Ah, Internet, Internet, count the many blessings of the Internet.
Since the internet means one thing to this guy and another thing to this guy, the best approach I can take to this complex topic seems to be to chat a bit about what it means to me.
Thus I’ll go.
When I was a child, I had a correspondent in Germany called Erik, and I remember waiting for weeks for a letter of reply from him. Today, like his friends, relatives and classmates in a physically distant world, he would be just a click away.
If I have the soul, today I can indulge in online interests as varied as repairing engines, researching the recipe for the greatest cacciatore of all time, following an archaeologist in pursuit of legendary tomb of Cleopatra, mocking a comedian from afar – off the coast of India, find out what made the Neanderthals tick.
It’s cool, right?
On the other hand, however, we all know the dark side of the internet.
Intentionally, in the hands of bad actors, or, through its own “murderous innocence”, in the hands of people who accept literally what they read, the Internet has become a vehicle for spreading harmful misinformation.
In the hands of children, the Internet too often turns into a weapon to bludgeon their peers with concentrated and vicious personal attacks, turning them into a kind of tsetse fly of the Internet, stinging and intimidating other children at the most difficult times. most vulnerable of their life in madness and suicide.
In the hands of sexual deviants, it is a useful tool for luring innocent people into deadly traps.
And to smear that positive contact, just a click away, which I marveled at above, now a once-isolated dude in Bismarck whose brains sparked murderous ideation can find common cause with another like-minded mad dude at Kennewick, Washington, a third in Amsterdam, a fourth in St. Petersburg, etc.
And the ease with which these people can now connect with like-minded others may even give them confidence that, despite what the clever psychiatrists say, they can retort, “See, I’m not crazy. There is a conspiracy. There are lizard people. Those guys over there see it too.
I am not naive. Conspiracies are real things. There is no denying it. But the advent of the Internet seems to have acted as a force multiplier to swell the ranks of the conspirators. Alliances have been formed to fight against the sinister forces that lurk beneath every stone and behind every door, doomed, as club members insist, to the pursuit of evil. And the bad guys are always other people.
I don’t know what to call it other than the normalization of paranoia – the integration of ideas that we would once have laughed at.
It is now much more acceptable to believe that the so-called worldwide organization called The Illuminati has built its central complex under the sprawling Denver International Airport.
That the United States government faked the 1969 moon landing.
This King Charles is a demon.
That Democrats eat children, that Republicans are fascists, that the Earth is flat. The last on this list demands a baffling conspiracy dating back to ancient Greek surveyors and beyond.
What is truly disheartening is that once minds get attached to the idea of such conspiracies, there seems to be no sort of solvent to dissolve the mental machinery.
And alongside this phenomenon, we have seen the palpable growth of a market of conscienceless sellers, eager to take advantage of the gullibility of rubies to sell the snake oil they peddle.
My nephew, a very smart guy, would certainly tell me that’s the price of a free market of ideas. Maybe he’s right.
Yet I sometimes wonder, given what the bad guys have done to the Internet, is this marvel and its place in the free exchange of ideas going to become our downfall? Only time will tell.
Robert Whale can be contacted at [email protected]