The fourth week of January is usually cold, dark, bitter and dreary here in the Northern Hemisphere. With the brightness and excitement of the holidays faded away, summer is a distant memory and cabin fever grows, and yet there are scant signs that life and hope will ever return.
This makes it an oddly appropriate time to pause and contemplate the price of technological progress, what is lost when things go bad, and how to prevent such in the future. And indeed on January 28, there is not one but two solemn “celebrations” for just that purpose. For the twenty-eighth of the first month of the year is both NASA’s Day of Remembrance and also Data Privacy and Protection Day.
They couldn’t be more unalike, this solemn memorial to America’s fallen star-voyagers and this reminder of the importance of safeguarding our personal data online, yet there are commonalities. Most fatalities in the space program occurred at least partly because of complacency and over-confidence, traits which are also in abundance on the Net. In both arenas, stakes are high, technology is complex, and vigilance and knowing what you’re doing is vital.
This is not to equate the risks or consequences of the two fields in any way. But space travel and the Internet are technological contemporaries, born and developed under the shadow of the Cold War, nurtured by the same military industrial complex. Thus both share the same mindset of gee-whiz confidence from American postwar enthusiasm, and naivety.
Both space travel and the Internet need to be treated with a certain sobriety and respect, for as this day reminds us, both have significant risks. In the first endeavor, nature alone provides real live danger; in the latter, it’s largely bad actors with bad intentions that must be defended against. But both outer and cyberspace, in their separate ways, are promises of a bright future that might someday lead us to the stars.
We’re not astronauts but as Internet users, we are all explorers of the new frontier. Let this day be a reminder to do it as safely as we can.