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Virus Alert! (Svenska Dagbladet Stockholm)
May 6, 2000
HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Many people opened their electronic mailboxes to a love letter this past Thursday. The love letter was a Pandora's box. If you clicked on the attached file the program sent new love letters to everyone in the computer's mail lists. Embarrassing, and possibly dangerous, if the virus copied information or deleted audio and image files.
The damage seems limited at the moment. Offline servers and wasted work hours are said to be the biggest problems. The damage can grow however with the variants of the virus that continue to circulate with new names. Even if the next time can prove worse than with the love letter it's important to not allow common sense to cross over into a hostility towards technology. Panic and fear of computers does not make us safer. It's not wrong to use new technology. Things would be a lot worse if we didn't use it. After a virus attack, as before the millennium rollover, many opine that modern society is vulnerable. Yes, technology can be knocked out, but this does not make us more vulnerable - on the contrary.
What happens if the email program crashes? What happens if we have to close down our Internet connection? Well we are thrown back in time to a Sweden before the Internet, the Sweden we knew seven years ago. And if the computer is itself knocked out, well we're thrown back to a Sweden before the introduction of the personal computer, sometime in the 1980's. Sure, it's very impractical, wearisome and slow. It was back then too.
As long as we have good backup systems a computer collapse at most places of work means only that we risk the efficiency we've built up by using the new technology. It takes time to use paper copies and sure, it's irritating to not be able to download files from the other side of the planet in a couple of seconds, but that does not mean that our society is irreparably vulnerable. Impatience has increased the more we have used the new technology. Thirty seconds to download a new spreadsheet program seems slow, but compared to finding a pocket calculator and writing down subtotals on paper, or maybe even going as far as getting out the old slide rule, the new tools are a marvel of efficiency.
Technology reduces vulnerability. It feels and really is safer to be able to reach others and be reached with the cellular telephone, both out in the forest and on the way home in the city. Technology in health care has simplified life for the handicapped and ill. Internet shopping is good for those that because of small children or illness cannot leave their homes.
Sure, there are functions we don't want to live without and where a halt in operations caused by computer failure can have wide spread consequences. Most of these operations in the form of life sustaining functions, GPS navigation etc. would not exist without modern technology. Only those who have something to lose are vulnerable.
Another vulnerability often cited concerns the risks of electronically transmitting sensitive information. Keeping things available, but only for the right people, is an age old problem which has existed at least as long as the ability to write, which for that matter is an old information technology which can also be dangerous, but oh so useful.
We learn gradually to live with virus attacks and and other risks. We do this because technology creates many more possibilities and makes us less vulnerable in most situations. The shock of a virus attack is most often due to the fact that we are suddenly deprived of the benefits of technology for a few hours or possibly a few days. This reversion to the 1980's is cumbersome, but it should make us happy that we normally do not have to live like that any more.