27° Good Afternoon
27° Good Afternoon

LIFE IN CYBERSPACE / Desktop Dilemma: Pop Goes the Sex Ad

SO, THERE I AM, merrily chatting on instant messages and

reading national newspapers and magazines online when up pops a pop-up window.

Not just any pop-up window, but one with music and animation, blocking the

whole middle of the screen. It was, in effect, a TV commercial on my computer

desktop. And it made me want to kill someone.

Maybe my kid, for being right about turning on that ad-blocking software.

Or whoever has created a world in which the kid is right. Bad enough was that

the free ISP we signed up for supported itself with blinking banner ads about

improving my sex life. I really don't want to know which demographic study

selected me as a candidate for those offers (they didn't appear on my

children's screen names), or why they think I would take advice on my sex life

from boldly blinking ads on the Internet. Some have suggested that getting off

the Internet would be the best way to improve it.

Admittedly, I can reduce the number of ads I'm exposed to. I can avoid

pop-up ads based on JavaScript with my software and cut down on the

obnoxiousness of other advertising by using the various browsers' Internet

viewing options.

Of course, to manipulate things in Windows, one has to go through its

intuitive interface, although its intuitiveness somehow escapes me. Only the

children seem to have acquired the computer interface intuition. I've always

been convinced that there is some affinity between their exposure to prenatal

fluoride and their understanding of silicon chips. Both, for example, are

elements of the periodic table, and my generation was not exposed to any

elements from the periodic table before birth.

In Internet Explorer, for example, it takes five steps to find the "show

pictures" selection, tucked coyly under "tools" on the first tool bar, rather

than "view," which was where I would have looked for it from my out-of-date


In StarOffice, Sun Microsystems' free alternative to Windows' office

software package, there are six "intuitive" steps:

help-tools-options-browser-external browser-settings, scroll down to 38th item

and click off. In Netscape there are only four steps, but they are even less

inituitive to me, finally concluding in a menu that allows one to turn off

pictures and presents the exciting option of "send e-mail address as anonymous

FTP password." This offer sounds marvelously arcane and espionage-like. Though

my oldest child explained it very clearly, involving Internet courtesy and FTP

things, I much prefer to think of it as some sort of secret message. Which was

why this particular message option was offered along with the image turnoff

selection, which, again, fails miserably in my understanding. Now that I think

of it, though, it may be some hidden message to the younger generation, with

their "intuitions" to take over the world. Hmm...

But just as the the presenters on PBS' pledge drive always make me feel

vaguely larcenous if I haven't sent in money, so do I feel guilty about not

viewing the things that are supposed to be supporting the Internet, even though

I already pay a hefty amount to my Internet service provider.

In addition to purchasing an extremely expensive piece of equipment and

paying unreasonably high charges to connect it to others, I am shoved in the

face with the kind of things other people are working energetically to be able

to avoid on other technologies. Consider TiVo, which records television

programs while zapping through commercials. But it also records for

posterity-or any interested corporation-the viewing habits of its owners, so

the corporation can then design commercials to appeal to the very viewers who

are trying to avoid them.

An old classmate of mine, Randall Rosenthal, has written in his Advertising

Age column that "advertising's vaunted 'power' to build brands was probably

nothing but the slipover effect from the mass media's distribution lock." He

suggests that an Internet support model based upon advertising is bound to fail.

I just hope that whatever shape the Internet takes in the future, whatever

means are found to support it, does not need to involve my sex life.

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