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Five Reasons You Should Not Use the Internet

The sudden rise of the internet may not be the biggest news story in the past fifteen years, but it was certainly the most entertaining. Over the course of only a year the value of technology stocks has doubled, only to crash right back down within months. Suddenly, it felt as if we were back in the tulip era. But what is this strange technology that is behind all of this unexpected public attention? A cure for cancer? A solution to the problems of poverty and world hunger? No. As it turns out, the underlying technology is basically a clunky, inferior version of a phone, and is primarily used by terrorists and prepubescent children with nothing better to do with their lives than send each other images of cats. However, since this technology has been all the rage in the past few weeks, its supposed “advantages” deserve a thorough debunking, and those who have so far been fortunate enough not to get caught up in the hype deserve a thorough understanding of just how pernicious and evil the underlying ideology of this “invention” is. To that end, I have gathered up the fundamental flaws behind the internet’s design and will summarize them all in the rest of this article.

  1. The Internet Provides No Listener Protection – so far, all of the methods that we use to get our information are based on strong, socially recognized hierarchies of trust. If you read a sentence in a magazine, of hear someone speaking on TV, those words have been carefully rehearsed, sent through multiple layers of scrutiny and fact checking, and the speaker knows that if they make any claim that is false they can be sued under a robust framework of defamation law. Decency laws protect you from having to listen to anything containing harmful or psychologically traumatizing words. If you are a crazy libertarian, the presence of this kind of control may horrify you – but, but, that’s authoritarian, you might argue. It’s centralized! What if you want to say something controversial or obscene or outright false to listeners who “voluntarily” turn on their televisions to some channel specifically because they want to receive it? In reality, however, these protections are necessary. They ensure that children get safe programs suited to meet their delicate psychological needs, and protect them from learning about the ravages of reality right up until the moment they are kicked out of their house to go to college and enter the jungle of drugs and sex and independent politics as soon as they hit 18. They make sure that so-called news “sources” spreading misleading and fallacious information are either prevented from doing so entirely or are, at the very least, quickly discovered and made to answer for their lies. Without these protections, anyone could go out and say anything about any person and company and have untold consequences on society and the financial markets as everyone blindly believes what they are saying and retweets the news; with the checks and balances that traditional media provides, such things can never happen.
  2. We Already Have Good Communication Solutions – internet advocates often claim that the Internet is somehow massively better than all of the other options that we have available. The reality is, however, that as soon as you ask them how it does this their arguments immediately fall away. You can use the internet to talk to your friends, they argue. Well, of course you can, but we have already had a technology to do that for over a hundred years; they’re called phones. Ah, but the internet is international and universally accessible. Well, phones are too, and with internet penetration at only around ten percent telephones are actually far superior. Can you use the internet to talk to your grocery store? No? Then the internet is not a “communication medium”. The same goes with TV; people are starting to use the internet to stream video to each other, but the result is a horrendously inefficient use of bandwidth that is rapidly using up billions of dollars of infrastructural investment, when if only users were willing to submit to the truly minor inconvenience of having to wait a few hours to watch (or record) the same data can be transmitted simply by broadcasting it all at once. The internet does have some minor advantages, and if it were thoughtfully integrated into a legitimate communications product it might be a good idea. But this is not a good idea, it is a scam, and someone out there is trying to become very rich off of this system until the inevitable collapse.
  3. The Internet Circumvents Authority And the Rule of Law – this is where we need to explain one of the more dangerous properties of the internet. In 1977, Rivest, Shamir and Adleman came up with a system for storing data that had some interesting properties. You can create a pair of keys, called a “public key” and a “private key”, such that you can “encrypt” data with the public key but then you would need the private key to decrypt it. Without the private key, encrypted data simply looks like random junk and nothing can be gleamed from it. This has some very positive legitimate military applications, as militaries can now communicate securely without having to securely transfer a common secret key first. However, soon enough so-called “crypto-anarchists” began perverting cryptography to much more destructive ends. PGP, for example, provides a simple interface for anyone in the world to use public key cryptography to accept messages from anyone else in the world, so that no third party has the ability to read them. Read that carefully: no third party. Not “no illegitimate third party”, but “no third party” at all – including legitimate government operations that are conducted for the public good and restrained by robust, democratic checks and balances such as court-ordered warrants. Just how are government investigators supposed to avoid going dark and losing the ability to recover any data for investigative purposes at all? Well, if you are a libertarian and believe that government snooping equals intrusion of privacy, then you don’t care much about this question because the answer you will get is, ‘Well let’s not get snooped on and let’s allow the various intelligence agencies to wither,’ but if on the other hand you believe that intelligence agencies are essential for maintaining civilised behaviour and for having regulation, then it is a problem.
  4. The Internet Circumvents Democracy – there are of course even easier ways to use the internet to circumvent the law. Following the tradition of “tax havens”, countries like Iceland are now trying to position themselves as data havens, extending their extremist interpretations of “freedom of speech” to the entire world. Finally, many people simply ignore the law and hope for the best – a strategy that, given law enforcement’s limited resources in these times of austerity, is unfortunately all too effective. Fundamentally, what politicians in Iceland, and internet-bugs in general, fail to realize that censorship is not “damage” that should be “routed around”; it is a basic and necessary part of legislation in a harmonious society. Censorship protects religions from being brutally mocked by insensitive television programs and cartoons, it helps combat extremist ideologies and it helps protect ordinary people, especially children, from obscenity. And what are people using the internet for? As it turns out, it’s mostly child pornography. Some civil-libertarian revolution.
  5. The Internet Is Backed By Nothing – when you buy a TV and a cable subscription in order to watch a particular set of broadcasts, how do you know that those shows are going to continue operating at a high standard of quality, or at least if they don’t other equally good shows will take their place? The answer is, there are powerful commercial institutions behind these programs that are guaranteed to continue releasing them, and contracts with actors and crew that provide a strong incentive for them to make a fresh episode week after week. If a station decides to deliver a poor-quality episode, or even skip an episode some particular week, they will lose millions of dollars in profit, and there is a strong central point of attention to which people can direct their complaints. With the internet, none of this exists. On an internet forum, all content is user-generated content, and users have no financial incentive to produce quality content, or even continue producing any content at all. And those users are only on that forum in the first place because other users are on that forum, generating content for them in turn. So what happens if confidence in this network falters? Some users drop out, then because of them more users drop out, and the entire online “community” disappears into thin air. I’ve always said that the dollar is an “I owe you nothing,” and that the euro is a “Who owes you nothing.” On the internet, nobody owes you anything, and so it is inevitable that the scheme will collapse in its present form.

Unfortunately, in the all too extreme and individualistic society that we live in today, it has become popular to think that we should just let everyone speak freely without controls and everything will somehow work itself out. But, as we all know, this is absurd. We cannot delude ourselves that free speech is the privilege of pure citizens in some perfect Enlightenment salon, where all sides of an argument are heard and the most noble view will naturally rise to the top. Speech now takes place in a digital mixing chamber, in which the most outrageous messages are instantly amplified, with sometimes violent effects. We have people spewing out hate speech, inciting riots and practically ordering other people’s deaths. Sites like stormfront.org and “Boycott American Women” are repeatedly hitting front page headlines as their terrible and hateful ideologies are allowed to fester. We have unchecked laissez-faire internet-based social media platforms becoming an existential menace to society as unenlightened youth use them to launch outright revolutions against established authority. We have “crypto-anarchists” writing manifestos about how the internet will bring about the outright demise of the legitimate and democratic nation state, and if the internet does grow to the extent that they imagine, all evidence shows that that is exactly what would come to pass. But fortunately, we do not have much to fear. The growth of the Internet will slow drastically, as the flaw in “Metcalfe’s law”–which states that the number of potential connections in a network is proportional to the square of the number of participants–becomes apparent: most people have nothing to say to each other! By 2005 or so, it will become clear that the Internet’s impact on the economy has been no greater than the fax machine’s.

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By

Vitalik Buterin is a co-founder of Bitcoin Magazine who has been involved in the Bitcoin community since 2011, and has contributed to Bitcoin both as a writer and the developer of a fork of bitcoinjs-lib, pybitcointools and multisig.info, as well as one of the developers behind Egora. Now, Vitalik's primary job is as the main developer of Ethereum, a project which intends to create a next-generation smart contract and decentralized application platform that allows people to create any kind of decentralized application on top of a blockchain that can be imagined.

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