Lost in Cyberspace
By Syed Arif Hussaini

I admit that there is an inherent incompatibility, an incorrigible incongruity, between me and my computer.

I have been for the past few years struggling to have at least a reasonable equation with this contraption and in particular with its Internet facility. Agreed that I have not gone about learning something of this cyberspace technology in a systematic, student-like fashion; I did however try to go through some elementary books –the Idiot series appropriately- but I couldn’t proceed beyond URL, HTML, HTTP and other acronyms for the simple reason that I could not hold in my memory for more than a few seconds what exactly each one stood for and how it operated in the nebulous cyberspace.

Even the very term ‘cyberspace’ had me completely disoriented. Efforts to envision it would put me into a virtual trance. I would be lost in cyberspace like a 3-year old separated from his mother in a crowded but fascinating Disneyland and asking the security guard, ‘Sir, how you seen a lady go by without me?’

Being a hyper-squeamish person, frequent encounters with words like navigation, surfing, port, floating, network navigation, would trigger images of seasickness. The only surf I am familiar with is the one pounding the shore.

I have certainly not inherited from my forefathers any genes having a bent for cyber technology. I am therefore no street smart by birth on the Web. I am more like a disoriented pedestrian lost on the information superhighway. Thank goodness, this superhighway has no vehicular traffic to dispatch to archives pedestrians like me.

Hunkered down in front of my computer screen, surfing through www.blah.blah.com, I have so often scratched my head and pulled my hair that I have become hair-free.

When I think how quickly my sons and even grandchildren resolve my computer glitches, I wish I had inherited their genes! Had I known that my grandchildren would be this smart, I would have had them first.

All religions teach a respect for the elders; my ineptitude and clumsiness with modern technologies have taught me a respect for the young. I am dependent on my computer-savvy grandchildren.

Eighty per cent of the on-line crowd, also known as cybercitizens, researchers claim, are relatively young being between 18 and 45 years of age. The younger crowd is fast expanding the technological generation gap with their parents and grandparents. The Internet has caused the collapse of the traditional old-boys network; it is now young-boys network.

The seamless flow on the Web of information that is intertwined has caused significant changes in values and norms covering basic human experiences on family, religion and community. The information superhighway brings unfettered to your screen the reactions, to a given incident, of knowledgeable persons in various parts of the world. This cross-fertilization of ideas augurs well for coming generations.

My personal predicament is something else. Perhaps it represents the anachronism of my generation.

I would lose temper at the computer and give it a verbal blast every time I thought it was responsible for a glitch. It must have become inured to my tantrums.

Were you talking to the computer, I was once asked by my youngest grandson.

Yes, I was.

What did you say?

Shall I leave out the swear words?

Yes, of course.

Then, I didn’t say a word.

The desktop personal computer made its debut over two decades back. America rushed headlong into the computer age, more people responding to the allure of this powerful new master. A new national divide has thus developed between the computer literate and illiterate, the former being in the majority now. Over 150 million PCs are in use in the US. The digital technology is spreading so fast that America entered the 21 st century with the word AD standing for All Digital.

This new deity influences and often even directs an individual’s freedom of choice –which is otherwise the biggest blessing of life in America.

To travel, for instance, from city ‘A’ to city ‘B’ one may take one of three freeways. But, put on the navigation program in your new model car and the invisible lady behind that program will direct you to your destination by a route of her own choice often quite circuitous. To a person like me who has no sense of direction, she is a great companion though as invisible and nebulous as the cyberspace itself. Don’t look under the hood, you won’t find her there. I have already done that.

The advertisers on the Internet keep reminding us that this is a free country, the leader of the free world. No wonder, the word ‘free’ keeps recurring in numerous ads. God has provided to us the best things of life -air, water, sun, for instance- quite free. Ads on the Internet offer many other things –good, bad, worse or even imaginary- absolutely free. Some setups are currently offering even computers free. They collect in return data about the recipients’ shopping patterns, likes and dislikes, ages and income groups etc. This data they sell to manufacturers and vendors to enable them to focus their marketing messages on potential buyers.

Evidently, there is some thing sneaky about this “free” business. Nothing in America comes free; there is always a trade-off.

While on the Web, my focus is constantly distracted by the advertisement gimmicks. How can you not notice a miniature man running up, down and sideways on all four sides of a square? How long can you ignore a cube with bright-colored drawings on all its sides turning round and round in the margin of the material you are trying to read?

While writing this piece, my attention was distracted by at least a dozen parachutist ads, each offering an irresistible bait to catch your credit card. I do not know how to stop these unwelcome intruders. Perhaps my grandchildren would be able to shoot down these parachutists.

A friend has advised me to go to the ‘Help’ column to find answers to my problems. I told him that I would first need his help to find the ‘Help’ column. When I do succeed in pulling up such a column, I have to go through a volume of irrelevant information before reaching the sought item, if I remember till then what it was that I needed the advice on.

Possibility of getting lost is quite strong in the myriad of informational resources on the Internet, which is like an enormous library without a librarian or even an owner. You cannot therefore go to any one to complain or seek guidance.

With hundreds of million of pages on the WWW portion of the Internet alone, it is easy to find yourself side-tracked as you are led down the garden path away from your original topic. That has happened with me many a time. As I have already said, there is no one on the Internet to take your grouse to.

Through trials and constant errors I have acquired an elementary knowledge about cyberspace and Internet, although I maintain that I am but an outdated, out-of-place pedestrian lost on the information superhighway. Still, I am no match to the customers in the following anecdotes. That is no small solace to me.

Customer: “Can you copy the Internet for me on this diskette?”

Customer: “So that’ll get me connected to the Internet, right?”

Tech Support: “Yeah.”

Customer: “And that’s the latest version of the Internet, right?”

Tech Support: “Huh…uh…yeah.”

Customer: “I’d like a mouse mat, please.”

Salesperson: “Sure. We’ve a large variety.”

Customer: “But will they be compatible with my computer?”




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