Intimacy? Really?

Sometimes life just whizzes along so fast that there is not time to stop and look around and think, let alone write about what I think. Such have been the last two weeks for me. So, I’ve not paid too much attention to the news about the iPad (aka the Tampod), that new “intimate” (Apple’s word, not mine) device.

I did forward the viral MadTV “iPad has wings” video to a few folks, most of whom were not very happy to find themselves watching the video at work. I must have had a momentary lapse in judgment or just figured that most network admins and IT managers have better things to do than monitor every employee’s computer activity. I know I certainly do. Sure, I’ve got logs and logs of every user’s Internet activity but not enough hard drive space available to even begin opening those reports. And yes, I can remote into any computer or check any email in the organization . . . but do I want to? My email is boring enough. I certainly don’t want to read another 300 inboxes (that’s a hell of a lot of email folks).

Not that I haven’t come across a few flagrant violations of computer use, but it’s not because I went looking for it. The violations came to me, completely unbidden (and certainly unwanted).

The first time, our antivirus software notified me of a virus on a staff member’s laptop, not a particularly unusual occurrence. The irony was this: had the staff member not taken such pains to cover up her tracks (i.e. locking/encrypting the illicit photos and movies), I would most likely never even noticed anything amiss, but those locked/encrypted files would not defrag (something I did routinely on laptops in for any service), and the defrag program let me know: Error defragging files listed below, the screen read: c:\documents and settings\username\my documents\my downloaded files\naked_teen_rodeoQeens.mp4. I couldn’t just let it go. I had to follow up. Someone lost their job.

The second time, I was testing some reports on our firewall. I had just got the report server up and running and was anxiously awaiting the full-color charts and graphs. The software presented me with a list of websites visited by IP address in the local domain (that is, I learned quickly which computers at work had been where on the Internet. One computer just happened to have recently been to (not the actual website, but close). And wait, this one too: (not the real name, but again, a good approximation). How could I possibly ignore this? Just a few clicks of the mouse stood between me and the idiot who thought it was a good idea to browse such sites at work. Idiot discovered, idiot fired. That wasn’t my plan.

People don’t seem to really understand that computers are only as good as their users. Computers do exactly as they are told, and that’s why dumb things happen on the Interwebs or via email, on the job and in the home. We have a communication problem. Computers like precise, definitive instructions. Most users view computers as the modern day Jesus: one miracle after another, directed by some mysterious force beyond comprehension. The aforementioned files were locked and couldn’t be scanned (as directed) and were thus pointed out as unscannable and locked. Naughty files.

Somebody else in our organization visited the same two websites at the same time each morning and the computer simply reported that information. Nothing is secret, nothing is sacred. Forget big brother, this is little brother tattling all our secrets, telling mommy and daddy where we’ve been and what we were doing there.

This past week, some lady got busted for cutting 30 trees (in addition to the two she actually had a permit for) by Google Earth cameras. We all know someone who has gotten a speeding or red light running ticket thanks to cameras. Just tonight I read about a principal (now unemployed) in AZ who mistakenly sent home to parents a sarcastic and derogatory email that should not have ever been put into binary. Shared at the water cooler, maybe, written on a legal pad, possibly, but never entered into a device where it could be saved, shared, posted, attached, printed, or emailed.

The intimate iPad . . . one device on which we do everything: banking, schooling, shopping, reading, streaming, skypeing, sharing. My favorite local independent bookstore has a sign that says something to this effect: we do not share information about your purchases here with anyone. I take some small comfort in that (the information is stored on the computer, after all). Who is going to refuse to share my Netflix lists, my email contents, my phone records, the books I (guiltily) buy from Amazon?

It scares me a little, this new intimacy.

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