Dot Dot Dot: Can the Internet save civilization?
It is the year 3991.
The three super nations left in the world have been at war for nearly 1,700 years. It is a constant stalemate because any time one country makes progress with conventional weapons, the opposing country just nukes the frontlines. The countryside is uninhabitable and unfarmable. The ice caps have melted, reformed, and melted again, and most of the earth is swamped in an ooze of nuclear fallout.
Roughly 90 percent of the world’s peak population is dead.
This is not the future as told in a post-apocalyptic film or novel. It is a Civilization II game that redditor Lycerius has been playing for the last decade. It’s easy to dismiss this vision of the future, but is it really irrelevant?
Civilization II is a computer model of the world. It turns, well, civilization, into a set of known dynamics, incorporating even the x-factor of human free will, and plays them out into the future. Everything from likely outcomes of war with China, the design of Boeing’s next airplane wing, and whether the galaxies will collide 4 billion years hence is decided the same way.
Sid Meier’s game is not a perfect model of the world—there’s no such thing. But in the end, is the future this particular game predicts implausible? In an age of nuclear proliferation and the clash of civilizations, not at all.
But what does the model miss? At the very least, the game, released in 1996, misses the Internet.
There’s a pretty nasty side to the Internet.
The researcher famous for the Stanford Prison Experiment wrote on Reddit this week that excessive use of video games and online pornography is leading to a generation of people (particularly men) who are disengaged from the world and from people around them. They are risk-averse, unmotivated, socially inept, and unlikely to even feel sexual attraction for real people.
Over at the Habbo hotel, a social network for teens (it’s exactly what it sounds like, a virtual hotel environment where teens can interact through cartoon avatars), there is a huge pedophile problem. The U.K.’s channel 4 aired an investigation Tuesday night revealing that the content of much, if not the majority, of the chat is sexual in nature.
Regularly, users (many of whom are actually adults) request nude video chats and even offer to exchange virtual goods for sexual performances on webcam. This is all despite Habbo using 225 human moderators as well as myriad technical filters to prevent sexual content of any type. But I can’t believe anyone thought this was a good idea in the first place. There’s a reason there are not a lot of real hotels that cater to teenagers.
There’s also a positive side to the Internet, and it’s not unrelated to the nasty one.
That the Internet can be used by sexual predators to take advantage of impressionable minors is nothing new. But there’s something hopeful, I think, in the fact that the Internet can be used to stop it. Anonymous launched a sting last week to expose sexual predators, doxing them on Twitter with the hashtag #TwitterPedoRing. This week, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement arrested 190 for child pornography.
Never before has it been so easy for pedophiles to find victims. But for the same reasons, it’s also never been so easy to catch them.
It’s the ability for people to connect, one to one, one to many, and one to millions, that makes the Internet so powerful for good and ill.
Over on YouTube, Chester Lee Ridens, the self-proclaimed ugliest man on YouTube, has posted more than 70 short clips of himself with the stated purpose of helping others feel better.
“Beauty is only skin deep,” he said. “I once had a co-worker that was so nasty looking that it made me look beautiful. But this man was so kind, thoughtful, peaceful and happy that it changed the way I viewed people in general forever.”
Similarly, the power of people to connect and create their own solutions is unparalleled on the Internet. Fifty percent of Kickstarter projects get funded successfully; 8.5 percent receive more than double their goal.
Somewhere between deciding whether 1 or 2 was better, my eye doctor asked who I write for, and I told him about the Daily Dot and explained that I write about the Internet. That prompted him to tell me that he thinks the Internet is the hero that shows up in the nick of time to save us from total annihilation.
It’s actually something I’ve argued many times before, so it was interesting to hear him tell me his views on it. Nuclear proliferation is going to continue, he said. Inevitably, weapons of mass destruction are going to find their ways into the hands of destructive states and organizations around the world, he claimed. But those regimes are keeping people oppressed because the people have known no other way. That cannot last in the age of the Internet, he said.
Any individual Kickstarter campaign, Chester Lee Ridens video, or even an Anonymous Twitter sting may not seem like much. They may even have great power for their misuse. But these connections are happening every day on the Internet, millions of times a day.
Weapons of mass destruction are terrifying and difficult to defend against. Because they are so small, they can be anywhere and go off at any time. Anonymous, or Reddit, or YouTube—peer-to-peer networks that can be and are everywhere—may show us the only model for a true defense against such weapons.
The Internet, then, may be the first weapon of mass salvation the world has ever seen.