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Opening Arguments

It's here, so deal with it

I agree with the thrust of Robert J. Samuelson's concerns, if not the near-hysterical fear:

If I could, I would repeal the Internet. It is the technological marvel of the age, but it is not — as most people imagine — a symbol of progress. Just the opposite. We would be better off without it. I grant its astonishing capabilities: the instant access to vast amounts of information, the pleasures of YouTube and iTunes, the convenience of GPS and much more. But the Internet’s benefits are relatively modest compared with previous transformative technologies, and it brings with it a terrifying danger: cyberwar. Amid the controversy over leaks from the National Security Agency, this looms as an even bigger downside.

By cyberwarfare, I mean the capacity of groups — whether nations or not — to attack, disrupt and possibly destroy the institutions and networks that underpin everyday life. These would be power grids, pipelines, communication and financial systems, business record-keeping and supply-chain operations, railroads and airlines, databases of all types (from hospitals to government agencies). The list runs on. So much depends on the Internet that its vulnerability to sabotage invites doomsday visions of the breakdown of order and trust.

Two things make me a little less doomsday oriented than Samuelson: 1. I think he overstates the "realtively modest benefits" of the Internet (and I would add mobile technology to that). The sudden availability of, basically, all the information in the world and the ease of access to it by virtually everyone seems to me closer to a revolutionary change than an evolutionary one. 2. All advances in technology have given the human race new challenges and threats as well as new opportunities; the Internet is just a new vulnerability, that's all. Our responsibility is to be aware of that vulnerability and head  off the danger as much as we can, not wish for the good old days when we never dreamed of the Internet, which is now like the atomic bomb. Once we know of its existance, it is not possible to wipe the knowledge of it from our collective consciousness.