Is the Internet Really Worth It?

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
Amazon.com 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

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