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Internet Privacy: The Secret Is Out -- Your Life Is Boring, NY Rock Newz by Matt Schroeder

  Joe McCarthy would be rubbing his hands together in glee if he weren't, technically speaking, dead.

The senator built his fame – and a permanent role in PBS programming – in the 1950s by rooting out Communists so clandestine that they didn't even know they were Communists until Joe told them. In so doing, McCarthy fostered a paranoia called the "Red Scare" that was so profound, Hollywood still casts Russians as villains, almost as often as corrupt politicians.

Now the Cold War is deader than McCarthy himself, but a new kind of paranoia has begun to build in American society. Thanks to computers and now, in particular, the Internet, our privacy has apparently disappeared.

This has become a major story in newspapers and magazines, and almost daily we're presented with the Channel 4 "We Care About You So Much It Hurts Our Teeth" News Team's Special Care4You Team Report, "The Unseen Villain: Protecting Yourself From Internet Privacy Invasions (or Lead Poisoning, or Consumer Fraud, or News Teams That Don't Care For You As Much As We Do)."

There's no denying that with a little know-how, anyone – the government, a subversive 19-year-old, the Channel 4 "We Care About You So Much It Hurts Our Teeth" News Team's Care4You Team – can dig into computer files and pull out our deepest financial, legal and personal secrets. And in that, each and every one of us faces an unprecedented threat to our privacy.

But before we go locking ourselves in abandoned bomb shelters with nothing but a photo of Senator McCarthy and members of the Channel 4 "We Care About You So Much It Hurts Our Teeth" News Team, two rational points need to be made:

1. You are one of probably 200 million Americans, and one of probably a billion humans, whose lives can be so accessed, and
2. YOU ARE BORING.

I don't mean your spouse or kids don't think you're special, or that everybody doesn't crack up when you do your Ross Perot imitation. I mean you are probably not a multi-millionaire storing funds in various Cayman Islands' accounts, nor are you a government-hating militia member who orders his wardrobe from "Soldiers of Fortune," nor have you done all your shopping online since last September.

Actually, there's about a 99-percent chance you are just an average schlep with a mundane job, maxed-out credit cards and a bad back. You have as much chance of having your life ruined by a hacker as you do of winning the World Wrestling Federation heavyweight championship, mostly because you aren't exciting enough to destroy.

It's also hard to get fraught with anger over privacy hacking because there's no clearly defined enemy. Does the U.S. government do it? Quite a bit, some people will tell you. But even if they can find the paperwork on you, they won't care unless you're stockpiling weapons for a run on Capitol Hill. (NOTE TO PENTAGON SPIES: I am NOT stockpiling weapons. We didn't even get steak knives for the wedding.) Individual "cyber-vandals" can foul up your bank balance and credit rating, but unless someone in your house is a CPA, how will you tell? And I can't even type "the Channel 4 'We Care About You So Much It Hurts Our Teeth' News Team's Care4You Team" without laughing.

But if ol' Joe was still with us, he'd have us whipped into a frenzy over a real enemy – Commie hackers! Suddenly, we could put names and faces to this fear and make it spring to life. "Comrade" Bill Gates would think that anti-trust lawsuit was a love-in compared to a Senator McCarthy inquest. Hollywood would invent an entire new genre, the www.kgb.com films. And the WWF could revive the classic Soviet wrestling villain in a whole new light – Nikolai Volkoff returns to the ring, wearing horn-rimmed glasses and sauntering down the runway with a laptop case slung over his shoulder. His new finishing move is the "Hard Drive."

Senator McCarthy is not available, however. Instead, the only entity in modern society that is truly capable of manufacturing misguided and overblown paranoia is the Channel 4 "We Care About You So Much It Hurts Our Teeth" News Team. And that depresses me.

So much so, my teeth hurt.

April 2000


More of Matt Schroeder's work on NY Rock


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