Gadget addiction

We all know about in-flight movies. How about in-flight terrorism?

Several airlines are proposing adding wireless internet access to their aircraft. For a fee, passengers would have full email and web access from their seats.

Spooked by the possibilities of this, US intelligence agencies are seeking full access to all such communication. The over-active imaginations that run these joints have cooked up scenarios involving terrorists using airplane internet access to plan and implement their horrendous acts on the go and in the air.

The concept is relatively plausible and it begs the question: is internet on planes worth the risk?

I’ll take that one step further, though, and ask: do we really need the internet at all?

Think about it: what do we get out of the internet?

High on the list, of course, is great shopping. There’s nothing like in the world of bricks and mortar. You simply can’t find the

selection, pricing and availability.

Online charity mechanisms are another obvious benefit the internet

offers. It’s difficult to imagine how victims of the Asian earthquake

last winter would have received so much support so quickly without the

various charities’ web sites accepting donations.

The web is also a tremendous, if somewhat dubious, research tool. It

would be impossible to contain the knowledge and information found

there in any other form.

There’s online banking, which is probably one of the most logical uses

for the internet. I just wonder how I ever survived without it.

And huge tracts of the web are basically grandiose garage sales. Think

of eBay and you’ll know what I mean. That’s clearly a brilliant use of

the web, though whether it’s a “good” thing is open for debate.

Then there’s email. Most people simply couldn’t exist without it. It’s

pretty much an integral part of life today and anyone without an email

address is definitely the modern equivalent of a hermit.

Of course, there’s the community building aspect of the internet. Online, you get to meet people you wouldn’t normally meet.

That aspect of the internet is clearly double-edged however, as it’s

also the primary tool that terrorist organisations use not only to plan

and implement their activities but also to recruit new soldiers into

their maniac brigades.

The London bombings were well aided by internet communications. And the

group claiming ownership of the acts did so on a web site.

Likewise, an argument could be made that 9/11 would never have happened without the internet.

Another industry that is clearly enabled by the internet is

pornography. Pornography has always existed and always will, but the

internet has been key to its contemporary growth explosion.

One can’t mention the dark side of the internet without bringing up the

heinous matter of child pornography. Dirty little men have always had

access to this sort of material, but the internet permits them to

produce more of it and then distribute it to a much larger audience.

On that note, the internet is also key to drawing in the subjects of

child pornography. The stories of children and teens being kidnapped

and mistreated after engaging with pedophiles and their like in online

chat rooms are far too common. Some of these innocent souls are drawn

directly into pornography and prostitution rings.

I could go on for a year with stories about people getting ripped off

by one or another online scam. And tales of credit card databases being

hacked and stolen by internet thieves are ever increasing, putting the

financial lives of millions of people at risk.

Then, of course, there’s the endless flow of spam which we’re all

subject to. This electronic junk mail is well known to cost the global

economy billions of dollars each year.

So, is the internet worth it? Is some great shopping, a global garage

sale, easy communication and highly valuable charitable work worth the

senseless killing of thousands, the trafficking of our most innocent,

and the waste of a significant portion of the economy?

Like the airlines very well might do for their portions, we could just

turn the whole internet over to American intelligence and depend on

their judgement to weed out the bad parts. Privacy concerns aside for a

moment, some form of regulation may not be a bad idea.

In reality, though, we probably have no choice but to accept the

internet’s dark underbelly and, if it turns our stomachs, just close

our eyes and do some online shopping to forget about it.

Copyright 2005 Andrew Robulack

Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, July 15, 2005