The internet and its effects and its future
The internet and its effects and its future
The Internet is literally a network of networks. It is comprised of ten thousands of interconnected networks spanning the globe. The computers that form the Internet range from huge mainframes in research establishments to modest PCs in people's homes and offices. Despite the recent hype, the Internet is not a new phenomenon. Its roots lie in a collection of computers that were linked together in the 1970s to form the US Department of Defense's communications systems. Fearing the effects of nuclear attack, the government dispersed its information across several computers rather than just one central computer. A set of rules or protocols, known as TCP/IP was developed to allow separate computers to work together.
Millions of people worldwide are using the Internet to share information and communicate. Individuals and businesses, from students and the media, to small business owners, programmers and corporate giants are all harnessing the power of the Internet. For many businesses the Internet is becoming integral to their operations. All users of the Internet have the ability to send and receive data: messages, notes, letters, documents, pictures, video, sound- almost any form of communication, as effortlessly as making a phone call. It is easy to understand why the Internet is rapidly becoming the medium of choice for business. Using the mouse on your computer, the easy point-and-click interface gives you access to electronic mail for sending and receiving data, and file transfer for copying files from one computer to another. Telnet services allow you to establish connections with systems on the other side of the world as if they were next door.
This wealth of information opens the minds of society to new possibilities and opportunities. With the explosion of the World Wide Web, anyone could publish his or her ideas to the world. Before, in order to be heard one would have to go through the struggle of obtaining a publisher to get something put into print. With the arrival of the Internet, anyone who has something to say can be heard by the world. By letting everyone speak their mind, this opens up all doors in thinking to anyone who is willing to listen. In addition, the Internet is a resource for you to search, gathering data on whatever one pleases. Probably most importantly, the Internet houses a new forum for doing business. A virtual marketplace where customers can, at the push of a button, have access to, investigate, and buy products and services.
Businesses are discovering the Internet as the most powerful and cost effective tool in history. The Net provides a faster, more efficient way to work with other businesses, customers, and wholesalers�Xno matter the location across the world. Businesses making the establishing themselves on the Web will, and are succeeding; however those that do not will suffer the consequences.
One commonly asked question is, "Will the Net help me sell more products?" The answer is yes, but in ways one might not think. The Internet is a communication tool, not an advertisement medium. Unlike newspapers, magazines, or television, the Internet is interactive; and unlike the telephone, it is full of visual content. A Web site is an excellent way to reduce costs, improve customer service, distribute information, and sell products and services.
Perhaps, the most important facts about the internet are that it contains a wealth of information, that can be send across the world almost instantly, and that it can unite people in wildly different locations as if they were next to each other. The soundest claims for the importance of the Internet in today's society are based upon these very facts. People of like minds and interests can share information with one another through electronic mail and chat rooms. E-mail is enabling radically new forms of worldwide human collaboration. Approximately 225 millions of people can send and receive it and they all represent a network of potentially cooperating individuals dwarfing anything that even the mightiest corporation or government can muster. Mailing-list discussion groups and online conferencing allow us to gather together to work on a multitude of projects that are interesting or helpful to us. Chat rooms and mailing lists can connect groups of users to discuss a topic and share ideas. Materials from users can be added to a Web site to share with others and can be updated quickly and easily anytime.
However, the most exciting part of the Internet is its multimedia and hypertext capabilities. The Web provides information in many different formats. Of course, text is still a popular way to transmit information, but the Web also presents information in sound bites, such as music, voice, or special effects. Graphics may be still photographs, drawings, cartoons, diagrams, tables, or other artwork, but they also may be moving, such as animation video. Hypertext links allows users to move from one piece of information to another. A link might be an underlined word or phrase, an icon or a symbol, or a picture, for example. When a link is selected, usually by clicking the mouse on the link, the user sees another piece of information, which may be electronically stored on another computer thousands of miles away.
Of major importance is the fact that the Internet supports online education. Online education introduces unprecedented options for teaching, learning, and knowledge building. Today access to a microcomputer, modem, telephone line, and communication program offers learners and teachers the possibility of interactions that transcended the boundaries of time and space. Even from an economic standpoint, the costs of establishing a brand new educational program for a few thousand students are far less than the cost of a building to house the same number of students. New social and intellectual connectivity is proliferating as educational institutions adopt computer-mediated communication for educational interactions. There are many school based networks that link learners to discuss, share and examine specific subjects such as environmental concerns, science, local and global issues, or to enhance written communication skills in first- or second- language proficiency activities.
Online education is a unique expression of both existing and new attributes. It shares certain attributes with the distance mode and with the face-to-face mode; however, in combination, these attributes form a new environment for learning. Online education, on the other hand, is distinguished by the social nature of the learning environment that it offers. Like face-to-face education, it supports interactive group communication. Historically, the social, affective, and cognitive benefits of peer interaction, and collaboration have been available only in face-to-face learning. The introduction of online education opens unprecedented opportunities for educational interactivity. The mediation of the computer further distinguishes the nature of the activity online, introducing entirely new elements to the learning process. The potential of online education can be explored through five attributes that, taken together, both delineate its differences from existing modes of education and also characterize online education as a unique mode. They may learn independently, at their own pace, in a convenient location, at a convenient time about a greater variety of subjects, from a greater variety of institutions or educators/trainers.
But no matter how great and significant the effects of the Internet in our lives might be, there are some quite considerable consequences and drawbacks.
A very important disadvantage is that the Internet is addictive. One of the first people to take the phenomenon seriously was Kimberly S. Young, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh. She takes it so seriously, in fact, that she founded the Center for Online Addiction, an organization that provides consultation for educational institutions, mental health clinics and corporations dealing with Internet misuse problems.
Psychologists now recognize Internet Addiction Syndrome (IAS) as a new illness that could ruin hundreds of lives. Internet addicts are people who are reported staying online for six, eight, ten or more hours a day, every day. They use the Internet as a way of escaping problems or relieving distressed moods. Their usage can cause problems in their family, work and social lives. They feel anxious and irritable when offline and craved getting back online. Despite the consequences, they continue using regardless of admonishments from friends and family. Special help groups have been set up to give out advice and offer links with other addicts. Internets Anonymous and Webaholics are two of the sites offering help, but only through logging onto the Internet. The study of 100 students by Margaret Martin of Glasgow University found:
�h One in six (16%) felt irritable, tense, depressed or restless if they were barred from using the Internet.
�h More than one in four (27%) felt guilty about the time they spent online.
�h One in ten (10%) admitted neglecting a partner, child or work because of overuse.
�h One in twenty five (4%) said it had affected their mental or physical health for the worse.
Another Ph.D. psychologist Maressa Hecht Orzack posits that people use the Internet compulsively because it so easily facilitates the reward response common to addictive behavior. "If they are lonely and need compassion, camaraderie or romance, it can be found immediately. If they are looking for sex or pornography, they need only to click a button. They can experience the thrill of gambling, playing interactive games from the comfort of their chairs. They can entertain fantasies by pretending to be other people, or engaging interactive, role-playing games. The reward received from these activities can manifest itself physically, so that the person begins to crave more of it."
The effects lead to headaches, lack of concentration and tiredness. Addicts must not cut off access altogether but they should set time limits and limit Internet usage to a set number of hours each day. Robert Kraut Doctoral Psychologist says referring on the subject: "We have evidence that people who are online for long periods of time show negative changes in how much they talk to people in their family and how many friends and acquaintances they say they keep in contact with. They also report small but increased amounts of loneliness, stress and depression. What we do not know is exactly why. Being online takes up time, and it may be taking time away from sleep, social contact or even eating. Our negative results are understandable if people's interactions on the net are not as socially valuable as their other activities."
Another considerable drawback of the Internet is that it is susceptible to hackers. Hackers are persons that have tremendous knowledge on the subject and use it to steal, cheat or misuse confidential or classified information for the sake of fun or profit. As the world increases its reliance on computer systems, we become more vulnerable to extremists who use computer technology as a weapon. It is called cyber-terrorism and research groups within the CIA and FBI say cyber-warfare has become one of the main threats to global security.
But how serious is hacking? In 1989, the Computer Emergency Response Team, a nonprofit organization that monitors security issues throughout America from its base at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh reported 132 computer intrusions. Last year they recorded 2341! And in recent months, a few celebrated cases have shed a new light on the hacker's netherworldly activities. One notorious hacker is American Kevin Mitnick, a 31-year-old computer junkie arrested by the FBI in February for allegedly pilfering more than $1 million worth of data and 20.000 credit-card numbers through the Internet. Still, the new wave of network hacking is presenting fresh problems for companies, universities and law-enforcement officials in every industrial country. In July, John Deutch, head of the CIA, told Congress that he ranked information warfare as the second most serious threat to the national security, just below weapons of mass destruction in terrorist hands. The Internet suffers around a million successful penetrations every year while the Pentagon headquarters of the US military has 250.000 attempts to hack into computers.
But what can be done for hacking? There are ways for corporations to safeguard against hackers and the demand for safety has led to a boom industry in data security. Security measures range from user Ids and passwords to thumbprint, voiceprint or retinal scan technologies. Another approach is public key encryption, used in software packages such as Entrust.
An information system girded with firewalls and gates, broken vertically into compartments and horizontally by access privileges, where suspicion is the norm and nothing can be trusted, will probably reduce the risk of information warfare as we know it today to negligible levels. Yet, increasingly intrusive and somehow antithetical to the purposes for which science in general is purposed. It is no accident that the World Wide Web was invented to enable particle physicists to share knowledge.
Michael Binder, assistant deputy at the industry department of United States asks another key question: "How would you regulate the Internet?" Computer and legal experts all agree that enforcement is difficult. Still, a committee of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has made several recommendations. One would make it illegal to possess computer hacking programs, those used to break into computer systems. Another would make the use of computer networks and telephone lines used in the commission of a crime a crime in itself. The committee also recommends agreements with the United States that would allow police officials in both countries to search computer data banks. But for the time being, Binder says, the government is in no rush to rewrite the statute book. "We don't know how it will evolve. We don't want to stifle communication. We don't want to shut down the Net."
The problem with regulating the Internet is that no one owns it and no one controls it. Messages are passed from computer system to computer system in milliseconds, and the network literally resembles a web of computers and connecting telephone lines. It crosses borders in less time than it takes to cross most streets, and connections to Asia or Australia are as commonplace as dialing your neighbor next door. It is the Net's very lack of frontiers that make law enforcement so difficult. Confronted with the difficulty of trying to grab onto something as amorphous as the Net, some critics and government officials are hoping that Internet service providers can police the Net themselves.
However, Ian Kyer, President of Computer Law Association Inc. and a lawyer believes that much of the debate about the Internet arises because it is so new. "We're just sort of waking up to it. Now that it's an everyday thing, it's coming to the attention of the legislators and police forces, and I think they're not going to like what they see. One of the real problems with the law of the Internet is deciding, where does the offence occur?"
The best guide to the way the law should work is to study the past and the present, not to attempt to predict every possible future. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said long ago, "The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience." When a new media technology emerges, the best thing to do is to wait and see what problems actually emerge, not panic about what could happen. Once we understand the actual risks, we can legislate accordingly and with full regard to the competing interests at stake.
But there is another problem that practically circulates through the Internet: The viruses. They can move stealthily and strike without warning. Yet they have no real life of their own, and goo virtually unnoticed until they find a suitable host. Computer viruses- tiny bits of programming code capable of destroying vast amounts of stored data- bear an uncannily close relationship to their biological namesake. And like natural viruses are constantly changing, making them more and more difficult to detect. It is estimated that two or three new varieties are written each day. Most experts believe that a virus is created by an immature, disenchanted computer whiz, frequently called a "cracker".
The effects may be benign: on variation of the famous "Stoned" virus merely displays a message calling for the legalization of marijuana. Other viruses, however, can scramble files to create a frenzy of duplication that may cause a computer's microchips to fail. The rapid increase in computer networks, with their millions of user exchanging vast amounts of information, has only made things worse. With word-processing macros embedded in text, opening e-mail can now unleash a virus in a network or a hard disk. Web browsers can also download running code, some of it possibly malign. Distributing objects over global networks without a good way to authenticate them leads to similar risks. Crackers have also succeeded in tainting software sold by brand-name manufacturers.
A clutch of companies offer antiviral programs, capable of detecting viruses before they have the chance to spread. Such programs find the majority of viruses but virus detection is likely to remain a serious problem because of the ingenuity of crackers. One new type of virus, known as polymorphic, evades discovery by changing slightly each time it replicates itself.
Another extremely important issue about they Internet is child pornography. Computer technology is providing child molesters and child pornographers with powerful new tools for victimizing children. The result is an explosive growth in the production and distribution of illegal child pornography, as well as new forms of child predation. Research carried out at Stockholm University identified 5651 postings of child pornography in four discussion groups. Children around the world are being sexually assaulted, molested and exploited by people who also misuse computers and related technology. The abuse is being photographed and distributed to an international marketplace of child pornography consumers via the Internet. That marketplace- along with related Internet sites that encourage child sexual abuse- is leading to new assaults against children. No longer are schools, public libraries and homes safe harbors from sexual pedophiles- people whose sexual fantasies focus on girls or boys- from around the world.
In the past photographs of children being raped, sexually abused and exploited were sold at high prices through tightknit, difficult-to-access networks. Today, those illegal pictures are available for free online, at any hour of the day. Anyone with rudimentary computer skills and an interest in the material can obtain it. Computer networks can also allow pedophiles to identify and contact potential victims without revealing their identities. Often, adult predators pretend to be children until they have gained their victims' confidence. Federal law defines child pornography as photographs or video that depict people under the age of 18 involved in sexually explicit conduct- such as sexual intercourse, bestiality, masturbation and sadistic or masochistic abuse. Also prohibited are pictures involving children that include a "lascivious exhibition of the genitals or public area".
The Government has introduced a number of measures to deal with pornography and obscene material, including the use on computers. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1998 increased the maximum sentence for possession of indecent photographs of children up to 5 years in prison, a $250.000 fine, or both. People convicted of distributing child pornography face up to 15 years in prison or/and a $300.000 fine. It also gave the police the power to arrest without warrant people suspected of obscenity and certain child pornography offences and greater powers to search and seize obscene material and child pornography. It also closed a potential legal loophole by extending the law to cover simulated child pornography manufactured and stored on computers. In Singapore authorities announced plans to establish a "neighborhood police post" on the Internet to monitor and receive complaints of criminal activity- including the distribution of child pornography. And in the United States there has been introduced a bill- vocally opposed by civil liberties organizations and computer-user groups- that would outlaw the electronic distribution of words and images that are "obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy or indecent."
However, Federal agencies lack the manpower to cope with all the criminal activity taking place online. Few local law enforcement officers are trained in computer technology. Moreover, Internet providers generally fail to educate their customers about ways to protect children from sexual predators. Few schools or libraries offer real safety training programs for children online. Many parents have no idea what threats exist or even how the technologies in question work.
Last but not least is the report to our privacy when online. These days, the most skilful manipulators of new information and communications technology to build up files on individuals are private companies collecting personal data on tens of millions of people. Simon Davies, the British head of Privacy International, a human rights watchdog group, says that every citizen of an industrialized country appears today in about 200 different data bases. Such mines of information are centralized, sifted through and correlated to produce very detailed profiles of consumers. The files are then resold to all kinds of firms, which use them to sharpen their marketing strategies, assess the economic reliability of customers and adjust to specific commercial demands. The Internet is an ideal tool for this meticulous task of categorizing the population. It is an extraordinary source of data as well as a practical way to handle such information and circulate it.
Arguments persist that the erosion of privacy is not such a big deal; the economic benefits of information availability and mobility, it is said outweigh limitations on our personal privacy. Is privacy an ethical nicety, an expendable luxury, then, or is it a basic natural right that needs legal protection? Some philosophers and legal scholars have argued that privacy is an intrinsic good, implying that the right to privacy is fundamental and irreducible. Others contend that privacy is more of an instrumental good. Hence the right to privacy is derived from other rights such as property, bodily security and freedom. While both approaches have validity, the latter seems more compelling. It is especially persuasive when applied to those rights involving our liberty and personal autonomy. A primary moral foundation for the value of privacy is its role as a condition of freedom: A shield of privacy is absolutely essential if one is freely to pursue his or her projects or cultivate intimate social relationships
Under the directive, that came into effect on 25 October 1998, the processing of data about ethnic origins, political opinions, religious and philosophical beliefs, trade union membership, health and sex life, is prohibited except where there are special exemptions or derogations. Moreover, in each of the European Union's fifteen Member State, a special authority is to protect individual's rights and freedoms with regard to the processing of personal data. It is to guarantee citizens the right to be informed, to have access to data concerning them and the right to correct it, and to erase data whose processing does not comply with the provisions of the directive. Article 25 states the principle that the transfer of personal data to third countries may only take place if the receiving countries offer a level of protection that is "adequate" within the meaning of EU legislation.
In a globalized economy where information about consumers is the new gold mine, the stakes are huge, involving no more and no less than the future of all banking and trade transactions, especially electronic. The United States has already gone on the offensive by accusing Europe of using privacy protection laws to erect barriers around the valuable European market of 370 million people. President Bill Clinton's Internet policy adviser Ira Magaziner has even threatened to go to the World Trade Organization (WTO) about it. At the same time he insists that the US is just as concerned to protect the privacy of its citizens as European governments are. And all studies show that Internet commerce can not succeed unless consumers can count on information about themselves being kept confidential.
There are currently about 250 bills relating to the Internet pending in Congress. Many of those deal specifically within privacy. However, only very few of these have become a law. That is largely because the Clinton administration and Congress have taken a largely wait-and-see approach to this conflict. Most lawmakers feel the Internet develops too quickly for static laws to work effectively. Instead, politicians from Vice President Al Gore down are encouraging the Internet industry to regulate itself, while suggesting that their patience is not inexhaustible.
It will be very difficult to regulate the Internet because it is global and decentralized, and it is very hard to identify Internet users. The key is developing something that is enforceable. Good intentions are one thing, but in the self-regulatory environment, if somebody is hurt by the misuse of personal information, who pays? Who provides a remedy to that harmed individual? Nobody does! Privacy is a tough area for personal injury lawyers because it is difficult under our tort law to prove that somebody has been harmed. It is very hard to prove damage to reputation of intentional infliction of emotional distress in cases involving disclosure of personal information.
Many individuals and organizations are now relying more heavily on digital networks as they routinely communicate by e-mail, post messages to electronic bulletin boards on the Internet and visit Web sites. But in the process they become more exposed and vulnerable to those seeking to collect and sell their personal data. When users visit Web sites they often fill out detailed personal profiles that become grist for marketing lists sold to third parties. Digital networks have also made consumer information even more widely and easily available the use of these networks greatly expands the capability of checking up on someone's personal background or receiving an electronic list of prospective customers quickly and inexpensively. Indeed we are moving perilously close to the reality of immediate online personal data.
More disturbing than the loss of our privacy as consumers is the loss of privacy about our financial affairs. Once again government data banks have usually provided the building blocks for these records. Certain financial information that was always in the public domain, such as real estate and bankruptcy records, is now treated as a basic commodity. Data brokers such as Information America, Inc. allow their subscribers quick online access to the county and court records for many states. Their vast databases contain business records, bankruptcy records, lawsuit information and property records, including liens and judgement. By computerizing these real estate records, liens, incorporations, licenses and so on, they become more than public documents. They are now on-line commodities, more easily accessed and distributed than their physical counterparts. In addition, this data can be recombined with other personal and financial background.
The most recent assault on privacy has developed in the health care industry, in which patient records have also become commodities for sale. These records, containing highly sensitive and revealing information, are being collected and stored in databases maintained by hospitals. Thus, medical privacy seems destined to be another victim of our evolving information technologies. By putting so much medical data online without proper safeguards the Government, the Health Care Industry and the Information Industry are clearly undermining the foundation to the confidential doctor-patient relationship.
It seems quite evident that our right to informational privacy- the right to control the disclosure of and access to one's personal information- has been sacrificed for the sake of economic efficiency and other social objectives. As our personal information becomes tangled in the Web of information technology, our control over how that data will be utilized and distributed is notably diminished. Our personal background and purchases are tracked by many companies that consider us prospects for their products or services; our financial profile and credit history is available to a plethora of "legitimate" users, and our medical records are more widely accessible than ever before. The Net effect is that each of us can become an open book to anyone who wants to take the time to investigate our background.
Another adverse consequence of all these is that we can be more easily targeted and singled out either as individuals or as members of certain groups. Data based technology makes it easy to find and exploit certain groups based on age, income level, place of residence, or purchasing habits. At the same time online data banks now make it especially simple to pinpoint individuals electronically.
If public polity makers do become convinced that privacy is worth preserving, what should be done? Are there any viable solutions? Further complicating the issue, of course, are legitimate economic considerations. Privacy can not be accomplished without incurring some costs. And we can not ignore the economic benefit of acquiring and distributing information and using data as a commercial tool to target the right customers. If the information flow about consumers is overly constrained, a substantial negative economic impact can not be discounted. In addition, there must be stricter controls for an especially sensitive information such as medical data. If a centralized national database becomes a reality, it will be necessary to achieve a broad public consensus on the definition of the health care trustees who should have access to that data.
In summary, then, if informed consent is made mandatory for the reuse of consumer data and there are stricter safeguards for more critical information such as medical data, we can begin to make some progress in protecting privacy rights. But unless we should come to terms with this problem the boundaries between what is public and private could become much more tenuous. A world where privacy is in such short supply will undermine our freedom and dignity and pose a great threat to our security and well being.
But what is the future of the Internet? The Internet is moving from a relatively passive publishing medium to a truly interactive application deployment platform. It will clearly continue to grow at a fast pace as more and more businesses and individuals discover its power. According to Dataquest, the market analysts, a new Internet account is added every two minutes. Whilst there is no guarantee that the businesses connecting to the Net will "make it big", it is obvious that those which don't will be left behind. But one thing is certain: The Internet is dynamic, will sustain high growth rates and will serve as the platform for international commerce well into the foreseeable future.
Today the Internet is a highly effective tool for communicating, for gathering information and for cooperation between dispersed locations. There is continuous development and improvement. The growing list of applications serves as testament to this: advertising, communication, shopping, banking, to name just a few. Many businesses are discovering new ways to reach their customers, new ways to improve efficiency, new products and services to sell. The future is limited only by your imagination.
The Internet needs content. It's a medium in desperate need of something to say. In the next 10 years, somebody will figure out how to charge for information on the Net, so you won't get things necessarily for free. That will have several good effects, including a way to pay authors for their work. And because of the economic incentive, it will become easier to filter out the good from the bad.
The Web is like a library that many people access for the sake of ease. They do this rather than go to the library. Therefore, whoever needs to get this information does not have to leave the house. It starts with information, then goes to groceries, furniture, even real estate. Will it ever end? Will it get to the point where people will never have to leave their computers? And why not? If everything you ever needed was at your fingertips, why not just pull a chair up to the computer that lays back into a bed and park it right in front of the bathroom? No one will ever have to leave his or her house. People will become socially inept. Is this the perfect future we are all heading towards?
Questions similar to these have come up every time new sources of information have come around. However, at this point, people still get out and about to find information. We are not recluses yet. Do we have to be? In my opinion, we certainly seem to be heading in that direction and no one is to be blamed but technology itself. Technology can be a good thing, but when traditional ways are given up completely, technology can be a completely bad thing. Many people predict that it will make the world a "better" and more globally oriented place, but this is hard to say because we can not exactly define what constitutes of a "better" world.
Arguments can be made for the advantages and disadvantages of the Internet, but most people will agree that the Internet is a boon for technology, the likes of which have not been seen since the advent of the Personal Computer. It is not a question of whether or not the advantages of the Internet outweigh the disadvantages. Rather it is an understanding of the risks and implications of pursuing the use of this type of technology when working to achieve corporate strategic goals. Once the security problems are handled, the costs are streamlined, and the searching algorithms are perfected, the possibilities are endless.
We know that this technological wonder, every bit as revolutionary as the light bulb or the telephone, is going to shape all our lives in the century ahead. The Internet is as persistent as it is potent, an indelible and uncontainable presence in the culture. Despite of all the "doomtalking" the future is hopeful. However, governmental action can't really make any difference, because the Internet is too diffuse, too international, too much "the cat that long ago escaped the bag"...