Monday, August 20, 2001

Week of 08/20/2001

Licensing Stupidity
- by David Matthews 2

"There is no great concurrence between learning and wisdom."
Sir Francis Bacon

I guess we could blame it on the "Love Bug".

Or the creators of the Anna Kournakova or Jennifer Lopez nudie pix virus. Or Joke-A-Day’s "AOL Virus" spoof. Or the SirCam virus. Or the Chinese-created Code Red worm and its various sequels.

Or we could blame them all for this idea that is being seriously mulled about by software developers, programmers, and quite soon by some politicians…

The mandatory licensing of computer users.

That’s right, folks. We’re talking about having to not only seriously look at those computer courses you see on TV or in college, but actually being forced to ATTEND them if you want to use a computer! Yes, we’re talking about schooling, books, homework, and boning up on "crash" courses on not crashing your computer. You too may someday have to report to the local government office and get yet another laminated card with a butt-ugly picture of you on it saying you are licensed to use a computer and surf the Internet.

Think it can’t happen? Ask the folks in China, where Internet users there have to be registered with the government.

Think the imperial US government can’t track you down were they to impose this? Remember the scare with Intel’s Pentium III chip and their traceable ID program imbedded in every processor? Do you REALLY think Intel simply scrapped the program after the brief public outrage from privacy groups? Do you think that Intel wouldn’t transfer the whole program to their Pentium 4 chip? And for that matter, what makes you think AMD and Apple haven’t done the same thing with their processors?

All potential hysteria aside, though, one cannot deny that it has been the cherished goal of many in government to control the deluge of data and information out there in cyberspace. They see unrestrained access to information as a threat. That’s why the more extreme governments bent on controlling information move to ban access to the Internet. If they cannot control it, they feel obligated to outlaw it. Just ask any member of the ruling Taliban in Afghanistan about the Internet and see what their reaction is. That country has not only banned Internet access, but they’ve also banned computer use itself.

Sure, regulating content on the Internet has been stymied here in America thanks to the US Constitution, but if you can’t get to the content, why not get at the people who have access to that content?

Supporters of regulating and licensing computer users say that forcing computer users to be licensed would force them to be educated about computers and software, and make sure all virus systems are updated, and new patches are installed. After all, they say, we license automobile drivers, don’t we?

Well, that’s not really a good example if you think about it. Have you seen the idiots who are out there on a daily basis roaming our highways? Even after driver’s education, there are plenty of people out there who drive like maniacs, often just one misstep away from an accident or a vehicle breakdown.

In fact, depending on the state and local governments, there are plenty of businesses that require licenses. Everything from so-called "professions" like doctors and lawyers all the way down to taxi drivers and dog groomers. Even security guards and strippers are licensed!

And let me ask you, does that make them better people? Sure, in some cases it may give them a little more information to play around with, but does having a license in whatever business they’re engaged in magically transform them into ethical, responsible "professionals"? No, it does not.

Let’s get brutally honest here… licensing doesn’t make a person a better one. All it really does is gives government yet another layer of bureaucracy to it. It gives them another pound and half of regulations and paperwork to play around with. It gives them another venue of revenue through "licensing fees". It gives them another excuse to bring in more state-employed people to process the paperwork and – heaven help them – TRY to police people.

In other words, the only thing all this crap about licensing and regulating really "improves" is the power, scope, and girth of government!

Now let’s look at the people who are bitching and crying for this demented idea to license PC users. These software developers and programmers really are a piece of work. First they bitch and cry "free speech" when the government tries to regulate them over content. But now they’re bitching and crying for government to go regulate other people! Mister pot, meet Mister kettle!

The hard truth to these hypocritical techies is that the computer world is no longer their exclusive domain.

Once upon a time, the computer was something only techies would understand and deal with. Being a computer user was special. They were in a league all their own. They were the true "geeks" that we all used to make fun of in school. These were the people who would become the future Bill Gates and Steve Jobs of the world. They even had their own exclusive convention – Comdex.

Part of the reason why computers were so exclusive way back then were the costs of getting one. People didn’t have $5000 to foot for those really neat computers, and then they didn’t have the patience to figure out all of the software behind it. The only people who did were the "geeks" of the crowd.

Now, however, the computer world has come home to the common man. You can go to the local K-Mart and buy a decent computer for under $500. Thanks to companies like Compaq, Microsoft, and Apple, computers became more and more accessible, not to mention easier for the common man to use.

Even Comdex lost its exclusivity back in 1995 when it was opened up to the general public. What was once the playground of adult techies soon became the modern day toy store of the kids of Joe and Jane Six-Pack. Now that really is a crime!

And with that move towards the most common denominator came the dumbing-down of computer software. After all, most people may not know how to use a database, but they can figure out how to with some software wizards. Joe and Jane Six-Pack may not have a clue how to set up access to the Internet, but they can get there via an online provider like America Online, which does everything for them.

And it is that move towards making things simple that is making techies mad. Now these "experts" are being called in by their clueless pointy-haired bosses to figure out how this software works. They’re getting asked to deal with destructive worms and viruses unleashed by the techno-aware kids of the techno-clueless. And they don’t like having to deal with that pressure.

Well, I say TOO BAD! You guys were hawking the benefits and joys of software, now you have to deal with your own success!

Besides, the techno-genie had long since escaped from the bottle to be talking about regulating computers, and especially regulating who has access to the Internet!

Do you know all the various ways people have access to cyberspace? Maybe if the Internet was simply a matter of huge network servers, there MIGHT have been room to regulate who gets that access. But between cellphones, pagers, handheld organizers, WebTV, and the soon-to-be-released video game systems, people have greater access to the Internet than ever before. Can you REALLY expect to corral all of that?

Of course, the best way to deal with the techno-clueless is to simply let them make their own mistakes. Let their systems get infected with worms and viruses. Yes, they’ll bitch and cry about it. But then you can bitch and cry back at them and remind them that they wouldn’t HAVE these kinds of problems if they bothered to update their software regularly and look out for strange-looking e-mails from total strangers. That’s the only way they’re going to learn to be more responsible. They’re not going to get that from some kind of mandatory government program.

I want all of those supporters of user licensing to think back to when they were in school. What did they used to do when faced with a course that they didn’t have an interest in but they HAD to pass? That’s right, they CRAMMED. They took up just enough information to pass whatever test they needed to pass, and then they forgot about it.

Well, that is PRECISELY what you’re going to get when stuck with a bunch of people who are FORCED to pass some kind of class or test in order to get a PC User’s license. They’re going to take in just enough information to get that license and then they’ll chuck the rest of it out.

Guess what? Now you’re back to square one; with the techno-clueless STILL screwing things up.

And then you’ll learn a very important lesson… that the only way people will learn to be more responsible is if they WANT to be more responsible! It cannot be taught by force.

Well, at least SOMEBODY would be learning a lesson! Just not the people that we want to have learn.

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