A bad year nets some good ideas.
Nineteen Sixty-Eight was an awful year, but the music was great. The No. 1 soul tune that year was “Tighten Up” by Archie Bell and the Drells. It was simplicity itself: a scratchy guitar riff, a dreamy horn segue, and a dance lyric exhorting us all to tighten up. “We not only sing,” Archie revealed, “but we dance just as good as we walk.”
I was never clear on what exactly the Drells wanted us to tighten. As a white guy on the dance floor, I was pretty tight to begin with.
But maybe the song was a call to order among all the chaos. You know what they say–hard times are the only chance you ever get to really fix things. So there, among the violence and strife, were Archie and all the Drells telling us to tighten up or risk losing everything.
The past year has been nearly as bad as 1968, so the other day when the song came on the car radio, I was suddenly flooded with a list of things that needed a lot of tightening up. And all of them have something to do with technology.
Why do we allow viruses? Why don’t we go after the makers of computer viruses with the same determination we use on senders of anthrax? Why don’t we form international coalitions to root this lower-case terrorism out, the way we do with upper-case terrorism? The intention is the same, to cause harm and spread fear. I know it is hard to find these people, but when we manage to find one, we should make a hellacious example of him. It is a fundamentally antisocial thing to do, destroying people’s life’s work, research, and data treasure. Do we allow it simply so that the manufacturers of antivirus products can make a living? I hope not. Why doesn’t Microsoft close its back doors? Every time they issue an upgrade, virus terrorists and other hackers find new ways to attack us. Why isn’t Microsoft held responsible for attacks that its own software invites? Have they ever even said they’re sorry? Why do we put up with entrapment? America Online and other Internet purveyors deluge us with free disks to examine their services. But if we take the bait and check the ISP out, and decide not to subscribe, there is no ready e-mail link the visitor may use to say “No, thanks.” So the odds of being charged for a month, a quarter, or even an entire year of unwanted service is very high. And AOL refuses to forgive bills for a service that is never used, even when a child did the visiting. Why do we tolerate such practices? Why do we tolerate spam? Every day there’s more of it. I am up to almost 100 pieces of unwanted mail a day from people who forge headers and pepper me with absurd offers. Just clicking it all away is an invitation to repetitive stress injury. The only recourse is to change your e-mail address, and that only works for a while. Why has Congress not passed a law against this invasion of privacy? Why haven’t we created a new Internet standard that does not allow forged headers? Virtually the entire population despises spam. But evidently, it is in someone’s interest to maintain this absurd freedom to annoy–and their wishes count more than ours. Why do we allow porn pushing? I’m not out to rid the world of naughty pictures. But must young children be assailed with popup windows, e-mail come-ons, and animated in-out sex banners? Why don’t we insist that these purveyors sell from a passive e-store, where we can visit them and examine their wares, but they can’t leap unbidden onto our windshields? Why would we allow Magic Lantern or a national ID card? These are government proposals to listen in on our electronic doings and make us carry “papers” with us wherever we go, just like at Checkpoint Charlie. The government says it gives them access to the doings of malefactors. What it gives them is access to you and me.
This can’t be what Archie and the Drells had in mind.