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She'd Rather Be Out of Site


A weekly column about humans as they interact with things that beep, buzz, ring, download and go online.


Button Pusher: My brother-in-law is obsessed with the Internet. Now he's trying to tangle up our whole family in the Web. Without asking anybody, he started a family site and posted pictures of my niece and nephew. He did the same thing with photos from a recent visit from his parents. He's asked, by e-mail of course, for my husband and I to scan photos onto the Web site. It's an admirable idea, I guess, with everyone in the family scattered across the country, but I think he's gone too far this time. Whatever happened to just mailing photos to each other?


Dear Shy: The good news is you can take comfort in the knowledge that your battle--the sacred battle for privacy--is not new. The bad news is, if history tells us anything, you'll lose.

Imagine a century ago when telephones began creeping into homes, much the way the computers have today. Back then, your average Jane or Joe figured if someone wanted to communicate, they'd just write a letter or jump on their horse. So, if someone intruded upon your time at home, you could at least expect a literate person or a skilled rider. But then, came Mr. Telephone, and all we could expect from an intruder was a moron. Anyone who could punch in the correct digits (granted, this did weed out a few nitwits) could upset the quietude of your home without warning.

But just because you're on the losing side of history doesn't mean you have to go quietly, although that is one route. You could refuse to contribute to the "family page." Of course, other dear family members will no doubt scan photos of you onto the page without your permission.

No, my advice is to post a few tasteful (or distasteful) nudes and see what brother-in-law thinks then. If he responds in kind, keep loved ones away from the lout.

As tiresome as a family Web page is, remember it could be worse. You could have been born 100 years from now when everyone will be equipped with his own personal cam that will broadcast his life onto wide-screen HDTV 24 hours a day.


Dear Button Pusher: Three of my "friends" have call-waiting. That's fine; so do I. But when I call and they get another call, they almost always take the other caller. Then, they promise to call back and, of course, they never do, but that's beside the point. The point is I keep losing these "phone face-offs." What can I do to start winning them?


Dear Lonely: Get new friends--without call-waiting.


Dear Button Pusher: When it comes to computers, my father is totally lost in cyberspace. He can take apart and put together a car engine, but he can barely turn on a computer. I'm only in high school and feel quite comfortable surfing the Net. I've even booked airline tickets online, which really ticked off Dad because he had tried unsuccessfully for days to do the same. He did calm down when he found out how much money we saved. Anyway, I'm getting the feeling that he really resents me for being good at computers. I don't want to rub it in, but he's not good online and I am. How should I handle this?


Dear Trouble: Like a lot of adults, it sounds like your dear ol' Dad doesn't like to be shown up--particularly by some smart-aleck computer whiz kid. But you don't sound like a smart-aleck to me--though like many smart-alecks you may have learned to disguise your true nature.

As long as you're living under Dad's roof, you may have to put up with his gnashing of the teeth as he breaks down along the information superhighway. But don't worry, they invented a thing called college so kids like you can use your own computer unfettered by parents.

In the meantime, when Dad gets hot under the collar while working on the computer, just ask him to show you the best way to replace a water pump.


Question of the week: Imagine your home phone, cell phone, beeper, fax machine, e-mail and doorbell all "ring" at the same time. Which would you answer first and why?

For comments and questions upon the human-machine relationship, please e-mail; write to Button Pusher, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053; or fax to (213) 237-4888.

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