The day before yesterday, my husband’s computer got infected with malware. I had productive plans for Tuesday afternoon. Instead, I launched into hours of cursing and hair pulling as I tried to exorcise Security Shield.ink from my hubby’s laptop. More than once I wished I had a time machine to go back and keep him from clicking on that fatal link.
By 7:30 PM, none of his programs were responding and I had nothing to lose. I restored the HP to an earlier version of itself…the Windows version of the time machine I’d wanted. So, one time machine and two eradication softwares later, Carmelo had his laptop back, complete with the PowerPoint presentation he needed today. He looked at me with relief, and then asked the crucial question.
“Why do people create viruses, anyway? Just for the heck of it?”
I nodded, but the truth is, I don’t know. I’ve always supposed the creators of viruses are like vandals, delighting in their power of destruction. (That also seems to be the conclusion Dick Francis came to in his novel, Driving Force.) I don’t understand vandals of any kind, though. I’ve never felt the desire to wantonly destroy another’s property, livelihood or life’s work. I have to imagine that, in the case of malware creators, there’s an element of delight in their own cleverness. Not many have their skill with coding. So, they do it because they can.
Such an attitude enrages me. Yet it’s also a reminder that we all need to guard how we use our gifts. Anyone with verbal skills, written or spoken, may sometimes be tempted to use those skills to cut down their enemies. I’m not talking about fighting for social justice or standing up for your beliefs. I’m talking about taking it a step further and using your words to cut people down, to humiliate them or ruin their reputations. Think it’s not possible? Arthur O’Shaughnessy knew it was. In his “Ode,” he wrote,
With wonderful deathless ditties
We build up the world's great cities,
And out of a fabulous story
We fashion an empire's glory:
One man with a dream, at pleasure,
Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
And three with a new song's measure
Can trample an empire down.
Here’s another way to look at it: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
The ability to use words to influence is a wonderful gift, but also a great responsibility. It’s a gift that we, as writers, need to guard carefully. I, for one, welcome the reminder to guard against spreading any viruses with my words.