At this precise moment, not to mention the preceding and succeeding moments, hundreds of hackers are hunched over their keyboards devising dastardly new computer viruses, worms, and Trojan horses. Simultaneously, thousands of script kiddies (that's what they are called, don't ask me why) are plagiarizing the hackers' work and unleashing their own versions of this vile software. All told, millions of people around the globe are involved in these nefarious deeds.
I do not understand what motivates these people. They miss a lot of perfectly mediocre television, film, and live theatre to spend large portions of their lives trying to make life miserable for the rest of us. While I could never condone it, I could at least understand if it were making them rich. Maybe money can't buy you love--and even that is debatable--but it certainly can do an excellent job of acquiring food, shelter, clothing, transportation, and the occasional night out at the movies. However, the malevolent hackers' efforts rarely, if ever, generate any cash. I don't get it.
I'm not saying that these people are not clever. On the contrary, many of them are absolute geniuses--evil, but geniuses. No matter how hard I try, I would never have the knowledge and aptitude to do what they do. Then again, I have trouble changing a vacuum cleaner bag, which is why I bought a bagless model. That worked well until I conveniently lost the owners' manual. Now I don't vacuum at all. But I'm getting a little off topic.
At the same time as the evil-doers (do I owe George Bush a royalty for that term?) are doing their nasty business, thousands of other people are laboring long and hard at anti-virus and firewall companies to thwart the hackers. This never-ending fight against wickedness consumes the ingenuity of some of our planet's brightest minds. Unfortunately, their efforts often do not succeed soon enough to save many poor souls from the wrath of the evil-doers, thus collectively costing the victims billions of dollars over time.
This sounds just a tad wasteful. Millions of people, thousands of them with truly brilliant minds, are arrayed on one side of the Internet doing their best to think up new ways to annoy us immensely--the more immensely the better--while thousands more on the other side are spending their working lives trying to prevent the first group from succeeding.
While all of this silliness is going on, real viruses--the biological, not virtual, kind--are killing millions of people, exacting their toll on every continent. Armies and rebels dotted around the globe are fighting and dying over who gets to rule some desolate piece of land in a place that most of us never heard of until people started fighting and dying in the name of religion, ethnicity, language, or...fill in the blank. Closer to home, people are shooting and knifing each other in the streets. And our schools could always do with a little upgrading. That is "a little upgrading" as in stop turning out functional illiterates who think that The National Enquirer is a real news source.
So, here is my idea. We have all of these exceptionally bright people spending uncountable hours creating computer viruses, worms, and Trojan horses. For those of you old enough to remember the classic sitcom Get Smart, to paraphrase Maxwell Smart, "If only they could use their intelligence for good instead of evil." Perhaps they can. Let's take up a collection and pay the evil-doers to, rather than create viral programs to plague us, develop software that will further the work of medical researchers, peacemakers, social workers, educators, and others trying to save the world.
The evil-doers earn nothing from their efforts now. How much could it cost to convince them to switch to the side of good? The money saved by not having to repair their damage should more than cover it and still leave enough to throw frequent, exceptionally wild parties to celebrate their accomplishments.
Once the evil-doers stop doing evil, we won't need to buy any more anti-virus software or firewalls. We could take the money that we save and pay the people at the anti-virus and firewall companies to join the former evil-doers in their new good works.
Who knows? With this added computing support, maybe a medical researcher will find a cure for cancer or AIDS. A peacemaker may be able to forge a lasting peace. Educators might have the resources they need to teach students how to read and write well. (On second thought, let's not push the writing thing. That's competition for me.) Perhaps a sociologist will figure out how to eliminate violence in our communities. Maybe...
Maybe, just maybe, somebody will save the world. If not that, maybe someone will find and eradicate the source of that aggravating grinding noise that intermittently emanates from behind my condo wall. That too would be a profoundly noble cause.
Joel Klebanoff is a consultant, a writer, and president of Klebanoff Associates, Inc., a Toronto, Canada-based marketing communications firm. Joel has 25 years experience working in IT, first as a programmer/analyst and then as a marketer. He holds a Bachelor of Science in computer science and an MBA, both from the University of Toronto. Contact him at