Another virus isnt news. Theyve been around for fifteen
years. Over 53 thousand of them are known and described. But
in a recent case there is a detail that may be worth some comment.
This new worm is called w32.klez.e@mm.
It has a particularly mischievous behavior. When someone
absentmindedly allows it to install itself in a computer,
like other tricksters of the same kind it grabs e-mail
addresses and uses them to spread infected attachments. But
with a twist it places false addresses in the from line,
thus making it appear that the messages are coming from
someone who never contracted the virus and doesnt know that
those messages are being sent. That person is taken by total surprise
when virus warnings, and replies to unsent mail, start pouring in.
Its quite disturbing for healthy people to be treated as
bearers of disease. An added problems is that somehow the virus uses
wrong or old addresses, and people get undeliverable
warnings for mail that they had never sent.
When I pointed out to some experts,
specialists in these matters, that at least the virus
warnings should be managed properly, they answered a bit too
carelessly. «Thats unavoidable. The automatic warning
system cant tell that its a false sender.»
Theres the rut. The question isnt if it can, but
how it should. I dont believe that the protection software
cant be taught to detect false addresses. But lets assume,
for the sake of the argument, that such a technical adjustment is
difficult. Even if the automatic device is too stupid to do
what it should, human intervention could easily change the
text of the warning to provide correct information instead of
a false alert. That would be an advantage for people
receiving the message, who would be well informed instead of
being confused. It would also be good for the supplier of the
anti-virus software, or the system administrator, who would
show that they know how to manage customer care.
None of that was done, or even considered. Why do we so
rarely see intelligent and well managed solutions? Because
the dominant culture is upside down. It treats people as
accessories of computers or software (or websites) while it
should think and behave the other way round.
This episode, per se, isnt much of a problem. But its a
symptom of a widespread mentality. And so we get to the
point: what do we mean by interactivity?
That was an important question since the beginning of networking.
And now its as relevant as ever.
Automatic reply systems can be useful sometimes.
If they are well conceived, if they provide the right answers
and if they dont get in the way of human response. In most
cases, thats not how they work. Most things called help
arent helpful and often they are a nuisance. That happens
because they are set up to cut staff and save money, not to
help customers. And because systems are conceived to fit the
minds of the programmers, not the needs of people.
Its pretty obvious that things dont work. Its harder
to understand why they are getting worse all the time. One of
the reasons is that software designers and sellers, system planners
and managers, dont understand what interactive
means and they dont want to understand it.
An automatic device isnt more interactive
that a switch that turns the light on and off. And id doesnt
become more interactive if its remote controlled
or voice activated (with many possible malfunctions that
would be funny if they werent dangerous.)
Technology works if and when it improves our life, liberates
human energies, handles repetitive chores to leave us free to do
more interesting things. The clutter of cumbersome automatic
devices and invasive tools does the opposite. And that, in one word,
There is only one interactivity that really matters.
People interacting with each other. Machines and
devices are useful only when they serve that purpose. The
more effective they are, the less we notice their presence.
This is a very simple concept though it takes a great deal
of care, patience and dedication to practice it well. Its
tiresome and disturbing to find that we need to repeat it,
again and again. But the daily problems with information and
communication technologies tell us that it is not understood,
or applied, as carefully as it should.
As in the old days in the best computer rooms there was a
bold sign on the wall, THINK, and sometimes in the best
offices that wise acronym, KISS (keep it simple, stupid) ...
now everyone working in information and communication should
repeat as often as possible, and with deep belief, the basic
mantra: tools working for people, not vice versa.