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By Dr. Philip Baczewski, Associate Director of Academic Computing

Are we Smart Enough for the Internet?

A number of events recently have made me wonder if humankind is smart enough for the Internet. I am not questioning the intellectual ability of any individual, but collectively we can look pretty dense sometimes. For an example, take the recent rash of denial-of-service attacks against some high-profile commercial Internet sites. That activity in itself is pretty stupid and pointless, and the general public reaction is not much better. The only thing it proves is that it can be done. So what. If you put enough cars on a street you will also end up with a traffic jam. The Internet retailers involved claimed that they lost millions of dollars of business. So what. They will probably make that up in additional volume following the incidents. We probably lose more productivity from real traffic jams than Internet traffic jams, which makes the perpetrators of the recent incident appear to be some genuine virtual idiots.

What's in a Name?

At the beginning of this year, the owners of the address year2000.com, decided that they were done with that name and put it up for auction on the online auction site, ebay.com. The site had Y2K planning information, so they figured that they might as well close down and see if they could make a buck or million by selling their virtual real estate (I think that's an oxymoron). All kinds of excitement was generated when the Associated press reported a record bid for a domain name. In fact, there were two bids for 10 million dollars. It was less exciting when both bids turned out to be hoaxes.

I am continually amazed by a news media, members of which are supposedly skeptics by profession, which, with more gullibility than a four-year-old, continually bites on Internet stories. If you doubt this gullibility, just remember the story about the teenage couple who were planing to broadcast their first sexual encounter on the internet -- another hoax. The constant stream of fluffy non-news such as the above only serves to discourage intelligent use of the Internet. It paints it as some outrageous environment inhabited by some fringe element of society. If it isn't sensational or disastrous, it apparently is not a story. The collective Internet intelligence of the traditional media has so far shown itself to be in the single digit I Q range.

How Stupid do they think we are?

Since last fall, there has been a fellow living in Dallas who legally changed his name to dotcomguy (http://www.dotcomguy.com). He lives in a house that started out with empty rooms and bare walls (other than the omnipresent Web cams which broadcast his life over the Internet). The idea is that he is under contract to live in this house for a year, never leaving its confines other than occasional visits to the back yard, He is supposed to acquire anything he requires to sustain his life and lifestyle via electronic commerce sites on the Internet (the first delivery he received was, not surprisingly, a computer). It is a promotional stunt sponsored by several companies doing business providing Internet services or e-commerce development. The stunt has received local media coverage in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and has an extensive Web presence to promote the idea and the e-commerce businesses that have signed on as sponsors.

Imagine my surprise when I saw the following commercial on network TV: four individuals pile out of a car and walk toward a house. They go inside and the implications are that they will be living there together, but guess what? There is no furniture but a desk on which there is a computer. And on that computer is (as the commercial makes obvious) Microsoft Network. This caused me to wonder if Microsoft had ever had an original corporate thought in its life. It is ludicrous to see how they have taken reality and turned it into fiction. Dotcomguy, as silly as the concept is, at least provides us with a bit of reality in showing the usefulness of e-commerce. Microsoft has stolen that idea and is now trying to convince us of the usefulness of their proprietary network via slickly produced commercial fiction. (Oh, and those aren't 65,000 bugs in Windows 2000 -- they are notations for future improvements, this according to a Microsoft representative on a recent local radio show). Microsoft must think that we are pretty stupid.

Measuring up

The Internet has grown up so fast and is so distributed that no government has had a chance to regulate it and no company has had a chance to buy it. It is the freest and most inclusive forum for the exchange of information that has ever existed. But, with freedom comes responsibility. If you expect to be treated ethically, you must act ethically. If you expect to receive accurate information, you must provide accurate information. If you expect others to represent themselves honestly, you must represent yourself honestly. If you expect to find intelligence, you must act intelligently. All of this applies whether you are an individual or a large corporate entity.

So, we have been handed the gift of this free market of information and services. History will show how smart we were in using this gift. Will we invest it wisely and treat it with care and nurturing, or will we squander this gift and throw it on the trash heap of failed ideas? Can we exercise some collective intelligence, please?

Comments, Questions? Send them to Philip Baczewski.