The prosecution of Julie Amero, which was summarized in today’s NYT, shows that Luddism can get you in real trouble. Amero is a substitute schoolteacher who apparently knows so little about computers and the Internet that when her classroom machine started spewing uncontrollable pornographic popups, she either didn’t know how to power off the monitor or was afraid to, or both. And for this a local prosecutor pursued her for injuring the children in her care, and a jury convicted her.
Amero sounds witless, not venal, and her ignorance shouldn’t be a crime. But if there are Luddites in this mess — people who have little interest in the workings of new technology — they seem to be the prosecutors and the jurors, and perhaps the judge and even some school administrators, who apparently all but ignored credible testimony regarding pop-ups, pop-unders, and spyware and may have been indifferent to the condition of school computers.
The lesson here, beyond the obvious injustice of a criminal conviction, is how quickly we forget or, perhaps, how little many people care. The Internet has gone from being an amazing, other-worldly technology only ten years ago to being so of-this-world and ordinary that a prosecutor can convince a jury that it is a criminal act not to understand how to deal with it. As always, we take technology for granted at our peril.