The Dangers of Cyberloafing

I’ve never heeded that old advice given to writers: “Write what you know.” If I would have, I’d have run out of column material a long time ago.

Why stick to what I know? I’ve got Google. And Bing and Yahoo. Back in the old days, if I wanted to know Barbie’s full name (Barbara Millicent Roberts) or the birthstone for August (peridot), I had to check an encyclopedia—or just make it up. Now I go online where, for all I know, someone else made it up.

And there are other dangers. One day while I was happily wandering around the World Wide Web searching for the difference between yams and sweet potatoes, I landed on a trap. Suddenly a bright red box popped up on my screen with the ominous message, “Your computer has been blocked. Your bowser might have been hacked. Suspicious activity detected.” Then there was a ding, ding, ding like I’d just breached security at a nuclear power plant.

In a panic, I called the number at the bottom of the screen and a very polite-sounding gentleman answered. I was just about to give him my credit card number when I experienced a rare bout of common sense. It occurred to me he may not be as nice as he sounded. I hung up, shut down my computer, came back later and all was well. Scam foiled.

There is another danger of wandering around on the web, and this one is more insidious. For me, searching for information on the internet is like following a butterfly. I land here, see something else that catches my fancy, follow that, land there, and so on and so forth until the afternoon is gone and I can’t remember why I started searching. 


Back in January, I wrote a column about the foods served at Super Bowl parties. That’s always been more important to me than the game, no matter who’s playing. But when I typed “Super Bowl food” into Google, I discovered there were more than three million results. Do you know how long it takes to read three million results? Neither do I. But I almost missed my deadline trying to find out.

 And few months back, I went to Google wondering if I could freeze butter. I’d picked up some at the grocery store, brought it home and discovered I already had a pound in my refrigerator. Fortunately, you can freeze butter and, as it turns out, raw egg whites, tomato sauce and whole bunch of other foods. But don’t freeze cooked egg whites, cheese or macaroni, at least not if you want to eat them someday. I know that because I followed a link and then another one and another one. Meanwhile my extra butter sat melting on my kitchen counter.

I once went online to find out how many tiles there are in a Scrabble game. (There are 98 letter tiles and two blank ones.) We have a scrabble game, but I haven’t seen it in years, so I decided it would be faster to search online than it would be to locate my own game. And it was faster, even when you take into account that I got sidetracked following a link to a story on 17 Ways to Cheat at Scrabble.

Still I’m proud of myself for using technology to save time looking. Do you know the average American spends one year of their life looking for misplaced items? I read it on the internet so it must be true. I don’t know about men, but according to one site, the top five items women search for are shoes, children’s toys, wallets, lipsticks and remote controls. Lucky me. I don’t wear lipstick, though I have been known to misplace my lip balm. And my child grew up and left home, leaving me with more time to search the web.

(Dorothy Rosby is the author of several humor books, including I Used to Think I Was Not That Bad and Then I Got to Know Me Better.)