Joyce E. Byrd
Word Painting • Web Design • Photo Imagery
The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.
- Edwin Schlossberg


What A Worldly Wild Web We Weave

by Joyce E. Byrd

HELLO, my name is Joyce, and I am an Internet addict.

Oh sure, I am a casual sufferer of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). I alphabetize my spices and make sure all the canned goods labels face the front of the pantry. I tend to straighten the rug fringe, pick lint and stray threads from clothing, and smooth wrinkled linens. (It could be worse, my mother used to iron the bed linens and towels.)

But, this Internet addiction is something more. It has become a lifeline to reality. I impulsively turn on the computer each morning to check e-mail. Of course, while I’m there I solve a few online crossword puzzles and check the status of online auctions. I then pull myself away to grab a sandwich and Dr. Pepper for lunch, and it’s back to the computer. After all, someone may have sent e-mail with late-breaking news—or a joke.

Perhaps that's why they call it The Web. Just like a spider’s lair, once you probe it you cannot get away.

From a security perspective, I do try to keep my addiction in check, though. I do not participate in chat rooms. I don’t subscribe to mailing lists and so rarely receive spam (computer junk mail). I am careful not to divulge personal information online and am selective as to the web sites I will “join”.

I have, however, participated in online gaming, such as Yahoo’s cribbage and Sony’s Jeopardy, which provide the ability to chat with fellow participants during game play. Of course, you don’t know if the other guy is telling you the truth or enhancing his lot in life to impress his new online acquaintances.

I received an online comeuppance, though, when I forwarded a joke to a group of e-mail friends. A couple of days later, I received a reply e-mail from a user whose ID was from a local maximum-security prison; the note read, “I need this in here.” Stunned, I replied and asked how he had gotten my e-mail address. It turns out he was a prison psychologist, and someone else had forwarded my forwarded message to him and when trying to reply to the sender he inadvertently selected my e-mail address.

My e-mail address was ready and waiting for one errant mouse click. This emphasized to me how vast and unsafe the Internet world really is.

A friend attended a continuing education course in Internet applications. The class instructor is a systems security specialist. Part of the lesson was to access hacker sites, download hacker “freeware” (free software), and “spy” on other members of the class. My friend was amazed that she could seize control of computers on the Internet and gain complete access to the files within the controlled computer’s network. Further, she could surreptitiously observe the actions of an Internet computer user, running the gamut from typed commands to full screen displays.

And, popular virus protection software did not catch the hacking activity. It is important to note that the hacker spying actions described above were only usable if the targeted computer was actively connected to the Internet.

Recently, Microsoft Corporation recently revealed that it has had the capability to spy on Microsoft software users through communication protocols in its software. Release of the latest Intel processor chip, which will be installed in most full-featured personal computers, stirred controversy over similar spying and privacy issues.

Computers are not the only places where we are susceptible to spying. Surveillance cameras have been monitoring our moves in convenience stores and the like for years. Fitting room cameras have intruded on our privacy still further. Now, cameras also watch us ever more frequently in parking lots, at intersections, and on highways. Corporations use cameras to monitor employees work areas, break rooms, and restrooms. And, what about the government’s (and others’?) power to remotely zoom in on a license plate from a satellite perched in the heavens?

Even our personal vehicles are no longer safe havens. Newer models are armed with a computer chip to track, and report, our driving habits.

With the advent of Internet-ready televisions, two-way access is upon us. The FCC has mandated that high definition television (HDTV) will be the standard by 2010, replacing current television technology. Is the government enabling more technology than we know in the deployment of HDTV? Can in-home spying be far away?

Could it be that George Orwell’s infamous 1984 was simply misnamed by 15 years? Or could it be that, in addition to OCD and Internet addiction, I am developing paranoia?

Copyright © 2000, Joyce E. Byrd.  All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2000-2007, Joyce E. Byrd.  All rights reserved.