An earlier blog I wrote, titled The Dying Slave, ended by asking whether the internet’s effect on facilitating mass communication would lead to a Second Renaissance. One of the responses I received was: “The U.S.A. and the world has regressed to the Dark Ages.” I pointed out how the Gutenberg Printing Press allowed an intercontinental sharing of knowledge. I’m sure this invention allowed Shakespeare access to much of the historical information he needed to create his great works. But because “Real” news was hard to verify during the Renaissance, many false ideas ran rampant during this period.
Similar to the Gutenberg Press, the internet increased the power of mass communication with the likes of Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Conspiracy theory, that is the belief that an event or series of events are caused by a group operating in secret, has existed from time immemorial. The blood libel, for example, referring to the false allegation that Jews used the blood of non-Jewish, usually Christian children, existed well before the invention of the Gutenberg Printing Press. However, conspiracy theories can be propagated much quicker than ever before with access to the internet and its concomitant social media.
Thieves, for example, can employ technology combined with the vast amount of information made available by internet use, in a harmful way. The internet has made it difficult to hide from trouble makers who seek to hurt us. There are examples galore going on of this type of harassment brought on by the accoutrements found in modern day living.
Criminals are always in search of the easiest prey that they can victimize. A few years ago, an older, woman friend was called and told her granddaughter had been in an accident, was in jail, and needed $9000 bail money to be released. Her “granddaughter” then took the phone and pleaded with her about how badly she wanted to get out and that she would definitely have the money returned. She then said the money had to come in the form of a money order so it could be used immediately. My friend told me that the voice of this female sounded exactly like her granddaughter which caused her to follow the instructions given to a tee. Soon, to her horror, she discovered that she had been swindled. Apparently, other people have received similar communications and have fallen for this same trap called the “grandparent scam.” The internet and social networking sites, have facilitated the ease in which criminals can uncover personal information about their targets, which make the impersonations more credible.
I am constantly reminded how hackers and scammers can turn the fruits of technological innovation into not only individual, but also national peril. Without a doubt, computer hacking is one of the most regrettable consequences of life in the Information Age. It can occur on different levels. According to a recent article in the New York Times, hacks were launched from inside the United States on servers run by Amazon, GoDaddy and smaller domestic providers. When Microsoft finally detected the breach in security, it was traced to China.
On a microcosmic level, a very frequent intrusion of one’s personal space occurs when someone(s) gets hold of your personal data, and then starts sending emails to your contacts stating that you or a relative is in some serious dilemma requiring instant money to save the day. The first time I received a message like that, years ago, it had to do with a classmate that I knew since junior high school. It sounded compelling enough for me to want to help her but I resisted the temptation later discovering the message was all bogus. In the past, I have had to change my email password because friends have told me they received strange notes from me that I explained were not sent by me.
Recently, I had an equally interesting experience. My Facebook account has been hacked a few times as those of you who will receive this blog on that site know. This has been more of a nuisance than the potential loss of money. Changing my password initially helped. But lately, my friends have notified me that they have received a “picture” of me asking to be their friend. When I clicked on Facebook support, I was automatically sent to a company that wanted $5 to answer my question. I checked the company and they did exist having a real ID with an 800 number in which I was told I would be in contact with a consultant. I emailed my question with hope of receiving a response which was sent via text. When I read the response, I wanted to ask the consultant a question to clarify its contents and asked if I could call. He/She/It texted me back with a similar but shorter response. When I once more asked for clarification, he/she/it replied in similar fashion. Aha, I realized that it was not a human on the other end of the phone but artificial intelligence typing in an automated response to my inquiry. Upon learning that, I called the 800 number and canceled my subscription to the monthly charge they would assess for their “help.” I did, however, send the response I received to all my friends on Facebook. I am hoping it will help.
I also alluded to technology as a game changer in modern life, another contributing factor, to a possible Second Renaissance. Whether or not the increase of technology will augment human progress or hinder our growth going forward, ultimately depends on the human factor. Technology, unleashed in the hands of the wrong actors, can be devastating. This is why it is vitally important that we never lose sight of the democratic ideals embodied by the framers of the U.S. Constitution. But, in addition, the advances in technology will require the development of a universal system of ethics capable of evaluating their potential good and bad outcomes. Our ability to live cooperatively has a long way to go before we can settle back safely and reap the benefits of the innovations that currently are being created.