@internet -- The Man in the Mirror

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After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail

Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key

After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail

Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key

After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail

Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key

After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail

Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key

After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail

Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key

After Hours

I'm starting to get used to the man in the mirror.

In early March, I had my deviated septum repaired. In colloquial terms, I had a nosejob.

It wasn't a matter of vanity--after all, it's the same big honker now that it's always been. Instead, it was a matter of survival.

You see, last December, I was diagnosed with severe sleep apnea--a condition where you stop breathing in your sleep. There are two kinds of apnea--obstructive, where your tongue and soft palate get in the way of your breathing, and central, where your body simply forgets to inhale--and I have both.

Sleep apnea has four major symptoms: heavy snoring, chronic exhaustion, inability to concentrate and sudden death.

It's that last one that worries me.

As it turns out, there is a sovereign remedy for sleep apnea. It's called a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) device--sort of a glorified reverse vacuum cleaner that blows a steady stream of air up your nose while you're sleeping. The problem is that you need to be able to breathe through your nose for a CPAP device to work and that's something I couldn't do through my original, much-busted beezer.

So I had surgery to straighten out the old schnozzola, in order to start using a CPAP device.

And it hurt. A lot.

Luckily, once upon a time, my surgeon had had the same surgery himself, so he didn't hesitate to prescribe strong narcotics for me. That turned out to be both a good thing and a bad one--good, because I didn't have to hurt, and bad, because it kept me from being able to think straight for the best part of two weeks.

The Girl Can't Help It

Once I was able to put away the Vicodin™ vial, I had to wade through a major email backlog--time and tide wait for no man, after all. And, among the piles of urgent messages--and the mountains of spam--I found a pair of communiques from my oldest sister, who'd gotten her first email account less than six months earlier.

Both of them consisted of multiply-forwarded collections of jokes--most of them uncredited Stephen Wright lines and the rest old enough to qualify for Social Security. Swamped with more important mail, I sent a reply, telling her I'd prefer not to receive any more of them--to which she responded angrily, accusing me of having no sense of humor and being an ungrateful so-and-so, to boot.

At first, I was pretty upset. I mean, my sister was the one who had violated Netiquette by inflicting on me all those tired old jokes I hadn't asked for and had no interest in reading--complete with half-a-dozen sets of headers from the last six idiots who'd distributed them. After a while, though, it occurred to me that I couldn't really blame her.

You see, like millions of other clueless newbies, my sister is an AOLer. And, ever since AOL loosed the Great Unwashed Horde on the poor, defenseless Internet in early 1996, it has shirked its duty to teach its users how properly to conduct themselves as citizens of the Internet community.

And, unfortunately and increasingly, AOL is not alone in that dereliction. Looking around at a half-dozen major ISPs' home pages and those of a dozen more regional and local players, I have yet to find one of them that features a Netiquette FAQ or even a pointer to such a document.

And, damnit, that's just wrong.

The Way We Were

I first accessed the Internet via a Unix shell account. That was back in the days when--because analog modems were so slow that it required costly digital connections--peer connectivity cost two limbs and an offspring, so shell accounts were the norm, rather than, as they are today, the exception.

One of the benefits of access via shell account was that it required a certain level of sophistication simply to be able to read and respond to email, browse Usenet, ftp files or even use Gopher to access the limited multimedia resources the Internet had to offer. Because you had to know--or learn--how to deal with Unix utilities, filename conventions, permissions and whatnot, Internet users then tended to be both more self-reliant and more willing to ask questions. They just assumed that they had a responsibility to read FAQs and productively lurk before leaping into posting on newsgroups and mailing lists. And pretty much everyone honored the unspoken dictum, "Bandwidth is precious. Thou shalt not waste it."

Then three things happened to permanently and radically alter the existing net.culture: modem speeds increased enough to permit dial-up peer connectivity to become the norm, (thereby reducing the necessary quantity of clue required to be "on the Internet",) the World Wide Web exploded, (even further reducing the minimum clue quotient,) and AOL opened the floodgates to its huddled masses, yearning to spam freely, (providing an inexhaustible well of cluelessness that continues to vomit forth confused, untrained and often belligerently demanding newbies in a flood that would give Noah pause).

And, boy, did things ever change. Usenet turned into a cesspool of pyramid schemes, porn site ads and off-topic flame wars. Spamford Wallace and his ilk mailjacked innocent servers to flood the Net with junk. Terrified newbies endlessly recirculated the "Good Times" memetic virus, the Needless Markups cookie recipe slander and pleas for business cards for poor, cancer-stricken Craig Shergold. And everybody, and I mean everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY--including a whole lot of people who really ought to know better--passed around the same, lame lists of jokes.

How many times have you, personally, gotten one or another variation on the "Y-to-K conversion" gag? How about the Y1K joke? Or the one from the Roman Centurion about the YZeroK problem?

In my case, the answer is, "Way too often." And it doesn't have to be like that.

Let's face it: there are always going to be jerks in the world--people who believe that they're somehow too special to have to bother with being polite; that the rules that apply to ordinary mortals don't apply to them and that, if you don't like it, you can lump it. But experience tells me that most people want to do the right thing--whatever that happens to be. Give them a set of guidelines about how to behave and they'll follow them, because they want to be good citizens.

And that's where you come in.

Good Intentions

You can help reverse the tide of incivility, cluelessness and just plain bad citizenship that has engulfed the Net by taking responsibility for informing your own users about Netiquette. It's easy to do and--if the trend catches on--it will pay big dividends for everyone.

If you don't already have a Netiquette FAQ posted for your users, do so now. (You can check out the online version of Virginia Shea's Netiquette, ISBN: 0-9637025-1-3, and other Netiquette resources, if you're not sure what to include.) Give it a prominent plug on your home page and make sure there's a link to it on all your menu bars.

Then, write a script that will automatically mail a text copy of your FAQ to new users as their accounts are created. Preface it with an injunction to "Print this out and refer to it often!" And, if you send out regular email newsletters to your subscribers, briefly mention the link in each edition.

If you make your users understand that you consider Netiquette important, they'll start thinking it's important, too. And you'll both be right, because civility is the lubricant that keeps the machinery of civilization running. Let it run dry and the next thing you know the machine breaks down. With the ever-growing population of the Internet, we can't afford to let that happen.

And it's our responsibility. Nobody was born knowing this stuff. We all learned it from somebody, and we all have an obligation to pass it along to somebody else. That's how civilization works.

And, in the meantime, if no matter how much sleep you've had you wake up feeling tired, if you snore like a chainsaw, if you wake up in the middle of the night with your heart racing for no apparent reason, or, especially, if your spouse or significant other tells you that you stop breathing in your sleep, do yourself a favor and ask your doctor to schedule a sleep study. They're covered by most medical plans--including most HMOs--and they're definitive diagnostics for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

You can learn more about OSA from Doug Linder's layman's FAQ and from the comprehensive sleep apnea resource page the Florida Medical Network is building. It's surprisingly common--somewhere between three and eight percent of the population suffers from it--and it's hell on your quality of life.

Take it from the man in the mirror.

(Copyright© 1999 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)