Don’t push the ‘open’ button

Consider this one of those hand-wringing editorials that won’t change the world and probably won’t change anybody’s mind, but maybe it will impart enough information that it will save some individual a ton of money and a couple of points on their diastolic blood pressure.There’s a new computer virus out there. It’s called Mydoom (related to the Mimail virus), and it’s designed to take advantage of people out there who blindly follow directions that they don’t understand. With this virus, the message is, “The message cannot be represented in 7-bit ASCII encoding and has been sent as a binary attachment.”

Now, there are a couple of ideas about this new virus that are worth exploring.

First, the virus’ success depends on people’s blind desire to please those they perceive as superior. In other words, if folks understood what was in the words, “The message cannot be represented in 7-bit ASCII …” and looked at the file extension, they wouldn’t open the e-mail.

Since they don’t understand the proposal, they go ahead and push the button. Think of it as a toddler or a monkey who sees a bright red button with the letters, “D-A-N-G-E-R,” and then goes ahead and pushes the button out of ignorance.

If you think about it, it’s quite an indictment of our society in general: “If you frame a proposition in words people can’t understand, they will go along with the proposition.”

Is everyone familiar with the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein? One of his propositions said if something can’t be described in a way people can understand, it is nonsense. Got it? If it doesn’t make sense, it is nonsense—meaningless.

Don’t open attachments you don’t understand. It doesn’t matter if they come from someone you know. If it should happen to appear to come from someone whose name or e-mail address you recognize, open a new e-mail (don’t hit “reply” or “forward"), type in the e-mail address and ask your friend if they sent you a weird e-mail. Better yet, pick up the phone.

It’s time for politicians and ISPs to start taking spam—unsolicited e-mail—seriously. A great method of communication, e-mail, has been ruined. If steps were taken early on to curb the spam, maybe people would be more suspicious of odd-looking e-mails. But elected officials didn’t work quickly enough because they didn’t understand the problem, and technology that saved people and businesses millions upon millions of dollars was thrown away so some scumbag could send you an e-mail promoting “UNDERAGE FARM SEX” or “Get a larger pen.1s.”

Finally, maybe it’s time people actually start to think about things they are told before they blindly follow irrational orders. When somebody says something like, "The best way to preserve peace is to go to war," maybe folks could run it through Wittgenstein’s filter.