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The Internet is the root of all evil

Destroyer of marriages, corrupter of the weak

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It's a sad fact that in the modern world - well, the modern media - everything either has to be an evil, corrupting influence, destroyer of children and rapist of culture. Or it is the saviour, the Christ-figure that will makes our times the greatest in all humanity.

Because the Internet is such a leap in communication, both geographically and in terms of speed, it gets the lucky moniker of being both at the same time. Unfortunately, because it is such a recent invention, the Internet - for all its potential - is repeatedly turned into Beelzebub's tool.

No sooner was the UK's media running around slapping itself on the back because Oftel said on Monday that 10 million folk were now online, than it leapt into the equally partisan stance that the Internet is ruining our lives. Ignore for a second that Oftel figures are not to be trusted - what the hell is going on?

The BBC posted a viewpoint piece on its Web site: Could you live without the Internet? No, I couldn't, you cry, it's taking over my life. I was never like this before. Kill all PCs.

But far stronger than this, the Irish Independent did a piece on how a PC is destroying a family. "My husband's Net addiction is killing our marriage," it weeps. It's so bad they can't even use their real names! You see, John is spending more and more time on his computer. He would be sat watching the TV with Caroline and the kids and then would "suddenly get up, say he wanted to check something and leave us". Of course, no one noticed the irony of leaving the "social" TV set for the "anti-social" computer.

But that's not all. She once found a pornographic image on the computer! And he has email conversations with people! It's ruining our marriage! Don't be ridiculous, woman. The fact is that marriages have suffered these problems from time immemorial. Jealousy of outside relationships, paranoia etc etc etc. The computer is simply a different medium - like the phone. But to blame a phone for a marriage breakdown would be ludicrous. So why are computers any different?

Another example: The Mirror did a further piece on Monday on Net paedophiles. Fortunately it wasn't the hysterical Carol Vordermann this time. Instead, the paper spoke to a woman that actually works for the government in tracking illegal online behaviour. It's a step towards a more rational approach but was still littered with emotive and provocative language and you were left in no doubt about how sick and dangerous the Net is.

The emotional button-pusher of paedophiles aside, what of the stories about these new Net criminals that will wipe out the entire National Grid or cut off water supplies by hacking into computer systems? Or the anarchists that threaten our very existence using the Internet to organise their evil deeds? Do you remember when, before the world+dog bought a mobile phone, that this new invention was being used for all kinds of illegal activity (football hooligans, bank robbers)?

What about the scare that people could pick up mobile phone conversations so easily that strangers would know our most intimate secrets? What happened to that?

This "new media hysteria" (our new phrase) also meant that Parliament was able to pass at least three extremely dodgy laws in the last term on a wave or worry and concern. It caused an unprecedented reduction in an individual's rights in the UK.

But even worse than this paranoia over new technology, the media and politicians have actually failed to monitor the most destabilising aspects of Internet technology. Online banks for example. How many hundreds of people observe every subtle move in the financial markets every day? But how many paid any attention when companies started hoarding money on insecure infrastructures? And how many chased companies up when they replied with a mixture of technical garbage and blatant lies?

Did the fact that hundreds of savers' financial details were made readily available to anyone in the world affect a company's share price as much as a rumoured argument in the boardroom would have?

Then there are the people that try to fight the case for civil rights and against spyware. They are clearly branded loonies. But why on earth should we allow a company to effectively put a spycamera in our houses just because we bought a lamp from it six months ago? Or worse still, because we just popped into their store and picked up a leaflet.

These are the problems with Internet technology that need to be sorted out. But then these aspects are not so sexy - they don't play on the instinctive dread that people have for new technology. They don't sell papers.

The Internet will revolutionise our lives. But instead of the TV and the radio - the last two great leaps in communication - this one means anyone at all can interact with anyone else. That can only work towards human good and new levels of individual freedom.

Don't expect this to make the establishment or the media very happy. And don't forget to ignore nearly all the negative stories in the future. ®

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