COLUMNS

Hold your presses

Wade McIntyre
Wade McIntyre

From time to time most of us find ourselves blindsided by someone who thinks they are providing information or knowledge they suspect we don't have, or perhaps we have refused to believe exists.

Being involved in what is left of the newspaper industry, I’m sometimes given advise on how the industry can save itself.

Don’t worry, I usually tell these folks. Giving away free news works at the barbershop, but does not work when you are a newspaper. Newspapers will soon be charging for Internet access to their papers and everything will be fine.

Sometimes I receive advise from people within the newspaper industry itself who want to be sure that I know the future of the business lies on the Internet. To hear them, newsprint is dead and everyone will be reading the news and doing their crossword puzzles online faster than the blink of an eye, maybe even by tomorrow morning.

I admit what I don’'t know about the Internet would fill a book. I liked the fictional version of the Internet in William Gibson’s “Neuromancer” so much that I’ve never gotten over the fact that we can’t “jack in” matrix-style like Gibson's fictional Internet cowboys.

Regretably, today the Internet is largely just another shopping experience. But, at least savvy shoppers know they must pay when they want something of value, including the news. That means as long as I’m in the newspaper business, I’ll get a paycheck courtesy of Internet users when printed newspapers no longer exist.

But what if the Internet breaks down, as some are now suggesting that it will?

It seems  the Internet has not been upgraded in a major way since 1986. The major protocols of the Internet are pretty much the same today as they were over 20 years ago when the commercialized net as we know it came out of an experimental military project called ARPAnet.

Because the Internet protocols in place at that time assumed honesty in those who used the protocols, the Internet and it users have been subject to invasion by hackers who can launch attacks that take over sensitive sites.

Over the years, these attacks have become more virulent and the Internet more vulnerable. Experts say the attacks succeed in part because they can take advantage of weak spots in the aged protocols that govern the transmission or exchange of Internet electronic data.

Because the Internet has grown so rapidly (it is approaching four billion addresses) the job of updating and improving the basic architecture is daunting. No company making money on the way the patched up Internet operates today seems willing to take the lead and revamp the protocols. I’m sure one day they will, but perhaps it will only be after the Internet is crippled or crashes.

In the meantime, I suggest renewing your newspaper subscription and holding on to your printing press. You never know when you’ll need them.