Electronic Free-Loading… and Worse

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?

3 thoughts on “Electronic Free-Loading… and Worse”

  1. Sarah says:

    “I don’t see that the internet is that useful in enabling small businesses”

    The internet is useful because it has a low barrier to entry and that means that far more people can at least try a small business without needing massive start-up capital. I think it can also be incredibly useful for extending the reach of your business – if you have a great niche product, suddenly the whole world can see it instead of the people who happen to pass your shop (although it’s rarely this simple!)

    Unfortunately the internet is full of spammers, scammers and con artists. I believe half the problem is that of jurisdiction and the different laws in different countries regarding computer crime.

    PS If you are concerned about spam comments, and as you are using WordPress, I would suggest (if you aren’t already) installing the Akismet spam protection plugin as it does help filter a lot of the dross.

  2. I have been using the Web for the last 14 or so years, and the Internet, off and on, for the last 29 years. The incidence of spam in my business or at work or at home, as far as I can tell, is no greater than in 1998; it’s just that both perpetrators and preventers have become much more sophisticated.

    Because of “legacy” emails that I keep stored there, I have remained on AOL. Over the years, I have “trained” AOL to do a better job of distinguishing between spam and legitimate messages, and AOL does make an effort to kill spam-generating sites before they reach my in-box. You are in the unusual situation of welcoming communications with lots of individual strangers who are readers, like me, and therefore the spam filter is less effective for you.

    You might want to think about the following, if you haven’t already:

    (1) Set up a separate email address (preferably with a separate computer), and arrange to re-route emails from trusted senders to that address. You can then focus on reading those emails, with much more occasional checks on the contents of the other address.

    (2) When you are deleting spam, sort not only by the sender but also (after that is done) by the subject. I have found that spammers often pose as different senders but have the same or slightly variant subject lines, so I can do a mass delete of 90% of the spam right off.

    (3) Consider taking a slightly different approach to “blogging for visibility”. Many of the bloggers who are the most effective at gaining visibility use large numbers of urls to other blogs in their posts. In effect, they are creating “discussion groups” that give added visibility to all members; and the high quality of the posts that you reference gives your posts greater attractiveness to readers whose time is limited. Paul Krugman appears to be a master of this type of cross-referencing (e.g., to Simon Johnson); and it can contribute to the writing as well, as I have found, with little effort beyond an occasional Google-type search for new material from a set of “usual suspect” blogs and news reports.

    Good luck 🙂

  3. Ann says:

    I believe “computer crimes” are just an extension of a philosophy that has been in place for a long time by profitmakers, such as credit card companies and stores. When is the last time anyone asked for your identification when using a credit card? The stores, credit card companies, car companies and especially the pharmaceutical companies look at the risk / convenience / profit and decide to pursue the route that gains them the most rewards, NOT WHAT IS SAFEST. Now we hear colleges are selling student information to telemarketers. I think back to my parents and how protective they were of their finances and more cautious of their credit cards, yet niave in that their drivers license was on their checks. In short, we have been conditioned to accept these risks in order to make progress in life. IF you don’t, you end up not participating in life as it has become. (I would like to add during the mortgage crisis, not one single news show or reporter commented that in order to have a house, even with a decent interest rate, you end up paying at least TWICE the value of your home, if not 3 times, which is more often the case. That is a crime and has never been questioned. One of the reasons I so much enjoy your books is that the characters have it in them to overcome evil and rise above obstacles that stop most people, if they are determined or strong enough. We must always be on out toes, whether on the computer, telemarketers, or when using our credit card at a restaurant. HERE’S THE QUESTION: How many of us would go back to life the way it was 30 years ago – no cell phone, ebay, amazon, email, internet, and only purchased things we could afford? Without the Internet, I never would of come across Modesitt’s books, so I am guilty of putting myself in the “internet cage” – it comes with a price, like always.

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