It's a question I've been pondering a lot lately. With all the changes we've seen in the Internet in the last 10 years, have we reached a point where the original internet of the 1990s is essentially dead?
Of course, systems like the internet don't die suddenly like we mere mortals, rather they slowly change from one state to another just like the light from the setting sun. The change may be gradual but sooner or later the original state is no longer evident. The light may fade slowly at sunset but sooner or later it is dark.
I think we've reached that point with the original internet and its spirit of collective enterprise, its insistence on the freedom of information and its aspiration of being a good for the benefit of all. Today, this is essentially dead. Yes, there still remains faint glimmers of that original light, but these beacons shine weakly and are fading.
Now some may feel nostalgic about this loss, I certainly do, but others would say it was always an idealistic dream and we need to embrace the realities of a commercial world.
But it's not commercialisation of the new internet that worries me, I can easily live with that. What worries me most about today's internet is the massive invasion of our privacy, an invasion of such scope and scale that it is breathtaking.
Today every aspect of your internet usage is being recorded, collated, studied and far too often, sold. You know that, we all know that. The extraordinary thing is that everybody knows and nobody seems to care. And because we don't seem to care, the level of privacy intrusion is ever being raised. The perpetrators must think "nobody is concerned so we can do whatever we want." And they do.
If any western government sought to intrude on the privacy of its citizens to anything like what is happening on the internet today, there would be riots in the streets. No democratic government would dare to intrude into privacy to the extent that Facebook, Google and others do; they know they would be thrown out of office. So why do we allow this?
We allow it because we have unthinkingly bought into some strange ways of thinking. You hear people parroting lines like "Privacy is not a concern to me as I have nothing to hide," a truly ridiculous proposition if ever there was one. It invites the immediate repost "OK if you feel like that, then you are clearly happy to give me full details of your voting preferences, your religious beliefs, your past life mistakes and all your financial details. And seeing you have 'nothing to hide' you won't mind if you give me full details of your sex life."
Another lie that you hear is the idea that "if something is free then you must be the product." That trips easily off the tongue but if it was honest, this slogan should be properly expressed as "If somebody gives you something for free then that entitles them to steal your personal information and use it or resell it as they see fit."
It's not only a lie but a blatant one as there are many free products you can acquire that don't steal your personal data or intrude into your privacy. Many of the software products we recommend here at Gizmo's Freeware fall directly into this category.
Do you see the trickiness here? The slogan "if something is free then you must be the product" is being used as a moral justification for theft. Even worse, it is being used to imply a sense of entitlement to that theft.
So why do we buy into these falsehoods? Be warned, you may not like the answer.
We do it because we want to justify the uncomfortable and embarrassing fact that we have voluntarily engaged in a terrible Faustian Bargain. We have knowingly given up our right to privacy in exchange for the services offered by Facebook, Google and others. And we cover our embarrassment and shame by trotting out these threadbare slogans. As Pogo famously said "We have met the enemy and he is us."
But let's face it, the services offered by Facebook, Google etc. are remarkably good, indispensable almost.
"Almost" indeed but there are other alternatives to these services. Not quite as powerful perhaps or as convenient but they do exist. Yet most of us choose not to use these options. It is as if we are collectively resigned to our fate.
I must be honest and say that I am totally uncomfortable with this situation. I pine for the old internet where privacy theft was not a corporate objective. Alas this is gone forever but it does make me hope and wonder if one day we will see a third incarnation of the internet where commerce and respect for individual privacy can co-exist. Unlikely I know but do allow me the right to dream.
And that's my hope for 2018. May the first glimmers of Web 3 emerge from the gloom.
Nothing I have said here is new. Indeed, it has been far better expressed by my favorite singer/songwriter Lennie Cohen who sadly passed away this year:
"Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows the scene is dead But there's gonna be a meter on your bed
That will disclose What everybody knows"
As the year draws to an end I'd like to thank all our regular users for their loyalty and contribution through their thousands of posts and comments. I'd particularly like to thank our volunteer editors and tireless moderators without whose efforts this site could not exist.
To all of you scattered across the world in 173 different countries, I wish you a healthy, peaceful and prosperous New Year.
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