The Dangerous Housewife's


an essay on how the 'Net has affected my life, or

The Liberation of the Dangerous Housewife

by Galia Berry, © 1997, All Rights Reserved

The potential dangers of the 'Net should not be underestimated. The spread of unmitigated hatred, predator-based pornography directed at innocent and unsuspecting children, weird cult activity, wasted time affecting professional productivity levels, physical lethargy, and "virtual" online relationships which effortlessly substitute for face-to-face interaction, should be of genuine and serious concern.

Unlike other creatures in our universe, Man has been bestowed with a God-given gift: the ability to choose good from evil in situations confronting us in everyday life. How we use technology is no different: we can build an atom bomb to destroy whole continents, or we can harness nuclear power to satisfy the huge appetite of energy consumption.

The Internet is a powerful tool: so powerful, it is doubtful we fully comprehend the changes it has - - and will continue - - to wreak on society. As a form of entertainment, the 'Net has nearly replaced the television set for the compu-philic amongst us - - and with equally dire implications, I might add. The chilling invasion of our personal privacy is already extant, although the masses are blissfully unaware (or in denial) about how thoroughly the 'Net facilitates that intrusion.

And yet, despite my ominous preamble, the Internet has unequivocally changed and bettered my life to such an enormous extent, that I feel compelled to share with you some examples, that your life might be similarly enriched.

It was my disgust with my local public library that served as a catalyst for my initiation into the world of cyberspace. Defying the rule, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," they messed with the library's holy of holies, the card catalog. Suddenly I was at the mercy of a set of computer terminals, constantly in use by other patrons and necessitating my waiting in line to access them. Once seated comfortably in front of the monitor, I was then forced to submit myself to horrendous wait-times between function keys, and information which was often incompletely or inaccurately entered into the software by some unfortunate, underpaid data entry clerk. Worse, as local government allocation funds are continuously decreased, the libraries' ability to acquire new titles and replace lost or stolen books has been seriously challenged. Best-sellers are nevertheless acquired and kept current - - but non-fiction has suffered a heavy blow. Scholarly books and reference material have fallen by the wayside, replaced mostly with "popular" non-fiction titles such as "O.J.: Now It Can Be Told (The Juice Gets Squeezed)."

Defeated, I turned to the privacy, comfort, and convenience of my own home. At some ridiculous hour in the middle of the night (long after the library had closed, I might add), I simply clicked a button on my mouse, and using one of several search engines, typed in a key word or two, and . . . instant gratification! I had a plethora of information quite literally at my fingertips.

Talk about empowerment!

Shortly thereafter, I was busy cleaning out my basement, when I stumbled upon a dusty cardboard carton. Inside was a thick file, containing fragile letters written on onion-skin paper, composed and sent by my father during WWII to his parents. These letters home were written aboard the LCI (landing craft, infantry) where he served as group commander of several LCIs in the South Pacific. I vaguely remembered hearing about the existence of those letters many years before, but it took the approach of my own middle age before a sense of family history became important to me. Upon reading them, it was immediately evident that these were not only personal letters that gave me insight into the father I had never really known (he died when I was very young); they were an important slice of military history that recorded the emotions of warriors, as well as the sociology, anthropology, and geography of that remarkable time.

Painstakingly transcribing the letters was only the beginning. There were intelligence reports, the ship's log, a report filed after a kamikaze attack on the ship, unknown (to me) place names of exotic beachheads in New Guinea, names of now-obsolete and collectible weaponry and aircraft, and references to the officers and crew who served under his command - - as well as the names of famous military figures with whom he rubbed elbows.

Working fourteen-hour days (and nights), in a period of two months I was able to conduct research, using the Internet as a tool for resources, that otherwise would have taken me six months to a year, had I been dependent on snail mail and the public library. What are a "bolo knife" and a "long Tom rifle?" Queries to the Usenet newsgroups "rec.knives" and rec.guns gave me the answers I was seeking within minutes. Even more astounding, I was able to locate five of seven crewmates mentioned in the letters, using Switchboard, a search engine which has on its database all listed phone numbers found in yellow and white pages directories throughout the United States. For these men, my call prompted an unleashing of memories long bottled; some sent me precious photographs, and information about my father I would not have known otherwise. It also provided them a mechanism to reestablish contact with one another. These were men who had shared life and death and fear and courage, but had not done so for fifty years. This is what one man, now in his late seventies, wrote me from his own email account:

People-searches on the Internet of a different sort - - romantic in nature - - have led to horrific tales in the media of mayhem, molestation, and even death. A closer look, however, reveals that either the people involved were simultaneously part of a warped and sadistic sexual subculture, or naively believed that the Internet would serve as some sort of talisman. These innocents failed to take even the most ordinary precautions that they normally would have observed on a more conventional blind date.

Within the framework of my own religious and cultural roots, the phenomenon of matchmaking endures. Although I myself have been blessed with a happy and loving marriage of nearly twenty years, I have many friends who are still seeking their "match made in Heaven." It is considered nothing less than a sacred obligation to assist singles in any way possible to find their life partner. So I subscribed to a Jewish matchmaking listservice on the 'Net which operates from Israel, free of charge to its participants. Whenever a formatted personals post would appear in my email box that sounded appealing, I would save it in a special file, and alert my single friends, who did not have computer access, accordingly.

I had suggested that Sarah post her own personal ad using my account on the listservice. A divorced mother of four children, she was more than amenable. I also suggested she read two of the posts that I has saved in a file. One, in particular, sounded appealing to her, but she was in a hurry, and having posted her own personal ad, she promised to return the following day to respond to that fellow.

But the metaphysics of time in cyberspace are not to be taken lightly. Before Sarah could respond to David's appealing post, David had seen Sarah's post, and wrote to my account immediately, hopeful of a potential match. Within days of back-and-forth email posts, they had arranged a face-to-face meeting (she lived in Baltimore; he resided in Toronto). Within weeks they were engaged, and are today happily married - - truly a case of love at first byte.

I should have been born one hundred years ago, when the art of letter writing was just that - - an art. The introduction of the telephone has made socialization through literary communication obsolete. Worse, as the shift to a transient lifestyle becomes the norm rather than the exception, and our lives get increasingly busy and filled with noise (thanks to all kinds of handy-dandy "timesaving" devices), the lifelong friendships that were a hallmark of our parents' and grandparents' day are increasingly rare. Few people bother to keep in touch through letter-writing; staying in contact with friends who live all over the country or abroad is prohibitively expensive by phone. But - - as a friend of mine noted - - "email is so liberating."

Location, time zones, and even cost become insignificant when corresponding via the 'Net. You can be fifty pounds overweight and be having a bad hair day: your high school friends from twenty-five years ago who knew you as a hunk need not be made any wiser. An exchange of posts can consist of two lines or twenty. You have plenty of time to think of something clever to say, and need not fear being put on the spot. But even more significant, email can act as a training grounds for our verbal communication skills. There is no need to blurt out the first thing that comes to mind; our words can be measured, edited, revised. It allows us to step back, take a deep breath, and respond rationally and thoughtfully to a point of disagreement, rather than harshly, emotionally and impulsively. The Internet not only promotes the exchange of ideas, it forces us to be open to new or differing ones.

I have learned much from others on a multitude of diverse forums (I stick to the moderated variety, as participants are better behaved and avoid vulgarities). I've gotten sidetracked learning more about the people behind the posts. Currently, I correspond with an elderly woman, for whom the Internet has provided a means of escaping the isolation and accompanying depression associated with being housebound; a forensic and genetic pathologist from Harvard on topics as diverse as firearms and hiking; I discuss kids, dogs, and creative writing with a former control design engineer for Ford who helps cancer patients in chronic pain through self-hypnosis; photography and broadcasting with a sports talk radio host in Pennsylvania; politics and poetry with a cowboy who publishes a small-town newspaper in Northern California; and the meaning of life, death, religion and demented humor with (who else?) a philosophy professor in New England who has a whole lot of questions but very few answers. I have re-ignited friendships thought long lost, and orchestrated a high school reunion, using search engines and then email. And I keep in touch with my friends of many years, now living in Israel, Holland, and England. I flirt with my husband via email. I buy my clothes and make my travel plans on the 'Net. My college-bound daughter located dozens of available scholarships through the Internet. I've even won a 'Net-sponsored essay contest or two.

Yes, there are sickos in cyberspace, and as a parent, I am fearful for my children. The family computer is located in a high-traffic area in our home, which affords little privacy. Access is only available after all homework has been done, and academic standards plus responsibilities in the home have been met. Computer use is limited to research and pre-approved games. Chat rooms, pen pal organizations, etc. are taboo. So far, this arrangement is working.

Writing on the Internet has given me a voice: one that did not require the services of a literary agent, publisher - - or a rejection letter. My 'Net articles have provoked and inspired feedback from people the world over, something that would not have occurred in a traditional publishing milieu. It has given me a newfound confidence and courage, which has enabled me to take risks in the workplace, and in fact led me to my present job after being a housewife and happily homebound for twenty years.

The Internet has expanded my world beyond infinity, yet brought it so much closer. It has not only given me a voice, but a destiny and a legacy.

And a laugh or two, as well.