Thursday, December 29, 2005

Driving without a license

It's funny, and sad, how Americans can be so resourceful and determined on one hand, and so lazy on the other. I can't be surprised at the level of disdain other cultures have for us, given the "we don't care" attitude we project.

The way we deal with personal computers is an example of this. We scream and holler about viruses, spyware, and spam, yet we're right up there with the worst offenders at its propagation. The expression about "one bad apple spoiling the bushel" doesn't apply here; we're a society of bad apples, with the good apples complaining about their plight.

In this case, I'm talking about the good apples being the minority who know enough about computing and the Internet to practice "safe computing" while the bad apples being the computer users who want to look at their computers the way they look at their telephones and televisions. The good apples are clearly outnumbered, but they are also reluctant to admit that they have little choice but to live with solutions that would keep the bad apples at check.

I've seen countless arguments over who should have the responsibility over keeping the Internet clean. One side wants the ISP to take more control, while the other side resents any efforts the ISP makes to take that control. The fact is, if the ISP only had good apples as clients, the ISP wouldn't need to place restrictions on their Internet use. We know this isn't the case, however, so the ISP should take on some responsibility.

Let's look at the highway analogy a moment. In the early days, anyone who had a car could drive it down any road. As more cars entered the picture, it became clear some rules would be needed to avoid disaster, and so governing bodies applied some basic rules (which only got more complicated as time passed, of course).

Since the car couldn't be made foolproof, the next best thing would be to reduce the number of fools behind the wheel. Drivers were required to get licenses, insuring they knew the basic rules of the road and could no longer use ignorance as an excuse. Those unable to demonstrate the knowledge are not legally allowed to drive. Those too young to make sensible decisions about driving are not allowed to get licenses. Those who disregard the rules eventually lose their licenses, and can no longer legally drive. Professional drivers have a more difficult test, and must follow more difficult rules, but also have some freedom in choosing the capabilities of their vehicles (an amateur driver cannot legally drive a tractor-trailer, for example).

To help keep the road running smoothly, the governing body developed rules for proper behavior, but they also introduced traffic control devices to manage the use of the roads.

There are plenty of problems with the analogy, as there are with just about any analogy, but it should give rise to thought. The lazy populace, the bad apples, get away with their laziness because the powers-that-be allow them to. If we (as a society) drove cars the way we operate PCs on the Internet, we'd find the roads too dangerous to use. Shouldn't we, then, have some mandated restrictions for the protection of the rest of us?

The road needs rules (not just the technical RFCs, but real rules), it needs traffic cops to enforce the rules, and the drivers need licensing to insure safety on the road. The ISPs are well-positioned to be our cops, and those who cry for freedom on the Net should only prove their competence to gain their improved access. Misbehave, and have your license suspended or revoked.

The computer makers will not make foolproof computers, as that makes them liable for the fools who find ways around the protections. So, rather than look at Microsoft, Apple, or the Linux distros for relief, we should be looking at ways to govern the use of the Internet, keeping the bad apples from ruining the bushel for all of us. Make the ISP become responsible for the actions of its subscribers, and you'll see some very dramatic changes in how the Internet is used. License the Internet users, and you'll see a dramatic improvement in the quality of Internet users.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You do realize that the only good thing about the internet is it's lack of regulation, right?

Having ISP's control who says what won't help anything. All that'll do is create a structured, controlled and boring cyberspace where you can't say or do anything interesting.

Just because the "bad apples" are being idiots doesn't mean we should ruin it for the "good apples".

If the internet becomes some soviet-style regulation-land, then all the "good apples" will probably go make their own internet anyways, because the old 'net will suck.