Why Recycling Should Be A One-Way Trip

Encyclopedias are looking better and better every day
My next-door neighbor's name is Henderson. He's an accountant, or something like that. He's got a wife and two kids. The other day, I noticed Henderson was digging a hole in his back yard. There was PC equipment piled up next to the freshly dug earth. I went over to see what was going on. It's that kind of neighborhood.

"I'm digging a hole," he said. "I'm going to bury my PC in it. Then I'll pretend I lost it." It took a bit of persuading, but Henderson finally told me why. "I'm tired of my kids being exposed to pornography and predators on the Internet. It's one big cesspool. I'm going to buy them a set of encyclopedias instead."

I told him he might want to reconsider. I said Congress right then was dealing with that very problem and weighing several options. I told him the House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations conducted two days of hearings last week on the subject of "Making the Internet Safe for Kids: The Role Of ISPs and Social Networking Sites." I told him Congress was considering legislation in several areas related to this, such as requiring Internet service providers and search engines to retain records of Web traffic.

"Congress, huh?" he said. "I'll keep digging."

I could tell there was something else bothering Henderson, and he finally came out with it. "I'm afraid of identity theft. I've got a lot of sensitive information stored on that PC, and I'm afraid there's no way to stop hackers from getting access to it."

I told him there were several good firewall products on the market. Also, rather than hacking, the most recent examples of personal-data theft involved actual physical thievery--laptops stolen out of offices, that kind of thing. I told him he didn't have much to worry about there, given the kind of neighborhood it is.

"Thieves, huh?" he said. "I'll keep digging."

I told him he'd better be careful about burying his PC, because it contained pollutants and carcinogens such as lead, cadmium, and mercury. I said the major PC makers were improving and expanding their recycling strategies. For example, Dell said last week that by the end of the year customers will be able to return their Dell-branded hardware free of charge.

"What if it's not a Dell machine? Then what?" he asked. I told him he'll probably have to pay to have it recycled and probably have to pack it up and ship it out himself. Also, he'd better be careful to wipe out the data on his hard drive if he didn't want to see it show up on eBay.

"I'll keep digging," he said.

But there was something else bothering him, and after a few more shovelfuls of dirt and a bit more persuading, he told me. "I'm tired of e-mail and instant messages," he said. "I hate spyware and phishing schemes and Trojan horses. And now my boss wants to start having real-time Web-based videoconferences from home, first thing in the morning."

I told Henderson to keep digging, I'd be right back. I went to get a shovel out of my garage. I know it's probably the wrong thing to do. But it's that kind of neighborhood.

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