Someone interviewing me for a magazine asked me what current technology tomorrow’s children would find obsolete. I almost answered “The Internet.” Then I decided to think about that answer a little bit because it’s pretty scary. Then I decided it’s true.
Shortly, humans may find today’s wide open Internet as archaic as we now find phones that are wired to walls.
Here’s why. There are three huge pressures on the internet as we know it today – the one where I can write this essay, post it on my website, and you can find it and read it. Whoever you are.
The first strike is today’s news. We appear to be losing the network neutrality fight, or the idea that all content is treated equally when it comes to transport. You and I may be paying our internet carriers more to use the best search engines, watch sports games in real time, or download the New York Times every morning. That’s on top of what we might pay for the content itself. So we could pony up $4.99 for a video and then get an add-on fee of 19 cents to download it. Or worse, someone like me who is not famous may pay more money to make my content available to everyone. Oh, yeah, I do that now. At least if I want everyone on my friends list to see a post, I have to pay FaceBook. But I could end up also paying Cox or Time Warner a little extra. Or it could be if you want to read this post, you’ll have to wait through a one minute download time. Except you won’t, and I won’t, and only the premium content will be seen by much of anybody. This is a current fight full of active petitions. We should all be screaming and demanding a win. Note that while the loss of net neutrality will start by having a deleterious effect on consumers and creators of entertainment content, the next target may very well be the movement of business data. Want to store your iPhone backup in the Cloud? Here’s your transport fee.
Strike two is yesterday’s news, still recent enough it occasionally comes up for a sip of media air. The NSA is searching everybody with no warrant. In fact, the NSA has been so busy opening back doors to the Internet that the front door may be getting locked. I’ve heard rumors of corporations who are already building or planning to build private internal networks with no connection whatsoever to the Internet. They’re reportedly doing this in order to protect their intellectual property from other corporate and government thieves (can you say China) who are after it. But now they have to worry about their own government building back doors into servers and not telling anyone at all, especially the American corporations using the compromised hardware and/or software. I suspect that a lot of internal traffic is coming off of the open Internet and going into secondary networks between campuses. This adds business costs. A lot of them. In a related reaction to the NSA and the USA that runs it, we may be seeing Great Firewalls around friendly, democrative countries soon. At this point, I don’t think it matters what President Obama says to us or to our friends. Our trust has been breached. Private networks, face to face meetings, and other more secure tools are going to happen. Even though I’m a rabid transparency advocate, there’s no part of me that thinks that all private conversations and early-IP should be public, or that the transparency should be a one-way mirror from the NSA into my phone. So strike two – 1984 in 2014.
Which leads us to strike three; Crime. Crime isn’t new news at all, but cybercrime appears to be the fastest growing industry on the planet. No, I haven’t done that research. But I did determine that my belief that it’s growing fast is widely supported. Most other crime rates are steady or decreasing. This includes violent crimes, and property crimes. But cybercrime? Way up. I’m in far more danger of suffering from identity theft than I am of being robbed on the street. And so is almost everyone else. Likewise, the businesses we work for and the governments who protect us (and spy on us) are also under constant threat. It’s wearying. Someday, there may be more peril than promise from doing my shopping online. Given that I shopped at Target three times right before Christmas, I’m feeling a little like that today.
That’s a lot for the Internet to handle. And if we lose the open Internet, we will have lost something innocent and hopeful. We will have lost one of the more important tools for equality in the world. We will have lost a way for all people everywhere to have a voice that can heard by anyone. Oh, we’ll still have an Internet. But it might not feel very much like the one we have today. We may not be willing to use it for anything very interesting at all. We’ll still get Netflix and Game of Thrones and CNN, but we won’t have it all like we do today.
I am a writer, public speaker, and a futurist. I’m interested in how new technologies might change us and our world, particularly for the better.
I’m excited about my most recent book series, a duology called “Ruby’s Song” which includes the books The Creative Fire and The Diamond Deep, both published by Pyr. I’m also doing a non-fiction blog series, Backing into Eden, which comes out roughly twice a month and explores ways to care for the world, now and in the future.