetime is, I would respond – the Internet. Even when I embarked on my career as a computer software engineer in the telecommunications area, if I were to be told in one generation the Internet would be accessible by most and be an important part in day to day living as any utility, I would not have believed it, and neither did famous names, like Bill Gates, who were later to make millions from the Internet revolution. I need not go into how the Internet affects lives, e.g. buying and selling, doing transactions, communicating with others (anywhere in the world) and finding out (potentially all) the knowledge of the world by a few clicks on a computer or mobile keyboard, as this is well known with most accepting how dependent we have become. Even now, the move to get people all over the world connected to cheap, fast, reliable Internet services continues at a relentless pace.
But is it free? I was brought up on the adage that nothing in life is free. I gave my website as an example. While costing me nothing in monetary terms it did come at a price as evidenced by the shock to her system of my friend who was unexpectedly confronted with a picture of a lady in underwear. While it is true that computer (or mobile) costs along with using fast, soon to get even faster, access to the world wide web and potentially any device that is linked to the web, are low, these are not the only costs. In linking up we are presented with unwanted advertising and we are prone to cyber attacks and our data is made available to those whose interests are NOT altruistic (I wouldn’t put it past those who send out adverts do so based on intelligence received). Moreover, the gatekeepers to the Internet e.g. Google, Facebook, Twitter can and do censor those they don’t like, which is now well documented, and we are now seeing social credit scoring in countries like China, made possible because of the Internet and how can be used to spy on people, which penalize those who the powerful rulers don’t like. The days of “666” are now here. While people being able to buy and sell because of implanted into the body “intelligent” microchips appears now to be optional, soon it will be mandatory and woe betide those who fall out of favour with the AntiChrist and his associates who will likely use this technology to control the masses including the ability to buy and sell etc. It should be added that the Internet can and does promote social evils, and to a significant extent developments have proceeded at the pace it has because of the obvious applications regarding pornography and gambling. Some conspiracy theorists see the Internet as a tool of the “Deep State” to control lives and yet ironically it can also be a tool in the hands of any resistance.
I have long maintained that technology (which the Internet and all its services is but one example) is neutral in terms of good and bad. The important factor is how that technology is used. Too often, while it has benefited many, especially those who make a profit, it has also had a detrimental effect and yet can also do much good. For example, I like to think my ability to communicate widely and access all sorts of knowledge that I can use to help others is a good thing. On the downside, I recall in learning history at school, about the Luddites who during the Industrial Revolution smashed machines that put workers out of a job and yet meant stuff could be produced so much cheaper and there have been many comparable examples since. One of my last projects as a software specialist was developing an e-commerce product, although interestingly the customer wanted to use it for online gambling and pornography, and before that a mobile / satellite communication system based on pin pointing users geographical location. I had then but an inkling how this might change the social fabric and I still question if the good outweighs the bad. When I see people glued to their smart phones, I wonder if it means we lose some of the social niceties and when the “glued” are becoming zombie like, liable to be manipulated by those who control the Internet and losing social skills and responsibility. I mourn the demise of the High Street, door step deliveries and corner shops because of technological advances, especially concerning the elderly, house bound and computer illiterate. With the potential of artificial intelligence and merging man with machine, I see problems with this next phase of Internet development already underway, which if wrongly managed will further de-humanise humanity.
I have long maintained the old adage: there is no such thing as a free lunch, other than maybe the air we breathe and the love of those who require nothing in return. That applies just as much to the Internet, which as I have argued above is far from free. The challenge for us as individuals and for those who rule over us (who knows whether they will be good or bad and in my more pessimistic moments I fear bad) is how best we / they can come to terms with the Internet and use the opportunity it has provided us for the common good. The Internet is a wonderful tool for opening up many life enriching possibilities as well as an instrument of enslavement.