Internet turns 25
On March 12, the internet will turn 25. More accurately, the form of internet that we know today will turn 25. Before March 1989, it was possible to transfer data between computers connected by a network. But websites, which make data more widely accessible, had not yet been developed. It was from a paper written by Tim Berners-Lee, who had been influenced by predecessors with similar ideas it must be said, that web pages first evolved.
Since then, the internet has become one of the most globally influential creations of all times. There is an ever growing number of users who trawl through millions of web pages on a daily basis. It has been rightly seen and used as a great way to set up and operate businesses. For many regular users, life without the internet has become unimaginable.
In both technological terms and the way in which we relate to it, the internet has come a long way from its humble beginnings. Its widening reach has been hailed as a reason to celebrate connectivity and accessibility to information by all. But it has also been seen as a cause for alarm, particularly by governments and other organisations that seek to limit or control information flow.
Questions about who owns this entity, and therefore must regulate it, are being frequently raised these days. Considering that in addition to all the positives, the internet is also used to perpetrate crimes and publicise what many view as ethically objectionable content, this is not surprising.
If there is one thing beyond all others that is intrinsically linked with the internet, it is the widespread dissemination and consumption of pornography. From garden variety smut to disturbing images of child abuse, everything is available online. This has left conservative governments scrambling to stop the inflow. Authorities working towards destroying, or at least limiting, access to child porn and other such content have also had an uphill battle against the absolutely enormous and constantly growing pile of data available.
While it is easy to categorise pornography as objectionable on moral and religious ground and therefore, it easy to justify its censorship, labelling other online content is less straightforward. Some of the more paranoid regimes have put up firewalls to filter and monitor everything that their citizens have access to. Websites are blocked because they are host to content deemed unfit for viewership because of religious sensitivities, political reasons or due to some misguided attempt to ‘protect the youth’.
As governments grapple with these decisions, individuals must decide on how to conduct themselves online. How much of their lives to share and what to censor. In the early days, the internet was seen as an anonymous platform. So long as you did not reveal personal details, you could go around saying and doing anything online without fear of repercussions. But in a post-Snowden world, it would only be the extremely naive who still believe this.
Yet even as we have become more aware of our lack of privacy online, we have also begun to care less about it. If surveillance is the norm, then why not simply learn to live with it? Social networks certainly advocate this by inviting us all to become exhibitionists and to also monitor the activities of others.
In its 25year existence, the internet has posed us with some tough questions regarding our own behaviour and that of our governments. These are questions answers to which we will have to search long and hard for because there are some things that even Google search cannot tell us.
The writer is a business studies graduate from southern Punjab.