Hackin’ The Net


You likely never thought you’d ever read this in a tech-savvy column but here it is for all to see: The internet is one of the worst things we have ever invented.

Now that the shock is abating, let me explain, because I do not really believe that in total, but it does have some disadvantages. And along with the net I refer to smart phones, tablets and all the rest of what are today called ‘‘devices’’.


The reason I am so frustrated is that the internet has made everybody walking the streets an “expert” on any topic…and sadly, about 75% of what they have in their net-gained knowledge base is either over-stated or outright wrong.

I have one close friend who, on ANY topic considers himself an expert because he can use Google and Yahoo. While so-doing is fine and information gained can be useful, anyone can post anything to most any website and when folks read it they become even more convinced that folk tales (urban legends as they are better known today) bear a lot of truth.

Probably the worst abuse is in the medical field. I know a lot of doctors and nurses who would prescribe “no internet” as a cure for many of their patients’ ills. One well-known physician told me that if she could get her patients off the net she’d have about half the panicked calls and visits she sees because who out there amongst us (this writer included) has not had this or that pain and done a net search only to believe the pain is surely some fatal disease? With the Ebola scare running rampant these days, the faux ailment calls are even more frequent.

At least one guy we know well is convinced that flu shots are fatal, another is certain he has a little-known ailment called Huntingtons Disease (Google it if you wanna know more) and another friends mom is convinced that I, and the other folks at my house are bound to get cancer because we thaw steaks and chicken and heat tea that’s grown cold in a microwave and subject them to radiation!

But the abuse goes far beyond we patients. I actually had a pretty well-known MD in Indianapolis ask me on a visit not so long ago, after what he’d given me for a stomach problem failed to produce any relief, “Well, I don’t know what else to suggest. Have you seen any ads for things you’d like to try?”

And it’s not just medicine, either. The net has made many a gourmet cook out there, but it’s taken a lot of folks out of making their own recipes and into a rigid way of cooking that means dishes like my grandma’s roast will soon be a thing of the past if we don’t reverse days we’d just look at the Settlement Cookbook, or The Joy of Cooking or one of the Betty Crocker tomes and add or change this or that.

And there’s also the matter that the folks who put recipes on the net rarely have to clean up their own messes. Have you ever seen anyone do cleaning on any of the food programs?

I mean really wash the mound of measuring cups, dishes and pans they require to make something that Grandma Gertrude would do with one measuring cup and one bowl? Probably not, because they don’t have to clean up after themselves as we “civilians” do.

I consulted good friend John King who lives on a farm near Lebanon, Indiana, and is one of the areas best cooks for some advice on this and here’s what he had to say about some friends who do great meals but dirty way too many dishes: “I don’t measure. Have them practice with water and get the feel of how heavy or what a cup of liquid looks like. Use the palm of their hand and practice with sand and measure it and pour it in their palm to see what a teaspoon looks like. Wash hands all the time. If there is something multi dish… clean as you go so there’s not a huge amount later.”

But the abuse goes beyond our health and what’s on our plates to another phase, and this is one I am very guilty of as well. The internet and smart phones mean we are never out of touch. My sister asked recently when we were together “How many people are at this table?” I said four as it was the two of us and our partners. She looked at me and said “no, seven” to which I replied “how so?”

Because, she said, there are four of us, but three of us have our phones out and are looking stuff up or replying to texts or paving attention to someone who is here, but not here!”

She was right and more and more it’s the case. I hardly ever sit down at a restaurant without putting my phone on the table so I won’t miss a call or text. And many friends do the same. Some group diners have started making everyone do that and the first person to answer a call or text or even touch their phone pays the bill for the table. That’s a bit extreme, but we do need to be a bit more “out of touch” and with the net providing everything from radio and info to directions any and everywhere we go that’s becoming less and less possible.

Speaking of directions, I am still a believer in paper maps. I do use my iPhone to tell me where I am as GPS is nice for doing that, but to navigate, I went to the phone for awhile and am now a confirmed user of paper maps again.

GPS often doesn’t get updated, and it doesn’t know the extra routes and places we all need sometimes. Example: I was in Atlanta in mid-October and while headed on 1-85 back to Perimeter Centre we missed the ramp to the 400. My partner, who was driving, panicked and got irate but I just looked at him and said we’d be fine because what I knew, from many visits to the Peachtree City, was that if we just stayed on I-85, in a couple miles we’d arrive at the beltway and a couple exits later we’d be right where the 400 would have taken us. Yes, it was an extra 15 minutes and if you count gas an extra $2, but we didn’t need to turn around, panic or do anything else despite the screaming “Recalculating! Recalculating!” from the phone, until I mercifully turned it off.

What do I mean? A recipe on sites like www.allrecipes.com or www.foodnetvvork.com or www.uktv.com (then link to Good Food for some great British takes on things) is, to this writer a starting point.

I see something I like for say Chicken Marsala or blackcurrent cake and then I see what I have in the

larder, the fridge and what things I might like or not like to add or take out. That’s called improvisation.

Need more proof? I briefly mentioned urban legends a bit ago and I’d like to close by noting that things have changed a lot since the 1950s and 60s when I was growing up and we used the library. Back then we’d get out the World Book or the atlas or we’d ask the librarian for the microfilm of the 1945 Courier-Joumal or Indianapolis Star or Cincinnati Post and we’d do what we called “research.” These days, we just hit Wikipedia, Google, Yahoo or whatever and get the same info.

But is it the same? Back in the day teams of researchers were behind that Encyclopedia Britannica article, but how do we know who is feeling bigoted and “revised” something on Wikipedia today? Or how do we know what the credentials really are of the claimed “physician” who said microwaves will harm us or that we have some rare illness? The answer is we don’t…and the further we get from the sources, the greater the chances that “Googling’’ or otherwise looking up something on the net will give us information, but questionably accurate information.

The old credo to take everything with a grain of salt and a fair amount of doubt applies. Yes, there are accurate medical places to look (we happen to trust www.mayoclinic.org for our health questions, but that’s not to say wvwv.vvebmd.com is not as good or any of the others) but we do think the buyer does need to beware more and more in this age of sponsored links, urban legends and plain, old falsehoods which the net can spread worldwide in seconds.

Net cooks, as I like to call them, take every word of a recipe seriously. Do not dare think of adding an extra spoonful of soy sauce to fried rice or some scallions to a dish that tastes great but lacks color just to “spice it up” on the plate. The reply I get from several of these “net cooks” I know is that doing so will “ruin” the dish. In grandma’s (no computer)

So that’s it for this month. Use the net, enjoy all the things it brings, but put down that computer, tablet or phone and spend time with your family, dog or cat and just relax some. In other words, switch off and look at the world around you. And we’ll be back with more on the tech side next issue.

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