Would you accept candy from a stranger?

on Thursday, May 9, 2013

N is for naïveté...

At a community picnic last week the crowds were thick and the mood upbeat as we were entertained by various street performers, among them an enthusiastic African drummer. A number of us jiggled and hopped along with the rhythm, flashing smiles and enjoying the common groove. It wasn’t too long before the sun and the exertion had me panting. The woman next to me grinned, fished about in her dilly bag for a bit, and then pulled out a small pillbox. I watched fascinated as she flipped the lid and selected a tablet with long acrylic tipped fingers. “Here,” she said, offering me a tiny pellet, “pop this under your tongue, it’ll give you more energy.” I declined with my kindest grown-up expression. (you know, the one that says “don’t be silly dear”), and thanked her with a smile. Well, would you accept a mystery substance from a stranger who could be a few squares short of the full chocolate bar? ..and what’s that got to do with anything anyhow?

Here we are in the middle of a still accelerating boom of technological advancement. New devices regularly make their entrance onto the market amidst fanfare and excitement -so often that we are dizzy and wide-eyed, hardly knowing which to choose next. The general mood is upbeat as we all tap and click our way to modern community. Are you up with the latest buzz? Is the new iphone better than the competition? How many more months should you wait before upgrading to a better laptop? Do you really know how to get the most out of that gadget?

Even my grandma has a shiny new mobile toy to juggle, reluctantly accepting a device that is as mysterious to her as Egyptian hieroglyphs. Most of her blue-rinse buddies also have a mobile phone stashed in the handbag, and/or a computer blinking and winking on a table next to the wireless at home. I sat next to her when she first got hers, and tried to explain which little boxes on the overcrowded screen were waiting for her input. In the end I sent her on a crash computer course.. don’t let the irony of that one escape you. But even after computing 101, she remains generally confused about the inner workings of the grey box in her home, never deviating from the exact key sequences that will take her to her email.

We are armed to the hilt with the latest microchipped wonders, but an alarming majority of us don’t know how to use the technology properly. Those who do, find themselves in a fools’ paradise of sitting ducks. And it’s duck season. In a move akin to passing out loaded guns to children, we are equipping ourselves with smart technology minus a safety catch. Parents hand their offspring tablets and phones that have cameras, microphones and access to social networks. Sure, the kids are miles ahead of Granny trying to deal with email and dodge spam, but they are still babes in the wood compared to the undercurrent of IT wizards, themselves kids in a candy store of opportunities.

Privacy is the undecorated casualty of this information explosion. Actually, it’s an information war. Ignorance is the ally of our enemy, and we are prisoners of our own materialism. Sorry to say that Grandma found herself cleaned out recently. She fell victim to a telephone scam, giving remote access of her computer to a supposed maintenance firm. And me? I’m not that much more savvy than Grandma really. I have accepted a tablet, one full of cyber-mysteries and security systems that are continually superseded. It lets me run a whole lot of sweet applications... but I have to confess a woefully inadequate knowledge of all its sweet implications.

Whose job is it to make sure we are all fully aware of the capabilities and risks of the products we are buying? Who is responsible for Granny’s misfortune?  Nobody’s putting up their hand.

Somehow Naïveté isn’t so cute anymore.