Spammers Beware

The world of technology is a bit like Pandora’s box. Although when Pandora lifted the lid only evil escaped. Technology, on the other hand, has released much good into the world. For example, the world wide web can aid learning, it brings people together (whoever knew they had so many wealthy relatives in Nigeria?) and it allows 24/7 shopping for necessities such as Cecily calendars.
Today my beef is with spam. Which is odd because spam, the tinned meat, is made from pork and ham then cunningly disguised to look like spleen. Electronic spam takes its name from a Monty Python skit set in a restaurant where a table of Vikings – oh come on it’s not that unusual – sit in a corner loudly singing, ‘Spam, Spam, Wonderful Spam’, thus drowning out the real conversation with their unwanted message.
Electronic spam too is disguised, only not as spleen. Those Nigerian relatives, fake invoices and requests to confirm account details, etc. hide everything from brazen requests for your money through to links that will rob you of your bank details, money and faith in humanity.
What can we do I hear you ask plaintively? Traditional advice has been to delete any suspicious emails without opening them. All very sage, but not very satisfying. Firstly, this will protect you, but not others. Then secondly, and most infuriatingly, it doesn’t hurt the spammer. And let’s face it, what we really want is to do is have them beaten to a pulp or made to copy out Donald Trump’s autobiography 100 times.
However, now there is a way we can fight back. The New Zealand Government internet watchdog, Netsafe, has invented an artificially intelligent chat-bot that engages with the spammer and continues an indefinite conversation, thus sending the spammer on a fool’s errand, wasting their time and resources. All you have to do is forward any spam that you receive to me@rescam.org The chat-bot at Netsafe will strip off any identifying information to do with you, and then spend some quality time with the spammer. This software acts like a human, making both spellng mistakes and jokes, and can engage an infinite number of spammers at once. There is a God! And now her eye is on those pasty-faced highwaymen of the internet. You don’t have to be a New Zealander to do this, but if you are from elsewhere just remember that it’s my taxes that brought you this divine retribution, so please, no more sheep jokes.
If you feel so inclined Netsafe will send you a link so that you can follow their conversation with the spammer. While infuriating a spammer is not as satisfying as having them publicly flogged there is a certain poetry in turning the tables on these people that waste our time and cost the world’s economy an estimated US$50 billion each year. Imagine what a wonderful world it would be if that money and internet traffic were involved in education, reuniting old friends or on-line purchases of Cecily calendars.
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Digital Immigration Status

Marc Prensky coined the term digital native to describe someone born during, or after, the widespread introduction of digital technologies. Digital natives, so the theory goes, have a greater understanding of the digital world through having interacted with digital technology from an early age. If you were born before this time you are described as a digital immigrant. In 2001 when Prensky developed these two terms I felt a deep sense of alienation. For I was neither a digital native nor a digital immigrant, I had a third as yet undescribed status. I was a digital displaced person- someone who is fleeing technology.

Lately I’ve become aware that my digital immigration status may have changed to yet another category not recorded by Prensky. I may now be a digital asylum seeker; for I have crossed a frontier and now happily reside amongst some digital technologies. Soon I hope to have my status as a digital refugee confirmed.

If my exodus from the technological world was driven by fear of persecution at the hands of geeks and boffins, my re-entry has been due to the hospitality afforded by the ‘App Store’. Thanks to apps (small pieces of useful software) I have developed a love affair with my phone; a love affair that rivals that of Samsung and Delilah. Apps are not merely time wasting follies, they can do all sorts of useful and important tasks. My favourites are the flashlight for keeping me safe at night; a public transport app that allows me to efficiently plan trips using buses and thereby reduce my environmental footprint; and an anagram solver so I can cheat at scrabble.

While searching for apps on my smart phone recently I found four that were worth sharing with you. Don’t take me literally, you certainly wouldn’t want to be caught with any of these on your phone. Firstly there’s the app ‘Boyfriend Tracker’, whose functions include sending you updates on your partner’s location and forwarding duplicates of their text messages. Quite apart from any privacy issues there are two practical problems with this app. One is you have to get a duplicitous persons phone long enough to install this software. However even before this you have to surmount the even greater problem of finding a boyfriend. Like a certain depilatory practice ‘Boyfriend Tracker’ comes from Brazil; the relevance of this point is that both guarantee the user more pain and revelation than is advisable.

If your boyfriend can be trusted, or doesn’t exist, then ‘Boyfriend Tracker’ is not for you, but there are plenty of other useful apps you could try. One offering food for thought was ‘Bowel Mover Pro’ for iPhone, an app that allows you to record your toilet habits in great detail without the need for screeds of paper.

For android users there is the ‘Idiot scanner’ app. This gives insight as to whether someone is an idiot or not based on their finger print. This app actually works – anyone who submits to this test must be an idiot.

Having mastered my phone I might be ready for the next step, which may be Google’s ‘Smart Glasses’. These are spectacle-like devices that put a little screen right in front of your eyes as you walk around. The screen will show you “an augmented reality overlay as you view the world around you”. Unfortunately my enduring response to this product from Google is that it deserves to be logged with ‘Bowel Mover Pro’. I think I’ll stick with my Cecily glasses which have an “augmented whimsical overlay as you view the world around you”.

I’m coming to the conclusion that I’m destined to live in the real world and only visit the digital one as and when I like. Mark Prensky might call me a digital excursionist. This might not suit the original treatise, but for me it offers the best of both worlds.