"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.” – Charles Dickens, 1859
These words were written almost 150 years ago. But if I don’t know where it came from, I would think it could be describing today’s digital world.
We are in the middle of the biggest technological revolution that the world has ever seen. Some of the changes that are happening to the human animal are breathtaking. But, like all revolutions, you have to stand outside this one to see exactly what is happening.
From inside, the large-scale changes are incremental and barely visible. We get caught up in the hype and the wonderment of the next best thing: a new app, a wristwatch phone, a 3-D printer. Those bright shiny things mesmerise us and confuse us. From outside, the changes are huge. As more and more of our information moves online, we become more efficient and interconnected—but also more vulnerable to anyone who wants to take that information from us. This conflict, between technological innovators and opportunists who take advantage of their inventions, is changing the world.
People revere figures, like Steve Jobs, who saw the opportunities that abound in our new digital world, made their mark and changed the course of history. We know their names. But there are also innovators we don’t know about—like the cyber criminal who invents a new virus, a new phishing method or a new way of getting past your antivirus software. These unknown minds are having just as much of an effect on modern life as people like Jobs.
Like all revolutions, it is the bystander that gets caught up in the war—the constant war between good and bad.
The digital world is dangerous, and we are constantly under attack. We build better defences to protect ourselves, while the criminals build better attack weapons. Where will it stop? We are stuck in a Cold War-type situation, each side building a better widget to create havoc against the opposition. No matter how much money and effort we pour into new technology, neither side pulls ahead.
But it’s not a fair fight. Like all revolutions, there are innocent bystanders out in the middle. The uneducated, innocent and ill-informed users of this bright shiny digital world are the main target of both sides of the fence. Of course, they will be targeted by cyber criminals—anyone who doesn’t understand the dangers is a prime target for hackers and identity thieves. But they are also targets for the “good guys,” whether they’re selling apps or the chance to join a website “for free” (at the cost of all your personal information, right down to your great-grandmother’s maiden name.)
The problem with the internet is that, to coin a phrase, "it's where the money is." This is on both sides of the revolution. Understanding the criminals is easy; they just want your money, your intellectual property and any information you have about other people. At least you know where you stand and you can learn how to protect yourself.
The other side of the conflict is less black and white. There are multi-national organisations who will sell us the next best widget, and they don’t benefit from telling us that we don’t really need it.
I understand marketing and the need to make a profit. But when it comes to technology, there has to be a better way. Before buying that smart device, putting those documents on the cloud or signing up for yet another social networking account, customers should remember that the age of information is also the age of foolishness.