Monday, August 12, 2013

The Ultimate Internet Filter

Shocker alert: Pornography usage has skyrocketed with the advent of technology. You don’t need a study to prove it, although there are many studies out there that do. Many within Orthodox Judaism have come together to fight this new bane, while others continue to mock the struggle.

The Jewish world has been fighting the use of pornography within the community through the promotion of filters or outright removal of the source of the issue: i.e. the internet. In focusing on the minutia of filters and accountability technology, I fear that we are missing the forest for the trees. Realistically, even with the use of promoted solutions, the problem is worse than ever and it seems obvious that there is something missing in the discussion.  Here’s what I think is the bigger picture:

There has always been pornography; nothing has significantly changed over the last 500 years. One of the earliest times in history that pornography was documented was in 1524, when Marcantonio Raimondi was imprisoned for creating erotic engravings. 

The only real change between 1913 and 2013, and for that matter between 1993 and 2013, is accessibility. With the invention of each new form of media, the pornography industry has become larger and more available to the average user. From the printing press to cinema, to television to the internet, and most recently to mobile devices, if there is a visual medium, it will be used by the pornography industry to expand its reach.

While twenty years ago pornography was only relatively easily accessible if a person knew where to get it, today practically every person in America has a hand held device that can access pornography. There is no need to go out and actively buy a magazine or movie because a much better and wider range of material awaits in a person’s pocket.

This “small” change, however, has been the catalyst for the enormous permeation of the use of pornography within the Orthodox Jewish community. No community has ever been free from pornography, but there is no question that the pornography issues that the Orthodox community deals with today are far worse than they were twenty years ago.

In my opinion, the real problem is inherent in the way the desire for pornography works. Most people, when fully logical and non-impulsive, don’t want to look at porn, be it for health, religious or moral reasons. (For the purpose of this blog post I’m referring to a male who is not addicted to porn. While most of what I write applies to those addicted to pornography as well, my focus is for those not addicted.) Like all impulses, people succumb to pornography when they are aroused and therefore weak. Even people who don’t inherently want to look at pornography will many times succumb to their impulses if all the ingredients are right.

While saying there are three factors that must be present for an ordinary person to commit fraud,  Donald Cressey, a noted criminologist, explains a general rule regarding impulses. A person needs motive, rationalization, and opportunity to commit a crime. To deter fraud, a person must break the triangle.

A person will only commit a crime and/or sin if he or she is motivated, can rationalize why it’s okay, and have the opportunity to act on the idea. Knock out one ingredient, and a person’s chances of a person resisting impulse greatly increase. 

This applies to the problem of pornography today. Having all three of these ingredients is a recipe for disaster. The third ingredient of opportunity that did not exist before is the third leg of this trifecta. This is the accessibility wildcard that changed over the last twenty years. Of course there were ways to get pornography twenty years ago, it just wasn't always readily accessible.

(Before we continue it’s important to note that in regard to motive, sexual desires are human nature and are meant to be used in the right ways. Hashem created us with these desires and it would be harmful to shut them off. However, it is our job to channel them properly.)
The natural reaction to the completed triangle is to dispose of what has changed in the past two decades. Knock out the opportunity: don’t have internet (at least at home), and if you need it, use a filter. It seems that simple. We would go back to only having motive and rationalization but no opportunity.

However, let’s be realistic. In today’s internet driven society, it’s practically impossible to completely knock out opportunity. Most homes need and will have internet. Even homes that don’t have a direct connection can very often access WiFi very close to the home. It’s getting harder and harder to get a cell phone plan without internet, let alone a cell phone that’s not internet capable. Filters and accountability barely work and have more holes that the Mexican border.  Mobile devices change and get updated so often that software makers simply can’t keep up. There simply is no way to make your device “safe”. Unfortunately, when the filter is put to the test, it fails very often. It’s simply not something we can rely on. The fight against opportunity in 2013 is pretty much lost before we start.

I want to be clear: I’m not for one second suggesting that one should not have a filter. Filters are a required tool to use the internet. It’s your first line of defense and a basic level of protection. But relying on filters alone is setting yourself up to fail.

So if we can’t knock out opportunity, we need to fight the battle the rationalization front.
Rationalization is essentially the Yetzer Hara (evil inclination). The Yetzer Hara tries to get a person to rationalize his or her behavior. Although in normal conditions one won’t rationalize that pornography is OK  one’s decision making when aroused is severely hampered. Arousal gives a huge advantage to the Yetzer Hora. Dan Ariely, in Chapter 6 of Predictably Irrational, tests and proves that when sexually aroused, young men are more likely to undergo an action that they would not normally consider when not aroused.

To fight rationalization, we need to strengthen our fight against our Yetzer Hara. We must teach ourselves and our children that the ultimate filter for the internet is ourselves. There is no way to live in today’s world without relying heavily on our own brain to filter out what we look at and what we don’t. We can and should use “3rd party” filters and the like to help us succeed, but the key word is help us. The opportunity to do bad will always be there. There is nothing we can do about that. What is in our power is that we can attempt to limit opportunity, and we should do everything we can to do that. But at the end of the day the buck stops with us. There will always be ways around whatever filter we choose to use. It’s our responsibility to try not to find out about them. There will always be a way to get pornography, and it is our responsibility to fight our Yetzer Hara.

Rabbi Dr. Avraham Twerski writes, “While restricting access to the internet would appear to be a logical solution, it is simply not realistic…. Filters can be effective to prevent accidental exposure to improper scenes, and can be helpful for people who sincerely want to stop. But the Satan has become overpowering and is claiming victims, destroying spiritual lives, marriages and families.”

It’s brought down in many places that Yiras Shamayim (fear of G-D) is what helps us fight our Yetzer Hara. Strengthen Yiras Shamayim, and a person will have an easier time fighting the Yetzer Hara.

It’s beyond the scope of this blog post (and the author’s field of knowledge) to delve deeply into how to strengthen Yiras Shamayim,  but there are many resources that can help a person do that, starting with, if not most importantly, your Rabbi. Rabbi Dr. Twerski deals extensively with these topics, and I highly suggest taking a look at his material.
While the integral fight against opportunity rages on through filters, accountability software, and decreasing access, it’s important to not lose focus and realize that equally as important, if not more important, is the fight against the Yetzer Hara’s rationalization. Our self control is the first line of defense. We need to strengthen our Yiras Shamayim. We need to teach ourselves and our children that we can’t let our guard down for a second and mistakenly think we are adequately protected, for it is you that is the ultimate filter.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Are you ready?

"Don't go out until you know you are ready to get married."

Probably the worst advice I ever received in my life. But yet everyone says it and (almost) nobody follows it.

People asked me when I started going out, "So, you ready to get married?" I used to answer "No. But I'm as ready as I'll ever be."

Despite the fact that "it's the biggest decision you'll ever make in your life," how am I supposed to know if I'm ready for something when realistically I don't know what that something is?

The advice should be "Don't go out until you think you are ready to face whatever marriage may throw at you - despite having absolutely no clue what that may be until you commit." Now that is good (and totally useless) advice.

An at-the-time-newly-married friend of mine once said to me, "I don't know what to answer people when they ask 'How's married life?' If they are married, they know already. If they are single, they have no frame of reference for which to compare it to."

There are some things in life that you will have no clue what they really are until you experience them. If you are going to wait until you know you are ready for it, you'll be waiting forever.

Shortly before my wedding day, one of the many people who felt compelled to give my free life advice said to me, "Getting married is the second to most life-changing event you will ever experience." It took me by surprise. "What is the most?" I asked, taking the bait. "The day your first child is born," he responded. "Going from single to having to care about constantly keep in mind another adult is life changing. But add worrying about a baby, now that's completely changes your life." Good chance that piece of advice was actually accurate.

Was I ready to be a parent when my daughter was born? Ha! Am I ready to be a parent now 2 1/2 years later? Double ha!

A few weeks ago someone told me "While the first child changes your life, when you go from having one child to having multiple children, your life changes all over again." (Can someone please coordinate all these sayings and get them straight?)

A father of six once told me, "There is no such thing as an experienced parent. Every child is different and no previous experience can ever prepare you for the needs of any child." Touché

On Monday, my wife gave birth to our second child; a baby boy. Am I ready? No way, but I can't wait!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Re: Check out these Documents!!!

<Caution: A bit geeky. - You have been warned.>

Recently, at work, a number of employees and friends of employees have had their email accounts compromised and send out fraudulent emails on their behalf. 

Once a user receives said fraudulent email, he is often fooled into thinking that the email is real, and blindly follows the directions. The email requests the user to click a link and enter their email passwords so they can see an important Google Document. The link opens a page that is designed to look like a Google sign-in page; however, in truth, it is not. Once you enter your username and password, the spammer has your account credentials. He then sends the same fraudulent email to all your contacts, asking them to click on the link. If and when they do, the cycle continues.

The variant of spam being used here is called phishing. Phishing is typically carried out by email spoofing and often directs users to enter details at a fake website, the look and feel of which are almost identical to the legitimate one.

People generally don't think about clicking on links in emails that were sent from an email address they know and trust. However, you should always be suspicious, if not paranoid, that an email is not legitimate.

I sent out an email to all the staff explaining to people what was going on and how to avoid falling into this.

Below are 12 things that may have tipped one off that this email wasn't real.

Click the image to enlarge.

1 - The subject starts with Re:. Re stands for regarding and almost always is in response to an email you sent them.

2 - Very generic subject not referring to anything. Usually the sender will include information in the subject as to what the email is about rather than the actions you must take.

3 - Three exclamation marks makes it look like this was written by a 13-year-old girl rather than a work email in a professional setting.

4 - This email wasn't sent to you specifically. You were bcc'd and you can't see anyone that it was sent to - a telltale sign that this was a mass email not meant specifically for you.

5 - Many times (as in this case), the email was sent at an odd hour. (Fun fact: It's easier for spammers to send emails at night than it is during the day.) In this case in particular, it was sent after 10:00 pm on a Friday night from an Orthodox Jew.

6 - The email didn't address you (or anyone) by name. This is very coarse way of sending emails, and not usually done by people who know you.

7 - Other than the fact that this is not the way most people would write this sentence, it doesn't indicate the topic of the document at all. (This sentence in a legitimate email is more likely to read: "I created a document regarding next year's lesson plans using Google docs.")

8 - Emails linking you to Google Docs are generally sent from Google Docs itself, or will show a Google Docs icon. While someone can link to the document themselves, it's not at all common.

9 - Hovering over the link will allow you to see where the link will take you. Looking at the site, you will see that it's clearly not going to a Google sign-in page.

10 - Most people don't include tech instructions in their email - unless it's sent from me :)

11 - Total lack of proper punctuation and spelling (i.e. there should be a period after document, a capital I and an apostrophe in "its"...)

12 - Another vague attempt at making this email sound important for you to quickly open it without actually giving you any details as to what it is.

13 - No signature. Most people will include their name at the bottom of their emails - especially important ones.