In 1953, a classmate, Herbert Peterson, claimed he had seen a two-headed pig. I didn’t doubt him. In our rural area such an oddity seemed possible. He further asserted that one head was good: It had a pleasing oink, ate from your hand and had a rosy color. The other was evil: It shrieked, slobbered and nearly ate his pinkie.
I think the Internet is much like Herb’s pig.
Its good head is a useful wonder, as evidenced by my varied Internet activity last week: I googled a displaced bit of poetry—“up so floating many bells down”—that had bounced in my brain for days. Within seconds, I rediscovered e. e. cummings. I found a recipe that used the buttermilk and tomatoes dying in my fridge. I purchased clever gizmos made of rubber straps and metal coils to clamp on the bottom of my shoes, allowing me to walk on icy streets without visions of a shattered hip. I read the road conditions before heading to Denver and printed a map to my destination. One evening, remembering a teenage crush, I searched "Gorgeous George” and saw photographs of the wrestler’s blond curls and the valet who sprayed him with “Chanel No. 10.”
The Internet’s bad head is intrusive, misleading and dangerous. On the same e-mail that I use to correspond with loved ones, I receive messages promising that I can consolidate my debt, obtain cheap drugs, rejuvenate my sex life and send money to save the life of a dear friend jailed in Nigeria.
Because Internet activity is isolated activity, home computers sometimes disrupt homes. Contrary to my husband’s opinion, it is not enjoyable to watch someone else browse eBay. Families need to talk.
Information on the Internet is a mixed bag. Lies, rumors and rants mingle with facts, reasoned opinions and source-checked articles. A young friend couldn’t believe I voted for Obama; he had read on the Internet about foreign conspirators plotting to put a terrorist in the White House.
Personal information is stolen; predators find prey; pornography is easily obtained. A teacher friend asked her youngsters to research bubbles for a science project. Within minutes, the students’ puzzled, embarrassed or horrified expressions sent her into evasive action. The school’s filter had failed. Some of the third-graders had been introduced to a statuesque stripper named Bubbles.
I couldn’t do without the Internet. But I think we need to remember both heads and exercise caution. We wouldn’t want to lose our pinkies.
The AARP Bulletin’s "What I Really Know" column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit short personal essays on a selected topic and publish some of our favorites in print and online. Janet Sheridan is a reader from Craig, Colo.