Wild West vs. the Internet

This morning I did something I rarely do. I looked into my spam folder. In that folder, there were 704 unsolicited emails ranging from offers of car insurance to poor attempts at faking emails from websites I might actually use to poorly faked notices from government agencies.

Spam email is so insulting on so many levels, however I recall someone’s comment that compared the Internet to the Wild West… and that is really insulting to the Wild West!

I am originally from California and grew up in and around several frontier towns, cowboys, miners, loggers and the like. I am certainly not a person who defends the romanticized perceptions of the movies and popular stories, however the old west was never so bad as the Internet is.

California is full of small frontier towns with names like Paradise, Oroville, and Whiskeytown. These are places that no one hears about unless something big happens there. Such as the nation’s deadliest wildfire which happened in Paradise. Each of these towns have a history — a story that most people never hear about.

Paradise is a little bit of irony. It was a pretty rough town with a history of trouble. In fact, the residents understood what sort of town it was and that is why it was originally named “Pair a Dice.” Later on, when the town was incorporated, the town decided that they needed to be a little more family friendly and changed the name. Not far from Paradise is Oroville which is known to have the second largest earthen dam in the United States, but it too was a gold town thus the name “oro,” which is “gold” in Spanish. One of the roughest towns in northern California is one that was destroyed by the state of California. This is Whiskeytown. The original town is submerged under Whiskeytown lake, which is not far from Shasta Dam — famous in its own right. Whiskeytown was a town infamous for public drunkenness, rowdiness and violence.

These frontier and gold mining towns were small and scattered throughout the foothills and Sierra Nevada mountains, but most of them were very small. Most people lived in larger towns and small cities like Redding, Eureka and Sacramento.  These places were much more mild and appreciated when people were civil.

The old west had its share of bandits, highwaymen and unscrupulous merchants, but comparing these people to the sheer audacity, obnoxiousness and volume of junk email, tracking cookies on websites, and computer hackers and their ransomware is just ludicrous.

An average person traveling in the old west could travel unharassed all over the old west and it is easy to find out the places for a traveler to avoid. That same traveler on the Internet is constantly bombarded with attacks, with people and computers examining the traveller where ever they go, looking for weaknesses, attempting to trick them into clicking on something which will give someone access to their personal information, or at least gathering their movements and habits on the Internet to sell to others.

Imagine trying to walk down a road which has billboards on either side, one next to another and stuck on top of each other until you are surrounded by advertisements. Some are flashing, some are playing music, and still others using more devious techniques to try and pull you in. This doesn’t end there. Those advertisements are in the road, floating around you, jostling for your attention, bumping into you and trying to pick your pockets. That is not the Wild West. That’s not even post-apocalyptic Cyberpunk! That is the world we live in today.