Our take on things

Image Without Honor

The world has become obsessed with image. Substance, honesty, truth, decency, and honorable intentions have all, regrettably, been replaced by image. If something looks good, it is good. No one looks beneath the surface, or questions the motives behind the images that are being thrown at us everyday.

Advertisers have taken note of our willingness to believe in their carefully constructed images. And, now we all are right where they want us. We've all become a flock of mindless sheep being led to wherever the images lead.

Politicians these days too, are more concerned with image than with substance. Like trees leaning in the wind, politicians have no problem bending with the wind. Unless, of course, they're not running for re-election.

Spin-doctors work on fixing broken images, and polishing up tarnished ones. Substance doesn't matter. Truth doesn't matter. Honesty doesn't matter. It only matters what you appear to be - not what you are.

It's not right. It's not fair. It's not truth. It's not honor. It's business or it's politics or it's advertising. And, unfortunately, it's affecting our lives. How much money you can make depends upon how good of an image you can project. It's not fair. Life's not fair, and the only ones hurt by the image-engineers are the ones who eat it up - that would be you and me. All of us are to blame for this, because we're in too big of hurry to look beneath the surface and see what festers below.

Last week, in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, there was an Associated Press article about Ask.com. If you read this article you would think that Ask.com was the best thing that has happened to Internet privacy since TRUSTe (kidding folks!). Just take a look at the first part of the article:

"Ask.com became the first major search engine to promise users it won't store data on their queries, giving the privacy-conscious the option of conducting research on the Internet in relative anonymity.

The move comes amid increasing concerns about the release of search information through leaks or subpoenas. In some cases, the search terms a person uses can reveal plenty about medical conditions, marital troubles or kinky interests.

Company officials acknowledged Friday that the decision alone probably won't raise Ask's ranking among search engines. Ask, a unit of IAC/ InterActiveCorp., is far behind Google Inc., Yahoo Inc., Microsoft Corp.'s MSN and Windows Live in the share of U.S. search queries. ..."

After reading the article, one might come away thinking that Ask.com and its parent IAC / InteractiveCorp really cares about you! But, not so much. Festering below IAC / InteractiveCorp's image coup d'etat is IAC / InteractiveCorp's entry into the adware/badware arena - that being, of course, FunWebProducts (SmileyCentral, MyWebSearch, MySearch, et.al).

Under the glowing aura of decency that Ask.com so carefully projects, there is the rotting stench of badware. Yes, you've all read articles we've posted about FunWebProducts before, and you're probably sick to death of reading them, but maybe you should read this one again. Although that article was written when Ask.com was called "Ask Jeeves", it is still as fundamentally true as it was when it was written. And there's this excellent article by Ben Edelman, showing some of questionable methods used by IAC / InteractiveCorp with its toolbars and FunWebProducts. 

And, wouldn't you know that things have actually gotten worse since those articles were written. The FunWebProducts bundle has grown to twenty programs now, instead of the the thirteen programs it contained when those two articles were written. In light of the recent announcement by the parent company of FunWebProducts, that the privacy of their users is such a  high priority, one wonders how IAC / InteractiveCorp could ever be taken seriously. No problem! Investors and business writers like Anick Jesdanun, for the Associated Press, believe it, and that's good for IAC / InteractiveCorp's bottom line. In this age of "Image" the bottom line is all that matters.

Recent news about TRUSTe was no news to us. We recognized three years ago what this company was up to. It was up to making money. In a nutshell, TRUSTe's seal is supposed to guarantee the safety of software programs. When a company who offers software for download and/or sale, the seal is supposed to ease the minds of those downloading it. With the TRUSTe seal you can download with confidence. Well, not so much. When we wrote "Who Can You TRUSTe" in September 2004, it was pretty much ignored by the Internet community. Some of our readers read the article, but it never made the blogosphere or the mainstream news sites. It languished on our servers and once in awhile, perhaps, someone would happen by and read it.

But now, TRUSTe's up to its old tricks and mainstream tech news sites and now the blogosphere is up-in-arms over TRUSTe's certification of ComScore as well as other questionable certifications. If you were to read some of the articles and blogs now spreading around the Web, you would think that TRUSTe had only recently began its questionable practices. But, it's been going on for at least three years - virtually unnoticed by anyone other than Ben Edelman (in this article written in 2006) and us. Who can you TRUSTe? Doesn't look like you can trust TRUSTe, does it?

And then there is the startling revelation that some America's astronauts, America's heroes! were actually drunk when they blasted off into space. Sports heroes on steroids and the questions surrounding Barry Bonds imminent breaking of one of baseball's most esteemed records, the all-time home run record currently held by Hank Aaron; and the National Basketball Association (NBA) official who is being investigated for being in cahoots with gamblers, raising suspicions that games in which he officiated were "fixed", should all serve as examples, that in our world today, what we see is not often what is there.

Corruption is commonplace, truth is rare, honesty is unexpected, genuine kindnesses are hard to find, sincerity is easily faked in this world where image is what matters most. And we've allowed it to happen. We've all welcomed it with open arms. It's easy to let someone else tell us what to think, who to believe, what to wear, what to buy, what to download, where to go, what to eat, where to shop, what to drive - isn't it? We don't have bother looking beyond the images we see. No matter what immorality or lies fester beneath, the image we see is always the shiny and proper one we're supposed to see.

I'm sick of it. If enough of you become sick of it too, things will change eventually. If you don't care - if you sit back and swallow the image instead of looking beneath it and finding the truth, you're just going speed up the already rapid decline into an abyss where there is no truth, there is no honor, there are no values - where image is all there is and money is all that matters. We're almost there now, don't you think?

Image-makers have us all right where they want us, but it's not where I want to be. I'm going to see what festers beneath that beautiful image I see. I'm sick of Hollywood stars, the beautiful faces, the image, getting away with immorality and puerile behavior, and making millions from schmucks like me - and you.

There have always been snake oil salesmen in the world since time began. There have always been those who have no honor or integrity out to take what they can get. But, today, with technology moving forward at lightspeed, images can be created in seconds and circumnavigate the globe in minutes. Today's snake oil salesmen have instant access to billions of people all around the world. Money is the end and the end justifies the means.

If you want to blame someone for what is going on in our world today, don't blame the politicians we elect. And, don't blame companies who sell shoddy products. Don't blame NASA or Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NBA or business - blame yourself.  You and I have allowed this to happen. It's always been human nature to want to believe that we're smart enough to know when what we see is real or not. But technology came along and changed all that. Technology has given the media, businesses, advertisers, professional sports, Internet companies, and politicians, the ability to change anything, even the worst of the worst, and make them appear to be appealing - something we want - something we want to believe.

More than ever, each of us has to start questioning everything we see. We have to be cynics if we don't want to be taken advantage of. We have to be vigilant, not only on the Internet but everywhere in this world because technology has made this the age of the image - the age of honor, if it ever existed at all - is gone.

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