Untangling the Web

Article excerpt

The Internet, as it currently exists, is a mess. Because of the huge number of sex-oriented Web sites that exist in cyberspace, parents are terrified to leave the house, fearful of what sleazy domains their teenage boys may wander into while their guardians are out at the supermarket. Employers also fear the Internet, because of the amount of time employees spend surreptitiously logged on to inappropriate sites.

And people everywhere hate the immense amount of tasteless junk e-mail that regularly floods into their mailboxes, seeping in from the darkest corners of the World Wide Web. The situation has generated all sorts of concerns about sexual harassment, invasion of privacy, and snooping on employees, thus creating a general mood of paranoia both at home and in the office. This, in effect, has inspired an ambivalent attitude toward the Internet. On the one hand, we view it is a wondrously useful tool that makes shopping, travel, communication and research infinitely easier; on the other hand we recognize it as a device that can suddenly turn into a time bomb at any moment, without any warning of what lies ahead. And frequently, it exposes completely innocent people to profoundly offensive material that shakes their very faith in society. Senior citizens visiting seemingly harmless online chat rooms must be shocked by the vulgarity they encounter.

The solution to this problem is obvious: We need another Internet. In fact, we probably need several other Internets. When brides-to-be go shopping for wedding gowns, they do not usually visit department stores that sell pornography. When people set out to buy a box of Belgian chocolates, they do not as a rule visit the shop that sells Aryan Nation T shirts. People shopping for gold pendants at Cartier's don't expect to find themselves in the electronic equivalent of the Tenderloin.

Yet this is what takes place on the Internet all the time. Because unscrupulous businesses so often use innocuous-sounding names to lure unsuspecting Web surfers to their sites, consumers and information-gathers regularly find themselves visiting sites that are completely antithetical to their values. That's because the Internet, as presently constituted, is simply a vast hodgepodge. The normal rules of logic, commerce, geography, and even language do not apply.

The obvious way to combat this problem is to divide the Internet into several distinct units that cannot interface with one another. One Internet will be reserved for serious businesses, academic Web sites, locales where Web surfers can gather information, that sort of thing. A second Internet will be reserved for games. A third Internet will be reserved for chat rooms. And a fourth Internet will be reserved for scamsters, conmen, white supremacists, pornographers, and related idiots. …