You thought Internet viruses and trip videos bugged you?

November 27, 2003|By MIKE HIMOWITZ

Viruses. Worms. Trojan horses. Drive-by downloads. Adware. Spyware. Browser hijackers. Zombies. Spam.

These are the Nine Plagues of the Internet -- insidious assaults on our sanity, productivity and peace of mind. But it's only a matter of time till the Tenth Plague descends on us, and I predict it will eventually dwarf the others.

I'm talking about home movies.

That's right. How many of you have spent hours, bored to distraction, watching the entire gruesome record of some friend or relative's trip to Disney World? Or a three-hour epic video of little Jimmy's first birthday party? True, watching the lad stuff butter cream icing up his nose is amusing for a few minutes -- but slow-motion instant replay? With overdubbed music and color commentary?

It was bad enough in the 1980s, when videotape replaced 8 mm movies. Film, thankfully, came in three-minute reels that were expensive to buy and develop. So, the sheer volume of home movies anyone could be induced to watch was limited by technology and money.

Videotape, on the other hand, came in six-hour cassettes that sold for a couple of bucks. Home movies changed from a minor annoyance during an otherwise pleasant visit into a gruesome ordeal of friendship and familial devotion.

But even videotape had one saving grace -- the home movie maker had to get you in the same room as a TV and VCR to inflict his flicks on you. So, at least you were safe in the office.

No more, sad to say. Thanks to the march of technology, no one is safe anywhere. By the millions, Americans are buying digital video cameras that can store home movies on their home computers. Thanks to dozens of slick editing programs and a new generation of DVD burners, they're putting those digital movies on disc. Worse yet, they're posting their home movies on the Web -- and inviting us all to tune in.

My friend Mick is on the cusp of this revolution. Now I should say at the outset that Mick is a true geek. Not a born geek who emerged from the womb wearing a pocket protector, but a convert who started fooling with computers in his 30s and got hooked on technology. As anyone in the business can tell you, converts are the worst kind.

At last count, Mick had six PCs in his house, three Internet appliances, four MP3 players (each hooked to a stereo), four streaming media servers, six ethernet routers, a wireless 802.11b access point, two home phone line bridges and one power line network connector, an AudioRequest MP3 jukebox, an Audiotron Internet radio player, a Voice over Internet Protocol router so he can make Internet phone calls and a 6-foot-tall video arcade cabinet that houses a PC with a collection of 1,000 arcade games.

Mick can play digital music, look at his collection of 3,000 digital photos or watch home videos on every TV in the house. Oh, did I mention that he had the entire place rewired with Category 5 network cable so he can browse the Web anywhere -- including the bathrooms? In fact, Mick now boasts that his home has 27 IP addresses.

Naturally, he thinks this is incredibly cool. One day, he walked into the office, trotted over to my desk and announced, "Guess what? I just got one of my PCs to boot up with six different operating systems!" I told him he looked like a hunting dog who bounds into the house, drops a dead toad at your feet and wants you to pat him on the head for bringing home dinner.

When Mick and Betty started dating seriously a couple of years ago, I thought this craziness might end, as it often does when romance collides with technology. No such luck. Betty is an otherwise intelligent and charming woman -- but she thinks all of this is incredibly cool, too. Not the games, maybe, but certainly the photos and music. In any case, she thinks Mick is incredibly clever.

So, when little Jake was born a year ago, you can figure out what happened (I'm using pseudonyms here because I don't want to embarrass Jake.) For months, we had daily digital photo updates on Jake's progress, starting with the delivery room. Mick's office PC became a digital Jake Shrine, with Jake wallpaper, a Jake screensaver and dozens of Jake snapshots -- from Mick's printer -- affixed to the cubicle walls.

That still wasn't much of a problem. You can spend a minute admiring still photographs and then go about your business without offending. But then Mick bought a digital video camcorder. Suddenly, instead of snapshots of Jake, he recorded hours and hours of Jake.

My worst fears were realized a few days ago when Mick started calling people over to his desk. "Look at this, I just downloaded a video of Jake. Isn't it great?" And sure enough, we were all staring at a 30-minute video of Betty and Mick, swinging poor little Jake around while a band played "On the Street Where You Live" in the background.

"And it's only 57 megabytes," Mick boasted. "Isn't that great compression?"

I shuddered.

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