Sunday 29 April 2012

Ban the Internet, problems solved?

Over a week ago, the most grizzled of The New Paper’s editors, Mr Santokh Singh, walked by my desk in the newsroom and paused.

Alamak. What had I done this time?

Or was he going to needle me again about “humblebragging” about my inaccurate Wikipedia page in my column? (I contend that I was outright bragging bragging.)

He didn’t, which was a relief.

Instead, he said he had an idea for my next column. I was surprised and touched that he cared.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I had already written my next column about how I lost my heart to the KFC Zinger Double Down burger (in more ways than one).

Instead, I braced myself for his idea.

He said my next column should be about banning the Internet.

Oh. As long as it wasn’t anything insane - like banning the Internet.

Think about it, he said, all these problems we were having wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the Internet.

I didn’t ask specifically what problems he was referring to because I didn’t want the conversation to go on longer than necessary, but I can guess:

1. If there were no Internet, there would be no online vice syndicate and there will be no one getting charged with having paid sex with a minor.

No, wait, a 56-year-old man was convicted last week for having sex with an underage prostitute who actually had nothing to do with the online vice syndicate. He met the girl the old-fashioned way - in Geylang.

2. If there were no Internet, there would be no YouTube, Facebook or Twitter and there will be no insensitive videos, status updates or tweets to go viral for people to get upset about.

Last month, my daughter insensitively dismissed all 22,401 songs in my iTunes library as “old music” - to my face. I was deeply upset by that.

(I pointed out I have Pink. My daughter said: “That’s what I mean!”)

So I’m not sure whether Mr Singh was earnest about doing away with the Internet or was deliberately being hyperbolic to make a point.

It’s like suggesting we ban motor vehicles because people keep getting killed by them. We’ve accepted that a few traffic fatalities (and polluting the planet) are a fair price to pay for convenience. Road users just need to be more careful.

I mean, what’s the alternative? Take the MRT? That’s funny.

I don’t have the stats to back it up, but I believe more people are killed by cars than by the Internet. So you can conceivably make a more convincing case for banning motor vehicles than banning the Internet.

But then again, cars have been around much longer than the Internet.

Unlike for those of you under 30, a world without the Internet isn’t so far-fetched because being over 30 (and then some), Mr Singh and I used to live in one.

I’m reminded of writer Douglas Adams’ observation that your attitude toward technology is determined by the age at which you first encounter it. To wit:
1. Everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal.

2. Anything that gets invented between then and before you turn 30 is incredibly exciting and creative, and with any luck, you can make a career out of it.

3. Anything that gets invented after you’re 30 is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it - until it’s been around for about 10 years, when it gradually turns out to be all right, really.

The Internet became mainstream in the late 90s, which based on my calculations, was long after Mr Singh turned 30.

And although the Internet has been part of our lives for more than a decade, social media is a relatively new thing, so I can see how It may seem like a sign of the apocalypse for Mr Singh.

As for me, I think we would be worse off without the Internet because:

1. If not for the Internet, we would see devastatingly fewer cute cat photos.

2. We wouldn’t know what Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong eats for dinner.

3. Most important of all - especially to a couple of newspaper guys like Mr Singh and myself (but not that kind of couple) - if not for people doing stupid things and other people sharing them on the Internet, The New Paper would have very little news to print.

And if the world does end - to quote Douglas Adams again - don’t panic and just remember your towel.

- Published in The New Paper, 29 April 2012