Technology and Society: Thinking some more about the Internet Pros and Cons | Opinion

In previous articles, I have mentioned some of the pros and cons of social media and while it is true that social media dominates the Internet, it is only a piece of it. What got me to thinking about this was an article, “Covid Has Exposed Problems in How Scientists Share Data” by Amy Docker Marcus in the Wall Street Journal (Jan 15-16, 2022, Weekend Edition) .

Prior to reading this, I had always assumed that science is such a useful and powerful method of exploring reality (as opposed to swallowing some of the cockamamie ideas and opinions of some politicians) and also was the underlying philosophy of not only discovery but sharing the knowledge gained in discovery for the benefit of all.

However, it seems that the sharing part is withering as scientists are not using the Internet to share their discoveries until after their paper is published, which can take months. After all, being a scientist is a job that has a paycheck and if someone uses your research results before your paper is published then not only does history ignore your efforts but accord and remuneration are diminished or not rewarded at all. Of course, it is necessary for all the sciences to review papers by other experts in the same field to make sure there is a consensus on the methods used and conclusions reached.

In this instance, the Internet is both a pro and a con. It could be (and in many cases is) a way the scientist could collaborate with others in the same field in real time and possibly catch any errors or problems before they occur, which would be a greater benefit to society.

This problem is both political and personal and it is not surprising that it has not yet been solved.

That said, if you search on the phrase, “pros and cons of the Internet” you will get back more than you need to know, so I will attempt to summarize my findings.

As you might suspect, it depends on the different needs and desires of specific segments of society. You would not expect the goals of a business (to gain profit for the shareholders and employees) to coincide with the aims of education (to gain knowledge and skills for personal growth.)

Without too much overstatement, it looks like the Internet will be the stimulus that leads to the next advancement of civilization.

In the past, rivers and railroads allowed for the transportation of goods which fostered growth in the economy and to civilization in general. Today, the Internet allows for data to be transferred and used as information which allows societies to prosper.

Most Internet users are aware of the advantages of using the Internet to access information concerning topics such as the economy, education and entertainment. That was a short list of some of the pros. But tribalism, addiction, privacy, cybercrime, (and, of course, all forms of spam) stand out as cons — which are some of the issues most Internet users are worried about, starting off with Tribalism.

“… one of tribalism’s obvious drivers is many Americans’ substitution of investment and involvement in physical communities with investment and involvement in online ones that more efficiently sort them into cliques of the rigidly like-minded. Another is many people’s use of the Internet not to check or challenge their thinking but to validate it” (“Our Tribalism will be the Death of Us” by Frank Bruni, in his Opinion column of the Jan 7 edition of the New York Times.)

Addiction is another minus for the Internet. Plus, it plays a role in fostering tribalism. Many folks are addicted to reinforcing their political views using only the Internet sources their tribe approves of .

Another worrisome form of addiction to worry about, “Porn addiction is considered a behavioral addiction that is characterized by an ever-growing compulsion to view pornographic content or material. …Although many medical and psychiatric professionals do not treat the compulsion to view or use pornographic material as an addiction, the signs and symptoms of porn addiction are often very similar to those that signify an addiction to drugs or alcohol.” [projectknow.com/porn-addiction]

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not preaching here. Everyone has some form of addiction depending on how the term is defined. I am addicted to coffee. I used to smoke up to three packs of Camels per day while at college (thankfully I stopped when I was thirty and had two kids). Currently I am addicted to word games like Lexulous (a Scrabble knockoff) and I’m trying to wean myself from Facebook which has been difficult for various reasons, but porn addiction can be a disease and I’m pretty sure that most parents would not want their young children visiting porn sites.

Using the Internet can compromise our national, as well as personal, privacy. It is being used more and more by nations spying on each other as well as their own citizens. This is bound to aggrieve any citizen who believes in “the right to be let alone” so long as you are doing no harm to others. But it’s not only the government that is intrusive of our privacy — it is anyone using the Internet.

As Pogo has commented, “we have met the enemy and it is us”.

Consider this news snippet: “The amount of personal information being shared on the Internet is so enormous that personal privacy is at risk. It’s not just identity theft that is an issue. Kim Kardashian West had jewelry stolen from her in Paris because of the amount of information that was being shared. A group of 17 people got together, tracked her movements, and struck because of the information freely shared. If you share vacation photos in real time, then you’re announcing to the world that you’re away from home.” [coursehero.com]

Once you post a picture or a story on a site like Facebook, by the time you realize that it was a mistake and go to delete it, how many of your friends, family, and followers have already read and shared it? Think about it.

Another area of concern is cybercrime, where malicious hackers hold companies hostage until a ransom is paid. A more mundane and common cybercrime is basically an Internet scam. It is common for a hacker to send you an email that appears to be from a trusted source and when you click on it, you’ve been hacked and the hacker now has the same access to everything on your computer.

If you search on something like “how to prevent my computer from hackers,” the topmost returns will be sponsored sources that, while usually providing decent advice, are actually advertisements from that sponsor. The most important thing is to carefully look at the URL to see if it’s a misspelling of a trusted website; common ones are just a simple misspelling like: Facebok.com (instead of facebook.com). My favorite is “rnicrosoft.com” which looks legit at first glance but that “m” is actually the two characters “r’ and “n” squished together. For more interesting examples, search on the term “typosquatting” (yes, that’s what it’s called — computer-geek humor is unique.)

For me, one of the biggest pros afforded by the Internet is being able to write this column in the comfort of my home.

Dr. Stewart A. Denenberg is an emeritus professor of computer science at Plattsburgh State, retiring recently after 30 years there. Before that, he worked as a technical writer, programmer and consultant to the U.S. Navy and private Industry. Send comments and suggestions to his blog at www.tec-soc.blogspot.com, where there is additional text and links. He can also be reached at denenbsa@gmail.com.

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