There is no doubt the internet, for better or for worse, has been the revolutionary invention of my lifetime, writes Northern Advocate columnist Joe Bennett.

Glenn's just sent me a masterpiece.

I taught with Glenn a thousand years ago. He was six foot four, bearded like a Viking, aggressive, cynical and very very funny.

We would go out for huge greedy dinners - three full courses with all the wines and then a dozen silly coffees with artificial cream on the top and real liqueurs at the bottom - and I would pay for everything, partly because Glenn had a wife, child and mortgage and I didn't but mainly out of gratitude for having laughed so much. I think I sensed even then that such restraintless joy was rare in this world and should be paid for.

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At the heart of comedy is cruelty. One of Glenn's favourite topics was our colleagues, about whom he was quite magnificently rude.

Once in a seriously expensive restaurant that had French pretensions and a maître d' so stiff you could have ironed a shirt on him, Glenn made me laugh so much I wet myself. Today of course that's no great feat, but back when I was 25 with bladder to match it was like storming the Bastille. Glenn was a funny man.

But Glenn and I have been half a globe apart these 35 years so no more greedy dinners, no more bladder-storming laughter. Just an email now and then for old time's sake, and that's how he sent me the masterpiece.

We are wearily familiar with attempts to scam us. We yawn at the password request, the African heiress whose millions need a home, but still they come so they must work.
We are wearily familiar with attempts to scam us. We yawn at the password request, the African heiress whose millions need a home, but still they come so they must work.

Every masterpiece is defined by its medium, for a medium provides limits and all art needs limits. Take them away and, as Robert Frost said of writing free verse, it's like playing tennis with the net down. The medium that defines this masterpiece is the internet scam.

There is no doubt the internet, for better or for worse, has been the revolutionary invention of my lifetime. All revolutions begin with ideals. The French began with liberty, equality and fraternity, the Russians with the dream of communism, and the internet revolution, as propounded by Sir Tim Berners Lee and co, with the hope that people would talk unto people and the oppressed would be freed from the yoke of tyranny and ignorance.

And how did it all turn out? Well, the French got the reign of terror, the Russians got the KGB and we got spam, porn and Zuckerberg.

Internet billionaires like Zuckerberg tend not to be the usual robber barons. They're boffins and there's something innocent about them. When interviewed by senators a couple of weeks ago Zuckerberg seemed both surprised and upset that his darling Facebook had been used for wicked ends.

"But they promised," exclaimed Zuckerberg, "that they wouldn't exploit the private data of 100 million people that Facebook had provided them with. They promised they'd just destroy it without looking at it. Ooh the rotters."

Zuckerberg has had to learn the old truth that while it is possible for any new invention to be used for good, it is certain to be used for ill. And the internet's potential for ill is limitless.

Schoolgirls use it to bully. Drug-dealers use it to deal drugs. States use it to spy on states, to spread propaganda and disinformation, to swing elections, to foster violence, to undermine order. And its military potential is boggling. Hack into your enemy's electrical grid and you cripple him; into his banking and you ruin him; into his weapons and you can turn them round.

For most of us, however, the scale is smaller. We are wearily familiar with attempts to scam us. We yawn at the password request, the African heiress whose millions need a home, but still they come so they must work. And here's the latest of them, sent by Glenn:

I am a student of The International College of Medical Intuition, I am half way through this one-year master programme and loving it! Once certified, the starting rate for a Medical Intuitive Assessment is $350. I am required to do several case studies for a rate of $75 each. In return, the client will receive a follow up call and a 10-15 page report identifying what is happening in the body emotionally and energetically and identifying the underlying origin(s) of what the body is communicating. Once that is understood, healing can occur. This is done remotely, from a distance. If you are interested in having a Medical Intuitive Assessment done or have any questions drop an emoji below and I will be in touch!

It has such elegant simplicity. It distils the scammer's art. At the same time it parodies it. It all but announces its own fraudulence, secure in the certainty that vanity and fear still outmuscle reason. The Sea of Stupidity hasn't been fished out yet and Glenn hasn't lost the ability to make me laugh.