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The world would be a better place without the internet. Discuss. (6)


Depending on how old you are in reading this, this question might feel somewhat radical. The answer is pretty obvious, right? We all use the internet, and we all need it. How would we post our pictures for our friends to admire without it? Or order and pay for a gift for Aunt Polly in the United States for delivery next day? Or get the latest news in real time? Or research the origins of origami? We use the internet in so many ways, and it does indeed make our lives easier.


In the (semi-distant) past, if I wanted to pay someone, I would have to write them a cheque and they would need to go to the branch and stand in line for a cashier in order to deposit said cheque. And this would take a significant part of their day, and it would take three days for the cheque to clear and the funds to enter their account. Nowadays, if I need to pay someone, I open the app on my cell phone, select Pix, type in their phone number and I can transfer the money free of charge in seconds. This is progress. We are a better race of beings for this convenience.


A lot of my time I spend translating. I get the document – word, powerpoint or whatever, and I tap away converting the Portuguese into my finest English. And every time I see a word I don’t recognize, I copy it into Google translate and, four times out of five, it gives me a solid range of options by way of a translation. Thirty years ago I would have needed several dictionaries, and even then I may have been unsure of the true context. Or maybe it is a quote from someone famous. I put it into the search engine and the exact words appear before me.


I want to sell my car? No longer do I need to call the local newspaper and arrange for a tiny advert to appear in their following Thursday’s classifieds column – paying by the letter. Now I can research various websites to understand the true value of my car and place an inexpensive ad with multiple sites that will cover a much wider audience than any newspaper would.


There is no end to what the internet can do for me. Free long-distance chats with family? Check. Attend meetings from home? Check. Instant letters – sorry – e-mail? Check. No more going to the post office and licking stamps. Can I gamble on the stock-market in real time? Sure. What about real gambling – poker, for hard cash? Yup, that too. I wanna renew my health insurance? Got it. Can I watch movies and live sports? Obviously you can. Can I even monitor my elderly aunt using in-situ cameras? Yes, yes and yes. There’s very little you cannot do – except those things that need you to be there, physically, which are becoming increasingly few. In summary – the internet brings us every convenience.


Ok, so why is the internet so bad then, huh?


Now this is a whole different question. One of my clients said to me recently – “I’m so happy I didn’t grow up with the internet.” And that got me thinking. “Yeah, actually, I’m kind of happy I didn’t have the internet when I was growing up too.” So why?


First off, because it is a thief of time. I spend hours per day learning stuff I really don’t need to know, that is preventing me from doing stuff that I really ought to be doing.


Second, the worldwide web has placed huge extra demands on our energy needs, which has led to deforestation and countless other negative behaviors.


But if that was all there was to it, the first part would be my problem to deal with and we would figure out the energy conundrum eventually. Sadly, there is a whole lot more to the story. It is no exaggeration to say that the internet has transformed the world, and mostly in ways that the world, I suspect, will regret.


For me, the biggest drawback with the internet is how it has become an enormous vehicle for Crime and Hate.


Let’s take crime first. Crime has always existed – from a hungry soul stealing someone’s hot pie in the street, to the emperor collecting taxes for his personal gain. But, before, there was always an element of personal risk involved – a chance that the perpetrator might be ‘caught red-handed’. Nowadays no personal risk is required – merely a sufficient understanding of how computer code is written to unlock the pathways into the inner sanctums of an institution and either steal the knowledge or funds found there, or lock out the user so that they are compelled to pay you a ransom to have access to what belongs to them. Modern crime is cowardly, and far too easy. How many emails does your mother receive every day telling her that she needs to clear her name, pay an overdue bill, or update her bank details? People fall for these scams every day, and their lives are the worse for it. The internet is even making it easier for criminals to launder their money through crypto-currencies that hide the identity of both originator and recipient. And we are talking billions of dollars – money that just fuels inflation and makes life harder for the ordinary working (wo)man.


Then there is hate. It is hard to open a news site these days and not read of how a black footballer has been racially abused on Twitter, or how a female news presenter has received death threats, or how a teenager has committed suicide after being ‘bullied online’. Without the internet, these things simply would not happen – and if they did, they would leave a physical trail that the police could pursue.


Worse, the internet has provided a vehicle for a whole industry of ‘fake news’ and radical extremists to come together and share their ideology of...yes, hate again. What did these people do before the internet? The answer is not very much. Suddenly, they are easily united in ways that can lead to scenes none of us ever imagined we would see in our lifetime – yes, Capitol Invaders, I’m talking about you. Are they entitled to their views? Of course. But are they better informed now than they were? I would argue not. Journalism is a profession, and the profession has integrity, although like any profession there has always been rogues.


And that is not even to mention terrorist groups coordinating their activities, child pornography rings, online spying and child grooming, and just the endless, senseless bombardment of advertising – all to fill the pockets of some ridiculously pampered and protected few.

So. The question remains. Would the world be a better place without the internet? I have my opinion – and also the benefit of remembering what is was like before. I’ll leave it to you to make up your own mind. I'll just say this - convenience is overrated.


Vocabulário

branch – agência

to tap away – digitar

to lick – lamber

to gamble – apostar

to figure out – calcular / resolver

conundrum – enigma

drawback – desvantagem

soul – alma

caught red-handed – visto flagrado

sanctum – santuário

ransom – resgate

cowardly – covardemente

scams – malandragem

to bully - intimidar / dominar

trail – trilha

rogues – malandros

grooming – asseio (aproximar crianças com malintente)

pampered – mimado