Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Everything Is Not Relative


Of all the problems we talk about on the Internet, the basic human tendencies—bullying, foolish behavior, cavalier attitude toward personal information, even child molestation—have always been with us and will probably always be. (Was there ever a time when nearly matured children didn’t act as though they were immortal?) But these constants of human misbehavior are spilling over from the old neighborhood into the new Internet hood. Same tendencies but now they can affect, and harm, many more people. The problem—enabled by our increased, some might even say enhanced, interconnectedness—is this misbehavior is no longer the odd story in another town. The odd has become, in absolute (not relative) numbers, the commonplace, and the stories are filling the round-the-clock, round-the-world “news” cycle that makes up a considerable portion of our net information.


As the Buddha might say: With increased power comes increased opportunity—for evil as well as good. What the Buddha didn’t teach us was when to use relative or absolute numbers. Or anything about statistics (the larger issue here). Yes, human nature hasn’t really been changed by the Internet: we have the same number, relatively, of fools and miscreants. But the outcome of their behavior has changed, has affected, has harmed far more people, in absolute numbers. And that result cannot be dismissed by saying things are relatively the same.

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