Friday, October 22, 2010

Today's Net: There's nowhere to hide ~ By Phil Elmore

There is a good thing about being as old (and I won't elaborate on the exact age) as I am. I was in college long before there was anything like the internet. Actually, only a small percentage of my life would be covered by the years of the world wide web existence. While I did some online communication via the computer in the late 1980's and early '90's, it was by AOL or CompuServe, and direct dial-up connections to Apple user groups using an Apple II computer with a 300 baud modem in the1980's. I would only have to consider myself as having a "web presence" from the mid-1990's and on. And, I really don't think that anything I had done would be a threat to my reputation. Well, not unless you were checking out my political views, and even then, it probably wouldn't hurt me unless I was applying for a job with National Public Radio (NPR), who just fired Juan Williams this week.

However, there is one thing that Phil didn't cover in this column. Even if we live a clean life and have nothing to be ashamed of doing, there is one other factor to consider in our online footprint. It may not be just what we say or do online that could hurt us somewhere down the road. There is something very frightening that has been happening to even the most innocent people. We can all be victims of cyber-bullying or cyber-stalking. We could have enemies out in cyber-space we may not even be aware of. It is what you may find that other people have said about you that could hurt you somewhere along the way. Though in some cases legal action could be warranted, it can still be a huge hassle trying to clear your name if you are smeared by somebody online. Keep in mind, that "it has the longest and most impersonal of memories," even if those memories about you are fabricated by enemies known or unknown. Just sayin'...

For the sake of the theme I've concentrated on the martial arts, which seem to draw no end of bizarre claims and claimants, but we could be speaking of any field of human endeavor. There is nothing we as humans do that does not invite us to say that which is not true; there will always be those who claim to be men and women they are not. We can accept another's words at face value, or we can turn to annals of electrons that betray any human being's public contradictions.

The Internet is part of our lives. As I've written previously, it is now our public square. It is neither friend nor enemy, but it is a constant companion ... and it has the longest and most impersonal of memories.
Today's Net: There's nowhere to hide
By Phil Elmore

Posted: October 21, 2010 ~ 1:00 am Eastern

© 2010

When I was in college, there was no Internet. Well, I suppose there had to have been, after a fashion, but there was no World Wide Web, no network of websites, easily accessible to me as we envision the Internet today. (I know I'm playing fast and loose with the terminology here, so please, no angry e-mails about the difference between the Internet and the Web.) My point is simply that the network of networks we now take for granted as part of the work, communications, entertainment and social infrastructure of our daily lives was then in its infancy.

I could, sitting before a monochrome computer lab terminal or using the 2400-baud modem in my then state-of-the-art 386sx Packard-Bell computer, dial into the university's VAX system – equipment that the often-wrong Wikipedia defines as "an instruction set architecture (ISA) developed by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) in the mid-1970s." I could use that VAX system for what I then called "electronic mail," if I sent that mail only to fellow students. (I resisted the verbal shorthand, "e-mail," for months, because it sounded silly to me.) With the addition of a complicated text string it was even possible to send messages to fellow students at other schools.

Through the VAX I could also read the Usenet, which opened up whole new worlds of discussion and access to information. Why, I could even play interactive, multi-user games called "Multi-User Dungeons" – MUDs, the forerunners to today's Internet-linked MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games). Today, instead of glowing amber text on a screen telling you that there are four obvious exits found at the compass points, you can play immersive first-person shooting games using simulations of real-life firearms ... and listen to the voices of teenagers in other countries laughing at how easily they've "killed" you.

In college, something happened that probably changed the course of my interests and career for the rest of my life. I encountered a fellow we'll call "Dirk." Dirk was, to borrow the movie phrase, an international man of mystery – to hear him tell it. He had led a fascinating life interacting with gypsies, solving occult mysteries and mastering the martial arts. He was such a highly talented and sought-after man, in fact, that he roamed the campus heavily armed, existing in a constant state of paranoia concerning the various faceless, nameless enemies who surrounded him. Occasionally, he would give those forces names, and when he did, those who sought his harm were invariably people who didn't like him or with whom he'd otherwise come into perfectly benign conflict.

As a kid of 19 years old, I had few reasons to doubt Dirk's tales. It wasn't until a year or more passed by that I realized he was, well, a liar. He wasn't the martial artist he claimed to be, nor had he led the life of adventure he was always describing so vividly. His stories simply did not add up. However, back then, there was no way to check on those stories. There was no way to look into Dirk's life, no record of his past words that wasn't on paper scribbled in notebooks under the bed in his dorm.

Today, all that has changed. Today, you are only an Internet search away from being held accountable for everything you've ever said publicly. Human nature being what it is, most of us tend to use the same usernames and pseudonyms. More and more commonly, we use our own names, especially when social networking sites like Facebook encourage us to do so. A few hours or even a few minutes of searching is all it takes to tie most of us to years of history. If you said it on the Web, chances are it can be traced to you – and it's never going to go away.

A popular martial-arts aggregator – a website that archives and shares a variety of information on its chosen topic, including instructional articles from contributors – uses me as their ad hoc background checker. When a new contributor wants to submit articles to the service, the owners ask me to check and see if I can find any reason why that person should not be trusted to do so. I have no special tools; I use only the Internet. You would be amazed what a person's Internet footprint can reveal about him. There is no need to hire a private investigator or pay some online service for public records. Everything you could ever want to know about someone can conceivably be found online.


Be sure to check out
johnny2k's Tea Party Gear!

No comments:

Post a Comment