"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 17 September 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Nothing To Fear But Fear Itself



Perhaps it takes a politician

who's already been wounded - or

at least disabled - to caution

Americans not to run away. What

else explains Dole's cross-party

cross-referencing: "Don't

believe all the scare ads.

That's all they've got...That's

all they have is fear, fear,




Still, he has a point. These are

days far removed from those

filled with "miracle and wonder"

as described by a Democratic

party songwriter. Where once

better instincts ruled, fear has

taken hold. Fear governs us,

makes our decisions, affects

what we eat and do. But most

importantly, it moves product.

And while there's certainly

nothing wrong with well-founded

concern (hell, even I'd buy The

Club if I knew how to drive),

it's quite evident that in some

cases products are sold purely

by overhyping a danger which may

very well have never existed in

the first place.


[Self Image]

In the "online world," the most

usual suspect would have to be

secure credit card transactions.

Online commerce will take off

like a rocket, we are told, just

as soon as some garage-bound

entrepreneur / geek team comes

up with a way to keep the

transaction safe. What is the

"danger" here? Why, credit card

theft, of course! Over the

Internet! Hackers! Kids sitting

around training their computers

to intercept random TCP/IP

packets and reassemble them into

a number recognizable as your

credit card - not to mention the

expiration date... well, it's

certainly possible, but wouldn't

it just be easier to go through

the trash outside Macy's after a

busy business day? Besides,

consumers really don't need to

worry in the first place; credit

card companies only hold them

liable for $50 on fraudulent

charges. But what better way to

add value to the latest version

of Netscape than to include

those magic words "secure

transactions," not to mention

the additional value-enhancing

"128-bit encryption."


Next on the list of products

marketed by hyping a nonexistent

danger would have to be

antivirus utilities. All due

respect to Michelangelo, the

truth must be known: have you or

anyone you know ever actually

lost anything important to a

virus? And if so, was the amount

of time lost getting it back

equal to the amount of money you

or your MIS department blew on

antivirus programs? Of course

not. Why, then, are newly

employed cyberserfs not even

slightly surprised when, long

before the first copy of BBEdit

appears on their desks, they

find at least three copies of

Symantec Anti-Virus for

Macintosh (about $89 per, or

$700 or so for the Administrator

10-pack; upgrades against the

latest viruses available at a

reduced price)?



Of course, hawking a product as

the sole remaining defense

against some mysterious mythical

evil is far from restricted to

the computer and online

industries, as John F. Kennedy

could have told you (remember

the missile gap?). Indeed, our

entire economic system would

surely grind to a screeching

halt were it not to invent new

products to treat new ailments.

European philosophers since Karl

Marx have noted how capitalism

survives by finding new markets,

transforming and reinventing

itself. For example, deodorant

did not exist until ingenious

businesspeople were able to

convince much of the world of

the existence of body odor.

While Europeans remain

skeptical, the industry has done

fairly well. (A failure to

anticipate the fears of the

"average Joe" may offer some

clues as to the decline of

communism, but this is an

entirely different issue.)


[It's Pat]

In fact, such useless protection

against various boogeymen is

probably all for the best. If

companies didn't fear strangers,

what would receptionists do? If

companies weren't scared enough

to believe that someone wants to

use our server as a pirate FTP

site, the SecureID company would

go out of business. If everyone

wasn't convinced that their

perpetual bad mood was

chemically based and not just

their failure to think positive,

no one would buy Prozac. If

there weren't a Pat Buchanan,

the American people might not

feel so eerily comforted by Bob

Dole (not to mention the even

stranger Bill Clinton). And if

there weren't so many child

molesters, why, there would be

no CDA. Imagine that.


[Citizens Band]

But the CDA notwithstanding,

fearmongering actually works to

the advantage of those of us who

use the Internet. See, if one

looks at the situation

correctly, we should be thanking

the marketing genii among us for

exploiting people's basest

fears, because that's what's

getting everyone online in the

first place, viz. "we'd better

register diarrhea.com before

anyone else does, or else..."

And while it may seem crude to

exploit the fears of your

fellows for the sole goal of

pushing a product, if you think

it's dishonest to be corralling

people onto the Internet by

exploiting their fear of being

"left behind," consider this: If

we don't get everyone on the

ship with us, the Internet might

really end up being the CB

radio of the '90s. And that's

really something to be afraid of.

courtesy of Heavy Meta