When the worst version of unknown people is your intimate companion

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In 1997 I first heard about the internet, when an IT guy at work described it as a worldwide web carried on a network of communication satellites. The big thing it will do for us, he said solemnly, was to reduce long distance phone charges to zero anywhere in the world.

That was all he thought it would do, and if we remember how bad long distance charges could be, we probably thought that in itself was enough. The internet in reality changed all dimensions of global life.

Twenty-two years later, I am tempted to announce that the internet as we have known it, for all that is has allowed us to do, is dying. It is dying on the foibles of human nature. Reasonable people can no longer afford to be on it.

A key reason is because of social media anxiety disorder, one of those mental health terms so hard to quantify or prove. It is a sub-group of general social anxiety. Participating in social media affects the mental and physical wellbeing of some individuals.

It is huge. It is going to be as large as post-traumatic stress, if not closely related to it. Being intimately connected to the human family is addictive yet exhausting, provoking feelings of inadequacy, depression, insecurity – name your affliction, social media likely makes it worse.

It is hard to always be on, to assemble all the ills and problems of the world. I pity those who were born into this time of constant static, never knowing what contented solitude can be.

Social media allows the worst version of so many unknown people to be your intimate companion.

A second and more critical reason is crime. In the early days perhaps the mythical teen in the basement with a modem had a code of honour. The kick was found in besting a system for intellectual fun, not for the damage that could be done. It is not so anymore; we are now exposed to attempted theft on a daily basis.

Recently I received an email from my bank, telling me my farm home address had been changed by someone. The bank email asked if it had actually been me, and provided a number to call to verify. I did so, and indeed got through to the security section of my bank – but only to the worldwide wait of their call centre, which, like most big companies, tries to tell me every time I call that they are experiencing higher than normal call volume.

The email offered a couple of links where I could jump the call system wait and get online to check my address… and this is where the fraud began. It was a very elaborate example of spoofing, offering so much of the truth for so long that I might have felt comfortable with clicking a link.

But I don’t click links, ever, so there it ended, but… it was indeed a scam.

Who needs this battle of wits with a cyber-criminal on a daily basis?

Each device that we own offers a portal to something that criminals want. The unsophisticated among them may just find a way to drain a bank account or warp a credit card, but the real money for criminals is in gaining access to the databases of larger companies and institutions. Why steal a thousand dollars from a bank account if you can get a million names out of a database?

Beyond confidential information, one more thing that criminals can access that is even more valuable than a database, is the opportunity to change your mind on, say, who you want to vote for. Such people may be in the pay of other countries.

It gets worse. If we have devices that operate as access points to valuable items, how long before enterprising criminals kidnap people and force them to provide access to a system?

Can we as individuals afford to be on the public internet so much when there are so many people trying to trick private information or money out of us? Can companies afford this? No. And then, when it is all said and done, it makes us more depressed and lonely in the mix.

The future has to be closed private communication systems not freely accessible to the world’s criminals and miscreants. These systems allow us to communicate freely within a community, but would limit the intrusion of an anonymous and nasty world. They are already here, and the public internet is going to decline because none of us can afford to be there.

 

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