BACK IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS, if you lived in a small town, you wouldn’t think twice about leaving your house unlocked while you ran errands, about letting kids play in the streets, or about sharing details of your family’s life with other people in the town.
However, as the small town grew, and more new people started to arrive, you might have started to hear about unusual things happening: property disappearing, park benches getting vandalized, strange behavior from the new neighbors.
Over time, you’d learn that maybe it was safer to lock your door, to ask your kids where they would be going, not to lend out your lawnmower. Normally, you would learn this through newspaper articles or stories that friends told you. Sometimes, if you were unlucky, you’d learn through personal experience of having something bad happen to you—something that would never have happened in the good old days.
The Internet has paralleled this move from small town to larger city life. With the advent of the first HTML browsers, the Internet became the World Wide Web, and many new neighbors moved in to what had previously been a relatively trusting small town. The new neighbors brought with them confidence tricks, unwanted mail, viruses, and lots of candy that it really wasn’t safe to take.
The major difference between real-life small towns and the Internet is the compressed time scale of the Internet’s growth. That growth rate, along with the ...