Our Little Rant
by Eightball & Thundercloud
From InfoAve Premium Issue #66 January 21, 2004
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The Red Helmet Society
I've often wondered why normally intelligent
people who seem to have their feet firmly planted on the ground in "real" life,
suddenly become bereft of the qualities that make them successful as soon as
they touch a computer or get on the Internet. What is it about computers and the
Internet that seem to reduce a normally functional human brain into a tangled
mass of misfiring neurons in a bowl full of gray jelly?
What brings this to mind is, the other day we
had a woman write to us and complain that she couldn't use our stationery. We
correctly pointed out that the spyware she had installed was preventing our
stationery from working properly. "Not only that", we said, "but it's preventing
you from using your Outlook Express in the normal way." We offered her help in
removing the spyware and warned her of the consequences of having this type of
software installed. We told her that her personal privacy may be at risk, that
her machine was surely in jeopardy of eventual (almost certain) catastrophic
failure, and that she is leaving an open tunnel between her computer and the
spyware's home server through which other questionable programs could be (and
most likely will be) installed. And, that this particular spyware program was
using her computer's resources to display advertisements, track her behavior on
the Web, and to send back these reports to the spyware server. Her response?
"No, thanks. I'll keep what I have." Hmmm...
A computer is just a machine. It can't do
anything without you doing something first; like any other machine. Somehow when
people sit down at a computer they become instantly bewildered and overwhelmed.
Now, mind you, these are the same people who, in their normal lives, are nurses,
doctors, lawyers, professors, managers, and so on. They are successful
professionals, tradesmen/tradeswomen, parents, teachers, business owners,
grandparents, candlestick makers; you know - real people. They appear normal in
real life. But, suddenly are transformed when they don their "Web" mask and
allow the Internet to slowly suck their brain out and disperse it randomly
across cyberspace. Luckily for the "real" world, this condition is temporary. As
soon as the computer is shut down the brain returns to its normal condition. The
Web mask comes off, and the person returns to his or her normal state and go
back to baking cookies, varnishing boats, or whatever else one does when not on
the Internet having his or her brain sucked out.
Here's an example: We're often asked "How do I
know if something is spyware?". Well the first clue is spyware is most always
free. But, not everything that is free is spyware. Think of it this way: If your
local Ford dealer suddenly announced they were giving away free cars, a normal
person's first thought would be: "What's the catch?". And, they'd scrutinize the
fine print to find the catch because they know there is one. Big companies do
not give things away. Now, let's say you walked into Mary's Bakery Shop and Mary
offered you a free apple Danish. You wouldn't wonder what the catch is. You
instinctively know there's no fine print to be read. You'd eat the Danish and if
you're the greedy sort you ask for a free cup of coffee. If you're not the
greedy type, you offer to pay for the coffee and waddle on your way.
Do you see the difference in the above
examples? You know when a Ford dealer gives away cars, they're not doing it
because they're such swell people. There's going to be a catch. And, you want to
know what the catch is before you drive away in that new 2005 Escape. You'll
read the fine print, call and ask them about the offer, and investigate before
you take the keys and drive away. But, Mary's Bakery is different. Mary is a
small shop. You know her. You've dealt with her for some time. She's not
spending zillions of dollars on advertising. You trust her.
Yet, when some people get on the Internet,
their brain seems to vanish into the gazillion pixels of their monitor and swept
into some ethereal realm awaiting for computer shutdown to return to the
person's skull. They see something "Free" that seems too good to be true. They
don't know the company but who cares? Not them, that's for sure! They don't
suspect anything. They don't read the fine print. Why bother? This is the
Internet, man! They download it and for awhile everything seems OK. The
cancer grows quietly at first. But, an imperceptible change is taking place deep
within the bowels of their computer. One day you notice your computer is a
little slower, you notice that you're seeing a lot more ads; you pass it off as
nothing important. Then, a little while later, you notice when you turn your
computer on you're greeted with a bevy of popups and your browser opens several
windows; and you haven't even opened your browser yet.
The people who develop spyware are not stupid.
They've invented something worse than a virus;
they've invented a computer cancer that grows slowly, imperceptibly, so that by
the time the symptoms appear, and you notice something's terribly wrong, you
don't make the connection between that "free goodie" you got a month or so ago
and the problems you're having now. So, you will probably blame the very last
thing you installed; while the real spyware merrily continues to plunder your
computer and your privacy. In the meantime, while your computer has been
slowly dying, the spyware has been gathering data about your personal surfing
habits and your online buying habits and sold you out a hundred times to
different advertisers who have their greedy little mouths open waiting for the
spyware companies to feed them your information.
And what's worse they feed on your computer's own
resources to make their cancer grow. Using a little more of your resources each
day so you don't notice that your computer is getting slower and slower.
Programs freeze because your resources are low, so you blame the program because
you don't have any inkling that those funny little emoticons and that toolbar
you installed have anything to do with it. They're working just fine. It's just
everything else that isn't quite right. Eventually, your system will be so full
of spyware you'll have to format your hard drive. If you're lucky, you've been
backing up your data. If you're not, you'll have to start all over again. And,
if you don't realize what caused this mess in the first place, you think about
those cute little emoticons you got free and go back and get them. As soon as
you "get them" they'll "get you". And it starts all over again: the perpetual
It may be true that the Internet may never
crossover into your everyday life, so what difference does it make if you
download spyware or worse on your computer? Still, it sure is annoying when your
computer runs slowly or not at all. And, it's hassle to format your hard drive
and expensive to have it done by a technician. I don't know about your "real"
life but if I had to pay a hundred bucks for a format; that would affect my
"real" world. And, if you have important records or keep books on your computer;
if you store important files or irreplaceable family photographs, it can affect
your "real" world. So, you see what you do on the Internet and how you handle
things on the Internet can and does affect your everyday life in a big way.
If I could I'd invent a helmet that would
protect people's brains while using computers and the Internet. I would make the
helmet red. And if you wore it you'd keep your brain intact while surfing. I
would sell it for $20.00 and form a society called the Red Helmet Society. I'd
be rich and you'd be safe. And, you wouldn't have to read any more of these
rants. I'd be laying on a beach in Barbados, in my Speedo's, drinking a
refreshing Caribbean Cooler, peeling a coconut and watching the world go by. I'd
be so far away from the Internet....
Hey! Don't you have Wi-Fi on this beach? I
want my InfoAve!
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