Computers may be sensible, but consumers manipulate them in weird ways

November 17, 2008
At the risk of being taken for a Flintstone, I've often wondered if we 21st Century Earthlings might have more technology than we can sensibly use.

Sensibly. I hope you caught that. It's key.

We live in an age of marvelous advances in information technology, advances that have changed forever the lives of humans. I'm all for that. Computers are sensible. Without them we'd actually have to instant message each other face-to-face.

Humans, on the other hand, seem to be growing less sensible all the time. Take, for example, the case in Sapporo, Japan, of the woman who "murdered" her "husband" in an online role-playing "game," and soon found herself in real-life "jail."

Anyway, here's how it happened:

Police said the woman, a 43-year-old piano teacher, was involved in a game called "Maple City" in which players, through their digital avatars, engage in relationships, socialize and fight monsters. In other words, it's a lot like real life.

Well, the piano teacher's avatar met a 33-year-old man's avatar and they had themselves an avatar wedding. But, as is so often the case these days, the marriage hit the avatar rocks and the man got an avatar divorce. He forgot, however, to tell his avatar wife about it.

Hell hath no fury like a 43-year-old Japanese piano player scorned. Using information her avatar former husband had provided, she used his ID and password to log into the game and killed his avatar self. I don't know how she did it though. Maybe she busted a digital cap on him. Maybe she tossed him off a virtual skyscraper. Or maybe she just hit the "delete" key.

Anyway, I guess she forgot to tell him, because he logged on only to discover that he was dead.

(Does anybody besides me see a pattern emerging? He forgot to tell her, she forgot to tell him. Communication, people. A marriage can't survive without communication.)

Confonted with his cybercorpse, he went to the cops. Not the cybercops. The real ones. And yes, they arrested her, although not for murder. She was jailed on a preliminary charge of illegally accessing a computer and manipulating electronic data.

Well, that strikes me as kind of amusing. Or as the avatars say, "LOL."

But I do sense a blurring, however slight, of the line that separates the digital dimension from the one we believe ourselves to be occupying. Of course, this is nothing new. Some people seem to have lost sight of reality altogether. But enough about gamers.

Illegally accessing a computer and manipulating electronic data is wrong. Shame on her. Bad piano teacher. But let's face it, it's not like she looted his bank account or directed a missile strike at his house, or even did something heinous like change his avatar's name to "Burford."

Nope, it's the digital murder part of the case that makes this an eyebrow-raiser. That plus the fact that the victim went to the cops instead of the help desk. The weenie.

It does illustrate the maxim that we humans are forever inventing tools and then gleefully misusing them. We have these wonderful machines called computers, in which every single scrap of knowledge in the world can be stored and then used for the benefit of mankind, and what do we do with it? Chat about "Dancing With the Stars," Google ourselves, and send naughty messages to one another.

The last is probably simple human nature. You give us a new gizmo and within 15 minutes we're going to figure out a way to turn its purpose into something sexual. Alexander Graham Bell's first words on a telephone, to his assistant in another room, were, "Watson! Come here! I need you!" You be the judge: Science ... or booty call?

Which gets us back to the Maple City Murder. As the story reported, "in virtual worlds, players often abandon their inhibitions, engaging in activity online that they would never do in the real world. For instance, sex with strangers is a common activity." (Murder, not so much.)

And that proves my point.

If you're on a computer for anything over five minutes, you're going to have a nodding familiarity with the abandoned inhibitions and perhaps even the online sex. Among other people, I mean. Not you.

Anyway, it's inescapable. You might even say obvious. Which illustrates that we have more technology than we can sensibly use.

That stuff about players and online activity and so forth?

It was posted ... online.


Redmond is an author, columnist and speaker, and a consultant on business writing and workplace issues. His column appears monthly. You can reach him at mredmond@ibj.com.
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