Have you ever wondered how much of you there is on the Internet? I have. My fellow millennials and I live in an age where employers use Facebook in hiring decisions, tweets can lead to violent protest, nothing you do online ever really gets deleted, and games like Pokémon Go connect us in virtual real-time the way we’d only dreamed was possible (or at least I’d always dreamed, as a lifelong Pokemon fanboy).
It’s always been hard to imagine my life without the Internet, personally. I grew up living at a desk with my dad’s clunky IBM desktop on it. In 2003, in the good old fifth grade, I was using Windows XP to run America Online, which I had to do via dial-up, which meant that only one person in the house could use the phone or Internet at a time, which, as you can imagine, was first-world exhausting. By 2006 I was using Internet Explorer on Windows Vista, writing several Myspace, Xanga, and other dumb teenage angst blogs that I hope have faded into obscurity (but let’s be real, they haven’t) and torrenting with LimeWire (RIP).
Back then, creating HTML blog themes and finding obscure workarounds to download things for free taught me an important, now-lifelong lesson: no matter what censorship comes, the Internet truly belongs to everyone. But something that belongs to everyone can be edited and thus destroyed by anyone, and these days, it is: by some of the lovely humans out there who enjoy coding malware.
The thing that’s always fascinated me most about computers are their viruses. I’ll never forget the day I learned as a kid that Bonzi Buddy, a now well-known case of malware, was not a helpful search tool but was in fact a crime someone committed (and really f#cking annoying, too; if you had one you understand). I’m not glad cyber theft and crime exist, but it’s also humbling to know that a fifteen year old kid from the Netherlands with no name or money could hypothetically write a program powerful enough to shut down a government. I like the fact that online, there are no class boundaries. Code is the great equalizer.
I think it’s because of this that cybersecurity is a such fast-growing field of computer science. We spend 11 hours a day online and nearly 3 billion of us use a smartphone, taking up a virtual space that we now have to watch over. Sometimes our spaces are used to launch large-scale DDoS attacks without our knowledge, our video calls surveilled by governments and pervs. This website lets you view insecure webcam streams worldwide and god knows how many female celebrities (and females in general) have been hacked for nudes.
Humans must come up with complex cyberlaws and corresponding programs that determine, for example, whether or not the NSA should massively collect data and exploits, or where jurisdiction should be held when a criminal technically comes from nowhere, or what should be done about the environmental impact of tech on the Earth.
But where do the majority of us, and our iPhones with Instagrams of cat memes, fall into the grand scheme? What about the fun of it, the Snapchats and subreddits and vines (RIP)? Personally, I embrace our robot overlords – because at the end of the day, humans were behind them – and I appreciate the f#ck out of them being able to do things like drive by themselves, run like a cheetah, and dance in choreographed teams.
I started studying computers, hacking, cyber crime, robots, and social media trends about a year ago for hobby’s sake. Along the way here, I want to document what’s happening with surveillance technology in the U.S.: when the Internet is in our homes, watches, cars, and heart and baby monitors, is it always a good thing? Is there really too much information? This is a conversation I see happening all around me. I can’t wait to share more about what I’ve learned from the people having it.
It’s good housekeeping to take care of your digital house too.