In the years to come, how will we look back on the global internet of 2015? “Never such innocence again” is one phrase suggested to me by Edward Lucas’s meticulous, disconcerting Cyberphobia: never such a ramshackle, unaccountable freedom, where openness, ignorance and vulnerability are the rule rather than the exception.
Lucas—who has covered eastern Europe for the Economist since 1986, and brings a welcome expertise in espionage and security shenanigans to his task—is at his best when making tech norms seem newly strange (passwords? meh). An outspoken critic elsewhere of National Security Agency (NSA) leaker Edward Snowden, he’s likely to ruffle further geek feathers with his cynicism towards the sacred principle or moronic cult of online openness and anonymity. We have to get real about tech, he argues, and embrace the rigour of models like infection control and aviation as guarantors of a freedom worth having.
All popular technology books bear a considerable burden of explanation, which can make for wearying reading. We’re shocked, concerned; our complacency deflated by serial case-studies; but what are we actually to do? Lucas’s diagnosis is alarming, yet his prescriptions are almost bathetically reasonable: “Complacent, careless and amateurish behaviour on the internet is as out of place as it is in transport or health… we need to be more cautious about all our behaviour with services that purport to be ‘free’… strong digital identities are friends, not foes.” Not that this makes him wrong. Despite the tit…