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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 61 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Being a Skeptic*

So far, he's dragged that buck in front of cameras in 17 states.

*Somerset Daily American
June 11, 2010
as "Be a Skeptic"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey
Written material only

Raymond Tomlinson is a name you may not be familiar with, yet he is responsible for an invention that literally changed the world.

In 1971, while working for a tech company, he was asked to change a program used to exchange messages between users of the same computer into something that would enable messages to be sent via the ARPANET Network Control Protocol. The resulting software became known as “email” and the rest, as they say, is history.

Email has changed communications across the globe. Before, it took letters, stamps, and a sometimes iffy international mail system in order for people to communicate. Now, communication is nearly instantaneous whether your recipient is five feet or five continents away.

Of course, with any good, there’s always bad.

Email is also being used to send all manner of trash – called “spam” -- such as ads for fake viagra, fake money transfer schemes, and to propagate viruses across the Internet.

One of the more benign forms of junk finding its way into our inboxes, are the variety of urban legends. Some of them have become famous in their own right, such as the stories of the terminally ill child who wanted to collect Christmas/birthday/Valentine’s cards. There is the infamous mountain lion seen dragging a full-grown deer in front of an automated game camera which has been “spotted” in at least 17 U.S. states, and two other countries so far. Remember the amazing things you could do with your cell phone? All false. Chain mail, something I thought had died away in the 50’s, has made a comeback. These messages, in some cases, invoke religious references that play on people’s darkest fears. And the list goes on.

The life these lies have is due solely to our refusal to ask critical questions and demand proof, especially when the lie is something we desperately want to believe is true.

During the recent primary campaign, I undertook the effort to double- and triple-check the outlandish claims that exploded from television and radio ads. I was astonished at the degree to which campaigns ON BOTH SIDES twisted facts and statements, and in some cases, told outright lies. And I didn’t have to work that hard to find the facts, about ten minutes of careful research on the Internet.

For some, the Internet has become a weapon. Social networking sites, and email, have been used as vehicles for devastating personal attacks. For insecure and lonely teens, the bullies that assail them daily at school are now able to “follow” them into the sanctuary of home. The easiest cruelty is the faceless one. Insults and public degradation are now delivered from behind a wall of anonymous screen names. That they arrive without ownership does not lessen their effect. A virtual insult is no different from an actual slap in the face.

All forms of e-communication have one major flaw: Once sent, it is forever; there’s no way to retrieve it. And no amount of remorse or apology will undo the terrible impact of what you’ve sent. Your words will stay in the recipient’s mind and heart forever, and will likely end up in court as well. In recent years, several children have taken their own lives because of on-line bullying, the senders charged with serious crimes.

There is a safety valve that can save you from a regrettable burst of emotion. When you draft such an email, send it to yourself first. After some time has passed, open the message and read it from the perspective of the recipient. In that gap of time -- “waiting period,” if you will – your temper can cool and stop you from doing something really stupid and cruel.

On Thursday May 7th, a trader pushed a wrong button on his keyboard and almost collapsed the entire New York Stock Exchange. In this age of near-instantaneous personal communication, we must think twice, even thrice, before pushing that button.

The consequences are just too dangerous.

Even deadly.
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