Soiling  the  Superhighway

~ M. O. Ene ~

(Spring 2001)


The Cyberspace has revolutionized communication and commerce and communities. It is a valuable and valued medium, a product of human unquenchable quest for new frontiers. As in all inventions since the dawn of time, there is a sinister side to the famed space created by the borderless linkage of worldwide computer networks. The various ramification of the flip side of cyberspace have kept lawmakers and such moral activists as Dr. Laura on their toes. Many hoped that the majority of users of this medium would be able to self-regulate themselves to a point, where law-enforcement agencies could mop up the chronically criminal elements. This presentation takes a peep at just a few sad and sorry sides of the information superhighway. It concludes that the soiling of the superhighway will not diminish the impact of the Internet; rather, it will create a whole new industry revolving around the greatest invention of the 20th century. In the final analysis, the wirelessly wired world will gradually create the first of the new races of cyborgs.

INTRODUCTION: What is the Internet?

Many metaphors have been applied in the explanation of the Internet. The “superhighway” is particularly appealing. Notwithstanding the charm of cyberspace, the celebrated lexical item for the neo-communication medium, the Internet is indeed the information superhighway. It is like the New Jersey Turnpike, or any other toll road with many lanes and stop areas. To use these concrete thoroughfares, people pay per vehicle. On entrance or in exiting, every vehicle pays to ply the concrete-steel highway. While on it, everyone is free to stop at any service area and enjoy the appropriately tagged “Fuel, Phone, and Food” framework of services.

With blinding postmodern advancements that have dwarfed preceding modern technologies, the Internet has revolutionized the world we knew. Hand-held computers with wireless modem have added additional zest to the allure of computers and the Internet. The term “global village” or “one world” has now come to mean what it set out to mean. Not since Karl Benz heralded the arrival of modern automobiles in late 1800s has a human invention accelerated human civilization so much within living memory. [Bottorff (??)] As in every new frontier and in other great inventions, human beings will embrace, utilize, and pollute the frontier/invention. Then they move on to new frontiers, to something bigger, better, and beatable. And the circle continues until the end of time. That’s probably what makes the world go round, the same thing that killed the cat: curiosity. Only the cat covers it soils. Humans don’t do it very well, even with the immense grasp of modern environmental technologies. And that is the major problem with the information superhighway.


CYBERCOMMUNICATION: Controlling communication and keeping it “cool”

Because of the nature of the beast, some set of rules is necessary to control communication in cyberspace. Unfortunately, there are no extra legal teeth to back up various versions of netiquettes formulated and posted on the Internet over the years. It is sad that some people still forward private emails complete with the author’s email address! No one stops to think that a hardcopy mail would not be photocopied and faxed to ALL facsimile machines the world over. Chain letters have found a new life, both the bizarre and the simply stupid.


Most annoying is the language of discourse and the disregard for basic grammatical rules. It is all good and well to ignore spelling mistakes and grammatical rules. In fact, a website promotes the use of alternate free spellings []. Probably because mistakes are too easy to make with such computers software as Word 2000 in control, this issue takes a backseat. However, decorum should not be thrown to the dogs; the lack of respect in email exchanges can be troubling -- as the exchange below from early in April:

 >>You have again showed that you are a coward who has no clout and no prowess to fight for himself privately but running for cover under a public forum.<<


>>You have never been able to make any coherent point outside muttering silly nonsense from your [stupid] mouth. Your stupidity is genetic as is being shown through your incoherent utterance.<<


>>What do you do for a living? Munching from the garbage of idiocy as usual and drinking from the cup of those born to be second class citizens even in their so-called domain.


>>On my ancestral background, I am a full fledged [nationality named] whose superiority over you can never be questioned. I come from a background of people who have DEFEATED you in WAR since 1500 and also RULED your ilk. What else do you want me to prove? I am your lord and master. I will remain your tormentor in this life.<<


CYBERCOMMERCE: Spamming and jamming the superhighway with junks

The advent of cybercommerce, or e-commerce, has triggered a rat race unseen in the capitalist communities of western hemisphere. Everyone with a website is trying ever so hard everyday to sell someone something. It would be business as usual if these cybermerchants sold from their stalls, but not in modern e-commerce: People attempt to sell any and everything from how to make money selling email addresses to how to make money surfing the internet.  Apparently the saying that a sucker is born every second holds true.


Spamming has become such a huge problem AOL subscribers change their email addresses as often as necessary. Since each account is entitled to seven addresses, many have taken to sacrificing one account to spam mails. Usually this is the address with which they surf the Internet, chat online, and engage in newsgroup activities. It is like coming home everyday to a mailbox-full of junk mails. At times like this, bills from the utility company look more welcoming. It is estimated that every better-known English term has been register by dot-com prospectors. Legitimate company names are cornered, and fees are posted for release of the addresses. It has becomes such a big extortion racket some companies went to court to get their names back from cybersquatters. Many others are known to have paid up rather spend many times the asking price on attorneys.


CYBERPORN: Profiting from prostitution

A recent survey shows that about 75 percent of Americans consider inappropriate the prevalent of programs with adult themes showing on television at prime time. They should spare a thought for the Internet: it is up twenty-four hours, seven days a week, and 364/5 days a year. The smut and sleaze of cyberporn is intense. Nothing prepares the uninitiated for the level of sophistication that the industry has brought to the superhighway. It has become a huge industry. How-to-beat-the-addiction industry is springing up alongside. Kimberly S. Young in “Caught in the net” analyzed the addictive nature of the Internet. The allure of cheap and easy porn from the comfort of one’s home further complicates the situation.


It is amazing that there is no way of knowing which URL leads to where. An innocent search will sometimes lead directly to a pornographic site. An inadvertent entry could easily be revered, but not with these sites; the <BACK> -button is demobilized. But the main concern here is the welfare of the innocent: the children. The greatest impediment to protecting children from such snares is the same law everyone wants to enjoy: freedom of expression. As Larry Flynt himself put it: “Freedom of the press is not the freedom from the thought you love the most. It’s freedom for the thought you hate the most.” The borderless network of computers further complicates control of contents. Regardless, the usefulness of the information superhighway far outweighs the blight of pornography and even occasional incidence of pedophilia.



In newsgroups, the incident of abuses is so intense that many dedicated contributors become silent participants. Arguments are the rule. After an average of four postings, the thread is all but exhausted. Somehow, almost always, someone goes personal and all hell breaks loose. Hiding behind screens, abuses are rained, and nothing is considered sacred. Those who make the mistake of attaching titles to their email addresses are butchered nonstop. It gets pretty ugly sometimes. As a direct consequence, many netters hardly contribute to threads, even when they have something to say. In a study of four newsgroups on list, a steady trend of declining participation as the membership increases proves that many members prefer the read-only mode once the abuses start flying. I was able to establish beyond reasonable doubt the level of asininity that sometimes bothers on libel by subscribing to these groups for one three months.


An very recent example will suffice: A thread was posted in a country’s newsgroup. After barely four responses, it degenerated to interethnic cyberwar. One of the silent netters decided to chastise privately a loquacious netter from another ethnic group. The fellow forwarded to private mail to the main forum with the following note:

>>[Mangled Name], You are a complete imbecile and a coward. How dare you send me a private mail? Why don’t you send your mail to the public net so that we can fight it our there? Is this how you plan on fighting your clumsy war against [my people]? Since you have thrown up the first gauntlet, I challenge you, just bring it on.<


Within the hour, we read the response

>> Mr. [Mangled Name] or whatever your name is, the fight will continue privately. You shall be dealt with privately. I do not want to bring unnecessary commotion to this forum. The private salvo from my bazooka will ensue. Your imbecilic blabbing on [my] people is becoming irritating. It will henceforth be tit for tat. No joking. Have a nice day.<<


It went on all evening of Wednesday, April 25, 2001. Such terms as “bestial coward,” “Goat meat,” and such expressions as “What a pathetic soul?” and “You are a pathetic liar!” continued to rain as many netters simply stood aside and waited for the salvos to stop. It won’t stop until the duo … and anyone who wants to join…has had enough.


CYBERCRIME: Hacking and cyberviral attacks

As in every society, the incident of crime in cyberspace is too real and increasing. It appears that e-commerce establishments are winning consumer confidence. However, it will take just one website administrative snafu to send social security numbers spewing out of presumed secure data mines. Alternatively, the army of hacks could intensify the violation of the integrity of firewalls and other security arrangements. So far, the United States federal government has shown that it could respond quickly to such attacks. But there are still many rogue nations out there. They could provide the needed garrison for a real “Dr. No” bent of wrecking havoc on the evolving new world order.

More sinister than cyberstealing and hacking is the inexplicable vandalism perpetrated by professionals who could have easily channeled their computer expertise to useful programs. In first week of April 1999, thirty-year-old David L. Smith of New Jersey was charged with authoring and transmitting the Melissa virus. The virus caused so much panic in the technology world and fear of copycat attack. On May 4, 2000, “I love you” virus was unleashed from the Philippines. It caused an estimated $10 billion damage. Variants of this virus circulated for a while before it was stopped and the perpetrators arrested in Manila. Every week thereafter some virus alert is circulated all over the cyberspace. Many are hoaxes, but everyone is aware of the possibly the next “wolf cry” being the Real McCoy. The attendant setback is the deletion of perfectly safe mails with sundry attachments.


The superhighway may be littered with all sorts of garbage. If that is the price we have to pay to move ahead, that could be handled. The human capacity to deal with fallouts from groundbreaking technologies is immense. Early in this century, the Red Flag Law required car owners in Britain to hire frontrunners who, armed with red flags, would alert passengers of the coming of a car! The world has definitely moved on since then to current cars with less engine exhaust emissions and less noise pollution, cars that start and stop when and where you want. Not so with the Internet technology. It is still a jungle out there. Philosophers and psychologists can speculate and theologians and sociologists can always theorize, the bottom line is that the nature of the Internet makes it highly unpredictable. As an innovation whose time has come, humanity must sit back and deal with it.


As James Gleick (2001) wrote: “Innovation is irresistible. Progress is inevitable. Resistance is futile.” The coming of the wireless age will “wire” the world and open up worldwide communities to cyberspace. The computers of today will be headed to the Jurassic Park soon. This will bring additional complications. International flimflam fraud will increase. Children will be exposed to the smut and sleaze of cyberporn, to talking to total strangers (against the good old parental counsels), as well as to horizons beyond our wildest imagination. Future “V” chips and modernized law enforcement will compliment the effort of the church and civil society. But, in the final analysis, www (wirelessly wired world) will gradually engulf our biosphere creating the new earthlings of next millennium: CYBORGS: half cybernetic creatures, half human organisms. 


William W. Bottorff, William W. (?)What Was The First Car? - A Quick History of the Automobile for Young People  {retrieved on Thursday, April 26, 2001 from world-wide web

Gleick, James (2001) Connected: Life in the Wireless Age, The New York Times Magazine, April 22, 2001 [See also]

Young Kimberly (?) Caught in the net {retrieved on Thursday, April 26, 2001 from world-wide web]