The Internet was an invention of the US military, designed in part to survive nuclear attack. It was a product of Cold War thinking and designed as a shield against a very different sword from the ones which most preoccupy us right now.
This is why part of the hatred that so many powerful sectors of society feel for the Internet is driven by a profound self-hatred (more here). That a massively intelligent tool which you constructed as a potent defence may now be used to undermine your very own sense of self must be so terribly galling as to engender the kind of reactions and behaviours we are currently seeing in both the US and the UK. Which is why I might ask the question: “Can we defend liberty by hating the Internet?”
Part of the plot of the 2008 film “Eagle Eye” predicted the hacking into and closing down of power grids. This is undoubtedly a scenario which should worry us all – and perhaps allows us, via many others currently being rehearsed by Hollywood and its outriders, to understand if not accept the paranoia which is leading Western governments to defend Western freedoms from terrorism – precisely by eliminating them at source: eliminating, that is, through anti-libertarian legislation, the freedoms of ordinary citizens to act outside overbearing government control.
The Internet as was originally conceived was designed to route around external interference. The Internet the American military wishes to re-engineer would be a return to the censored worlds of the Cold War. But the rationale for changing so dramatically the ground rules for playing on the Internet would seem to have solutions of a very different nature – solutions which no one seems to be contemplating. And I wonder why these solutions are not being evaluated.
If, for example, power grids need to be protected, why not go back to a 20th century time by a) giving up the upsides of efficiency computers brought to the system in order to b) lose the downsides of centralised access? How? By simply disconnecting the grid from all computer control.
We could, in fact, instead of contaminating with our paranoia and fear the hard-won and hard-engineered freedoms of the Internet, simply disconnect what we need to protect in a constructively Luddite-like way. For it doesn’t half seem to me, right now, that by connecting everything up to this virtual network of interchangeable accesses we are actually centralising accesses in a dangerously aggressive way. The Internet of devolved communication has potentially allowed in an inverse kind of way everyone everywhere to access the red buttons that most make our society start and stop. And that is surely a foolishness of the grandest sort we can imagine.
No wonder the US and UK security services are running scared about the future.
Essentially, clever old Frankenstein has created a genius of a defensive capability which has become a monster of an aggressive tool.
Why, then, instead of disconnecting billions of people from the concept of privacy, can we not simply disconnect those bits of society we most need or want to protect? The utilities, for starters. The grand content providers too.
Surely the real problem here is that civic society and the military are getting mixed up in an awful mash. Sadly, our freedoms are being seen in terms of the architecture of a supermarket. Make it easy for people to pick the product off the shelves because income needs to be maximised to the full – but prevent people from acceding to the temptation to steal by monitoring through CCTV, security personnel and electronic tagging.
But democracy isn’t a supermarket. And freedom of speech isn’t a tin of beans.
No one who hates the Internet can defend the openness of liberty for all that it promises our society. If you hate the Internet as the film and music industry now do, as the military must have done almost since the Berlin Wall collapsed, you can’t take intelligent advantage of it. All you will end up doing is destroying the very freedoms you claim to be striving so hard to protect. You will, in fact, through your desire to generate economic benefit, destroy the very tool you chose to channel.
In the meantime, the creators you depend on to invent the future in both the sciences and the arts will find the progressive and subtle suppression of freedom of speech imperceptibly undermining to such an extent that humanity will end up sleeping on its feet.
Without even knowing it has happened.