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You must sign in to read or send mail

Week of August 26, 2002
You have to factor in stupidity's inseparable companion, arrogance.

'You must sign in to read or send mail.'

Yahoo! Mail has that at their site. You read it right: they have a sign outside the door to explain that you have to log into an existing account to be able to send or receive mail on an account.

What?! you may ask. Are people that stupid?! Read the sign again. And yet stupidity is not really the answer. One can easily picture Yahoo! developers over there, pondering the possibility that some moron won't understand you have to sign in first, and then dismissing it a moment later. No one really cares what happens to people like that. Either they wise up or they lose out. Simple equation.

No, stupidity is not enough to explain it. To arrive at any reasonable explanation you have to factor in stupidity's inseparable companion, arrogance.

Everyone knows it is almost impossible to reach Yahoo! by e-mail, and yet some have obviously succeeded. And wreaked their wrath and venom on Yahoo! for not explaining the obvious. Just as someone once successfully sued McDonalds for not stating the obvious on their coffee mugs, namely that the contents - coffee - were hot. One incredibly stupid woman burned herself, and instead of accepting the obvious - that she was a moron - she got a lawyer to pursue her case and win a huge settlement.

VHS cassettes routinely state the obvious, that the picture is formatted to fit the TV screen, which has an aspect ratio different from the cinema screen. Again, you would think it is bleeding obvious, and it is; the only problem is there are bleeding morons out there who don't or won't understand the bleeding obvious, and that as always what these morons lack in intelligence they more than make up for in arrogance.

Things have got rough on the net. This used to be a nice place to commingle and make friends. Now that the trailer park generation has arrived, things have got out of hand, and they continue to devolve. The median level of education is on the decline all the time. Netizens can no longer spell in any language, and even worse, they don't even try. Spell checkers abound, and forum contributions are sometimes checked automatically for spelling and grammatical errors, and yet these modern day bozos feel too good, too important, to even read what the servers spit back at them.

People don't care. More than anything else, apathy kills a land, and apathy is killing the Internet. What once was an elite forum of intelligent minds is today a messy anarchy of idiots, of people who could be better but simply don't want to make the effort.

People don't vote in elections, and yet constantly complain at their outcome. The majority of netizens don't know the first thing about programming, and yet are the first to offer biting criticism to those who do. The majority of netizens have not had a single important thought in their lives, and yet the pages of Slash Dot drown in an overwhelming proof that they are too arrogant to admit it.

Microsoft users are getting nastier and nastier. More and more they see themselves as up against the wall, just like the company they refuse to abandon. People who know better are tired of trying to talk to them. They find offence where there was only advice. They get panicky. They want help NOW. No matter that they've dug their own graves, the world is expected to come to their rescue yesterday, just like the world did the day before. No one counts, no one gets a word of thanks, no one is treated kindly.

A major ISP in England once spent an entire working day trying to mollify a potential customer who insisted on asking every question under the sun before signing up for their service. When eight hours had gone by, the support team signed off on the job and went home, only to find out the next day that the lady had lodged a formal complaint against them: she had not been informed that she would need a computer to connect. She was incensed, indignant, and arrogant; heads rolled.

We are living in an age which might be called The Tyranny of Mediocrity. It is certainly no news to those who care and think that the world moves forward only with the cooperation of the average, and yet there has been a qualitative turn of events of late, readily discernible to anyone who spends significant time online.

The issues have become more clouded and meaningless than ever. The debates are long gone. The options all too clear. And yet for all the intellectual activity caused by the events of the past few years, it is as if nothing has changed. The good won, the bad lost, and yet no one actually moved.

We have understood - traumatically - since May 2000 that Microsoft e-mail client software is deadly, and yet no one stopped using it. Network administrators were left with much of the blame for the first widespread Internet worms, and yet they did nothing. Gartner says that over 90% of the attacks that will take place in the next few years can be stopped today with existing patches, yet no one is patching anything. Hackers invariably get to the advisories before the technicians do, and even if the technicians have a healthy head start, the hackers win out anyway.

People who only a few months earlier were burned by ILOVEYOU, who were told to stop using Outlook, to turn off HTML e-mail, to turn off JavaScript, VBScript, ActiveX and Web Scripting in their e-mail clients, who were told to never never NEVER open an e-mail from a sender they didn't know, let themselves be suckered again by the Anna K. worm.

And so forth.

No one has needed Microsoft for ages. Linux has been around so long it really needs a shave. We have so many flavours with so many desktops, and each new one gets easier to install than the last. We have Lindows and Lycoris and the latter takes all of fifteen minutes to install while you play Solitaire in the foreground to pass the time. We have OpenOffice and StarOffice for those who just can't seem to leave MS Office behind.

We have the knowledge that no platform but Microsoft's needs anti-virus software, no platform but Microsoft's needs intrusion detection, and no platform but Microsoft's needs firewall protection.

And the alternatives are free for the taking. All anyone has to do to get all of the above, and be rid of the Microsoft nightmare forever, is surf to a site and start a download. That's it. A bit of concentration - a bit of intelligence - and the problem is solved. Forever.

But dare one look at the stats? Dare one ask how many of those that got stung by both ILOVEYOU and Anna K. are still using Outlook with JavaScript, VBScript, ActiveX, and Web Scripting turned on? How many of those still don't know what HTML e-mail is and how to avoid it? How many of those simply don't care?

The world needs more people who care. The world would be better if those people were in the majority.

Until such time as they gain the majority, they will have to put disclaimers at the beginning of their VHS cassettes, 'MUY CALIENTE' on their coffee mugs, and 'You must sign in to read or send mail' on their web sites.

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