The evolution of deception

BY RANDALL RIGSBEE, News + Record Staff
Posted 12/6/19

As a junior high schooler in the 1970s, I took a class called Typing.

One of several Business courses the school offered, Typing — it was taught by the same lady who doubled as Music/Band/Chorus …

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The evolution of deception

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As a junior high schooler in the 1970s, I took a class called Typing.

One of several Business courses the school offered, Typing — it was taught by the same lady who doubled as Music/Band/Chorus teacher and who, coincidentally, was the subject of the first interview I ever conducted (for the school newspaper; she also introduced me, as she dropped a few hot tidbits my way during the interview, to the term “off the record,” which, observing no pause in my note-taking, she had to explain to me) — was conducted in a room packed with desks and, atop each desk, an industrial-strength electric typewriter durable enough to withstand the abuses a roomful of 13-year-olds can dish.

Those abuses included a hard-to-explain game, invented by my next-desk neighbor, that utilized the typewriter’s carriage release and rapid deployment of the letter X key to attempt to strike the target: a series of zeros pre-typed on a sheet of paper. It was, sort of, a rudimentary version of a video game — think Asteroids — and the pair of us fledgling typists found it a fun and diverting activity to pursue when we weren’t otherwise engaged in actually learning how to type and the teacher wasn’t near enough to observe.

I don’t recall anybody back then ever using the word “technology” — an indispensable term in many academic environments today — to describe typing, or typewriters, though that’s what it was. Since I took Typing, technology has greatly evolved and typing — on typewriters, at least — isn’t a class anymore, all those obsolete typewriters — unless one or two were saved for posterity in a museum — likely ending up in a heap somewhere or sold for scrap.

As fun as the impromptu typewriter/Asteroids game was, my inventive classmate was hardly a pioneer, though. I suppose as long as there’s been technology, there’s been someone devising new ways to mess with it.

And as technology has evolved — even refrigerators are “smart” now and capable, I’ve heard, of telling us when we’re hungry an hour before our stomachs know it — so have the ways in which it’s mis-used.

There are, for instance, the notorious and notoriously comical Nigerian letters, those unsolicited e-mail queries promising riches from royalty to which we knew not we were kin, if we’ll simply reply with some personal data. It’s a nefarious act far more advanced on the techno-evolutionary scale than, say, using a rotary phone to dial the local pharmacy to inquire if they have Prince Albert in a can and, if so, to please let him out; but that’s how these things evolve.

Deceptions as clumsy as Nigerian letters and such pale in comparison, though, to the more advanced and more deeply sinister ways technology is corralled.

It gets much uglier and I got a taste of how ugly when my work email account was hacked last week.

Somehow — and if I truly understood these things, my life’s path might have been much different — somebody over the course of our technological advancement figured out ways to transmit problem-causing viruses through emails.

My e-mail contacts — and if you were one, I’m truly sorry — began receiving suspicious e-mails sent, it appeared, from my address. “Please see the attached file for your reference,” the email instructed.

Where all of this originated, and why — not to mention why me? — I have no idea. Nor do I understand what anyone could gain from such a thing, other than to create chaos.

I scurried for the next couple of days to send out legitimate emails to let the innocent recipients of the bogus ones know I’d been hacked, but my response seemed inadequate and puny compared to its ominous counterpart.

I’m still a little shaken by the experience.

Though I don’t like, or even fully comprehend, the downsides of technology (hacking and viruses), I know we can’t go backwards to the days of un-hackable, virus-free typewriters, though I recognize the nostalgic appeal.

Rotary phones and Prince Albert suffocating in a can? Still funny, I think.

A computer virus? That’s no joke.


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