When Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989, his genius was not developing the technology that makes it work, it was entrenching the philosophy of free and open access for anyone, anywhere to use it.
“Had the technology been proprietary, and in my total control, it would probably not have taken off. You can’t propose that something be a universal space and at the same time keep control of it,” he explained.
I was a very early adopter of the web. In the early 1990s I was creating websites typing HTML in a text browser. There were no HTML editors, or even templates, to speak of and it would be a long time before the robust and user-friendly website building suites such as Wix, Squarespace and WordPress would be developed.
Despite the openness principle, in those early days, you had to know the ins and outs of how the web worked in order to use it. Now, the knowledge required is approaching zero.
There was a time my skills were on the cutting edge. I could hack a Windows NT registry to make the OS work in ways Microsoft never intended it to. I could protect a network from malicious attacks with the best of them.
With each passing year, however, on a spectrum of Tim Berners-Lee to complete Luddite, I have to admit I am getting ever-closer to the latter.
Of course, it was much easier back then to be an expert. The layers of complexity and exponential advancement of the underlying technologies have become so vast, I don’t know how anybody could really have a handle on it to any great degree of certainty.
It is starting to concern me.
A week does not seem to go by without some Facebook friend or another announcing “I’ve been hacked.”
Last week, friends warned me it was I who had been hacked. I may no longer be an expert, but I still have a very healthy capacity for skepticism. No doubt there are hackers out there. And, in fact, it is possible that enticing my friends to warn me is a tactic to make me do something that would make my account vulnerable to attack.
I checked it out, of course—due diligence, yada, yada—and discovered my account had not been hacked.
As it turned out, however, someone was impersonating me on Messenger. At least I can still tell the difference between being hacked and being impersonated.
This is a classic social media ruse. Use someone’s name and image to elicit information from or rope their friends into some kind of scam or another.
At least two of my Facebook friends were taken in enough to briefly engage with the fake me, but they caught on before the scammer was able to get anything out of them.
When I saw the messages this other Thom Barker had sent, it was immediately apparent to me they were not a native English speaker, which should have tipped anybody who knows me off, since I am at least passably fluent in the language.
I was recently on the other end of one of these scams. Someone posing as a friend of mine sent me a message saying she had won $250,000 and that the organization giving out the money had accidentally sent my certificate saying I had also won $250,000 to her. No doubt, they would soon have asked me to transfer some small sum to get my very large sum.
I live by the old adage that if something seems to good to be true, it almost certainly is isn’t, so I ignored it. The scammer persisted for a while, trying to tell me, in very poor English, also uncharacteristic of my real friend, that it was totally legit.
I am not about to fall for any of these kinds of ill-conceived con jobs, but they do give me pause.
Every day I wonder if I really know enough to responsibly use these technologies. I don’t even know, anymore, what I don’t know.
Maybe it’s time for me to just admit I don’t the technology has surpassed me and get off social media altogether.