The internet: an exciting yet dangerous arena

Technology is moving fast, especially cyber-technology. While it is no secret that the development and continual growth of technology has been the biggest, most remarkable, and most significant trend in human history since the Industrial Revolution two centuries ago, the development and dissemination of internet-related tools have been most impressive, especially in the past decade. The world has moved from knowing nothing of computers to now having mini-devices that could fit into the palm of a child and connect users throughout the world on a virtual network known as the internet. Even young children who may not even know how to count or talk are already toying with mini-smartphones and learning numbers and alphabets on such smart devices.

For young people, the internet is also indispensable in terms of social and professional networking: Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and quite a few others are pretty much a must-have these days. With the availability of such a big and powerful network, it is clear that the world we live in is very different from that of our seniors just a few decades (or years) back. There is also compelling evidence that this virtual must-have network is both exciting and dangerous and leads to potential conflicts of interests between different classes of society. I illustrate this with the remarkable rise and fall of online transport and accommodation services such as Uber, Deliveroo and Airbnb.

Uber and Deliveroo have experienced a rather marvelous emergence as two of the most popular apps for food delivery and transportation. Recent estimates show that people who work for these two enterprises count in thousands throughout the First World, which suggests that the number of customers who use these apps must be even higher. Airbnb emerged slightly earlier and has also been immensely popular in attracting thousands of room bookers worldwide. As was publicly announced last year, Uber lost its license in London and experienced a massive reduction in its number of drivers not just in the capital of England but in many cities worldwide. Similar things have occurred to Airbnb which has also been restricted by the government in Japan. Deliveroo has survived better, though faces pressure over drivers’ wages, and one may surmise that an official persecution will happen sooner rather than later.

For those who have benefitted from these online services, you may feel rightly disappointed by the governments’ crackdown on them, since these services are immensely useful and convenient for the frequent travelers among you. They allow you to plan your journey with maximum ease and minimum fuss. As opposed to calling travel agents and wait on queue as in the old days (which was the standard procedure less than ten years ago), everything now seems to be available just a click away. The more ideological ones of you (coming from the left) may also lament the fact that these various crackdowns are undemocratic, as they severely restrict civil liberties and people’s choice to work for themselves as freelancers. Indeed, a restriction on freelance opportunities is a significant detriment to the lives of the modern citizens who feel that they are entitled to professional freedom and autonomy i.e. be their own boss. One may argue that these online booking services symbolize the future of world at work where one is no longer bound to a particular company/corporation and has to abide by office hours but is professionally independent through opportunities on the internet.
However, the more conservative among you (perhaps right-wing) may point out that these internet enterprises, if allowed to develop at the current rate, will cause instability in our society by endangering pre-existing services (public and private), since if these were to become the mainstream mode of travel and accommodation, there would be a massive curtailment in the need for taxis and buses, or hotels and hostels. Furthermore, the more general issue of freelancing is that it is in direct opposition and threat to the modern world of work and if freelance opportunities continue to grow in the form of industries, corporate finance may be threatened to the extent of extinction, which would entail a global economic disaster. For those who prefer stability to change, therefore, halting the rise of these dangerous online services is indeed a sensible option.

Whatever one’s perspective, one thing is clear and that is the internet has become so advanced and useful that it has become a dominant driving force in our rapidly and constantly developing world. This may explain the recent controversy of abolishing net neutrality, the use of internet censorship in authoritarian countries, and the tracking of terrorist activities by Western anti-terrorist institutions, all of which are specifically targeted at the internet. Clearly world governments and institutions are well aware of the potential (and dangers) of the internet, and while curbing the use of it may be seen as a tragedy for our liberal democracies, it is regarded as necessary by the upper strata of society for national security and global stability. Internet is hence an exciting yet dangerous arena and given how popular it is (and how much more popular it will be for future generations), its prospects and dangers will continue to haunt mankind.

Langley Henry

Langley Henry is a postdoctorate Research fellow in political science at St John’s College, University of Cambridge after having done his undergraduate (Politics, Philosophy, Economics (PPE)) and postgraduate (Political Science and History of Western Thought) degrees (B.A., M.Sc., DPhil) at Balliol College, University of Oxford. He is the author of several essays that have been published in peer-reviewed journals and is now working on publishing his Oxford doctoral thesis as a monograph with Oxford University Press. Other than his academic work, he is a keen blogger and has written on contemporary and historical political topics as well as on western contemporary music.


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