Consider Alvin, Simon, and Theodore.

Alvin, Simon, and Theodore are all looking for help trying to curb the same very bad habit: namely, compulsive consumption of the P-word on the Internet. All three really want to change this aspect of their lives. And, coincidentally, all three end up searching Google for help and end up stumbling upon the same Internet forum dedicated to the topic at hand. It’s called Stop-Using-P, and it seems a promising place to find some help.

While Alvin, Simon, and Theodore have some similarities, they also have some significant differences that will play into our story shortly.

Alvin is quite computer savvy and he has gotten around quite a few blockers in his time. He is currently using a rather awkward home-grown setup to try and limit himself.

Simon, on the other hand, doesn’t know computers nearly as well as Alvin. Simon stumbled upon Stop-Using-P many months ago, and since then Simon has made significant progress in his goal of eliminating P consumption from his life, in no small part due to the extra help he gets from Net Mommy, a program he installed a couple months ago. It has thwarted a couple of his attempts to get P when the going got rough, and he’s glad for that.

Theodore only just found out about Stop-Using-P today. He has been living with a cycle of binge, relapse, regret for far too long and he’s become rather hopeless of late. He’s desperate for help and so he is finally reaching out to others, albeit semi-anonymously, in this Internet forum. It’s a start.

Theodore has never installed a filter, but after reading an introduction to the forum, he discovers there are many to choose from. Not knowing what to pick, he asks:

Hey guys, I’m new here. I really want to quit P. Can anybody recommend a good filter? I just need to get more distance from this stuff for awhile because sometimes the urges are overwhelming, and I’m losing hope.

Kudos to Theodore for reaching out. Simon, sympathetic, responds:

Net Mommy. It rocks!

Look at that: Simon is helping his brother in need. How sweet!

But Alvin, …, ugh. Alvin is incensed that anybody could recommend Net Mommy. Anybody with half a brain knows that Net Mommy can be bypassed a dozen ways, or at least 3. Alvin responds, thinking he is helping Theodore:

Don’t use Net Mommy. It’s worthless. Any child can get around it.

Simon, not believing this, and caught somewhere between feeling confused and offended quickly replies:

What do you mean?

Now this is where Alvin shows himself to be the dillweed that he is. Alvin writes:

All you have to do to get around it is to go into special mode and it does nothing.

It is worth pausing here to consider what exactly has just transpired. Consider what happens to Simon when he reads Alvin’s post.

Actually, I’ll tell you what happens.

After Alvin posts the above, Simon who doesn’t even know what special mode is does a quick Google search. Suddenly, the idea that he can remove Net Mommy fills his soul with longing for P and he quickly tries the steps alluded to by Alvin. And they work. Simon now has unfiltered Internet, and he suddenly, after 2 months of sobriety, falls headlong into the cesspool that is P.

Alvin, you son of a serpent.

Days later, Simon picks himself up and posts:

I … used to use Net Mommy, but now I know how to get around it and it does not help me any more. I’m having trouble staying away from P. What should I use now?

Alvin replies:

Use another program, “Net Tie Up” to block normal websites. You’ll also need “No Uninstall” to prevent you from uninstalling Net Tie Up, because Net Tie Up doesn’t keep the user from uninstalling it using the native Windows Add/Remove Programs feature if you get there from the special Administrative Menu that shows up if you hover over Control Panel for 30 seconds and do a Hula dance and recite the Star-Spangled Banner. So, definitely install “No Uninstall” as well. Of course, it’s not fool-proof either, so you’ll need to add password protection to the thing, and store your password in Super Safe Delay Password thing. It’s all a bit of a pain in the arse really, because then you can no longer use Word on your computer, but it’s the only thing that actually works.

Now, many readers will realize that what Alvin has done has not been helpful to Simon or Theodore. Alvin doesn’t realize this, though. In Alvin’s mind, the idea that certain information might be harmful to others does not enter into the equation at all. For Alvin, the only thing that matters is the brutal, honest truth, regardless of consequences. For Alvin, the goal, perhaps unconscious, is to discover a “true” bulletproof impossible-to-circumvent computer-straightjacket, and anything less is smoke and mirrors.

Alvin is wrong.

What Alvin does not appreciate is that he has just made both Simon and Theodore’s real lives significantly worse through sharing what he knows.

After this episode, Simon (and Theodore!) must live with all the restrictions imposed on him by Alvin’s hair-brained straightjacket setup. No longer can Simon be an Administrator on his machine. No longer can he use Word. He now knows too much. Alvin has dragged him down into the dungeon he himself lives in.

This story is obviously fictitious, but the dynamics in it are not. I can’t tell you how many times I have met real people who said that they used to happily and profitably use Product X until some jerk in a forum told them how to get around it. And from that point on Product X was useless to them, they knew not where to turn, and they continued days, months, or years with their unwanted compulsive habits after Mr. Jerk, “showed them the way”.

This post is an attempt to open the eyes of the Alvins of the world.

Yes, there are some products out there that are little more than delicate pieces of tissue paper that can’t hold even a single booger before a hole is ripped right through the middle of it.

But even such paper thin products can be (and often are!) helpful to many people, in terms of real life, for those who use them and believe they work.

So, please, take a breath, and strive for the ancient Hippocratic oath, “Do No Harm.”

Not all information is good, or helpful. Some information hurts.

Please, stop hurting your brothers. Stop educating them on how to make meth. It’s not helpful.

Further reading for Linux geeks: