Reflections on the Power of the Internet


There is perhaps no greater invention in recent history, in terms of actual and potential impact on human culture, civilization, and history than the Internet.
The ease with which it has accelerated communication between individuals and among group members is a marvel in itself. More importantly, it has opened up the world of knowledge to everyone through the wondrous world of w.w.w. The most distant libraries and the most informed teachers are now at our fingertips. A cascade of bits of information, arcane, obstruse, or esoteric, can tumble before our eyes by mere clicks on the search engine. Pictures too are splashed on the screen, of paintings and cartoons and photographs and formulas. All you need to do is ask, and it shall be given.
Then there is the enriching possibility of exchanging thoughts and ideas and perspectives through yahoo-groups, listening to lectures delivered in remote regions, and sharing the cultures and arts and insights that are the heritage of the human family. The Internet offers possibilities for learning, whether history or science, religion or economics or whatever, for courses given by authorities in prestigious universities are readily available here. One can go on and on and on, for this is like kamadhenu (cow of plenty) of Indic lore and the cornucopia of Amalthea of the Greek world, which would give everything that one wanted.
But as there is no rose without a thorn, there is no blessing without a blemish. Indeed, the dangers in the Internet perhaps outweigh its gifts. If knowledge and wisdom can be transmitted, so can misinformation, distortion of truth, and irrational nonsense. Every Robert Raghu, or Ahmed, every Jane, Janaki, or Aisha, can blurt out their darkest thoughts, mindless bigotry, and narrow visions. In this way, much hate and hurt, sectarian squabbles and inter-religious abuse has been spreading in cyberspace, distorting and enslaving the minds of many who happen to read all the junk that is displayed. Aside from peddling pornography, vicious perverts have found the Internet an easy way to lure the young to abominable experiences. Then there are terrorists who have found here an effective channel to send their murderous messages to fellow fanatics. Oh, the list of the negatives can also go on and on.
So what can we do about all this? Really nothing. We are all caught up in this strange whirlpool of milk and filth, of ambrosia and venom and we have no choice but to let the course of cultural evolution carry us to wherever it takes us.
Once the tentacles of technology get a grip on any society, and now on the world at large, we simply cannot escape their peculiar hold on us which is both soothing and stifling at the same time.

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