One of the arguments Michael Lewis puts forward in his latest book, Next: The Future Just Happened, is that the Internet has less to do with money than with authority—and the lack of it. Hierarchies, he says, are over and will soon be replaced by forms of authority that more closely resemble pancakes than pyramids. Moreover, intelligent teen-agers, who are by temperament happier with less authority, are likely to become a major part of a new and more amorphous elite. According to Cass Sunstein—who presents his views about the Internet at length in his own new book republic.com and more synoptically in an essay published by the Boston Review—the Web's filtering technology will depress "common experience" and limit "unanticipated encounters," and these factors in tandem will have harmful consequences for democracy. A pancake society with no one meeting anyone new, with nothing new to say to anyone, and dominated by teen-agers, sounds like an adult's version of hell. But perhaps things are not as bad as that—at least not yet. A few days ago, the Los Angeles Times reported on the police inspection of Chandra Levy's computer and the ease with which detectives can bypass the password security installed on her machine. "All a savvy investigator needs to know," says the Times, "is a few details about the computer's components to know which standard password to use. That's assuming that Chandra Levy actually selected a password that wasn't easily guessable, such as 'password,' the single most commonly used password in the United States, according to several studies." If we're all using "password" as our password, however, it suggests people's responses to and experience of new technology are not necessarily intelligent. And perhaps they are less intelligent because they haven't yet given up on a few unanticipated encounters, a bit of common experience, and some degree of hierarchy.
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