Jewish World Review June 15, 2004 / 26 Sivan, 5764
Computer dust causes a mighty stir
If you are looking for further evidence that home computers are the spawn of Satan, a California environmental coalition has found evidence that the beige boxes are laced with "toxic dust."
Faster than you can say polybrominated diphenyl, the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition has determined that certain fire retardants found on computer processors and monitors pose potential health hazards, including reproductive problems, neurological disorders and, of course, the sickly pallor found in people who confuse excessive computer use with a real life.
I am making that last part up, more or less, in hopes that you will not be unduly panicked by this latest alarming health report to the point that you feel the need to don a radiation suit every time you check your e-mail. I, of course, am sitting in front of a computer screen as I type this and I don't notice any neurological disorders affecting me other than an irresistible urge to keep typing the letter eeeeeeee.
To tell you the truth, after reading the report on CNN's Web site (www.cnn.com.), I found it hard to ascertain what, if any, health risk we're talking about here. (My guess is somewhere between a glowing ball of plutonium and a rasher of crispy bacon.) Some computer companies have stopped using PBDEs in their newer models and researchers haven't definitively linked the chemical compound to specific diseases. (If you are a laboratory rat, however, I would stop licking your computer screen right this minute.)
"The levels in the dust are enough to raise a red flag, but not enough to create a crisis," said Dr. Gina Solomon, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco. "I have an old computer monitor in front of me now and I'm not about to throw it away. But when I get a new one, it will darn well be free of those chemicals."
So there you have it. If you have an old, contaminated computer, you're perfectly safe. But if you buy a new computer, watch out. Or something.
Personally, I am more unnerved by a book written by the Rev. Jim Peasboro of Savannah, Ga., titled "The Devil in the Machine: Is Your Computer Possessed by a Demon?" I knew the answer to that question was an unequivocal "yes indeedy" even before I knew exactly which demons the Rev. Peasboro was talking about. (The demons that concern him most are the ones that lure married men to pornographic Web sites and married women to naughty chat rooms. He doesn't seem concerned at all with the demons that lead stumped columnists to play hours of computer solitaire.)
According to the Rev. Peasboro, every PC built since 1985 has the storage capacity to house an evil spirit. Presumably, if you have a relatively new computer, you have more demons in your PC than Washington has lobbyists.
Peasboro also says demons can possess anything with a brain, including a human, a chicken or a computer. (This may be true, but I have never had a 3,000-word story vanish into the ether at the hands -- wings? -- of cyborg poultry.)
But this is the most alarming part: Peasboro actually had the opportunity to inspect an infected computer. He said the "alien intelligence" program started up the minute he walked into the room and began spewing profanities. (My guess is that he confused the computer screen with the television screen, but never mind.) Then the computer went "haywire" and began printing out what looked like gobbledygook. He gave the printout to a dead-languages expert (I'm not sure why, either) and found out that it was a stream of obscenities written in a 2,800-year-old Mesopotamian dialect. (How these ancient Mesopotamian obscenities differ from the ones being directed our way these days from Iraq, I cannot say.)
So the big question now is: What effect, if any, will toxic dust have on the computer demons that lurk within one of every 10 American PCs?
My guess is that it will only make them stronger.
In fact, don't be surprised if you're working at your computer one day and a huge hairy arm emerges from the screen and grabs you by the throat.
That would be bad, yes.
But it's nothing compared to some of the stunts my computer's pulled.
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JWR contributor David Grimes is a columnist for The Sarasota Herald Tribune. Comment by clicking here.
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