YOU CAN NEVER GO BACK
By James Strauss
You almost always hear this adage used when discussing geographics or relationships. It is uncommon, though, to have this phrase brought up in a discussion about what is fast becoming the most believed medium ever invented. The Internet is that medium. During the relatively short time of its existence, the Internet has somehow become synonymous with factual information, i.e. answers. It’s not known how this erroneous assumption developed, and then became the backbone of the mythological belief in computers’ infallibility. Simultaneously, the use of computers has expanded exponentially into the system of interconnected computers we today know as the World Wide Web. But that is the result.
The web has origins going all the way back to the late fifties when several centers of higher education (Universities of Stanford; Berkley; and Utah to name three) had university interconnection work going on between them. Various individuals and groups also were connected, including representatives from CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Europe. Suffice it to say, however, that until 1994, or so, only limited computer interconnection took place. And then things exploded. By 1996 millions of computers had linked up; and then as the nineties played out, billions. Today there are trillions of computers communicating with one another, with, and without, the participation of humans. The U.S. Department of Defense, through one of its organizations called DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is credited with starting all this.
Is it the governmental and university origins of the web that have given it such a patina of trustworthiness?
It turns out, though, that much of what is on the web is not true.
Wikipedia is a compendium of ever-evolving “opinions” of the people who write it. Its intent is supposedly to explain what things and people are all about, and in the process provide truthful data about them. Opinion is the key word in that last sentence. People enter data on the Internet all the time that is anything but factual, and yet the majority of readers most certainly presume that it is factual. This discrepancy has not deterred users from turning to the internet in ever more expanding ways as a source for ‘accurate’ information. It is quite common today for people to ‘fact check’ one another using cell phones, pads and other Internet connectors. Many times this is done right in the presence of a person being fact-checked! What is most disturbing about this behavior is that whatever supposed ‘facts’ are found through the course of this fact checking, is almost universally believed to be accurate, when in actuality it has been proven, over and over, to often be anything but factual.
Another equally disturbing problem that has arisen from this ever increasing dependence on the web, is the problem of ‘permanence’ on the Internet. And this is a very serious problem, particularly when combined with the apparent inability of humans to disbelieve the written word. Nothing can be taken back from the Internet. Most people have little or no understanding of how the Internet is structured. There is no central repository for information entered onto the web. Everything is instantly transmitted to billions of open computers as soon as it goes out on the web, and it is kept by billions of computers, as well as being available to be retrieved by these billions of computers, without any additional action taken by humans, accidental or deliberate. There is not one great ‘cloud’ where all the data is stored. The cloud is a mental invention. The cloud is merely a collection of servers worldwide, where data flows in and out. The cloud is no different than the interlinked collection of all other computers except it uses bigger servers (another word for powerful computers!).
Information, once put out on the web, can be added to, but nothing can really be taken back, no matter how error filled. And it makes no difference whether the errors are the result of accidental entry, or worse yet, deliberate entry. Conspiracy information going back to the very beginning of the web is still circulating, even though it has long ago been debunked by more accurate entries. It does not matter. You can still read that Nibiru is a rogue planet circling the solar system, ready to wipe out earth at any time, just by inquiring (using that word) on Google. Search engines do not care, and do not control, what is put on them, or what searches for data are made. In fact, it is just the reverse. The more searches are conducted for a bit of information, the higher in ‘ranking’ that search will climb until it is the first thing you see when you go looking for anything related to it. And it matters not one whit that the data backing up what you are going to find, when you run the name or the description of the object you are seeking to know about, is inaccurate or bad. Google does not care. Nobody cares, unless they are affected by the results of the search. And then there is nothing they can do about what is appearing on all the computers, all over the world.
Today, even more notoriously, entries made to correct bad data are treated much less importantly than the bad data. And this is simply accepted as the way things are. Yet, this inability for humanity to correct itself is having a very telling and negative impacts on all of humanity. Everyone living understands that humans make mistakes by virtue of being human. However, the invention of the Internet has assured that most human mistakes entered onto the Internet will never be forgotten, or set aside. This can have serious consequences. For example, presidential candidates are supposed to have very few flaws or mistakes in their backgrounds. Yet we all know that it takes the making of mistakes, to build life experience, and develop character.
How can America select a true leader if that leader can not have mistakes as a part of his or her background?
How can anyone get a job, any job, if everything is known about him or her, and is available in seconds on the Internet?
Especially when that information is not necessarily true?
How can anyone date another person after being fact checked?
What is happening, as a result of both valid and invalid data entries appearing on everyone’s Internet history, is that we are creating a society of NO. It is quite apparent that industry in all industrialized societies we call civilized is not growing or thriving as it once did. The reasons for this are being trotted out as due to outsourcing, insourcing, the domination of large banks, and the influence of the one-percent super wealthy. Those things may indeed be influencing the near stoppage of man’s advancement (and transformation of the earth and humanity itself) but they are not the root cause. The root cause is the negative ennui of entire populations wherein individual citizens are giving up and going along with the “no” that keeps coming back on them when they apply for credit, jobs, dating, or even engage in small coffee shop conversations. It is safer to stay off the Internet, not engage and avoid all interaction, than to expose oneself to being lied about. Or conversely having every mistake one has ever made trotted out, and placed as the highest descriptors of the person’s worth or identity.
If you can never go back, you can never go forward. Human beings are social animals. They depend upon interaction with other social animals. Humans have only ever had to depend upon real “facts” to build things, control the physics of life surrounding them, and profit from the advances of science. Humans have never depended upon real “facts,” much less made up ones, to control their interactions with other humans. The human social condition has always been dependent upon emotional response and beliefs. With the introduction, and acceptance, of this relatively new and intrusively persistent phenomena called the world-wide-web, humans are losing its ability to believe in anything, and that includes their ability to believe in one another. Allowing the Internet to continue to develop along the lines that have become established (supposedly grounded in truth and freedom) is merely to allow humanity to never go back, and therefore to never go forward.
The Internet must be reconfigured so that much of what’s on there can be thrown into the garbage. Where once societies utilized filtering systems based on social groups (church, family, courts and schools), they are now becoming founded upon totally unfiltered, and many times erroneous, information used to make them look bad, weak, and even without honor or principal. Humans must once again be allowed to go back. Humans must be allowed to question things said and written about them. Humans must be allowed to change as they grow, and to have that change and growth documented. Humans must again come to terms with the obvious, but denied, fact that there is a terrible and viscous competition going on for life and comfort on this planet. Somehow that competition must return to having rigid rules, rewards, and appropriate punishments in order to grow and succeed. The Internet has accidentally become one vast Monopoly game, and it must be drawn back from the deadly play it promotes, unless there is to be only one winner, and that one just before the end of the game.
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