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Liar, Liar: Wasn’t That Fun?

Posted by Rick · December 28th, 2004 · No Comments

At the risk of sounding like I take things too seriously, I have to complain about this story.

In the big scheme of things, it’s a nothing. No significant harm; no foul. Komarnitsky lies, gets his fifteen minutes of fame and makes a few bucks.

But I can’t help wondering what it says about America as a society.


So this guy from Denver — a geek — creates a somewhat elaborate hoax. He put ups a website that purports to allow people around the world to turn Christmas lights on or off at his house.

His doing this can’t be because he thought it was pretty special that one could use the Internet for this purpose, unless, perchance, he’s a really (really) stupid computer specialist.

I’m not sure why this is listed on the “Internet Myths Page,” but back in the late 1980s to early 1990s, I remember being able to “finger” a coke machine at some university (I thought it was MIT, but the page I’ve linked mentions CMUA) to see if it had sodas and if they were cold. And, around 1998, when I developed a mailstat program for the Multi-Router Traffic Grapher (MRTG), I remember that someone else was using MRTG to track waves somewhere in Southern California and beep him if it was a good morning for surfing. I used MRTG to beep me if there were network emergencies. And, of course, there are all manner of digital systems for controlling lighting, monitoring and controlling air-conditioning, and who knows what else.

So being able to control Christmas lights is no big whoop.

At the same time, what does it say about us that we’re so willing to lie over even the most trivial of things? Is getting our fifteen minutes of fame so important that we’ll do absolutely anything to make it happen? And while this particular incident might be insignificant, where do we draw the line? If it’s okay to lie for the entertainment value it brings us — and perhaps brings to those who don’t realize they’re playing a pseudo-videogame instead of really manipulating Alek Komarnitsky’s Christmas lights — is it okay to lie to make people feel better? Make them think wars are going well? Make them believe someone who loses an election actually won? With a mandate?

Once we think it’s okay to hoodwink large segments of the population with false stories and lies, where do we draw the line? When does a white lie become something not-so-harmless, something more sinister?

Next thing you know, computer programmers — unshackled from the view that using their skills to fool people is A Bad Thing™ — will be writing code to manipulate voting machines.

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