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
obnoxiousness of other advertising by using the various browsers' Internet
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than "view," which was where I would have looked for it from my out-of-date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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