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Jewish World Review August 22, 2001 / 3 Elul, 5761

Mitch Albom

Mitch Albom
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Consumer Reports

The price of connectedness -- TWENTY years ago last week, IBM gave birth to the home computer.

It's been downhill ever since.

Oh, sure, our speed is up. Our efficiency is up. We can talk to people in Thailand with just a few keystrokes. And any patient who has ever needed medical information will swear by computers and the Internet.

But in so many ways, computers in our homes have changed us forever. The human price we have paid over 20 years?

Let me count the ways.

1) Work never ends. There used to be some separation between the office and the home. That is gone. Since you can work all hours on a PC, you are expected to.

2) Travel never starts. Planes and trains used to be transportation. Now they are moving offices. The wheels go up, the computers flip open. When was the last time you saw someone in business class actually look out the window?

3) Our children live in constant danger. You need look no further than last week's story of a 15-year-old from Massachusetts who met a New York couple on the Internet and wound up allegedly tortured and raped for days inside their home. Who could imagine such a thing before computers?

4) Our children stay indoors. Just try peeling teen-agers away from a screen these days. Everything they want - conversation, mini-movies, 3-D entertainment - is available on the computer. Suggesting they go play a pick-up baseball game is like suggesting they wear leisure suits.

5) Rumors run rampant. Yes, gossip existed before computers. But at least back then people had to look you in the eye to lie. Today, if anyone gets a nasty notion, he puts it in some chatbox or mailbox or, and the whole world can read it without ever knowing who started it.

6) Journalistic standards crumble. Because of the speed with which computer rumors fly, journalists must move faster these days. There is less time - and less effort - put into checking your own facts, and more into repeating someone else's.

7) Main Street disappears. You shop on the computer. You buy on the computer. Once upon a time, even recluses needed to emerge for food or medicine. Now, you can live forever without leaving the house.

8) Attention spans evaporate. Because information now comes with a click of the "enter" key, our patience is razor-thin. Watch us at a ticket counter. After 30 seconds, we start fidgeting and saying, "What's the problem?"

9) Identity is at risk. It used to be the only way someone could pose as you was if they found your wallet and had cosmetic surgery. Now, they can hack into your computer while you sleep, assume your identity and clean you out.

10) Privacy is gone. Not only can creeps be watching you from afar while you are on-line, but your bosses can monitor everything you type - even at home in certain cases. Big Brother used to be futuristic hysteria. Not anymore.

11) Pornography is almost unavoidable. Forget magazines in brown-paper wrapping. Your 6-year-old can now type one wrong letter on his computer and wind up with an oral-sex education.

12) Nobody gets bored anymore. This is not a good thing. Out of boredom comes invention, creativity, conversation. Instead, we sit dazed before a screen, a nation of zombies click-click-clicking away.

So what am I saying here, in this column that is being typed, admittedly, on a home computer? I am not saying all computers are awful. I'm not saying we should smash them to bits.

I am saying that we have paid a great price for marrying these machines, and that the security, privacy and loving, worry-free atmosphere that once marked our homes -- a home is your castle, remember? -- has been inexorably shattered by plugging these things in. Happy birthday to the home computer. Who knew 20 years ago that an invention to make our lives easier would make them so complex?

Comment on JWR contributor Mitch Albom's column by clicking here. You may purchase his runaway bestseller, Tuesdays with Morrie, by clicking here.


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