Once again my blog has been silent. This time it's not because I didn't want to write, it because I've not had a stable internet connection as I didn't pay my bill, or rather couldn't afford to. This week in internet pergotary has led to me reflecting on how much we use it and how much our lives, and mankind's future, will depend on it.
The internet is far more than the sum total of it's parts. It is far more than an ingenious way to connect multiple computers together, one that evolved from a US scheme to ensure it's ICBM network stayed intact in the event of the USSR going postal and launching a nuclear strike. That in itself is interesting, necessity is the mother of inventions as they say, but the fact that something that was designed to help survive the end of the world ended up creating a new one just goes to show how unpredictable history can be.
The internet is, in effect, the world. On it, you'll find pretty much everything and anything that ever existed and/or that mankind knows about. Granted, some of these bits are locked away in highly secure networks like the Pentagon's [insert name here] system, but it's still there and the countless attacks on supposedly secure systems shows that it can be read.
It's also very much alive and changing. I believe that it will become some sort of Artificial Intelligence at some point in the near future and that will be interesting/scary/probably a bad thing. We keep feeding this beast of copper wire* information and ideas, somethings going to happen sometime. And it's a witches brew of 'stuff' in this beast. It knows your telephone number, your bank details, your hospital records, it probably knows you better than you do yourself. Worrying? Yes, probably.
But what for the future? I think we have now come to the stage where we simply can't live properly without an internet connection. Our world revolves around cyberspace now, if it were to die tomorrow then there would be chaos. Pretty much everything you do in your life is connected to the beast somewhere. And as I found out last week, living without it is hard.
Our society will develop as the internet develops and because of it. I remember Matt Ridley, who's book I reviewed, called it 'where ideas have sex'. Crude but true. On the internet, two completely unrelated ideas can meet in ways unimagined before. The struggling biochemist in Germany can bump into the confused industrialist in India and find their ideas and needs mesh. Before, the biochemist would be stuck in her shed up to her eyes in chemicals and the industrialist would be staring at his unproductive factory because they would never have met. Neither would have got anywhere.
Can you imagine the number of ideas that never developed in the past because the bits of jigsaw never met? In this day and age the amount of development that happens purely because groups of people across the globe can 'meet' in cyberspace is huge. But more on that and our interconnected world another time I think.
In Africa two of the top things that development organizations are pushing these days are a) cheap computers and b) high speed internet. For a impoverished farmer and internet connection can be both a window to new techniques and a marketplace for his or her product. It's also a way to allow people to learn for a low cost. You no longer have to build a school, a $100 laptop and a 3G dongle is all a student needs to be linked into some cyber classroom and for the teacher to revive two dozen identical sets of homework all cut and pasted off Wikipedia. Don't lie, we've all done it and we've all been caught out. But with all this information at our fingertips and the ability to communicate ideas means that as a society we evolve faster than ever before.
The copper beast toppled the regimes in the Middle East as well. The old regimes had, on the whole, weathered decades of constant revolt but one thing changed this time. One thing meant that a bankrupt Tunisian student setting himself on fire as a protest over his food stall being closed down caused a tidal wave that touched every corner of the globe.
Expect for North Korea. Because they aren't allowed the internet. Never will they know the pain of searching through your Facebook 'friends' to see who unfreinded you. Never will they get the buzz from winning an Ebay auction. Never will they spend hours on Wikipedia looking up incredibly stupid stuff and somehow feeling fulfilled having done it. And never will those poor souls who live on grass overthrow their incredibly short and goofy looking 'Dear Leader' if they can't organize like the people of the Middle East did online.
Not all is good of course. I already stated how the beast knows more about you than you could possibly imagine. If it knows, anyone with a computer and a few skills can also know. And what about all the time that is 'wasted' on the internet? All the countless hours refreshing the Facebook newsfeed and the Twitter page, waiting for some inconsequential bit of 'news' about someone somewhere. I recall a study finding that companies lose hours of productivity per worker because of this timewasting.
Or the fact that some of the material online is 'undesirable'. Yes, free speech advocates love it but how do you feel that anyone can pick up the Anarchist's Cookbook or browse the forums of Neo-Nazi groups? Or the fact that organized crime makes trillions out of dealings on the net? Not all information is 'good' information.
But even with these blips I think it is for the better. As I said, the internet changed our world and continues to shape it. Because the internet really is the future. Whatever happens then, the internet will play a role, most probably a large one. If we fall back into the dark ages or enter a new dawn of civilization, it'll be because of what happens in the beast of copper wire. You read it here first.
Now, donations. After hearing of my internet woes one or two of you did offer to pay my internet bill. I'm touched, but I really don't like taking money off people. Especially for this blog, which I feel is nothing much to shout about and something I bash out in my spare time. Someone reading this blog and enjoying it is all the payment I need.
However, one of you was very persistent so I've written a 'help me' page with details of how you can help. Most of it is nothing to do with money and I'd like to keep it that way. However, if you must send me something then there is a PayPal button thingy there or you can email me and I'll sort something out. And if you donate in any way then please, let me have your address and I'll see if I can send a freebie.
Thanks for reading
* Yes, we don't use copper wire so much any more, but 'beast of fiber optic cable, up links, relays, satellites and other assorted bits of technical wizardry' doesn't have a ring to it. Sorry, but you must grant me artistic license.