Online Selfishness

If you’ve ever had to use free public computers, you know about being treated like dirt.

For ten years, I relied on library computers.  I minded my own business, but couldn’t steer completely clear of trouble — or at least the icky feeling of sitting next to someone who was looking at XXX material.

I didn’t keep track of how often I averted my eyes.  Online porn tends to be in vivid color, and when you see it out of the corner of your eye it gets your attention whether you like it or not.  If you don’t like it you look away, but you’ve seen it regardless.

There are other problems with shared computers.  Full-time hogs and innocents who just want to check e-mail get into fights as easily as siblings, but the fights are more likely to result in critical injuries.

The San Francisco Public Library gets less federal funding than some other library systems (or maybe S.F.P.L. gets no federal money.  I’m not sure about this) because our library’s computers don’t have anti-porn filters.  This isn’t because library administrators want to encourage patrons to look at offensive material.

Porn filters have a way of blocking sites people need.  Many years ago, I read that the main reason S.F.P.L. didn’t use the filters is they can be activated by legitimate key words.  No, not just words starting with the third letter of the alphabet.  They react to words such as gay or breast.  If that happens, a patron may be prevented from getting news or healthcare or legal information.

For whatever it’s worth, S.F.P.L. asks that patrons use judgment and practice common courtesy.  They’ve also eliminated web-connected computers that work without a library card number being entered first.  When “express” computers with fifteen minute limits were available, some people logged on for additional sessions without getting back in line.

To compensate for the inconvenience of losing anonymous computers, S.F.P.L. has made it easier to get a library card.  However, there are still problems because the human condition will always be what it is.

At the end of this post, you’ll find a link to a dnaInfo story on similar issues at outdoor internet kiosks in New York City.  I read on another site that an anti-porn filter is installed, but some people have found a way around it.

Officials are making the kiosks a bit less functional, but they aren’t shutting them down altogether.  Maybe the new plan will cut back on the nuisance — and save a few lives.  It isn’t out of the question that people will kill each other in a fight over whose turn it is to go online.

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