Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Vulnerability of a Life Online



We’re all connected. That’s the mantra of the 21st century, from Google to Facebook, Microsoft to Twitter and the myriad sites we visit on the Internet. No matter Edward Snowden’s prescient warnings, we’re helpless as individuals.

What happens when the lights go out? All being connected means all vulnerable.

In a recent personal case, I was effectively put out of phone communication worldwide as Skype got bought out by Microsoft without my paying attention. Who can possibly keep up with every corporate takeover?

I’ve used Skype almost since its inception and always felt it to be a wonderfully useful product, allowing me access to business and personal calls across the world without a glitch.

But I’ve been glitched.

A few days ago my Microsoft 7 Ultima crashed in the middle of a perfectly ordinary reading of a newspaper site. Who knows for what reason? These things happen from time to time and I restarted my computer. The crash limped off to whatever dark corners of the globe crashed sites congregate and life went on. Or, almost went on.

I trustingly attempted to make a Skype call and the skies grew dark.

Sign In,” it asked me, as it always does when my computer has been shut down or otherwise restarted—nothing new here. I complied, with the Skype name and password that had served me well for decades. “Skype does not recognize your username and password,” it replied. “Please check your username and password and try again.” I complied. No luck. I sipped on coffee to unclench my teeth.

Thus began a series of hoops through which I was prompted to navigate by Microsoft time and again. Then again. Then once more, while the hours passed and nature did indeed darken the skies with the oncoming fall of night in Prague.

As nearly as I can tell—and the jury is still out while Microsoft ‘thanks’ me for contacting Skype and ‘understands’ that I am ‘unable to access,’ the hours rolled by and turned into days. It seems (and I say seems with a degree of caution) that during the takeover of Skype Microsoft arbitrarily changed all the rules regarding login information I had become accustomed to over the years. In their wisdom, they no longer recognized either my email address or password.

In a corollary, it’s a bit like friends asking me why I left the Republican Party. Actually, I didn’t is my reply, the Republican Party left me. Similarly, I have not left Skype. It has left me, without so much as a goodbye or a note to my mom.

Gurdeep Singh Pall, Microsoft’s executive in charge of Skype is somewhere behind an email and contact firewall, so no help there. No surprise either in Microsoft’s notoriously un-user friendly environment. Eight and a half billion dollars invested in Skype and not a dime for user support. “Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.

But the point is, we are terribly vulnerable in this age of free (and sometimes rather expensive) services that become ubiquitous. Google has no human to contact and never has had, even though Google permeates our lives. Modern automobiles can no longer be repaired since their advance into microchips. Standing by the side of the road in the rain, we can but dumbly stare down under an opened and dripping hood.

In a service economy no human voice answers our need.

I am reminded of General McArthur’s comment when he had his ass kicked out of Bataan during the 2nd World War; “We are not retreating, we are advancing in a different direction.”