Thursday, April 25, 2013
Watch the Content
I used to like the library. I still do, in some respects. I can do research, read all sorts of books for free, and watch movies and entire seasons of TV show. I’ve now caught up with Hell’s Kitchen on DVD. Watching alleged professional chefs screw up even simple dishes and get reamed out by a psychotic Scotsman makes me feel much better about my own lack of cooking ability.
The library is where I’ve been getting my Internet for the last decade or so. I started out checking emails on their computer system. Now that I have a laptop I’ve been taking advantage of the library’s free WiFi to post blogs, buy stuff from Amazon, check the emails, look for jobs and writing markets, and watch videos on YouTube. Don’t look at me like that. Everybody watches videos on YouTube. Just not everybody admits it.
Things were going along so well, until I ran afoul of the danger inherent in any free program offered by an institution funded by taxpayer money: censorship and restrictions. In this case, the library system’s content filter.
I suppose all public libraries have a content filter. Without it, the library would be filled with 14-year-old boys surfing porn sites, which would upset other parents. (Not the parents of the boys. Their boys don’t do things like that.) Our local library had an incident about seven-eight years ago where a grown man got arrested for accessing porno on the library’s computer system. I live in a hard-line conservative area (lots of Amish and Old Order Mennonites here in the Dutch Country). Imagine some Mennonite woman and her brood drops in to the library in search of children’s books. They pass the computer section and some doof is watching Girls Gone Topless. Explain that to a six-year-old raised in a religious environment. Hence the restrictions on content.
I had my own incident on a library computer once, when I was cruising for Lord of the Rings and hit an Aragorn/Legolas slash fan site. The computer froze up and the screen informed me I wasn’t allowed to be there. I had to go to the desk and explain how I’d “accidently” done a no-no. The new program doesn’t freeze the screen, it just tells you content’s been blocked. A vast improvement, I say.
I never minded the restrictions so much. Sure, it’s a hassle at times, given my choice of genre (primarily M/M). I can’t watch gay porn videos or research too much of anything having to do with sex. That includes publishers like Ellora’s Cave, which is blocked for adult content. How the hell am I supposed to check out new markets for erotica when the system won’t let me look at their sites? In those cases, I can just go to McDonald’s. They have free WiFi too, and they’ll let you look at anything. You don't even have to eat the food.
But mostly I just shrugged and continued to go to the library. Where I live, it’s less than a quarter mile away. I can walk up the street and take advantage of the freebies. All good.
Until last week, when I went to log into my publisher’s site and discovered it had been blocked for “adult/explicit sexual content.” Huh? Wha? I’ve been cruising that site for the last half-dozen years and all of a sudden it’s a threat to morality? What gives?
So I went to the desk to find out what gives, and got even more bad news. The content blocker is a countywide system run by computer. There’s no way around it. You have to accept the library’s Acceptable Use Policy in order to use the free Internet, and the content blocker’s part and parcel of it. The folks behind the desk can temporarily shut it off for the library’s computer system, but those of us using our own computers are basically SOL.
Apparently the IT folks recently updated the system. That’s why my publisher, who’s been flying under the radar lo these many years, suddenly ended up on the program’s Do Not Access list. So I can’t get onto the site any more. I can’t get into my author account to check my sales or royalty statements or bring myself up to date on bestsellers or new releases. There's no such thing as a free lunch, or trouble-free WiFi where local government funding is at stake.
There’s also the possibility I could be blocked from my other blog, Shapeshifter Seductions. I was clicking through our blog hop over the weekend and one of the sites was filtered out for content. We’ve got the word “seductions” in our title. It’s only a matter of time.
What can I do about it? Well, I can go to the local McDonald’s, about a mile away. It’s a good thing I live in a commercialized suburban area. I could even drive over to the Barnes and Noble’s in Lancaster and use their WiFi system. I’ve never set up my laptop in a bookstore’s café. Some writer I am.
I can’t go to Burger King. They use a content blocker.
Eventually, I’ll have to bite the bullet and get home Internet, probably from my cable TV provider. They’re also right up the street from me. If anything goes wrong, I can go to the office and scream at a human being instead of having to wend my way through some labyrinthine phone answering system. You can’t beat that with a stick.
And in case you were wondering: the same library that won’t let me log onto my publisher’s site or access my own books any more does carry 50 Shades of Grey. Three copies, in fact. Seems there’s quite a demand. They also have Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, which is the next best thing to commercial soft-core porn. I’ll have to check the shelves to see if they have any of Anne Rice’s books.
I should also check for war or crime sites and see how many images of explicit violence the content filter lets through. Something tells me that would be okay.
So, until I cough up the bucks for home Internet, I’ll be viewing my publisher’s site, and my porn, at McDonald’s. For the really hardcore, skeevy stuff, I’ll just go on fan fiction sites. You can find any kink you like, all in explicit detail and all for free, and it’s still accessible through the library’s system. Hypocracy, gotta love it.