The New Internet

.. y from the old attitudes, as commercial activity has been frowned upon for years. Now the people of the net demand commercial services, information about products, and companies demand access to consumers. It is unclear to me what the new generation of net users want in the form of advertising. Within the last year, however, we have seen a frightening example of the potential of abuse of the Internet by advertisers with the law team of Canter and Siegel.

Their message which was posted to almost all newsgroups was considered very invasive and extremely inappropriate, yet the duo states that they considered the advertisement a success, and are willing to repeat it. Is this the kind of advertising the new generations want to see? Do we want our inboxes filled with junk email and our travels on the net interspersed by advertising? Because more of us will be on-line, and more of our commercial and business transactions will be taking place on-line in the future, crime will rise in cyberspace, and people will need to be protected. Currently the net operates mostly in an anarchic state with sysadmins and government officials patrolling the borders. There may, however, be a call for greater security on the net. Because of the existence of much proprietary and personal information on the net in the future, access to sites will be restricted severely, and breaking into systems will become a more serious crime.

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Many people are willing to let the government install our safeguards, but there has been recent controversy about what kind of access the government should have to our information. Computer crime has been sensationalized recently in the media, especially crimes linked to sex offenders or pornography distributers. I believe that this kind of reporting is detrimental to the future of the net because it may incite unnaturally stringent lawmaking in cyberspace. As the Internet grows to encompass a larger segment of the world’s population its diversity will increase until it begins to mirror the external world. We are beginning to see breakdown in the previously homogeneous characteristics of economic status and educational background.

In the San Francisco Bay area there are coffeehouses with cheap access to an on-line chat area that even homeless people can afford and indeed, many homeless people have come to find that these chat areas give them a sense of community and “home.” Local library systems across the nation are providing net access. Maryland’s Sailor project is a good example – they provide gopher access in the libraries and through toll-free dialup, and individual libraries will begin to offer full access with mail, ftp and telnet. With the coming of the National Information Infrastructure, net access may become as common as telephone access. It will cease to be merely a useful toy and tool for the research community and will be a simple fact of life, a point of access to a wealth of information and a meeting place for dispersed communities. We can easily expect conflict to arise in this nascent world net community simply because of differences in needs and visions for the net. An old attitude that makes it difficult to create harmony between the old generations and the new is the behavior of more experienced users towards `newbies’ on the net.

In the past, one could expect other users to be somewhat familiar with computing environment. People who asked too many `stupid’ questions were ostracized and `flamed.’ Now the net must handle a gigantic influx of users with less computer experience, who will ask thousands of questions in their exploration of the obscure operations of the Internet. People come to the net with great expectations of the vast resources available to them, and they do make use of them. Unfortunately, not all sites are able to accommodate the increase in traffic, especially with services like Compuserve and America On-line opening their gates to the Internet. In a letter to ftp sysadmins, Robert Hirsh of AOL states that AOL will request that its members limit traffic to off-peak hours and that AOL will work with administrators to manage load problems, specifically by providing local mirror sites for AOL users and for Internet users. One Internet user from the University of Massachusetts voiced his fears in a post to the newsgroups alt.aol-sucks: “..careless actions by AOLers could seriously jeopardize access and availability on sites already overloaded and restricted.” and“Those who depend on the Internet for legitimate information retrieval/sharing and communication will find themselves swamped in a sea of curiosity seekers, net.sex geeks, and those who are convince d that `telnet’ is synonymous with `Information Superhighway.’ ” The old generation perceives the new generations as overtaxing the resources and resents the burgeoning population.

Conflicts are inevitable in the commercialization of the net. Simply, the old common philosophy was opposed to commercial activity on the net because the net existed solely for research purposes. The new generations see the net as the center for many services and operations, and thus will require heavy commercialization of the net. Commercialization does promise to bring more advancement in technology and more investment in the net. The old generation is being forced to accept commercialization, and there has been little outcry over the appearance of commercial WWW sites. More than anything else, the old generation fears the intrusion of advertising, but this may become commonplace as people join the net through commercial providers and access commercial servers. Beyond resource management and commercial use, the area of most concern policy-wise and legally is that of computer crime.

The older generation were used to an anarchic Internet and some would like to continue this experiment in the spirit of freedom, but new users are demanding protections similar to those we enjoy in the physical world. I believe that the need for security is justified, though, because of the expanding and changing nature of the Internet. In particular, breaking in for exploratory purposes will be frowned upon. As our cyber-dealings gain importance and we begin to think in terms of our cyber-personae as being extensions of ourselves into the realm of cyberspace, privacy violations, data theft and other crime will become more serious. We will spend more time in cyberspace handling our business correspondence, purchasing products, disseminating information and interacting with other people.

Through these activities we will gain identities in cyberspace that will be as important to us as our identities in the physical world. We will need to have easily available forms of authentication of people’s identities, probably through a digital signature. Will we need to ensure that people only have one identity in cyberspace? This may seem logical at first, just as in the physical world we are only one identity by the government for purposes of the law and finances. However, I believe that imposing too many restraints in cyberspace will fail, because there is a tradition of working around the technical solutions of authority to access greater freedom. Perhaps it will work in the business world, because fair dealings involve authentication of identity. The net will become increasingly supported by commercial services, and many of the resources we now have free of charge will become commercial because they cannot serve the increasing population without funding. Advertisement will become a commonplace occurrence on the net, though I hope that by convention it will remain unobtrusive.

I fear that as more information about ourselves become available on-line, marketers will not resist the opportunity to use this knowledge to their advantage by targeting us for specific product pitches. Cyberspace will be policed in the future. I envision an agreement between nations regarding illegal actions occurring in cyberspace on a international scope not unlike the current law of the sea. We will see the most control occurring where people get their access to the net. Walls will go up in cyberspace, information will be hidden and restrained. We will still have hackers working their art on the net, finding ways around our technological barriers, and they will become more dangerous as we have more sensitive information on the net.

Crime stories on the net will be sensationalized because there will still be fear and misunderstanding of cyberspace, and because of the increasing importance of on-line security. The diversity of the emerging cultures will segment into like-minded communities. Information on the net is oriented towards serving interests and not uniting diverse interests. Thus, I fear that the division between the older generations and the new ones will become institutionalized as each culture builds the part of cyberspace in which they wish to exist, and there will be little communication between the parts culturally. As we progress into the information age, everyone will move into cyberspace, just as most people have adopted telephones and integrated them into their homes and businesses. Thus, the on-line culture will slowly begin to duplicate the physical world in its inequalities and segmentation, its diversity and opportunity.

Restrictions will go up and walls will be built in cyberspace. There will be laws and regional police to enforce those laws and monitor security in their regions. We are undergoing a transition perhaps on the same scale as the transition to literacy several hundred years ago. For many centuries after writing began, this skill was left in the hands of the educated elite – mainly the church servants. When literacy finally came to the majority of the middle class and some of the lower class, the Renaissance began.

Similarly, we are witnessing the opening of a new medium of information to the general populace, and we can only guess at the outcome. References Brandt, Daniel. Cyberspace Wars: Microprocessing vs. Big Brother. NameBase NewsLine, No. 2, July-August 1993.

Response from Canter&Siegel’s net access providers April 1994 Dern, Daniel. “Myth or Menace? A History of Business on the Net.” Internet World July/August 1994 pp 96-98. Elmer-Dewitt, Philip. “Battle for the Soul of the Internet.” Time Magazine, July 25, 1994 pp 50-56. Hardy, Henry.

History of the Net Hirsh, Robert. AOL FTP Access Oct 13, 1994. US State of MD gopher site Meyer, Gordon. The Social Organization of the Computer Underground. August 1989 Otto, Justin.

post to alt.netcom.conspiracy Aug 9, 1994. Townson, Patrick. MCI Employee Cearged TELECOM Digest V14 #385 Taylor, Roger. “Brave New Internet.” Internet World, September 1994 pp 36-42.