A grumpy old woman with a firewall

The last two days have not been good for my blood pressure. It all started so well. A sunny morning. A brilliant idea for the blog. Well, I thought so at the time. More delicious food for thought delivered by a friend on Facebook. Then. Bang. My virus software kicked in. Or rather, failed to kick in. My laptop went into existential crisis. So did I. I entered a murky sub-world. Firewalls. Deactivation. Reinstallation. Data execution prevention. An Install Wizard, with no magical powers. System restore. Two hours on the phone to my son. He KNOWS about these things. I almost dragged him into the abyss along with me.

Before the crisis struck, I’d been in the community café. Knee deep in cheese and ham toasties. We had a sullen, red-headed lad from some kind of community project helping out in the kitchen. He refused to wash dishes. Spent half his shift in the garden blagging cigarettes from the customers. Ate his way stoically through a whole packet of Cadbury’s Eclairs, intended for all the staff. There were four left when somebody challenged him.

So what about the rest of us?

That’s not my problem.

I’m becoming a grumpy old woman. I remember being taught that consideration for others actually mattered. The idea didn’t appear to have entered his head.

No more has it entered the heads of computer hackers and the authors of viruses, apparently. What have I ever done to any of them that I deserved to have several hours of valuable writing time eaten up by sorting out this glitch? I’m an ordinary woman trying to make a living that happens to involve being online on a regular basis. My poor son got dragged willy-nilly into the fray. They don’t even know our names.

The average hacker’s victims are just that. Faceless. Anonymous. The creator of a virus doesn’t see individual human beings. On the receiving end. The inventor of the worm that ate my old PC didn’t intend to rob me of dozens of family photos. It wasn’t personal. He just did it because he could. A victimless crime. For all I know, he’s now holding down a lucrative job producing anti-virus software. Set a thief to catch a thief.

The anonymity of the virtual world is a double-edged sword. I can reinvent myself in a hundred and one ways. New online personae. Avatars. Whoever said the camera never lies? They clearly never visited an online dating site. It may not lie about the person in the photo. But there’s no guarantee the photo belongs to the person whose profile it’s attached to. Or that it was taken less than ten years ago. Apparently over half of us feel it’s OK to massage the truth on social networks or dating websites. We put over an image of who we wish we were, rather than who we really are.

I decided a while back I didn’t really need to impress anyone. I’m sixty years old. A tad eccentric. As poor as a church mouse. I’m never going to be Marilyn Monroe. Mother Teresa. National Velvet. Or J K Rowling. What did I have to hide? In practice though, I’ve found it surprisingly hard to maintain an online presence without quietly manufacturing an image. A firewall.

Of course the fantasy is fun. Who doesn’t dream of being ten years younger (or older) and three times as beautiful? The internet allows us to play out our dreams. Harmless enough you’d think. And mostly it is. But if everyone plays let’s pretend, it’s easy to get caught up in the game. Forget the other players are real. Then empathy goes out of the window. Human connectedness gets lost. And the dream – if we’re not careful – becomes a bit of a nightmare.

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To find out more about One25 – the charity I’m supporting – and the work they do, you can visit their website http://www.one25.org.uk/

Thank you for all your support and encouragement.



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