Twenty-six years ago, computer entrepreneur Mitch Kapor and I worked on a PBS pilot together. He was the brains behind the camera and the host in front of it. I was the producer. It was about the future, being outlandishly transformed by what’s become known as high tech. Although we didn’t know it at the time, we were at the dawning of the Age of Nefarious.

Back in that pre-Google, pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter, pre-Putin, pre-Trump era, we did not see the handwriting on the screensaver. The picture looked rosy—blurry but rosy. Truth was still the acceptable coin of the realm. Science was not relegated to the level of Voodoo. The first roads out of the comfort zone, however, were bumpy. And one of the early wagon-drivers on the information highway was Mitch Kapor, a seasonal resident of Chilmark. He made his mark with the development of Lotus 1-2-3, the electronic spreadsheet that eventually buoyed the fortunes of IBM.

Before our work assignment, he had testified before a House subcommittee on the potentials for the internet. He warned that without regulations we could unleash the world’s greatest form of anarchy. His fear was dismissed by an attitude summed up by one congressman: “You talk as if everyone is going to have a personal computer.”

Kapor was ignored by the politicians.

The gist of our TV program was a social climate forecast for the computerized world. I will always treasure the memory of Kapor’s final standup to camera. On top of a TV set he placed a turntable, on top of that a typewriter, on top of that a camera and on top of that a telephone. Then he wrapped the whole tower with duct tape. This was the future, he predicted, but it’s going to fit in “the palm of your hand.” This time, Kapor was ignored by the PBS underwriters.

In 1990 with John Perry Barlow and John Gilmore, he co-founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties advocacy group. Mitch Kapor was, in my estimation, a card-carrying visionary and humanist. I spoke to him recently because I hoped he still was. And maybe he had a flashlight to lead us out of the dark.

“I had a brief period of great enthusiasm about the internet,” he told me. “It was so Jeffersonian, empowering individuals, decentralizing the system. By the time we were doing the pilot, I was having second thoughts. By 1995 I reversed course and said there were going to be problems. No one was in control of the internet then, and no one is now. The downside consequences of that are much larger than anyone thought.”

Kapor continued: “There are things that could have been done, at least theoretically. For instance, as a network initially developed for academic researchers, there was very little thought given to security because there was an atmosphere of trust. So basic protocols of the internet by design are insecure. If there was some security baked in, you couldn’t have all these fake emails. So easy to spoof an address, so many problems have come because of exploitation of that. Now it’s kind of late but people have been trying to retrofit some security steps onto the internet but progress on that has been two steps forward, one step back. The cows are out of the barn.”
“There’s been a real reluctance of governments to figure out how it could be regulated. Only because of the egregious problems brought forward by Facebook and the like, it wasn’t even on the table. You couldn’t even have a discussion. That was a loss. If we had done something earlier, we wouldn’t be starting from so far behind now.”

A year ago, Kapor got off Facebook.

No one saw the dark side or they ignored it. Even civil libertarians were misguided. Bomb throwers and propagandists now hide behind avatars and anonymity. Virtual voyeurism trumps personal privacy. And we gladly give up our rights daily to travel online, because who actually reads those terms of agreement? Anarchy.

“With the pursuit of growth above everything else, it could not be foreseen that down the line there would be a dark side, the devil’s bargain... Facebook keeps a dossier on you even if you don’t have an account. They collect all sorts of information, credit information, political preferences, all material on public record, from non-Facebook sources, to find out who you are and what your interests are. They’re very good at the research and today’s technology makes it possible to gather all these things.... But the system is so broken and we lack the political will to do too much of anything much less come up with regulations.”

He’s most concerned about the depth of desire to change course. If it makes money, why change it? Greed runs the engine. Toxic waste is the byproduct.

“The worst part is that the business model of these powerful corporate empires depends on encouraging the kinds of abuse that creates all sorts of social problems. Like addictive clicking!”

We need to change capitalism, Kapor argues, because it has changed us, and not for the good. Fear of losing economic growth has also given us climate change denial. But how often does a culture sacrifice profits to answer to a higher authority?

“I look a lot at the history of the abolitionist movement,” Kapor said. “When it started in England in the late 18th century it was a very fringe movement. Economic might depended on the slave trade. Over a course of half a century abolitionists moved from fringe to mainstream. Even though hardcore defenders of slavery persisted, because to eliminate it would undercut economic underpinnings, the majority felt it was wrong.”

Does the majority now think what we have wrought with high tech is wrong? Kapor believes our best hope rests with the next generation who may actually have a moral compass.

“What I hope is that young people coming of age now may approach business with a different lens, trying to balance a variety of objectives that include what’s good for society and the planet. Daily life consists of choices. Many are small choices, but cumulatively they add up. Think of your own behavior on social network. Self-restraint is better than contributing to the toxic atmosphere. There’s a lot people can do. Live differently. Support candidates who would bring about real change.”

A reformed capitalism may be no more far-fetched than the vision of a smart phone. As partner at Kapor Capital, Mitch, along with his wife Freada Kapor Klein, invests in social impact tech startups that support underrepresented communities and eliminate barriers to full participation in our new tech ecosystem.

Here’s hoping our better angels will soon be on the information highway — repaving it.

Arnie Reisman and his wife, Paula Lyons, regularly appear on the weekly NPR comedy quiz show, Says You! He also writes for the Huffington Post.