Even with spam “protection,” the amount of junk email that my wife and I receive is astronomical – less than one in fifty emails is legitimate. The rest are spam and solicitations. Now I’m getting close to a hundred attempted “spam” comments on the website daily, all of them with embedded links to sell or promote something. That’s just one facet of the problem. Another facet is the continual proliferation of attempts at phishing and identity theft. It makes one want to ask – have there always been so many people trying to make a buck, rupee, ruble, Euro, or whatever by freeloading or preying on others?
I know that con artists have been around since the beginning of history, but never have such numbers been so obvious and so intrusive to so many. Is this the inevitable result of an electronic technology that makes theft, fraud, and blatant self-promotion at the expense and effort of others a matter of keyboarding at a distance? At one time, these types of offenses had to be carried out in person and embodied a certain amount of risk and a probability of detection and usually criminal punishment. Now that they can be accomplished via virtually untraceable [for practical purposes] computer/internet access, they’ve proliferated to the point where virtually every computer connected to the net runs the risk of some sort of loss or damage – a form of computer Russian roulette.
But what I find the most disheartening about this is the fact that so many people, once the risk and criminal penalty factors were so dramatically reduced by technology, set out to exploit and fleece others. Even those of us not yet fleeced or exploited have to take time, effort, and additional software to deal with these intrusions. I have to sort through the potential comments quarantined by the system several times a day, because a few are legitimate, and deserve to be posted, and I still have to take time to delete all the unwanted email. I have to pay for protective software, and so forth. In effect, every computer user is being taxed in terms of time, money, and risk by this radical expansion of the unscrupulous.
Now… those who are extreme technophiles will claim that the downsides of our technologically based communications/computing systems are negligible… or at least that the benefits far outweigh the downsides. But the problem here is that most of the benefits, especially in terms of costs, go to large institutions and the unscrupulous, while the downsides fall on the rest of us. I don’t see that, for example, that the internet enables more good writers; it enables writers who are better self-promoters, and some good writers are, and a great many aren’t. In trying to evaluate honestly what I do on the net, I suspect that my internet presence is similar to treading water. I’m not losing much ground to the blatant self-promoters, but for all the effort it requires, I’m not gaining either, and it’s time spent when I can’t be writing. Yet if I don’t do it, especially with, I have to admit after looking at recent sales figures [and yes, some of you were right] the recent spurt in the growth of e-books, my sales will suffer.
I don’t see that the internet is that useful in enabling small businesses, because there are so many, and the effort and ingenuity require to attract customers is considerable, but it certainly allows large ones to contact everyone. And it certainly allows every variety of cyber-criminal potential access to a huge variety of victims with almost no chance of getting detected, let alone prosecuted and punished. The idea of privacy has become almost laughable, even for those of us who don’t patronize social networking sites.
Cynical as I may be, my hopes have always been that technology would be employed to enable the best to be better, and the rest to improve who and what they are. Yet… I have this nagging feeling that, more and more, technology, particularly communications technology, is dragging down far more people than it is improving, especially ethically… and, even if it isn’t, it’s creating a tremendous diversion of time from actual productive work. That diversion may be worthwhile in manufacturing-based industries, but it’s a definite negative force in areas such as writing and other creative efforts. In a society that is becoming ever more dependent on technology, unless matters change, this foreshadows a future in which marketing and hype become ever more present and dominant, even as the technophiles are claiming communications technology makes life better and better.
Better and better for whom? And what?