Resources accessible on the Internet astound people. Virtually anything you can imagine can be found on the Internet through a quick flick of a search engine. Indeed, confirming specific quotations and anecdotes for this column often happens on the fly, thanks to the Internet.
In simple terms the Internet represents little more than a container into which the general public can stuff information. Know what you are looking for and you can find a wealth of helpful bits of information. In this household it was recently deployed to evaluate used cars. Literally hundreds of free listings were available as well as reports and insights into the typical repairs associated with these vehicles. The Internet allowed for a considerable amount of shopping and research to be done before physically having to get out there to look at vehicles.
So in this way, the Internet brings us together more as a community. Message boards and chat rooms enable people from all over the globe to share common interests and explore cultural differences.
All of these represent positives associated with the Internet. The flip side, however, can be equally as ominous. The ability to find people with far-flung, narrow interests can be valuable when doing research; for example, on a rare medical ailment or a hobby such as maintaining a rare antique car. People with far-flung perverse interests, however, can also use the Internet in such a manner.
It is no secret the Internet has been a boon to the pornography industry. People can now order the material and its accompanying paraphernalia from the privacy of their own homes.
Consenting adults doing their thing is no big deal. Every once in a while, however, a rather grisly story comes out about teens and or troubled youth being sought out and wooed by adults. These incidents generally receive the most publicity as they titillate while resonating with parents everywhere.
While shocking and disgusting, such cases do not represent the sole dangers associated with the Internet; some are infinitely more subtle. Individuals with political viewpoints outside the mainstream, for example, can find a collection of like-minded people and delude themselves into thinking they hold a majority viewpoint. In this manner, “tin-foil-hat” types that would not reach double digits in a major metropolitan area can delude themselves. The delusion helps feed and foster the coarsening of political debate in this country. Indeed, that which passes for civil “debate” on the Internet would generally be deemed appalling behavior in person and likely result in said person being shown the door in a public setting such as a bar or restaurant.
On the other extreme from the simple self-congratulation of twisted political views, the Internet provides a wealth of information that can be used to inflict considerable harm on the population. Access to plans for bombs and other ways to harm the population are not urban myth; they can be found if one digs hard enough. Law-enforcement agencies play a game of catch-up searching the Web on their own to keep tabs on these things.
So on the one hand the public can find solid, useful information in a manner of minutes to facilitate their daily lives. They can also find little communities built around common interests.
On the other hand, sexual predators can find ways to hunt their prey with greater anonymity. Whack jobs can delude themselves into thinking their racist, bigoted views have currency. Other fools can tout utterly impractical approaches to common problems, deluding themselves into thinking they will come to pass. Urban myths can spread like weeds across the Internet field of information on which we graze.
The Internet quite clearly is an incredibly powerful resource that will continue reshaping the way in which humans interact with one another and share information. It can have great value, yet it can also bring incredible evil to one’s door just as quickly.