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The Good The Bad The Virtual

This summer I lectured about the new social engineering. A totally new phenomenon brought on completely by the Internet. Nothing else has changed society, so greatly, so globally and in such a short time.

With today's technology and a laptop you can be at almost any point on the globe and get the Internet. That said, it has also severely divided our world, in fact we ALL now live in two co-existing worlds. One is Real and the other is Virtual. And the problem is we are drawn a little deeper in to the virtual world a little more everyday. And where the two worlds collide is not clear at all.

Sony says, Live in your world. Play in ours. But how much fun is it really and what do we give up to have it? Hackers for the most part have given up. Security and encryption have become so good that they have switched to new devices like Phishing.

We haven't had a good virus scare in almost a year. Because of this everything is moving online. Online shopping is positioned to exceed mall or store shopping.

If you stick a card in a gas pump, you interact with this virtual world in some way. Business,banking,gaming, gambling, dating . whoa right there.Dating? Not only dating but just socializing in general. E-mail, instant massaging, interactive games, online collaboration.

At no other point in history could our 14 year old hold a 20 minute chat with some kid in China and never leave the bedroom. The virtual is becoming a powerful force. But . the force has a dark side, young Skywalker. Have you noticed how deep we are withdrawing into, and relying on this new virtual world? And, have you noticed that for every good action there is a reaction that is just as or even more powerful? For example, our seniors, (who by the way are the larger part of the computer market right now), with a laptop and an Internet connection they can socialize, shop, order, learn, watch or be watched with web cams.

It has become a way for them to reach out and maintain their independence, a good thing. In exchange though, everything we do, everything we buy, everywhere we go is tracked. This came to light during this past political campaign when Micro-Marketing broke the news.There is a profile on every individual who swipes a card.

This is a BAD thing. This is the first of a few articles I decided to do about the duality of this new wonder and what it may cost us in the end. I started my rant on the duality of this new Internet society we now all live in. I know there are many examples and I bet you can think of some I have missed. I used our seniors, well here's another: Today, our kids can socialize through chat rooms and web cams, globally.

It has opened up a whole new world of diversity, exchange and communication, this is a good thing. It has also given birth to a whole new type of child predator, a very bad thing. Everybody and everything has become totally reliant on computers and an Internet connection.

Everything: business, banking. telephone communications. A simple cash register connects through a modem when the clerk swipes your card.

Our new digital world has replaced the film camera, killed the record store. Email has been a wounding blow to the post office (though the Internet was a boom to the shipping companies). High speed connections coupled with high end graphics have allowed for the creation of whole new co-existing worlds. Some extremely real and some not so real but all of them virtual. And, when it comes to virtual worlds and interactive games, the cloud is alive.

Entire new worlds have been created and exist. In many instances people are starting to use these to replace their real lives. This could be a bad thing. It's just that everything we do, everything we touch one way or another connects to this thing we call, the cloud, the Internet. A scary result of this is how complacent people have become to computers being around them and how much power they give to it.

A simple dumb box that only displays information that another person had put in. Ever notice how compliant people have become when they hear, I'm sorry, but that is what the computer said. It doesn't matter why. Credit card denied, club membership has expired, can't get your license renewed (my other story). When you get to the point of them saying, I'm sorry, but that is what the computer said. The conversation is over.

Neither you nor the other person is going to get much further. In our minds, this Cloud has become an all knowing, all connecting abstract thing where the universe is stored. Something so big so complicated that we can only search it with Google. This Cloud, to us, is probably better off just being known as the Cloud and all our computers and devices connect us to this Cloud, and some all knowing data base hidden somewhere deep inside, so if the computer says so, it must be true right? This is a really a bad thing. This is where the Real world and Virtual world collide and mix and we start to hand off control to the virtual and this is where our heads get lost in the cloud. It's just that I hope I'm not the only one who sees this and it does scare me.

The point I'm trying to make in this series of articles is: Yes, the Internet and computers have changed our civilization and our history. Yes, they have brought us to new levels of communication and productivity. BUT . look at the price we have paid.

We have come to rely on this new technology so much that we have actually passed control to this non-living thing. So much that it has reached the point that it has not only supplemented, but replaced. This really hit me back in August. I went to make a deposit but the ATM was down so I went inside.

The friendly teller informed me that the computers were down and she could not take my transaction. I didn't think anything of it and asked her to take my deposit and give me a written receipt. She just looked at me with bewildered eyes and told me they no longer do that, no computer no transaction. She was too young to remember a world before ATM machines. The Internet has become this giant non-living entity of its own! It's a huge global network of computers around the world. We go to it for information, to shop, for advice, to learn, to travel, to keep records and to weigh facts and make decisions.

We have handed off so much control that if it should stop, or worse, become with-held life as we know it would stop. We would simply be dead in the water, we couldn't even pump gas. This is not some future scenario. This is here and now, life has indeed become an X File episode. The worst (and to me scary) part is we have given in so willingly, no hesitation, no thought about the future.

We handed control of our lives to a giant non-living cloud, a mass of wires chips and plastic boxes and we did it willingly. Think about that.

Chris Kaminski is head technician for Computer Guys Live Inc., an online computer repair company based in Asheville, NC. He has been working in computer repair for the last 18 years. Visit the techs at Computer Guys Live for your online computer repair.Computer Guys Live

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