In the New York City of the late 1970s, things looked bad. The city government was bankrupt, urban blight was rampant, and crime was high. But people still went to the city every day because that was where everything was happening. And despite the foreboding feelings hanging over New York at the time, the vast majority of those people had at most minor brushes with crime.
Today, we all dabble in some place that looks a lot like 1970s New York City—the Internet. (For those needing a more recent simile, think the Baltimore of The Wire). Low-level crime remains rampant, while increasingly sophisticated crime syndicates go after big scores. There is a cacophony of hateful speech, vice of every kind (see Rule 34), and policemen of various sorts trying to keep a lid on all of it—or at least, trying to keep the chaos away from most law-abiding citizens. But people still use the Internet every day, though the ones who consider themselves “street smart” do so with varying levels of defenses installed. Things sort of work.
An actual brochure created by the police union in New York City during the 1970s as part of a campaign to stave off job cuts.
Just like 1970s New York, however, there’s a pervasive feeling that everything could go completely to hell with the slightest push—into a place to be escaped from with the aid of a digital Snake Plisskin. In other words, the Internet might soon look less like 1970s New York and more like 1990s Mogadishu: warring factions destroying the most fundamental of services, “security zones” reducing or eliminating free movement, and security costs making it prohibitive for anyone but the most well-funded operations to do business without becoming a “soft target” for political or economic gain.
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