The early days of the Internet provided us with a marvelous tool to access libraries around the world, collaborate on projects, and have access to informational previously not easily available. The educational possibilities were endless and sites soon sprang up covering almost any imaginable interest. Email made it possible to communicate instantly with anyone anywhere. The Worldwide Web made it all even more accessible to the average person, and the promise was great. There would be a new birth of freedom and power would become decentralized.
But then came pornography (always an early presence with new technology) and baser subject matter as more and more people gained access, as well as predation, epitomized by hackers who were able to break into and compromise various sites which then required increased security. Internet chat became available and the groundwork was laid for social interaction. AOL provided an easily accessible organized framework, enabling millions of people to communicate and discover others to an extent that still hasn’t been realized by Facebook, which became ubiquitous much later on. At the turn of the century there were several search engines available and no one had yet heard of Google. As the new century progressed the current incarnation of the Internet emerged, and it is deeply, perhaps irredeemably flawed.
Today, despite billions of people being online, only a handful of sites get most of the traffic. Only two companies get more than half of all online advertising and that share is increasing as almost 90% of new revenue goes to Google and Facebook, leaving little for everyone else.
As indicated by the chart above this duopoly also gets 25% of all advertising (i.e. including, and at the expense of, newspapers, magazines, TV and radio) and that share is constantly increasing as well, while the rest shrink. Indeed, for many, if not most people, they are the Internet. As a result the duopoly dominates most of the information on the Internet and have amassed an unprecedented amount of power that the “Robber Barons” of the past could never dream of.
They are not handling it well. Facebook actively decides what information you get or don’t get, and Google searches are skewed, yielding paid advertising first, so that you have to scroll down to get to what you are actually looking for. Barring some kind of change or intervention this is only going to get worse. Services are constantly monitoring us yet people have a depressing herd mentality in these things.
There is even greater peril in other areas. We have a huge amount of personal exposure online. There are constant security threats and your information is simply not safe, and certainly not private. Every other day we read of an organization’s data being compromised, or even worse, the government’s security being breached. The Internet in its present state is simply not safe. Reliance on the “Cloud” makes this even worse as we become increasingly dependent on being connected. But what happens if it goes down?
A few decades ago there was a vision of a future that had people telecommuting and working from home in the countryside, a small town or anywhere. But it didn’t happen. Instead companies that allowed this are increasingly reversing themselves and bringing workers back into the office.
Then there is the social cost, as millions of people have become addicted to social media, and the young are especially vulnerable to predators and character assassination that can have deathly consequences for those who are emotionally overwrought. Indeed some people have become so confused they believe the online world is reality, and if something is on the Internet it must be true, when in fact, it conveys a huge amount of misinformation. Never mind the enormous amount of time wasted online.
Between emails, chat, and the sites you visit you leave a trail on the Internet that you might one day regret.
Since people online want everything for free, there is an incalculable amount of theft of intellectual property and creative work, so that many of those that produce these things can no longer make a living.
Our critical infrastructure is now so wired that we have enabled serious threats like a catastrophic attack on our electric grid, which would cause the collapse of our civilization.
To fend off many of these perils you are required to maintain ever more complex and varied passwords for the sites you visit. As things in your home become ever more “smart” via wifi you are that much more exposed.
Thus, the online world is fraught with peril and must be used with a great deal of caution; hardly the future we expected. There may be a bright future somewhere, but this can't be it.
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