The Internet connects humans across the world like nothing before. At the same time, it inserts itself as an alternate reality between everyone. People haven’t changed and the communication does enable us to recognize each other as real people, but it doesn’t require us to do so. Instead, it makes it all too easy to dehumanize each other for those so inclined. But it does rip away the past dehumanizing that allowed tyrants to ignore our unique differences. The Internet is a place where everyone is ostensibly equal in power, and only those who truly absorb it’s nature can gain any advantage.
But that advantage is an extra layer, as it were. Most Internet users simply fail to notice that extra layer because it does not demand their attention. The extra layer is that collection of protocols and conventions that make the system work rather transparently. Having a good acquaintance with the underlying system is the path to power on the Internet. It reduces Social Science to a much narrower field of study for those intent on taking advantage of the situation. The options for human interaction are divided between what actually comes across the Net on the one hand, and what the average users infer — accurately or not — on the other hand. Most people bring their meat space habits into the virtual world and fill in the blanks with their imaginations. Those who push that aside and study what actually comes through the wires aren’t distracted by such things.
While the Internet forces everyone to treat each other ostensibly as equals in some ways, so that unique individual demands are appropriate, the protocols also take away any hope of privacy. Most people by instinct tend to avoid taking advantage of the lack of privacy, but there’s almost nothing at all preventing a virtual Peeping Tom from seeing everything you send across the wires. The privacy instinct does not translate well into the habit of encryption. Encryption that works is cumbersome; encryption that is automatic seldom does much good. The arms race between encryption and code-cracking offers precious little advantage to those who don’t put serious effort into hiding. In very practical terms, it’s almost not worth the effort unless you actively keep abreast of the technology. Most people don’t and won’t. The majority of users leave themselves exposed, relying on social protocols from meat space….
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