Ok, so your PC is your home and it’s the 1980s. There is no internet to speak of.
Your home is very isolated, but very safe. You have no need for curtains in your windows. Not only do you not have to lock your front door – you don’t even have a lock on the door! You have to go out if you need anything or want to talk to people.
We jump forward a few years and the Internet in it’s infancy is still spelled with a capital I. It’s still mostly a closed system with only a few select groups on any kind of “web”. The biggest problem is good natured pranks so the User Name & Password system is used – the first security method is still the most frequently used. E-mail, FTP & Gopher (the precursor to the world wide web) are invented.
Neighbors move in, but they’re pretty scarce. They are mute, toothless creatures that are basically harmless. Occasionally they stop by unexpectedly. Sometimes they hunker on your porch and, although they don’t steal it, they read your newspaper without asking.
We jump forward a few more years and the internet has begun taking it’s first steps. Hackers are still a thing of the future. Most of the “security breaches” are just kids doing what kids do and exploring where they are forbidden. Tools are commonly available to snoop out other people’s systems but “attacks” are rarely malicious. System administrators are born to erect the first restrictions on what goes in/out of the system. This is mostly to prevent unsolicited Finger, RUser, Telnet, Ftp & SMTP requests. The Computer Virus at large is born.
You now have lots of neighbors and they just drop by whenever they feel like it and are able to spy on you through your completely translucent glass windows. This prompts you to put up curtains & blinds to keep out spying eyes. The neighbors have evolved into sentient beings. If you catch them drinking your milk, it’s best to toss it out or risk a nasty virus.
A year or two later the internet matures to a full blown child. The World Wide Web has become something worth using. Usenet Newsgroups are a great place to waste hours & download pictures & people gather on IRC to chat. Email has become faster and easier to use as more people adopt it. All this activity creates a need for System Administrators as
attacks are now big problems that can cause big damage to companies & schools relying on email & internal networks. Viruses are still mostly spread through shared diskettes, but sending of small executables through email has become a problem. Anti-Virus companies start springing up.
You’re neighborhood is now a community and people are everywhere. Coffee houses and art galleries have sprung up for socialization. All of this society does come at a price however as you have to put up a picket fence and a dead-bolt on your door to keep out the Riff-Raff. Virus infestations are like termites – they can eat your
home to nothing. You’re forced to pony up for exterminator service if you find a problem. The WWW opens a franchise in town, though it’s pretty much just a standard library at this point and only the book club meets there.
Before you know it, the internet has hit those troublesome teen years. AOL has emerged as the dial-up leader making the web available to the lay-person. The internet has exploded into a force to be reckoned with setting up the Internet Bubble as companies throw stupid amounts of money at it. Modems are as fast as they’ll ever be but lots of folks have high-speed connections at their office/school. Good thing too as the internet now has Multi-Media and email has HTML – and Spam – and most new viruses spread this way. Instant Messaging has begun to take off. Hackers trade in their black hats for black ties as they’re offered jobs working for security firms.
You wake up one day and you’re living in a small city. Life is good, but you really have to be careful now-a-days.
The city is full of creatures called newbies and trolls now (in fact they’ve just about ruined the coffee houses(2)).
The criminal element consists of sophisticated scam artists and high-tech spys. You’ve had to put up a cyclone fence around your property and a chain and peephole on your door because you can’t just open up to all of the people that come knocking! Random door to door salesmen have started showing up trying to sell you things you don’t want and decreasing your productivity.You now have to pay the exterminator a subscription rate to keep the bugs out. Even so, a “love letter” shows up one day from “Melissa” so you open it. Long story short, she destroys all of your pictures and steals all of your music(3). Fortunately, some nappy cat in the alley is sharing all of his CDs(4). Lots of people meet at the library now and they’ve added periodicals as well a thriving adult section!
A few years later we have a Young Adult internet to deal with. Most folks are finally surfing with a broadband connection making the internet more fun and more dangerous as Java & Active-x exploits abound. A firewall has become standard for even the home user. The WWW has absorbed most of the other protocols. Chat rooms have succumbed to the Instant Message client while newsgroups are now Internet Forums. “Brick & Mortar” stores open internet only outlets and crash
and burn left and right as fortunes are made and lost overnight. Spammers & Anti-virus companies make a mint however. Google pulls ahead in the search engine wars & the first spy-ware is introduced.
Your little city has grown to a giant metropolis. The worst of the criminals are now Super Intelligent Ninjas who are nearly impossible to keep out of your home. Your curtains & shutters over your windows have been replaced with steel bars and you’ve been forced to install flame throwers creating a wall of fire surrounding the place. The door-to-door salesmen now outnumber the wanted guests 10-1 and you’re forced to hire a bouncer. Unfortunately, some important folks get bounced by mistake. The library has put the coffee houses and art galleries out of business and contains a shopping mall and auction house too! Unfortunately, all of the stores with free stuff close almost immediately… even the ones with the cute sock puppet mascots(5). While at the arcade in the library/mall a vendor gives you a gator-skin wallet for free but you learn later that it secretly spys on your
shopping habits and sends you tons of junk mail(6).
By the year 2006 we have a fully matured internet. Every mom & pop shop has a website and the internet has continued to envelope other mediums. It has begun to replace the telephone and full movies, television programs and most music is available at the touch of a button. Spam is controlled by criminal syndicates, search is controlled by Google, and viruses don’t bother doing damage anymore – they just take over your PC by remote control. Instant messages are pervasive and filter backwards through to older technologies like the telephone. 98% of all email is Spam.
Everyone is truly part of a worldwide community, but there are many drawbacks. Although instant translation of foreign languages is now common, you can’t understand a word that kids are saying in any language as they no longer use vowels, articles or punctuation. “Security” is impossible. No matter how well you guard the property, nothing can keep the seemingly magical bionic aliens out of your house as they can always come right through the Windows – no matter how many patches you put on the screens. You would consider moving except that you hear all new homes come with security systems pre-installed that expire after 60 days leaving you vulnerable and unable to install other security. Door-to-door salesmen outnumber invited guests 100-1 and boggle even the smartest Bayesian bouncer you can hire(7). One day you look at a picture and suddenly there’s a Trojan Horse in your living room and the Russian mob owns your house and are using it as a base to attack the neighbors(8). Whenever you call to get anything fixed you always get “Joe” from New Delhi. The library/mall is by far the most popular place to hang out and every kid seems to have their picture, address & turn-ons up for public display in the Social Networking wing. A small company that originally only made the “you are here” directories now runs the post office, coffee houses, cartographer’s guild, ad agencies & 8% of the world’s wealth.
So what happens as the internet gets older? I would hope it gets wiser and safer, but I doubt it. Here are my predictions in order from “probable” to “geez, I hope not”: The internet finishes what it started by assimilating movies and all television. The internet will lose it’s tethers when global wireless goes live. A site called “MySlumberParty.com” will simultaneously be the biggest social networking site for teenagers and the biggest porn shop on the web. The demi-god alien overlords that rule cyberspace will begin setting up a real life Matrix where our laptops are plugged into us for energy. All Email communications will cease when spammers knock each others servers offline with the amount of junk they send. Paragraphs will be a thing of the past as attention spans will only be capable of handling one instant message at a time. Larger computer manufacturers will cut out the middle man by pre-installing spyware and trojans. Assuming the “global wireless internet” doesn’t SkyNet(9) us into oblivion, everything else will be just like Tron.
NOTE: The above time line is skewed to match my own perceptions of events as they happened. For example, I mention the newbies and trolls along with AOL’s rise in the mid to late 90s, though the actuall month that AOLers were unleashed on the internet was Sept. 1993. Coincidentally, that was the year that I started school. =]
(1) THX-1138 The Movie
(2) “Eternal September” – When AOLers hit the newsgroups
(3) History of the “Love Letter” Virus
(4) Napster’s all to brief history
(5) The spectacular Pets.com failure
(6) Gator’s “E-Wallet” software turns out to be crapware? You get what you paid for.
(7) Definition of “Bayesian” spam filters
(8) Clipart Holes lead to Trojan Horse pc attacks
(9) Terminator movies – SkyNet & the end of the world!