Internet another tool/weapon in evolution.
In the opening scenes of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” a band of ape-like creatures some 4 million years ago discovers a monolith. I’ll get to that later, but for the sake of brevity, the creature, who had been a vegetarian, finds a bone, uses the bone to hunt meat and eventually uses the same bone to kill a rival.
I don’t want this column to become as confusing as the movie, but there is an interesting correlation between the movie and the Internet.
Throughout the evolution of humankind, the tool-to-weapon link has been made. From that bone to gunpowder to flying machines to computers. What began as a tool soon serves a dual purpose, as tool and weapon.
The monolith in the movie was supposedly planted there – as well as one on the moon – by space travelers. The monolith was meant to help in the evolution of humankind, hence the idea for the bone for a tool and eventual weapon.
Now this is my understanding and interpretation of the 1968 movie and there are many others. It took me a while to come to my conclusions. I didn’t get much out of it when I first saw it, but, hey, it was the ’60s.
The Internet is a great tool. Who doesn’t use Google almost every day? We communicate with distant relatives or even someone across the room, through email. We shop. We trace our roots. Revolutions are started and reported on the Internet. It was an enormously important breakthrough for civilization.
But, as with almost all tools, it has been used as a weapon. Anyone can post anything on the Internet. It can be used to wound or end the careers of politicians and movie stars. It can be used by hackers to penetrate the lives of average people and steal their life savings or their identities. It can be used to break into companies and do harm.
Of course, there are the sexual predators and child molesters who can use the Internet to find their next victims.
And, I believe, it could eventually mean the demise of face-to-face communication. Logged onto Facebook recently? Texting, by the way, is just as socially destructive. But someone likely once said that about the telephone.
Policing the Internet is challenging, especially in this country with its strong First Amendment right of freedom of speech. Unfortunately, not everyone took to heart the lessons of their childhood of being kind.
The attacks are made even easier through the anonymity of the Internet. In chat rooms and in comment sections, the harsher, even meaner, side of contributors comes out.
Not to sound self-serving, but the Internet has few, if any, restrictions. In the newspaper business, there are editors to filter out the chaff and ensure accuracy. The names and phone numbers and, yes, email addresses of writers are, at least in the Tulsa World, published along with their stories and columns. Someone is held accountable.
The Internet, however, too often becomes a verbal gun to attack the innocent as well as the guilty, to incite, to inflict harm.
The movie, “2001” was a lesson in evolution. When the tool – the onboard computer Hal 9000 – became more human than machine, it viewed the human occupants of the spaceship as mere maintenance workers – apes – and found them dispensable. Hal was the brain and nervous center of the ship. When it felt threatened, it fought back, becoming the weapon. In the end, it was undone by a tool, a screwdriver, that was used as a weapon.
There’s more to the movie – the fourth dimension, the starchild – but I’ll stop there. It’s not the ’60s anymore, man.
I’m not predicting that the Internet will become as insidious as Hal 9000. I’m not suggesting that the Internet be “unplugged.” It is, simply, as in “2001” another step in the evolution of humankind, good or bad. And, like a gun or stick of dynamite, it should be handled with care.
The Internet is not the end of evolution. It is merely another marker along the road. There will be other tools and other weapons.
We could try to disconnect the Internet. But, as Hal might say, “I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.” And, as Hal believed then, he might or might not be doing us a favor.