The Internet Turns 30: TIME TO TAKE ACTION

Last Call

Marc FreyThirty years ago, a new way of communication emerged. I vividly remember hooking up my Olivetti microcomputer to a landline and transmitting five lines of text to a friend. At the time it felt like we had joined a secret society with a select few in the circle. We couldn’t have anticipated how much the invention of the HTML protocol would transform communication. 

good bad internet


The Good is that it allows more people than ever to have access to a vast library of information and entertainment. It allows people to connect, participate in discourse, advocate and take action. It speeds up academic research and shared scientific advancements. It speeds up the flow of money, people and goods around the globe and ushered in several new economies, including the global economy and shared economy. It spawned the collaborative business model, allowing talent to make contributions from living rooms around the world.

The Bad is that we were not prepared for the 24/7 onslaught of information, and as a result, tend to be “over-newsed” but under-informed. Today we spend too much time consuming information and not enough time reflecting on it. It has become harder to discern legitimate and objective sources of information versus information that has been planted deliberately to influence our thinking and behavior. As much as the Internet has connected us, it has divided us, creating platforms for bullying and hate and ruining civil discourse. It has glued adults and children to screens at all times of the day and night and hurt the growth of meaningful relationships.

The Ugly: As with any invention, it is up to the user to decide if the invention is used for a positive purpose that advances society, or if it is used in destructive ways. The world wide web is a doubleedged sword. With all its positives, it comes with a price tag that is hard to swallow. Did we intend to give up privacy? Did we intend to invite foreign governments to interfere with our democratic elections and values? Did we intend to monetize reviews and recommendations because paid bloggers and social media influencers sway our decisions towards the company that pays them the most? Did we intend to create corporate monopolies that enjoy undue influence over our lives? (Read more on that in next month’s article “Who controls your mind?”). Did we intend to spend billions on cybersecurity because today hackers not only steal data, they can bring a utility, a company and anything that is dependent on the grid to a standstill? Did we intend to destroy local journalism and its vital role as the fourth pillar of democracy?

It’s hard to draw a singular conclusion, but for my part, I would advocate that we deserve a better Internet and it starts with educating ourselves and speaking up.