February 24, 2013

Freedom and bondage: The internet paradoxes

"..greater use of the Internet was associated with declines in participants' communication with family members in the household, declines in the size of their social circle, and increases in their depression and loneliness. "
— "Internet paradox" [1]


1. Backgrounds
2. The internet paradoxes
About ME/CFS


It is very easy to find on the internet all manner of texts and videos that praise the freedoms the internet made possible, but the actual facts - of how the internet is being used, to what ends - show this is only one side of an extremely powerful and therefore quite dangerous medium, since what can be used can be abused, and often is.

1. Backgrounds

I got internet in the last quarter of 1996. I can't recall when precisely, because initially there were problems getting or maintaining connection, but eventually my provider, the real xs4all, rather than the sorry imitation of it since KPN (Dutch Telecom) bought the original company in 2002, found that my graphics card was bugged, and indeed everything worked well after replacing that.

As it happened, I was fairly late, having used computers daily since 1987, and having spend most of the time I was not ill at home in the context of the University of Amsterdam, where the staff was supplied with Apple computers for free by the university, and where I had thus been able to see the internet almost from its beginning, and indeed had used it sometimes on university computers.

But to get it at home required my own money, of which I had little - though comparatively a lot more than now, even while then as now I was and am ill in the same Amsterdam dole - and also required a computer fit to run Windows 95, since I could not afford an Apple, but then I got the wherewithall in the summer of 1996.

That "everything worked well", after several months of difficulties, meant that my telephone modem stayed connected, and relayed bytes at an approximate speed of 28 Kb per second, and all at the normal price of telephone ticks for the normal usage of the telephone, which meant that I could not use internet much, since that was too expensive for me.

Also, it was not love on first sight on my part. Maximally 28 Kb per second - often less in practice - meant that even sites with simple html and no images might take fairly long to load, and I got immediately upset by internet forums.

I had seen internet before, and was impressed by e-mail, since that seemed a lot more useful than paper mail, while I also much liked the idea of html, because I had been familiar with the idea of hypertext since the late 1980ies (it originated in the 1960ies), and had also written a really useful editor for it, ca. 1991, all for DOS, and without any benefit of internet, that then did not exist yet, or at least not commercially.

Internet itself, as one could see it in terms of displayable pages on websites, was quite varied, in subjects, texts, and qualities of prose, imagery and discussions, and as I said, it was not very easily used with (maximally) 28 Kb per second, at best, but one could find a great lot that seemed interesting, at the time using Altavista as a search engine and Netscape as browser, and download some of it.

At the time, it was quite different from what it is now, because there were few commercial players other than companies renting out websites, and most users were, like I was, rather computer savvy, for in 1996 it was not yet normal to own a computer and use internet:

     From Wikipedia: “Internet" - click image to go to the original

Most who did own personal computers in 1996 were highly educated, and a considerable portion of them knew how to program, and indeed so did I.

In fact, I had learned some Fortran and Algol for mainframes in 1972, and learned Apple BASIC around 1981, having a friend who had bought one of the early Apples, then with a text screen, storage on audio-tape, and hardly anything except Basic, which did work quite well, and I had also learned Pascal and Prolog (and some C, that I didn't like much) since 1988, in the form of Borland's compilers for these languages, and had programmaed my own hypertext editor in a Prolog-dialect.

So I was fairly well prepared for internet, but nobody had told me about internet forums, which reached me through what xs4all provided for its users: Netscape for browsing, Eudora for mailing, and some program I forgot the name of for internet forums, that first appeared on my screen with messages by anonymous persons that other anonymous persons were fascists, cunts, whores, and/or plain and evident idiots, usually for no clearly discernible reason, other than that the person who wrote the messages felt like writing them, and felt protected by anonymity.

It turned out that almost all of the messages on such forums as I did glance at were without any intellectual or stylistic merit or interest, while very many consisted of abuse. And all of it was without introduction or termination, as one uses in letters: It was as if it were spoken language, except that much of it was very abusive, and one had no idea who the writers really might be.

My own reaction, after the first two months, was that I did not care for forums, and I removed the software to display it, also because I found very little discussed that was of interest to me - though I agree that with more money or patience I probably would have found some interesting groups, as indeed I did find later for programming.

Also, since then till this day I have formatted my mails as if they were written  letters, and then as now communicating with anonymous persons, that I never met in person, and often do not know the age, level of education, or gender of, feels rather unreal, precisely because so much is uncertain, and much that gets claimed by functionally anonymous persons may be false.

From 1996 till 2009 I used the internet mostly - in terms of times used and bytes sent or received - for e-mail and for my own site, that I started in November 1996. In those years I have "browsed the web", but by and large this was slow, except if one knew where to go, and it also was fairly expensive if one browsed a lot, for one had to pay for every second the telephone modem was active and connected.

In the summer of 2009 I got fast internet, and that made two major differences: First, it got much easier to browse, and second, it was all fixed at a monthly sum, that was considerably less than I had spend the previous 13 years, totalling up provider fees and telephone fees.

This really opened up the internet for me, in that I could - metaphorically - walk or run rather than crawl, and this was also the first time videos became viewable for me (on line: I could do so before from CD).

It means that I have access to vastly more information than anyone had until ca. 2000 A.D. - and of course, the same holds for the several billions who since that date also got fast internet access, including governments, commercial firms, international corporations, and secret services of all kinds.

2. The internet paradoxes

This is where the main paradox enters:

On the one hand, there is the possibility of finding and exchanging ideas with many interesting persons and of spreading one's own ideas and materials in ways that were completely impossible until 10 or 15 years ago, which indeed extends one's personal possibilities and access to knowledge and civilization enormously; on the other hand, one gets spied upon, tracked, traced, inspected and surveyed by the most despicable persons and institutions, that may have access to one's personal e-mails and indeed may have hacked one's computer, and may do so for many reasons, that may be commercial, political, or criminal. [2]

Thus while the internet extends one's personal possibilities enormously, it also and at least as much extends the possibilities of others to spy upon one, and effectively control one, whether by crminal hacking, governmental tapping, or commercial tracking and tracing, and being fed data and advertisements on that basis, with one's personal data also being sold commercially and secretively to all who believe it may be of eventual profitable use.

So the main paradox is that while internet contributed enormously to one's freedom of receiving, finding and exploring information of any kind, it also enormously facilitated the possibilities of untold many anonymous others to spy upon one, to survey one's doings, ideas, preferences, and personal data, and in the end, especially for the governments one lives under, to control one completely, indeed far more effectively than slaves ever were, for one can be tracked continuously, 24 hours a day, at millisecond level, and the easier the more one uses a web-connected computer, and quite possibly also - Real Soon Now: who knows? - because one is forced to use a web-connected computer for one's personal communication, and namely also for all one's kind, though anonymous, big brothers and sisters who are goverment servants, all "in order to protect our nation from the dangers of terrorism".

This will be - and is, to the extent it happens now, which is unknown but probably large - real state terrorism, of a very frightening kind.

There are other paradoxes: While the internet allows one to communicate easier and with more persons, it also locks persons more and more in their personal worlds, effectively communicating with screens rather than with real flesh and blood persons; while there is a lot more communication between persons, there also is a lot more phoniness, pretense, and lying; while making a lot of work a lot easier to do, it also added a lot of administrative work that only serves to control one; and while many "know" many more persons than they used to do, the persons they think they know may not at all be who they say they are, and are at any rate only known indirectly, superficially, and partially, and often in contrived situations, where there is no real free give and take, but only an exchange of poses and pretenses.

There is a lot more to be said on these and related topics, and no doubt has been said on them by others, that I will here and now leave unsaid.

My own main worries are (1) that governments come to control all one does, says, writes, and says, either secretively, or by legal mandate ("from date X all citizens are required to have their personal computers on line and open to electronic inspection from the Ministries of Love and Information, to protect against the forces of evil and terrorism"), that will be effectively state-terrorism of a kind and degree that never has been known, and (2) that commercial companies may poison most of the internet, by forced and unavoidable "personalized" advertisement, tracking and tracing, and (3) that a type of human being gets created that is effectively a tool of the tools they use, and a slave of the organizations that control the tools they use, which will mostly be governments and international corporations.

Also, I do not know how to prevent most of that, since its introduction has happened and is progressing at a very fast pace, without any effective control, legislation, or oversight [3], and will most probably happen with the - carefully manufactured - consent of the vast democratic majority who do not understand the ways of the world, nor were ever taught properly about the depravities of governments and states, and who tend to believe most of the state and corporate propaganda that reaches them, and who like to follow most of the fashions that surround them, usually because they lack the wherewithal to do otherwise [4], and can be abused at will by those who outsmart them and lack a conscience or have a (profit) motive to do so.


P.S. Feb 25, 2013: Corrected some typos and wrote the proper introduction, since I found I had left the one of the previous day standing. (As I have said several times, I write Nederlogs fast and with little energy, and often upload as soon as I - think I - am done: It's either that, or nothing at all.)


[1] This is quoted from a scientific paper that I found on line, when searching today with the phrase "Internet paradox", that dates back to 1998, and has the full title Internet paradox: A social technology that reduces social involvement and psychological well-being? The title is a link to the paper.
[2] One of my computers was hacked, in 2009, and quite thoroughly, it seems by criminals who wanted to use it as a secret port for their own data.
[3] Apart from integrity, most politicians simply do not understand the technical issues, and can be as easily misled as most of the ordinary users of computers.
[4] In Holland there tends to be a sort of choir that publicly bleats, like the sheep of Animal Farm might do, "If you did nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear", that implictly agrees that it are the supermen and superwomen who rule them who are to decide what "wrong" means.

About ME/CFS (that I prefer to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to facilitate search machines) which is a disease I have since 1.1.1979:
1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS(pdf)

3. Hillary Johnson

The Why  (currently not available)

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2003)
5. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2011)
6. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

7. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
Maarten Maartensz
Resources about ME/CFS
(more resources, by many)

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