Blocking Out CyberspaceBy Pat & Mike, the "TuneUp Guys" from TuneUp.Com Pat and Mike:  AKA The TuneUp.com Boys
Pat: I've got a problem.
Mike: And this should come as a surprise to me because . . .
Pat: No, seriously. It's my son, Matt. I can't believe it.
Mike: What? Bad grades, girls, drugs?
Pat: No, none of that. I caught him looking at some pornography on the World Wide Web.
Mike: Oh, is that all?
Pat: What do you mean: 'Is that all?' I don't want him looking at that stuff. He's not old enough.
Mike: Oh, I get it. It's not looking at pornography that's bad, it's looking at pornography before you're old enough to be drafted that's the real evil. Or, will Matt still be too young at eighteen?
Pat: I don't know about that. But, I do know that I certainly don't want him looking at stuff like that now, at sixteen.
Mike: Well, I guess I can't blame you, Pat. You peeked and look what it turned you into!
Pat: You can scoff if you want to, but I'm heading down to the computer store and buying Internet monitoring software.
Mike: Whoa! Hold on, partner. Why would you need to do that? Censorship software is no substitute for you just sitting down with Matt for a good old fashioned, man-to-man chat. Tell him what you think and how you expect him to act.
Pat: Hey, I've been there, done that. Matt's a good kid, basically, but he could use a little extra help in keeping from temptation. What's so wrong about using a tool like monitoring software?
Mike: The problem with that stuff is that it filters out as much or more that is good, useful and right for a child to see as it does so-called "bad stuff." Do you have any idea how these so-called "cybernannies" decide what is or is not suitable for viewing? No, you don't. Because, they don't tell you.
Pat: I'm not saying every monitoring or blocking software is good. I'm saying it's a start. And, certainly better than nothing. And, certainly better still than me looking over Matt's shoulder every time he uses the computer.
Mike: Look, Pancho there's more involved here than merely saving yourself from the time and effort necessary to supervise your own child. There's the larger issue of censorship, in general.
Pat: How did we get there? I only want to keep my sixteen year old son from some outrageously indecent web sites. With you, it's a federal case!
Mike: Well, as a matter of fact, it is a federal case! How do you like that! Next month, the Supremes are going to decide whether or not to uphold the Communications Decency Act. Many of us are very much opposed to the Puritanical restrictions it, and legislative clones like it, impose on the use of the Internet.
Pat: Well, if the Justices ask me I'll tell them I'm all for decent communications. And, I'm willing to miss out on access to some information I'll probably never use if it means that my son and daughters won't be tripping over smut and slime on the Web.
Mike: Oh brother, are you dense! Freedom won't fall victim to a single assassin's bullet. Freedom will die from a thousand seemingly insignificant cuts inflicted by a thousand seemingly sincere surgeons.
Pat: If I can just work my way through the 110 piece orchestra and past that soap box you're standing on, I'd like to get over to the store for that blocking software.
Mike: And on your way, you can pick up a V-chip for the TV, a listening device for your kid's phone, and I'm sure that you can find some tiny video camera to install behind his mirror.
Pat: Oh, I see, this is part of your liberal tirade about how it's the parent's fault. That in our search to make parenting easier we're accepting software tools that block our kids' access to pornography and violence. It's not the information that does harm, it's the lack of knowledge.
Mike: Liberal tirade? What did you do, install Microsoft Bookshelf?
Pat: Mike, do you really think that I'm so naive as to allow some anonymous third party to determine what I can or can not see or hear? Or are you saying I'm too lazy to supervise what my kids are doing or don't care enough to explain the sometimes harsh truths of the real world?
Mike: Well, if the shoe fits . . . The world's information is going to get to your children whether they're on the Net or not. Your school or public library doesn't have a blocking feature. And it's just as easy for your kids to pick up Pulp Fiction as The Hardy Boys. So why impose software restrictions between a child and what's on the Internet?
Pat: This isn't about restrictions, it isn't about the Net, it's about my job to protect my child from what could be thrown at him on the Internet.
Mike: But it's not like a child will be looking at the Winnie The Pooh site when suddenly unwanted pornography will take over their PC. If you want a pornographic site, you'll have to instruct your browser to go to it.
Pat: That's just what I'm afraid of.
Mike: Wait a minute, Pat. Did you know that you can check where Matt has been on the Web just by clicking the address box in the browser to see a list of previous sites?
Pat: So what? I could also use Windows Explorer or, for that matter, any file management program and look through the Temporary Internet Files folders and by scanning the "gif" and "html" files in the cache directories I could find out the same information.
Mike: You can also go on AOL. They have built-in Parental Controls plus an entire Kids Only section. So why do you need CyberSitter or CyberPatrol, or SurfWatch, or any other blocking software?
Pat: I don't want to spy on Matt. I'm not looking to catch him at something. I'm just trying to live up to my responsibility as a parent and help my kid stay away from temptation.
Mike: Sometimes the more you do to constrain your children's choices the more attracted the child becomes to avoiding those restraints. No one has ever proved to my satisfaction that censorship, in any form, ever saved a child from any danger. And the Internet is going to become an integral part of our children's future.
Pat: Maybe so. But, I still want some peace of mind. And, that's worth the price of the software. Step aside. Stay Tuned.


Pat Dane and Mike Walter are co-founders of TuneUp.com, the one-stop online service center that keeps PCs "tuned up" and running smoothly. Kid safe and family friendly, you can reach them at www.tuneup.com.

Special Note: Catch the TuneUp.com Boys' live audio coverage of Internet World starting March 12 at www.audionet.com.