by Andrea Puckett

Using the computer as a way to communicate with friends and family became second nature to me when I did my undergraduate work at Virginia Tech. Emailing was the only way that I could speak to professors that had 500 plus people in their classes. Instant Messaging became a preferred way for my roommates and I to talk with each other instead of walking into the next room and speaking with them.

I had access to the Internet for most of my teen years, however, I primarily used the Internet for school based projects and my parents monitored the sites that I viewed closely. Unfortunately, most of my friends at the time didn’t have Internet access so we communicated through the phone or through personal contact. However, after having a $2000 phone bill one summer, I chose to use the computer to talk with friends because there were no roaming charges.

Cousin Websites
Today, my 16-year-old cousin has three or four websites that she has created and belongs to numerous chat rooms and blogging sites. She talks to her friends using Instant Messenger and she posts pictures of her friends and her family. However, her mother and father aren’t used to using the computer as their primary way to communicate with people so they don’t monitor her computer usage.

I was talking to my cousin one day and I asked her why she blogs so much and why she posts the photos that she posts. She told me that she does it because she feels that when she writes on the Internet that people will listen to her. I joined the same blogging sites as her and check her WebPages frequently to see what she is posting and to keep an eye out for a possible cry for help that she isn’t telling anyone. Her parents don’t use the computer much and have no clue what she belongs to. However, by knowing what sites that your children belong to help you understand what they are doing and are a way that parents can make sure that their child is not involved in a world that they are unaware of.

People are using the blogging sites to create and live our different personalities. The computer liberates people because it allows you to think that you are being anonymous and that no one will ever find out. However, not everyone is nice and use the computer not as a productive tool to communicate but as a way to prey on impressionable people. Blogging can be a fun way to connect with people and to express yourself. However, it can be a tool that people use to stalk people and a way to share with friends a world that you share past your bedtime. Eventhough, my cousin is pretty tame on the sites that she bloggs in and posts photos on there are other teenagers that aren’t so innocent. I have seen other teenagers who post photos that make them look and appear older than they are to appeal to a male audience.

Classroom Education
I have used blogging in several of my graduate school classes and have found that it is a useful way to talk with other students and have a virtual classroom discussion. The beauty is that you often feel freer to say more than you might in a traditional classroom because you take out the personality conflicts and dominate people and have equal time and space to speak out. I feel that as education transitions more and more to online formats that you will see more people using bloggs as a preferred way to have a classroom discussion.

After College, my friends who are not dating people are having a hard time meeting people outside of the bar scene. A lot of them are turning to the computer seeking ways to have relationships with people. My friends have been using sites such as e and to meet people. A couple of my friends have even used Instant Messaging to meet people and have actually gotten married. However, not every match that you make on the Internet is successful. I had a friend who what he thought was a girl online and went on a date. When he got to the date, he discovered that the person was a transvestite. Today, virtual dating has given people the opportunity to meet a variety of people from around the country and world and have helped them expand their options for finding a perfect match.

The traditional paper job announcements or personal ads have been replaced by websites. Now companies refer you to their websites for new job postings and information about their company instead of giving you brochures or displaying their companies hiring needs in a newspaper. Craig’s list is a website that my friends frequent that features personal adds for different cities.
No matter how much that you try and escape at moments to a world that is not so fast paced the world of instant messaging and email follows us at home and at work. The places that I have worked have been using Instant messaging as the preferred method to talk with office mates about projects and schedules. People use this method to help them multitask projects, filter questions, and to avoid salesmen. The days of memos and personal contact in the workplace have been replaced with emailing.
Recently, I discovered what was the purse snatching of the twenty first century.

A few years ago, my mother had her purse snatched right off of her arm while she was grocery shopping and this shook her up because she thought that things like that didn’t happen where she lived. However, the more deviant form of purse snatching is Internet fishing and spoofing scams.

I have used Paypal to buy items off of the Internet for years and felt that it was a secure site. Until, one day I received an email that looked identical to the emails that Paypal sends out to have up update your information or to let you know that you have purchased an item from another person.

I received an email that told me that if I had not bought the item listed to fill out the form and indicate my address and the last four digits of my social security number and that the money would be put back into my account. I followered the instructions and hit the link bottom to the Paypal website and it was identical to the Paypal that I use and I logged in with my user name and password and didn’t think much about it because I have had this happen with Paypal before. About five minutes after I had submitted my information, I contacted Paypal to make sure that the money was credited to my account. When I spoke to the customer representative, she told me that I had been spoofed and that Paypal had not sent me the email but that someone was fishing for my information and they had it.

Credit Bureaus
Immediately, I had to have fraud alerts placed on my banking accounts, reported the activity to the three credit bureaus, and I had to cancel my credit card. At first, I was so shaken and even felt bad that I had fallen for such a scam when I thought that I was a pretty smart Internet consumer. I was lucky that no one to date has tried to use my bank but not everyone is that fortunate. Since, this incident, I have tried to inform my friends and family of Internet fishing scams and what to look for and how to protect yourself if someone gets hold of your information. My father used to say that experience is the best teacher and for me that is exactly what happened in this case because I still use Internet shopping but now I am aware of what a secure site looks like and am more suspicious of what a fraudulent email looks like.

If you want to scare yourself go into a high school English class where part of tenth graders required research projects is to do a PowerPoint presentation. I was thinking of teaching at one point and had to teach a class where my teaching mentor made them do a project with PowerPoint. I felt so inadequate because I didn’t do power point presentations until I was almost out of college.

There is little to any choice to avoid not using a computer in your work or personal life. However, we do have the choice to be smart consumers and users. The virtual world created through computers makes the world smaller and gives us more options but you have to be careful and realize that you are not anonymous as you would like to think and that you have to be careful to recognize a fake from a genuine person, website, and email.