Friday, February 27, 2009

When Virtual Becomes Reality

If you ever watched the TV series, Star Trek, The Next Generation, you probably saw the holodeck.  The holodeck is this amazing bit of technology where the ship's computer can somehow manipulate molecules into becoming physical manifestations of the computer program it is running.

Based on the program you put into the computer, you can walk into a 1920's speakeasy, take a voyage on a seventeenth century pirate ship or converse with a famous personality, learn new skills or play in a rock band.

Those are the good programs.  I have to wonder if anyone monitors the holodeck to see what crew members are really doing in there.

Like anything else that has a positive use, the holodeck could just as easily be used for nefarious activities, including all sorts of simulated depredations.  I wonder what child porn laws are like in the 25h century and if these virtual children created by the holodeck program would be a basis for prosecution if abused by a real pedophile using the program.

Not that they would allow pedophiles on-board a 25th century starship, of course.

My point is that the line between the virtual and the real is becoming ever more blurred in today's world.

The thin veil of anonymity is being pierced more and more often by both governments, hackers and even regular people.

I don't know if you have seen the commercial that is running these days about the girl who keeps getting recognized by all the strangers, where they ask her things like, "Hi Sara, what color panties today?" or "Hey Sara, when are you going to post something new?".

These guys are obviously not her intended audience.  The problem is that when you post something on the internet, the world is your audience.  And you can't take it back.

Could that be your child?

People form on-line relationships that end up destroying marriages when they fall in love with an avatar of some person on-line.

People connect to the internet, leaving their virtual doors and windows wide open to passersby.  Not all of them benevolent.  Consider the MSNBC story in my last post where they show how easy it is to harvest personal information right from people's computers using the same technology that opens the computer up to this invasion.

As hard as it is to believe, people are still regularly being fleeced by scammers who send them emails promising riches in exchange for just placing some money in an account in anticipation of millions of dollars coming from a dethroned prince or ambassador who needs to get money out of the country.

People are still getting duped by ever more sophisticated phishing scams.  The phishers have gotten very, very good at duplicating legitimate web sites to fool you into thinking that the email requesting that you update your personal information really came from your bank or PayPal or E-bay.

No company or organization that has your password will ever send you an email asking for it. They just don't need to do that.

All because many of us are trusting people navigating blind in a place full of virtual sharks and barracudas.

The other thing that I noticed in the MSNBC story about the peer to peer file sharing programs allowing access to personal information was the complete unconcern that the teenage girls are using the program to illegally share music.

The parents acted just like this was fine and dandy.  And the MSNBC announcer went on about how the girls just love to share music with their friends.  Hello, it is still illegal to do that folks.

Little foxes.  When we allow our kids to participate in illegal or unethical practices because we are either too lazy to understand what they are doing or don't see any harm in a little pirated music, we are telling them that some laws are okay to break.

I have long opined that when history looks back on this era, the Internet will be considered one of the best and worse things to happen to society.

Where else can you access thousands of books and articles on virtually any subject?  You  can get an entire education via podcasts from iTunes University, or attend a university completely on-line.

You can strike it rich, sell an idea, make new business connections, communicate with friends and family.  All without leaving the comfort of your home.

The flip side of course is that you can lose your life savings, access horrific images, both legal and illegal. Your children can get an entire education on things you would rather not think about.

You can view terrorist groups beheading people, or you can download child porn.

Your kids can freely be approached by child predators and pedophiles.

All without leaving the comfort of your home.

The problem is that so many people, especially people who are currently raising kids, don't seem to know much about computers or the Internet.  So they ignore the whole thing, saying stuff like, "My kids are so smart on the computer. I can barely get my email."

Well, wise up and get smart about the computer and the Internet.  Do your duty as a responsible adult and monitor your kids.

Just because you don't understand it, does not mean you can abdicate your responsibility to children who depend on you for protection.

The line between the virtual of the Internet and the reality of impact on your life or your children's lives is much thinner than you might imagine.

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