|The Internet and the family|
|Written by Joe FaraceHits : 556|
|Thursday, 31 December 1998 19:00|
To most computer users, the Internet is a useful tool. We use it to send e-mail, download updaters for software and research new products and services. The World Wide Web is a giant repository of knowledge where you can find more information than in almost any library.
Those who don't use the Internet, and who get their information from various people, take a different view. They see the Internet as a hunting ground for pedophiles and the biggest dirty bookstore on earth. The sad truth is that this is the dark side of the Web that polite computer users don't usually like to talk about--even though it's there for all to see or ignore.
Another ugly side of the Web is that many people quote sources on the Internet as if it were The New York Times, but what you read on the Net is just as likely to be made up or misinformed as it is to be accurate. The true ugliness of the Internet is that it exemplifies the dumbing down of America.
I don't get chat rooms, either. Even when they use cool technology like The Palace, chat rooms seem to be a place to avoid meeting real people and participating in the real world. While I'll surf the Net looking for information and the latest shareware Photoshop plug-in, I prefer analog toys like model trains and cars.
While I will confess to having used digital imaging tools and techniques to create photographs of cars, I prefer lying on the ground and having oil drip on me than having a mouse clutched in my right hand while surfing the Net for fun. I'm afraid we are now breeding a generation of young people whose epitaphs will read, "He lived, he surfed, he died."
The Internet has come to reflect all of mankind, and that includes the good, the bad and the ugly. Congress passed and the President signed the Communications Decency Act whose goal was to restrict access of images deemed indecent. The U.S. Supreme Court, which has struggled with the definition of pornography since the American publication of Henry Miller's "Tropic of Cancer," ruled that portions of the Decency Act were unconstitutional.
Our elected representatives recently passed the Child Online Protection Act. This will require some kind of adult verification or credit card number to enter any Web site deemed harmful to minors. This will delight the pornmeisters who offer free sites that only get income from hits on banner ads. Even if they only charge a quarter for access to their dirty pictures, they will become instant billionaires and stimulate the progress of ecommerce 100 times more than every legitimate business that uses the Web.
Coming soon to a Web site near you will be a rating system. Congress wants it and Internet porn hustlers want it, parents think they want it. It will be as effective as movie and TV ratings. I think that more people understand quantum mechanics than do the TV rating system. The porn pushers want ratings because they feel it will inoculate them from potential lawsuits from parents, rape victims or silk-suited lawyers looking to shift the blame for a sex crime from the perpetrator to anyone else.
The best solution to the problem of keeping young people away from smut is for parents to talk to their kids. Nanny software won't work. Parents shouldn't abdicate their responsibility to a software program. Instead they need to do what one of my friends did when he found his son's Zip disk chock full of pornographic images. A professional photographer, he explained to his son that nudity in and of itself is not offensive, but most of these images clearly were not artful. He tried to explain the difference between art and smut--not an easy task. I'm sure it was difficult for both parent and child, but I can't help but feel they are both better for the experience.
If you haven't already discovered it, there is more to life than technology: There is family. There is nothing more important to me than my dad, sisters, nieces and nephew, and my daughter. I have deeply religious friends who hate the Internet, not because they've actually ever accessed it but because of what other people (who may not have used it themselves) have told them about it.
I tell them what's good about the Internet--e-mail for starters. My family and my wife's family live more than a thousand miles away from us and while we do write some letters, some people today don't like to write. E-mail helps people who care about each other keep in touch. Receiving an e-mail message from my sister Kate or brother-in-law Jerry always cheers me up.
When uninformed people talk to me about the evils of the Internet, I mention one name: Denise. She is my 35-year-old daughter, whom I had not seen since she was five years old. I won't bother you with the details, but they involve a messy divorce and my moving 1,800 miles away from my home town. The last time I heard anything about my daughter was 10 years ago, when my mother sent me a notice that Denise was getting married. As I got older and the reality of mortality set in, I decided to find my daughter and tell her about myself.
At first, I tried finding her by looking in the phone book but that didn't work. She had moved and I didn't know where. Like a good computer user I tried using one those directory CD-ROM packages that supposedly have the names, addresses and phone numbers of everyone in the known universe. I used all of the commercially available packages but couldn't find my daughter's name listed anywhere. When I went to trade shows, like MacWorld or COMDEX, I asked the companies that made those products to check using their latest versions, but she was never listed in any of them.
This search went on for several years until finally, in a moment of desperation, I wrote a letter to my ex-wife asking for Denise's address. It was the hardest letter I had ever written in my life and, for whatever reason, I never received a reply. As a last resort, I decided to ask my friend Mike, a private detective specializing in finding people--even those who don't want to be found. I left a message on his voice mail, but he was out of town, probably searching for somebody's lost love.
Before Mike got back, a friend of my wife's told her about a Web site called switchboard.com (www.switchboard.com). Together, my wife Mary and I logged on to the site and typed in my daughter's married name, including her middle initial. They showed two people with that exact name in two different states. Since I knew her husband's name, I entered that and got a match at the same address shown for one of the two states.
I next wrote the second most difficult letter in my life, to a child I had not seen in almost 30 years. I kept the letter short and kept it honest, dropped in the mailbox and waited. And waited. A month later, a letter appeared. In it were photos of Denise and her husband along with two grandchildren I never knew existed. By this time, it was close to Christmas 1997, so my wife and I did some Christmas shopping for the grandkids, which thrilled us almost as much as the photographs that Denise later sent showing the kids playing with the toys.
Letters were sent back and forth between Denise and me, and my wife and I decided to make a trip back to the East Coast to see my father and sisters and, hopefully, meet with Denise. Instead of writing to respond to my letter about my upcoming visit, she called late one Sunday night and after almost 30 years, a father and daughter spoke together. She cried, I cried; it was quite a moment. We made a lunch date to see one another in the small town where she lives.
When the time came, my wife dropped me off at the restaurant early; I didn't want to be late, in case Denise was early. It was the longest 20 minutes of my life and she was a little late. While I waited, I sat there wondering if she would show up at all, reliving every mistake I had made in my short relationship with her. She walked through the door looking just like the photograph she'd sent me, and we hugged for the first time in a long, long while.
After a lunch in which we both pecked at our food, we compressed 30 years into an hour, and at the end of our non-lunch, she asked if I wanted to meet her children. My wife had returned and was waiting for me in the parking lot and I introduced her to my daughter. We followed Denise to her home where we met her husband and my grandchildren. It was a day after my granddaughter's birthday, so Mary and I had brought her a teddy bear as a gift. It was an afternoon that will live in my memory forever.
There are no fairy tale happy endings here: My daughter and I still live 1,800 miles apart, and I can only afford one or two trips a year back to see her, but the Internet helps. She now has an e-mail account and we correspond electronically. We may never have a "Father Knows Best" Daddy and Princess relationship, but because of the Internet, she knows who her father is and I got to meet my grandchildren. So the next time somebody says that the Internet is the devil's playground, you tell them my story and remind them that the angels play there too.