Monday, February 16, 2009

Fixing the Internet might break it worse than it's broken now.

Fixing the Internet might break it worse than it's broken now.: [...] Even Lawrence Lessig, a champion of the original Internet's original strengths, blogged "Zittrain told us so" the other day about a worm that appeared in early January [story]. However, Lessig isn't completely correct; this most recent worm did not bring the Internet down or markedly increase the amplitude of the normal background hysterical reaction against the Internet. I haven't even noticed its effect on my Internet use. Have you? Has this worm planted software that will make the Internet stop failing to fail? Dunno, but since I started using the Internet, many malicious malware manifestations have come and gone and the Internet keeps keeping on.

For sure, there's a very active community that hustles to get, and stay, on top of such attacks. (Hats off to them!!!) So far this community is succeeding in spades, and the same old Internet we know and love (and hate, and marvel at, and swear at, and nevertheless use every hour of every day) keeps on keeping on keeping on keeping on, giving the pink generator bunny a run for its money.

Read the whole post, it's well worth it. The arguments for "fixing" the internet are to me a mild form of arguments I would rather not have to be reminded of, given by Salazar's authoritarian regime I grew up under in Portugal, of how prior censorship, police control of the opposition, manipulated elections, and government-run unions were what kept us from the crime, pornography, and corruption of "decadent" countries like France (Gitane-smoking leftists), England (youth-corrupting Beatles and miniskirts), the Netherlands (Amsterdam!), or Sweden (especially Sweden, with its neutrality, embrace of refugees from dictatorships, and openness about sex). The first time I traveled abroad, to London, the vitality and variety of culture and the streets seemed chaotic and almost scary, but I learned more in a week than in so many years of state-regimented education.

Like David, for me, and for my children, the benefits of the open, unregulated internet have been enormously greater than the dangers. Sure, I'd rather not have to tweak my spam filters from time to time. But then, I'd rather not have to worry about street dangers in Philadelphia or San Francisco — in Salazar's time, the only street danger I had to worry about in Lisbon were the overbearing cops — but I know that's the price I have to pay for a relatively open urban environment. In any case, the risks I take voluntarily, whether by driving on the highway or by skiing in the backcountry, are way more real than the nightmare scenarios that those who have lost their nerve about the implications of free speech can concoct.

We have it too easy. Our first-world, good income lives are so sheltered that any conceivable danger generates hysterical over-reaction. Our social and mental defense systems, like our immune systems, are so deprived of real challenges that they hallucinate ghosts like the worm that brings down the internet, the chemical that poisons our children through vaccination, or the predatory homeless person. We need a bit more exposure, a little more dirt in our lives to reset the balance.

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