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The dark side of cyberspace — and why I became a perpetual pain to my friends

Here’s how and why I became a pain in the ass to my friends and associates. Actually, it wasn’t very hard. Maybe it was because I had a wonderful, but overindulgent mother?

Myles Spicer
Myles Spicer

Here’s how and why I became a pain in the ass to my friends and associates. Actually, it wasn’t very hard. Maybe it was because I had a wonderful, but overindulgent mother?  Or the fact that I was my own boss virtually my entire professional life and got egocentric and spoiled. Or maybe  just my “know it all” attitude. But enough of all that — none was really the reason, and the real reason is related to something far more recent.

It’s the Internet.

In relative terms of time, the Internet is a “recent” phenomenon — especially for us older folks who may be slightly “technology challenged” — and it arrived later in our lives. As it reached us and evolved, it was a great new tool, a nice toy, a useful resource.

But it also slowly, inexorably, developed a dark side. The tool morphed into a tool for misinformation and other ugly stuff. The toy started consuming time that could be used for more valuable pursuits. And the resource became a vehicle for mischief, and worse. And that’s when I decided to become a pain in the ass!

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At first, a dabbler
In the early years, I merely dabbled in becoming a pain. When stuff was sent to me that appeared wrong, inaccurate or dangerous, I politely responded to my friends that “this does not seem credible to me” or “maybe we should check this out.” But in election periods (i.e. this year) the proliferation of misinformation, lies, inaccuracies, mischief and exaggerations got my juices flowing — and I grew from being a mild annoyance to a giant pain.

All of which startled my friends, many of whom are solid conservatives, to the point where I started being exempted from forwarded messages and spammed emails, and being classified as some sort of radical with erratic behavior. After all, what could be more radical than ferreting out the “truth”?

We all pretty much know that lots of stuff floating around the Internet is absolutely without basis. It has doubtful credibility. It contains no backup or proof. And to make matters worse, it can be morphed, edited, embellished and otherwise changed as it goes on its journey from computer to computer. Well, yes, we generally do know that, but what grinds on me most is the fact people mindlessly pass on this stuff from person to person without ever exploring its accuracy or honesty! Worse yet, many of these folks are intelligent, well read, ethical persons — except when it involves the efficacy of the Internet. Such behavior baffles, astounds and confuses me.

Its so easy to pass it on
Why do they do it? Maybe it is because the Internet makes it so easy to pass misinformation along. Look at the aberrant message … nod your head (probably because you want it to be true) … and click a mouse. Done!  Maybe it’s because you want to enhance your political agenda by passing along misinformation, even when you “suspect” it to be untrue. Maybe it’s to confirm to compatible friends your “loyalty to the cause.”

I don’t know because motives are difficult to detect. But I do know this: Every message I get stops at my computer till I check it out. And when it is wrong, inaccurate, untrue, or embellished, I generally respond to the sender(s) with some harsh language — something like, “Are you people stupid, or just simple-minded fools who send any kind of trash around the Internet without checking its veracity?” (Note: I give them a choice). That, as you may suspect, does not endear me to old friends or provide me with many new ones. But, it is my MO now, and has been for quite a few years. Most of my remaining friends not only have learned to expect it, they often send stuff to me now, and even sheepishly ask: “Is this true”? I guess that’s a modicum of respect.

There ought to be a warning
So what is the bottom line of all this? To me, it is, first, a continual recognition that the Internet is a ready tool of mischief and a cesspool of misinformation. Be especially alert in coming months as the election nears. As you open your email each day, there should be a warning like that on cigarettes: WARNING: THE INTERNET CAN BE DANGEROUS TO THE TRUTH AND YOUR INTELLECTUAL HEALTH.

Second, be skeptical of every email forwarded to you (especially those relating to politics) and view it with suspicion. Third, never forward stuff that is suspect and thus also become “stupid or a simple-minded fool” (again you get a choice).

And finally, consider joining me in becoming a giant pain in the ass to those who do send you nonsense. Try it — it’s actually not a bad role, it serves a useful purpose, it has its gratifications and rewards. And you may like it, too.

Myles Spicer of Minnetonka has spent his business career as a professional writer and owned several successful ad agencies over the past 45 years.