Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Keep Cybermerica Beautiful

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Keep Cybermerica Beautiful

Article excerpt

Are netizens ready to help clean up the Internet's pollution problem?

EACH MORNING, LIKE THOUSANDS OF MY FELLOW U.S. information workers, I begin my day with a little ritual known as "checking the e-mail." Of those hundreds of messages in a week--thousands every couple of months--perhaps a handful will include useful information or correspondence. The rest? So much electronic waste cyber-piling up somewhere on Claretian Publications' mail server.

Among my messages? Crazed and/or furious responses to this column (they used to come in angry, red-crayon scrawls on pieces of brown grocery bags, so the erant actually represents a step in the right direction); quick-rich come-ons; Nigerian bank account schemes; solicitations from pornographers, gambling sites, retail outlets; press releases; calls to action and pleas for various political and social justice groups; bad jokes; and a seemingly endless stream of Internet virus warnings. But perhaps my favorite of all are those gruesome, hilarious, bizarre, or otherwise Ripleyan stories that find their way around the planet in a cyberflash as they jump from mail list to mail list.

Some of them come around in regular cycles--modern urban legends circulated not around a summer campfire but the violet glow of a computer monitor. They swamp my mailbox in a furious wave, warning about asbestos in tampons or legislative threats to public radio, then disappear as abruptly as they arrived, only to revive width renewed fury weeks later when some hapless office drone returns from vacation, checks his mail, and reignites the electronic hysterics all over again.

Many of these stories have made their way around the Net for years: the hapless diver water-dumped by helicopter into a raging forest fire; the proofreader dead at his desk a week before anyone notices; the sad suicide/homicide of Roland Opus (who jumps from the roof of his high-rise apartment but is actually killed by a shotgun blast fired by his father as he flies past the family's living room window).

In 1993, when the first rudimentary browsers were introduced, there were 90,000 users of what would eventually be called the World Wide Web. In 1994, the "Good Times" warning introduced the information age to the virus hoax. …

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