The battle between what is good and what is not had been going on for
centuries now, and will do so up to eternity. The debate, however,
takes on interesting twists when technology is brought into the
picture to weigh on either side of good or evil.
In fact, this debate had been going on and is reminiscent of how for
so long the establishment had sought to associate what it is
uncomfortable with as satanic or devilish (See @pagels96).
We would like to think of how the printing press revolutionised the
way information was spread:
- Though it was a boon for religious people that much literature could
now be produced within a short time, yet it proved to be a curse
when what had been sacred was profaned by being accessed by many;
- This in turn spread not only the holy writ, but even that which
(See @eis80 for a detailed history of how the printing press
changed the thought processes.)
How morals are created
Morals are considered as a stabilising force in the society. We all
come to agree on their content as a result of what as a society we
deem acceptable based on some tradition (@brophy14).
When it comes to use of technology, and computers in particular, this
takes a number of dimensions other than those of tradition. These
- How software was developed in the first place;
- How it is used;
- The harm or benefit it is causing to the society.
Thus, the offline mode of value creation is extended to the internet
through one way or the other.
The problem is that as the internet reflects diverse communities and
societies, clashes are bound to happen. Even within one community of
users, it is difficult to agree on a standard of morality.
This is because the Internet was never meant to be a platform of one
set of values in the first place. The Internet arose because of
the need to deal with communication threats (@mukh14).
However, as it always happens, any
new form of communication presents new opportunities for evangelists,
terrorists and politicians: all saw a new channel to reach other
peoples in a faster way than ever.
In this way, for some, internet represents freedom, while others see
it as a conduit to extend their control of others.
What are bad technologies?
There is no disagreement (as far as I know) about good products:
- Word-processing applications;
- Music players;
- email clients.
We all see these as representing the correct usage of a computer, so
no controversies arise here.
This is even true with VPN—while some other governments may see them
as threats to their dominance, yet there is no debate as to their
acceptability. VPN is there to encrypt end-to-end transport of data.
But there are some technologies that have come to symbolise
waywardness and roguish behaviour. The reason why I see it that way is
of a recent conversation I happened to come across on a mailing list.
Someone wanted to find out how he could convert his ebooks from one
format to the other. One user seemed to disapprove of this as he saw this
as promoting piracy.
Thus, even sharing of knowledge about technologies for doing so was
tantamount to aiding a criminal activity.
Hmm. I just thought, here we have a problem. But anyway, this is the
world as it always was and shall be: evil remains a concept that
eludes universal standardisation.
The program that was causing such uneasiness is Calibre. Calibre is
known as a Swiss army knife of document handling: it can convert from
and to many formats. You can learn more about Calibre here.
Calibre is not the only one in this league though: there is Pandoc
which is popular with many programmers. In fact, Pandoc is easy to use
and setup, but few find it problematic. Why? Because it has no
facility to strip digital rights from an ebook. Pandoc is only good at
helping ebook producers to come up with new books and not try to
convert already existing books distributed on other platforms.
Besides Calibre, the following are some of the programs that I had
found people being uncomfortable with:
These are programs used to download torrents from
the Internet. Torrents are popular with people who share pirated
software and are a distributed form of downloads. Because of
that, they are often seen as bad technology.
With torrents, both torrents as a form of downloads and torrent
clients have a bad reputation. Ever since the development of the
torrent protocol, it had been used as a way to evade censorship. This
has resulted in a number of jurisdictions blocking access to torrent
sites such as The Pirate Bay.
are just that: a form of distribution. The fact that one group
finds them appealing is because of its simplicity and failure to
be controlled by one organisation.
There are a number of legitimate uses of torrents today such as the
distribution of large files by companies. This helps reduce server
loads as many people try to download a popular file at the same time.
Thus, many Linux distros for instance use torrents for distribution .
These are programs that are used to “scrap”
data from other websites. There is lot of useful material on the
internet which may not be readily available in downloadable form
such as a PDF or zipped HTML pages.
Now enter website
downloaders: these allow anyone to just enter a URL and they
download the material from the provided website. These are also
considered as evil technologies as they violate the rights of the
Website downloaders tend to also consume a lot of bandwith as some of
them use more than one threads to get as much data from a site as
possible within a shortest time span. This technique is used by denial
of service attacks.
However, on the other hand, downloading a website is as good as
accessing the page online: while you are reading this page you
may be doing so in your browser, yet the page is downloaded first
to your computer and then you read it. Downloading a website is
done as a way to help the user access the page even if he/she may
IN fact, many educational sites find mirroring pages
beneficial. As long as the downloaded website is not
further distributed and is only used for private purposes, I
think there is no harm done.
If ever there had been a heated debate in recent years about
acceptability or unacceptability of something,
this is it: that of ad blockers. These are browser extensions for blocking popup ads and advertisements.
Many web developers find these objectionable as ad
blockers deprive content creators of revenue. Many
content creators such as bloggers may post
advertisements and generate income through clicks
to third-party sites.
However, the problem with
this is that a browser on a user’s computer is
under their control: they are free to customise it
in whatever way they want. One of such ways is to
configure what type of content they wish to get or
block. While ads are great, and may even be
informative, some users may find them annoying and
other ads and popup windows may be key to spreading
malware. So while your site may be clean, other
sites may not be that clean: so a user who may not
know which sites are clean and not will do himself
or herself a favour by having an ad blocker.
However, there is an argument that as the content is free,
there is no justification to block ads. It is only
fair that he who is benefiting from such content
allows the displaying of the ads in return for the
information they will be getting for free. This
helps defray hosting expenses and research done by
the person who created the content.
Yet as the Internet is a treasure trove of
information: small content creator s will be
competing with big institutions and research
centres to deliver quality info. So you as a
content creator, when you want people to find you, you
provide them with quality information.
You have to bear in
mind that some people will only get, and not pay
anything in return. Thus, this is one side effect of the
internet, namely that of the free rider problem (@pett19).
A paywall system may be a
better implementation in that respect.
Ebooks are electronic representation of the books we have grown to
love and read over the past centuries. Books are great as they are a
depository of knowledge. With the advent of technology, a new industry
had been spawned: that of ebook publishing and distribution.
To be profitable, most of the ebook distributors such as Apple and
Amazon will lock ebooks to devices. This has an advantage that the
end user will not be able to further reproduce and distribute the
book: a practice that will prejudice not only the distributor, but the
author of the ebook itself.
Nevertheless, there are a number of general document converters which help
users to convert from one format to the other. For instance, using a
document converter, one is able to convert a Word document to plain
text, a PDF document to Word or vice versa.
Along with document conversion, these can also deal with ebooks: and
some can even go further to help the user remove the DRM protection on
those ebooks. The justification will be that as the person has already
bought the book, they should be free to use it in whatever way they
want and not be restricted by the ebook publisher. Thus, after buying
an ebook, I should be able to open it not only on a Kindle, but even
on a desktop computer or on a mobile phone. I cannot do that unless I
convert it to a compatible format that the target device can handle.
The notoriety of document converters is the same as of audio and video
converters, CD and DVD rippers, Youtube downloaders etc. all these are
considered to be questionable technologies that harm the interest of
Some Sample applications
Finally, the table below shows some sample applications of these
questionable technologies. You can check them out for yourself and see
whether they are good or bad. However, I maintain that as long as you
as the user do not have malicious intent with any product or towards
your society, there is no harm done. What you can do with your
computer is mostly determined by what you want to achieve in life.
|Type of Application||What it does||Example|
|Torrent Client||Downloads Torrents from the Internet||UTorrent|
|Website Downloader||Downloads sites||HTTrack|
|Ad Blocker||Blocks ads and popup windows in a browser||AdblockerPlus|
|Ebook converter||Converts from one ebook format to the other||Calibre|
The danger with labelling technologies as good or bad has to do with
how this defeats the goal of innovation in the first place. Knowledge
is generated and promoted when people are free to be
While there is always a raging debate as to what is
acceptable and what it isn’t, I think there should be other ways to
regulate use of existing technologies rather than ban the technology
itself. While encryption programs are good for privacy, there is no
denial that this had been taken advantage of by criminals and terrorists to
communicate safely to achieve their nefarious schemes.
Yet encryption still remains and promoted; this should equally apply
to some of these technologies. As is evident in most cases, what may
be unpopular with the business world may be popular with the academia.