Law in the Internet Society

How Human Beings Can Avoid Becoming Victims to Their Own Legacies

-- By YiShanYin - 8 Jan 2022

A walk down history lane

The human race is outstandingly good at producing evolutionary changes to their own future and possibly any other living things that cross paths with them. These changes are so great that human history has gone through various different stages within just a matter of 100,000 years – we went from primitive foraging to domesticated agrarians to industrialized societies.

How to define a revolution and its impact on society is perceived very differently. For example, historian Yuval Noah Harari proposed that the agricultural revolution which took place around 12,000 years ago was “history’s biggest fraud” because the transformation from hunting and gathering to farming did not make lives easier for all humans; rather, it brought about more time-consuming labor and poorer diets for the average farmers. See Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens at 79. However, anthropologist David Graeber and archaeologist David Wengrow rebutted this concept with scientific evidence showing that human settlement began to form before the domestication of wheat, and that cereal production only came about as a byproduct of human’s efforts to harvest straw as fuel. Therefore, it would be against the evidence to state that wheat domesticated humans. See David Graeber and David Wengrow, Dawn of Everything at 557-566.

How the Internet has changed the human race

Fast forward to the present, where we conduct our work from home, scroll through snippets of a stranger’s life, and buy and sell assets with a touch on a screen, all thanks to the invention of the Internet to which all our electronic devices are connected. The Internet has changed so much of how we go about our daily lives that there is no going back to lives without it.

I used to think that the birth of Internet was a luxury trap for human beings, one that is similar to what Harari portrayed the agricultural revolution in his theory. I thought that for two reasons. First, I observed that much of the convenience that the Internet brings about is accompanied by unwanted surveillance. General search, for instance, grants users immediate access to information that would otherwise take much more effort to gather in pre-Internet times; but it also collects information from the users for the purpose of placing targeted ads. Second, I viewed reliance on electronic devices as a form of self-enslavement because it empowers the devices to take control over their users. An obvious example is that some people rely entirely on their phones to keep track of their schedules, so much so that if an event is not documented on Google Calendar or not posted on Instagram, it would be as if such an event never occurred.

However, my theory had a major flaw. When I thought about the Internet, I was only concerned with the pattern of usage of certain software by certain people. Just as Professor Moglen pointed out—the Internet is everything more than that. It is extremely wrong to assume that a certain type of behavior is the norm when it only reflects that of a fraction of users. The opposite of my theory can be proved true from at least two of the following aspects.

First, information on the Internet can be and should be distributed in a decentralized manner. Communications should be carried out in a way that does not rely on the operation of any facilities controlled by any Big Tech. If an average Facebook user (like me) would take it upon herself to learn how to build her personal website and her own email server, she would no longer need to compromise privacy for using messaging services provided by Big Tech.

Second, if equipped with adequate knowledge and software, anyone can command the machine to do whatever she wishes it to do—if anything, the Internet should act as a catalyst rather than a barrier. Whenever I have trouble commanding my laptop through the usual user interface, I would, without hesitation, look up ways to instruct the terminal to do as I say. If I could take some more time to learn about it systematically, I can make technology work for me and not the other way around. There is really no such thing as humans being controlled by computers; some people simply choose to use their gadgets in the more “hassle-free” way as they deem it.


In rewriting my second draft of this paper, I realized now that my previous understanding of the meaning of Internet and the revolutionary effects it brought about was far from accurate. I could have thought deeper, done more research, and at least attempted to understand the basic technicalities. Yet I did not. I could only see what options were readily available to me without going through all the troubles, which was exactly the point I am trying to make here.

After confronting the weak points of my original theory, I began to understand that human beings are not trapped by the Net. People make choices that contribute to the relationship they have with technology and the Internet. If they choose to be self-dependent, they could benefit so much more than they ever would pre-Internet. If they choose the easy and convenient option, they are paying for it at a greater price.

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Webs Webs

r3 - 09 Jan 2022 - 04:17:11 - YiShanYin
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