Friday, July 01, 2005

Computer are evil. If you disagree you're a big fat communist pedophile rapist!

Have you ever noticed just how annoying it is to talk about computers to someone who doesn’t know a damn thing about them?

No, I’m not being geek-elitist. I’m not talking about spraying Funyuns and Mountain Dew over someone in a derisory laugh, just because they don’t know the difference between IDE and SATA RAID.

No, the problem is, despite the fact that someone can be fiercely proud of the fact that they know nothing about computers, that same person always has an opinion, usually plucked straight from the media.

This is the only topic of conversation that has this phenomenon. The usual quote is “I don’t bother with any of that ‘computer crap’”, delivered along with an eyebrow raised, desultory sneer, born from the inexplicable belief that because they don’t know something you know, they’re somehow superior for it.

It doesn’t happen anywhere else. You’ll never hear a guy, even if he has all the engineering knowledge of a stoat with learning difficulties, admit he knows nothing about cars. Computers are a different story. There’s some sort of misplaced pride in being unable to even turn a computer on.

This even extends to ‘tech support’. In my family, there are certain members who wouldn’t hesitate to call me when their computer went south, but would sneer and look at me like I’d grown an extra head if I attempted to show them what I was doing, so they could do it themselves in future.

“I don’t get all of this computer crap!”

Of course, all of this pales in comparison to the things that people who don’t know a monitor from a mouse ‘know’ about computers and the internet.

The things these people ‘know’ are, in no particular order:

1) Chatrooms are chock full of pedophiles.

This, of course, is so much bullshit. Bear in mind that literally billions of people use IRC chatrooms every single day. The great majority of them are like you and me, normal people, online for a chat. Of course, once one pedophile story is reported in the newspaper, the non-comps (I’ll call them non-comps for brevity) are up in arms, want the Internet shut down, the police called and won’t allow a computer anywhere near their homes. If you go in a chatroom, you’ll definitely get attacked by pedophiles.

2) Buying anything off the internet is lunacy

This is another favourite. If you give out your credit card number online, thieves will empty your account, steal your identity, and take over the world.

Of course, this is also complete crap. If you use a little common sense, check that the site is secure, and buy from reputable sellers, you’ll be fine. I’ve bought at least 15 items off the Internet, and never had a problem.

Of course, credit card fraud happens in ‘real life’ also. However, the same people who flat out refuse to buy anything off the internet, will gladly give their credit card number to buy something off someone face to face, or from a magazine.

Newsflash! Ordering online is the same as buying mail order or over the phone. It’s just quicker, and actually more secure. If you use a little common sense (which isn’t all that common), on the internet, you can see if the site is certified safe and has the little padlock in the corner showing the transaction is secure. Anyone can take out an ad in a paper, get your credit card number over the phone, and then vanish. At least the internet leaves a trail.

3) Every email attachment contains a virus.

Again, we can thank the media for this one. Viruses seem to be the one thing that everyone is an instant expert on, when most of them don’t even know what a computer virus is or what it does. Despite the fact that literally billions of emails are sent every single day, and that the grand majority of them are safe, apparently, if you open an email attachment, you’re screwed.

I once worked with someone who blamed computer viruses for everything. If they lost something they’d typed, virus. If their background changed, virus. If their computer crashed, virus. He even went to far as assuming anything electrical could contract a computer virus. He once came into work and told me, in all seriousness, that his DVD player wasn’t working, because it had got a virus from a copied DVD. (For completeness, it turned out his lens needed cleaning).

In other words, the people who have never touched a keyboard in their life, read the newspapers, and become instant experts on all things computer. They might not know how to use a mouse, but they sure as hell know that the internet is the great pedophile playground.

So why am I blathering about all of this. Why is it important?

Well first of all, I’m seriously getting pissed with every single person I meet sharing these nuggets with me when they hear I like computers.

“I found this really cool website yesterday”
“Oh, I know about them websites, if you give them your name, they steal your identity!”

“Wait a sec, I need to check my email.”
(Serious expression) “Don’t open them if they have an attachment, you’ll get a virus.”

“Where’d you get that?”
“Oh you idiot, you didn’t use your credit card, did you? Oh, someone will empty your bank account, I saw it on the news!”


Look, people, I know about computers. I’m not a complete expert, but I can build them, know what all the components are, and what they do. While I have very limited programming knowledge, I can use any application you put in front of me. I don’t need advice about the basic day to day parts of internet usage. Yes I know what a virus is, yes I know about fraud and identity theft.

Do Not Give Me Computer Advice On The Above Subjects, As A Punch In The Balls Often Offends.

However, this topic isn’t just important just because these people are bloody annoying. The worst thing is that these people tend to be in charge of online legislature. Apparently, being a politician instantly gives you the authority to make the rules for a media you know nothing about.

Like the people who decided to spend millions introducing a scheme that means any American ‘adult’ website needs to submit proof that all their models are over 18.

Great idea, but considering legit adult sites already do that (Why risk your slice of a billion dollar industry), and non-legit sites aren’t going to care (If you’re peddling child porn, risking a heavy prison sentence, is one more minor offence going to bother you?) It’s just stupid..

Oh, and this is the internet. Hmm, shall I spend millions to comply? Or shall I just have my site hosted overseas, where US Law can’t touch me?

The only result of this new law is that overseas webhosting companies will get a nice boost, while driving some domestic webhosting companies out of business.

History bears me out. Pulp comics in the 20’s where going to turn our youth into slavering psychopaths. In the 30’s, Jazz meant the end of morals. In the 50’s and 60’s Rock and Roll encouraged promiscuity. In the 80’s, TV and Videos exposed our young to sex, violence and depravity, while melting everyone’s brains. In the 90’s, Acid house and rave music was going to get us all on drugs. Right now, the internet, hip-hop, rap and video games are the thing that’s going to turn everyone under the age of 40 into raging, drug using, murderous rapists.

Every time there’s a new thing, it’s going to destroy us… while those who know the least about the new ‘threat’ write the laws controlling it.

This leads to a lot of very overzealous people, who are metaphorically burning down the barn to get rid of a rat.

Peer to Peer filesharing networks are a hot button topic right now, and they’re being shut down left, right and center. Forget the fact that they have many legal uses: Podcasting, sharing public domain material while encouraging innovation in communications technology. Just because they can be used to illegally share copyrighted material, the powers that be want them shut down. It’s a policy of going after the application’s creators, rather than the people who are using the application illegally.

Kinda like banning telephones because people can plan illegal acts through them. Why stop there? Cars are used in getaways, cameras take pictures of child porn and cutlery can be used for murder.

Everyone turn in your knives, forks, cars and cameras…if you don’t, you’re going to jail, you evil, selfish unconcerned bastards!

Rather than punish the people that use legal things illegally, they shut down, confiscate or ban the thing they use. Again, history backs me up:

Home VCR’s almost never made it to the shelves, because the same people thought they’d be used to pirate copyrighted material.

Even DVD players were delayed for home use, because a copied DVD, unlike a pirate tape, is an exact match to the original. They were originally ‘allowed’ to be released, on the understanding that DVD writers would never be released to the public. It took a lot of court battles before DVD writers were given the green light.

Because of the lack of understanding, rather than make an actual risk assessment, the first step is to ban, suppress or prosecute anything that can be used illegally.

When the majority non-comps start screaming because the internet is exposing their children to ‘Big Samson The Baby Buggerer’, no one is going to turn around and say:

“Actually, you’re wrong, it’s nothing but a media fueled, unnecessary moral panic. You see, good news doesn’t sell papers, whereas The Next Big Threat makes them fly off the shelves. The internet is actually very safe. Just be a little careful, don’t let your underage children go into chatrooms unsupervised, and everything will be fine.”

Why risk it, when you can say:

“You’re right, easily fooled voters! Let me take up my flaming sword of justice, and I will cut out this cancer that is destroying the very moral fabric of our society! I will not tolerate this threat to our children. Follow me and I will put into place lots of laws that are guaranteed to make us perfectly safe, and will not, in any way, invade honest people’s privacy, wrap the simplest thing up in miles of red tape, and make life increasingly more annoying and difficult for the people who actually understand this thing! Huzzah!!”

So what started me on this rant today?

As usual, I heard a story. The exact details can be found on G4TV’s website (Link on the right).

Basically a school had a program where they would loan laptops to students who didn’t have a computer at home. These laptops were set up so it limited the student’s access to the internet to academic-only websites.

Many of you will see where this is going. If you give a teenager a laptop, a teenager who doesn’t have their own internet access, do you really expect them to simply use said laptop solely for their studies?

Of course not. They’re going to look at a bit of porn, download some music, and all that good stuff. This is exactly what they did.

Well, the school found out. They found downloaded MP3’s and, as they call them, some ‘inappropriate’ images.

So imagine you’re the principal of that school. What do you do to the students?

Detention? Definitely.

Suspension? Maybe.

Expulsion? A tad extreme.

Well, they didn’t do any of that. Try FELONY CHARGES!

That’s right, because they ‘broke into’ a computer (despite the fact they simply used a password, which wasn’t even kept secret), there’s a whole bunch of students facing stiff prison time.

Talk about overzealous.

Apparently computer ‘crime’ doesn’t have any kind of degrees of severity to it. If you do something bad on a computer, you might as well have committed murder…Even if all you’re doing is using a schoolwork-only computer to listen to the new Eminem album, or trying to catch a glimpse of a nipple.

That’s what overzealous, uneducated authorities get you. These students are facing the same kind of charges as someone who has used a computer to hack into the electoral roll database and steal a whole town’s social security numbers.

If you put someone in charge of something as big as the entire countries Internet policy, they should at least have a passing knowledge of computers, should have the internet users best interests at heart, and should be stamping out unnecessary moral panics, rather than fanning the flames for their own agenda.

As for the school…I think this is the first case of students being punished for being cleverer than their teachers.


serendipity said...

Oh the number of these conversations I have had with people!

I worked for 2 years in Fraud department of the credit company I work at. Identity theft and credit card fraud are big business but the internet is responsible for only the smallest percentage of it. This isn't what "non comps" choose to believe though. They will argue tooth and nail that the internet is the ultimate evil.

I disagree, I love the age of technology. If people would just be open minded and take responsibility for their own actions, then they wouldn't need to use the internet as their scapegoat for all the is wrong with the world.

MC Etcher said...

I try to descibe it to the PC haters like this:

The internet is made up of everyday people. If 2% of all people are evil, then that applies whether you're at the mall, or online.

Paulius said...

I'll have to remember that one