The Dangerous Housewife's
an essay on how the 'Net has affected my life,
The Liberation of the
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
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
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:
". . . I have again relived my days overseas.
(Your father's) letters are so graphic - - the accuracy of the descriptions
is really phenomenal. And thanks to you, those days can now live onward
for my grandchildren, and so on."
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.