Pros and cons of the Internet

Despite the technological progress that the Internet brings, one must be wary of the "digital divide" that is also creates, according to a Yonsei University professor

The Korea Times
Thursday, October 25, 2007

By Park Kyu-tae

The Internet may well be the greatest masterpiece of modern culture, the lion of the century in our information and knowledge based society.

As Professor Lars Ingelstam of Lingkoping University, Sweden put it, it is the world's largest machine. The Internet is a communicational network connecting virtually all computers around the world in a non-hierarchical manner and an entirely new concept among communication systems.

The system allows the reception and delivery of messages anywhere and anytime in the world virtually in real time on the connected computers.

It has seen the technological convergence of digital multimedia, information and communications. It has had an enormous impact on social activities as well as the academic and political circles.

Starting out as a military application it eventually permeated all industries, government and commerce. It is has spread into the media and publication industries with Internet versions of newspapers, books and much more.

These multifaceted applications are making the Internet ever more powerful. The old versions of media are disappearing and new technologies are forever being added such as IPTV.

The technological aspects of the Internet rely on its data transmission rules and protocols. It is a well-established system so far. The data channel is not fixed but it takes a path avoiding busy passages among millions of connected routes to a destination.

For receiving messages from senders and vice versa, one has to have a unique domain name address and a series of e-mail addresses.

E-mail messages arrive at the mail server similar to the local post office or mail box from a remote personal computer connected to the network. It does not matter where one's mail server is, as one can fetch the mails at electronic speed at any time and place.

According to World Internet Statistics, the penetration rate of the world Internet usage population is 20.8 percent, 70.2 percent in North America, and 66.5 percent in South Korea as of January 2007.

Interestingly the world map showing the distribution of internet networks in color shows that internet use is more or less proportional to the gross national product of each country. Internet usage is now an indispensable tool for daily life and business.

It is a great achievement for this country that Wibro (wireless broadband Internet), developed by the Korean telecommunications industry was approved as an international standard by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) last week.

However there is also a reverse trend going along with these developments: The digital divide. This is the gap between those with access to digital information technology, and those without such access. It further marks the rich and the poor. It accentuates differences in knowledge access among countries.

Despite huge efforts in the form of anti-virus vaccines and firewall procedures to protect computers, the Internet is still vulnerable to attacks from hackers and criminals. It is the source of ongoing panic and at times escalates to the level of cyber wars. A recent survey found that 34 percent of users believed their computers were infected with a virus and 84 percent believed their personal information was being spied on without their permission.

This is clearly an invasion of personal privacy. Recently Japan announced it would replace its Internet with a brand new version by 2020 that will deliver more reliable data transfers at higher speeds, and be more resistant to viruses and crashes.

However, Dr. Ian Brown, Research Fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, argued the new internet technology proposed didn't appear radically different from the current version.

We are about to enter the presidential elections in Korea and the US. Moreover all the president hopefuls will be utilizing the Internet and its diverse utilities, using websites, Blogs, chat groups, emails, YouTube and cell phone messaging.

Their effective use is a great help and utilized correctly could bring through a victory.

We are enclosed in a tightly woven Internet like a silkworm in a cocoon. A good use of the net, like a spider, is the conduct of wise man. I think the pros of the Internet far outweigh the cons.

The writer is a professor emeritus at Yonsei University and a Korea Times columnist. He can be reached at ktpark@yonsei.ac.kr.