Intellectual Darwinism

Or why new technology will always have victims

The recent announcement of a five million dollar class action lawsuit against Ring and its parent company Amazon, prompted a discussion among family members. The lawsuit claims that Amazon and Ring are blaming owners of the cameras for not creating strong passwords while the plaintiffs claim Ring should have increased security measures.

During this discussion, it occurred to me to coin the phrase, Intellectual Darwinism.

Early Example One

In the 1920s, several US watch companies produced “glow in the dark” dials painted with radio-luminescent paint. The employees hired to paint the dials were mostly young women and almost all of them died of various forms of radiation poisoning.

Early Example Two

I’ve seen film clips from the Germany, prior to WWII, where they were excited by the latest invention in walk-through dry-cleaning. There was a swimming pool with stairs and handrails at each end. A line of men wearing business suits and women in nice dresses, were slowly wading, neck-deep, through the pool and emerging on the other side, squeaky-clean. This project only lasted a short time as these people started getting sick within months. In less than ten years, almost all of them had perished due to kidney or liver cancer. The clear fluid in the pool was carbon tetrachloride.
Human symptoms of acute (short-term) inhalation and oral exposures to carbon tetrachloride include headache, weakness, lethargy, nausea, and vomiting. Acute exposures to higher levels and chronic (long-term) inhalation or oral exposure to carbon tetrachloride produces liver and kidney damage in humans. It can be absorbed through the skin, as well.

Early Example Three

I’ve worked as an Information Technology professional in one form or another since 1978. At least since the 1980s, I’ve preached to anyone who will listen, that they are responsible for protecting their own data. This includes reliable backups, as well as secure passwords, and physical access. Many people ignore this advice, even today.

  • How many people use the same, simple password for multiple devices?
  • How many people purchase a new WiFi router and never change the default password?
  • How many people refuse to change passwords for years on end?
  • How many people refuse to use a password to lock down their computer, tablet, or cellphone when they aren’t using it?
  • These are the same people who will scream lawsuit when their personal accounting information, emails, photos, videos, chats, etc. are stolen by hackers.

The Learning Curve

In most any group of people, you will have a very few who both understand and love working with bleeding-edge technology. A small number of these folks will become victims while they learn all the pros and cons. A larger, but still small number will learn from the mistakes of others, protect themselves, and pass on the warnings.

A much greater number of people love the benefits of new technology, but hate having to change their habits or, take the time to read the directions. This latter group are doomed to become victims of Intellectual Darwinism.

Much-Ignored Advice

I will readily admit that ANY device can be hacked with enough effort. Just like a deadbolt on your front door won’t stop some from using an axe to chop through a wall. That doesn’t mean you should make it easy on burglars, though. Here are a few rules:

1. RTFM… that means Read The Friggin’ Manual! Including that horrible bit of legalese called Terms of Service. If you don’t have a clear understanding of how the device works, then ask someone knowledgeable and/or read reviews before purchasing or installing.

2. Backup anything you want to keep! I realize it is a hassle to use external hard drives or USB thumbdrives, but there are dozens of free cloud services that will keep you from losing all your writings, photos, or videos if your system is destroyed or stolen. And before you rant about letting someone else see your stuff, all of the major cloud services offer various forms of protection, up to and including encrypting your data so even the system administrators cannot access it.

3. Do NOT use the same password on multiple accounts! When (not if) a hacker gets a password, you don’t want them to have free reign over all your stuff. Keep a small notebook with all your login IDs and passwords in a locked desk drawer or fire safe and update it regularly.

4. Change all your passwords at least once a year! If you have a lot of accounts, as I do, then you can setup a rolling schedule with a reminder to change a few each month.

5. Use passwords or pins when you can! Make sure your computer, tablet, or cellphone are set to time-out and require a password if you don’t use them for ten minutes or so.

6. Use Two-Factor Authentication any time it is offered. If you’re unaware, the most common type of two-factor authentication is when you login with an ID and Password, the site sends a number via text messaging, to your cellphone. You have to verify the number to finish the login process.

7. Do NOT put a camera where you would not want a stranger viewing. If you wish to protect your young daughter, put cameras outside her windows and around the house. Putting a camera in her bedroom is no more than borderline perversion and akin to putting one in a bathroom. Everyone deserves at least a little privacy.

The Bottom Line

If you use technology in any form, it is your responsibility to have some idea of how it works and how to protect yourself. Otherwise, Darwin’s ghost may pick you to illustrate evolutionary theory as applied to our high-technology world.

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” – Alvin Toffler


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