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Busy but passive on the Net

It speaks volumes about our society that releases of consecutive new versions of the Windows operating system (see story at right) have been not just another new-product story, but a real hits-you-where-you-live news story.

Three international moves in the past six years have helped me measure the pace of my own digitalization. When I left for Europe, it was still intellectually respectable to admit to being a newcomer to the Internet. But when a Canadian source asked me a few years later whether I had access to the Net, it was as if she had asked whether I had indoor plumbing.

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As we work with computers, as we surf the Internet, we are both active and passive. We virtually travel the world. We flit about from one site to another gathering information like bees, gathering pollen from all the flowers in the garden.

And yet most of us stick with the home page our Internet service provider wants us to have. We don't spend the time and energy to click here and there to save a page that would be more meaningful to us. We readily click "OK" on the dialogue boxes that pop up on our screens, including those end-user license agreements in the all-caps type. Does anyone even pretend that these will be read?

That blend of activity and passivity is surely something Microsoft, and others, are counting on. We may be heedless whether it's Microsoft software we're using to the exclusion of others', or whether we're being too generous with our personal data when websites ask us to "register now." We want what we want right now, quickly, simply. If we have to pay "tolls" along the way - surrendering not just dollars and cents, but little bits of privacy and control, too - so be it. We probably won't even notice.

E-mail Ideas@csps.com.