COLUMN: Virus hoax annoying as real virus

I received a virus warning the other day. In the interests of doing my duty to humanity (or at least, the portion of humanity that can afford a computer), I passed it along. I was doing the world a favor by taking action against the Evil Virus People, who sit at home on weekends and create viruses while the rest of us are drinking beer and being dumb and happy Americans.

The e-mail subject line, "virus alert," seemed ominous enough. I decided that a little added drama might be nice (it always seems to work on CNN) so maybe it could work in my e-mail. I can see it now: an entire e-mail campaign with a menacing subtitle such as, "Computer Users On Alert: America Battles Socially Inept Geeks."

Since the virus reportedly propagated itself by using the address books of its victims, I passed it on to most everyone in my address book. I sent this warning to friends, relatives, former professors, former employers and generally, people I still like. The warning contained directions on how to seek out the virus, isolate it and destroy it.

Something didn't feel right, though, so I used what few research skills I have (mostly involving the extremely reliable information available on the Internet and easily obtained from the privacy of my own home without getting up) to search for information about this virus.

Miraculously, I found actual information about something I was actually looking for on the Internet and was able to take this information and apply it to my life. Sure, I weeded through some 4,397,326 pop-up windows, but by the time I closed all of them, I found the information I needed. I concluded that this whole "research" thing might prove useful in graduate school. I felt so good, I almost bought billboard space to announce my glee.

The warning turned out to be a hoax. I quickly discovered that my action was the dumbest thing I had done that day next to getting out of bed. If the recipient of this "warning" followed the simple directions, one would end up deleting a not-so-useful Windows file. Though not particularly harmful in nature, this "virus" had a particularly unwelcome effect on me: I felt really stupid. I decided against buying billboard space at that point.

So, I sent a second e-mail with the subject line, "hoax," so as to alert those I had misinformed. I apologized profusely. I included information on the hoax and how to restore any deleted files. I apologized some more. I still got mail.

One person asked me how my studies in technology were going. Another person empathized with me but still called me a "tool." Finally, a former professor scolded me, proclaiming that he had passed the hoax along to others and that, in essence, I had scarred the eternal souls of his colleagues and that I should be drawn and quartered in the town square for my actions. I am an infidel who should be persecuted.

Normally, I try not to talk about computers, as it is my belief that if I do not understand something, I should shut up. Often, I wish more people were like this. Granted, from week to week, I ignore my own advice, but this time, I must retaliate with the thunder of the gods.

When did I become the source for all virus information? When did I become the place where all virus warnings can be checked out and confirmed or denied so that the rest of humanity can continue to lead an existence of knowing how to check e-mail and use a word processor while watching "The O'Reilly Factor" and reading the latest Oprah Book Club selection?

The buck does not stop here. I am not Mr. Anti-Virus Computer Dude. I am Mr. Write About Random Things And Be Lazy Dude. For virus or hoax information, I suggest weeding through the 4,397,326 pop-up windows on the way to actual information that one can actually use from the actual Internet.

Is this a greater inconvenience that receiving an actual virus? Not quite. I'd rather all the creators of computer viruses receive the brunt of computer users' angst. I have passed my last virus warning along. I don't care if a soul-sucking demon invades my computer and rapes my dog, I'm not telling anyone.

In fact, I'll use my address book to make invitations to my home.

Write to John at


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