Cain and Abel and the Internet

Social media has provided a way for society to interact and stay in touch via the internet. I can watch what my friends do as far away as China. Social networks are used a variety of people.  It facilitates a human to human connection across an electric network of computer infrastructure using our existing tele-communications infrastructure. The internet is a smart system designed to route around failure or outages. A blackout might take down a portion of the internet but the service disruption will be localized. The system allows for routing around the damaged region, restoring communication.

It was original envisioned as a military defense project under DARPA. The thought being to aid in homeland defense, particularly in the case of a nuclear attack or disaster, by providing a redundant and self-repairing communication system that could initiate an early recovery.

In the early nineties I utilized BBS both large (GEnie) and small (local). Gaining greater access to the internet when I went to college. But it was while I was at the Coast Guard Academy (now part of the Department of Homeland Security) that I began greater experimentation with the Internet using such services as telnet. Now email and the internet are so much a part of life it’s hard to remember a time without it.

It wasn’t long before the internet became a virtual social venue.  Filled with friendship, jokes, romance….and yes, even character assassination. In fact, though only a world of text characters at the time. The advent of MUDs and MOOs could let someone visit and hang out in a virtual bar dropping shots down the hatch.  And I think by now we’re all familiar with how fired up people can become during internet discussions and debates. How easy it becomes to take ‘pop shots’ at another person and hide behind the veil of anonymity.  The anonymous aspect of the early internet had both it’s advantages and disadvantages.  Anyone could exist without prejudice. No one had to know if you were a man or woman, black or white. The only thing that mattered regarding acceptance was your character online. In many ways, it was the epitome of the dream come true for the like of activists such as Martin Luther King. But it was often easy to take offense or treat someone like they had the plague; to simply attack them because we could not visual their humanity.

The internet is akin to our modern highways, often being referred to as the internet super highway. But it shares aspects more in common with subways and metros like Atlanta’s MARTA service. It’s not all polished, there are red light districts. Even organized crime has found its niche on the internet, with Hackers who break into computer systems to steal information or who write worms that breach security and create zombie PCs or steal credit card information. One should always use a good anti-viral program to protect your personal computer from a wanton virus or infection.  And be extremely cautious with regards to what information you share online or give to internet sites lest you find yourself in the hazardous situation of being a victim to identity theft. One of the best ways to avoid infection is to never open up a suspicious email, especially those with attached files which are often packaged viruses. Not all computer problems are due to viral infection, often the problem can be traced to a memory leak in a software program.

The internet and the concept of an interconnected electronic network has permeated much of our creative art, especially cinema. The Grid, it’s referenced in the TRON movies. Showed how the interconnectedness could pose a security risk. When the Master Control Program attacked the Pentagon computer systems.  The Matrix featured agents, quasi-cops, who manifested as SWAT teams and Secret Service agents. But were really computer programs designed to control and maintain the system.

While the Internet may have started as a U.S. defense project it has grown into an encompassing technology spanning the globe. From Canada to Mexico, to Europe, to the Middle-East to the Far-East the internet has grown into a medium that nearly connects the entire world together.  One might almost say “Where there is light, there is internet.”  Look at a map of the world at night. You’ll see regions that are lit up brightly. These tend to correspond to the hubs of the internet.  Though it even pervades into the more dimly lit areas. One thing that I find interesting about such maps is how you can always find North Korea and South Korea. Go to Asia and find the area where there is a line and below it is very brightly lit and above it dark.  South Korea full of modernization, electricity and internet. North Korea, a realm stuck in the dark age (literally) and without the commonality of the internet.  Such regimes prevent the sharing of knowledge, as such knowledge would like foster rebellion and armed uprising and revolt.

There has been a growing trend amongst some nations to censor the internet, to create a digital border with a digital fence, patrolled by digital police. Preventing those thoughts and ideas which dictatorships have deemed illegal. And yet in many ways, the internet continues to prevail. Even when tyrants have tried to turn it off, ad-hoc systems arose in its place. It becomes the medium for the outbreak of ideas, and facilitates ideas going “viral”. A term that denotes where the sharing of a thought, idea, picture or video is passed from one individual to their friends in such a way that the replication results in a millions viewing the subject.

The internet is a wealth of knowledge. Sites like Wikipedia, which has put an encyclopedia in the home of everyone with an internet enabled computer, all for free. Or Google the massive search engine that finds info fast on nearly any topic.  Want to know how to grow your own tobacco? Google it! Want to know how to handle a toxic chemical spill? Google it! Want to know the real facts about H1N1 Avian influenza? Google it! Need the AMTRAK  schedules…Google can get that too!

The internet has put more information at the fingers than any technology since the printing press. It is likewise, just as disruptive a technology.

This has also led to issues of copyright, piracy, and debates on free and fair use. We’ve seen many sights taken down recently by the Department of Homeland Security. Sometimes with the result of other legitimate sites being taken down in the process. Many question whether this collateral damage method is acceptable.  Most Americans would not accept the police demolishing and entire city block and spraying it down with bullets to raid a single house of a drug dealer. So the question arises, why should it be acceptable to take down 200 websites (virtual homes) to eliminate one bad website? Even more question whether copyright protection should be a role of the Dept. of Homeland Security.

Recently, this came to a head with regards to SOPA/PIPA Acts which would have greatly strengthened the already overly strong hands of copyright law. RIAA and its cohorts had pursued their typical pattern of lobbying and bribery, and the expected results at first seemed to be panning out. SOPA was on its way toward becoming law. That is, until some of the major players of the internet like Google and Wikipedia decided to play the nuclear option.  They threatened to pull their services off the web. Quickly, people became aware of the pending legislation and voiced their opposition. Within a few weeks SOPA/PIPA had lost nearly all their support. When the D-day arrived, it was toned down a bit. Rather than the many websites closing doors for the day, most simply put an alert on all their pages. But the event showed that there were new powers to be and that the lobbying organizations couldn’t take for granted their old ways of bribery. Google, Wikipedia and others had shot dead the SOPA/PIPA Acts. And taught Congress that they could affect people far more greatly than had been realized.

In a lot of ways, this is a good thing. Because it gives a greater voice to the people. Another means for American citizenry to affect their leadership.  And perhaps that’s one of the greatest uses for the internet. We’ve seen the internet play major roles in the election of President Obama, the campaign of Ron Paul, SOPA/PIPA being removed from the table, and in such movements as the Tea Party, OWS and the Arab Spring.  It is providing a means for the populace to unify and rise up in voicing their opposition and opinions in a peaceful manner. Which is a very good thing, because so long as the citizenry has an effective peaceful means of enacting the change society needs. Then citizenry will have no need to resort to firearms and bloodshed.

Where will the internet go from here? Recently the term cloud computing was coined. A term to describe clusters of data centers housed in large facilities which offer a service very akin to the mainframes of yesteryear. Just far more dynamic.  I expect we’ll see an explosion of growth from the greater connectivity of the wireless revolution combined with the storage and processing resources of cloud computing.  Such a pairing would allow one to access the power of a super computer in the mere Palm (okay, now days the iPhone) of their hand.  So long as the government doesn’t decide to play Cain to our Abel, the future is bright for innovation and new ideas to germinate from the breeding ground that the internet fosters.

Sky is the limit!

…or maybe not?  We’ve seen internet enabled devices take to the air to aid pilots in their flights. In fact the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) just approved iPads for use in the cockpit. And even beyond that, internet has enabled astronauts on the space station to communicate with people here on the earth below.  So perhaps even the sky is not a limit.

THE END

***

Huh what? Where did this come from? Why a dialogue on the internet?  Recently, on Slashdot there was a discussion of reports regarding what words and/or phrases (list here) the Department of Homeland Security in monitoring on social networks.

The above essay, while not using every word or phrase on the list,  goes on to utilize a fairly large number of them.

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