Rants & Essays
By Paul Somerson
Quick - what's the most dangerous threat to us all?
Sarin-filled subways? Russian plutonium smugglers? Government bureaucrats?
Cults arming against government bureaucrats? Disgruntled postal workers? Pat
Robertson? Hot McDonald's take-out coffee? Guess again. Ask a growing
number of boneheads out there and they'll tell you public enemy No. 1 is none
other than the World Wide Web.
You can't turn on a TV or skim a newspaper these days
without stumbling over hordes of shrill technophobes urging regulators to pull
the plug and shut the whole Internet down.
Their new bogeyperson is the radical right wacko, now that
online recipe-swapping sometimes involves ingredients like fertilizer and
fuel oil. The week after the tragedy in Oklahoma, trash TV was filled with
wild-eyed discoveries that, yes, extremists use the Internet, too. There was
even an erroneous flash on one tabloid news show that prime bombing suspect
Timothy McVeigh had an American Online account - as if this by itself was a
crime, or proof of something dark and evil.
Another bugbear is the Harassment and Victimization Brigade.
These single-issue cranks see the online world simply as a vehicle for words
and thoughts they don't agree with. They browse the Net for strong language,
unwelcome speech, inappropriate laughter. Recently, Representative
Kweisi Mfume even introduced an insanely broad "Electronic Anti-Stalking Act"
that gives these losers a First Amendment-bashing club. Use that smiley-faced
emoticon wrong, buster, and you're in big trouble.
And there are always the antisex freaks. Breathless TV
accounts have convinced them that the entire Internet is essentially a vast
network of digital deviants bent on ensnaring their young, and an endless
unsolicited torrent of multimedia smut pulsating down the phone lines, a
pornucopia of perversion.
While it's true that knowledgeable Web-crawlers can check
out exotic newsgroups like alt.binaries.nude.celebrities (where you can
see "Willard Scott Nekkid"), the average user won't have a clue about
how to find, download, and view such material.
Now there's even a whole new book zapping the Net: Silicon
Snake Oil, by Clifford Stoll. Better known for his The Cuckoo's Egg exploits,
Stoll savages the Net as an overhyped, dehumanizing waste of time for
drones and asocial dorks. He complains it's an "ostrich hole" that diverts us
from solving social problems and prevents us from planting tomatoes (I'm not
making this up). He castigates schools for buying PCs instead of more books.
For more than 200 rambling pages, he ticks off a long list of online benefits
and then tries to punch holes in every single one. Frankly, his reasons are
often a little, well
Memo to all these whiners and trouble-makers: Lighten up.
And take advantage of the technology instead of trying to kill it.