When I was in high school, I read The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus. This philosophical essay pondered the meaning of life in the midst of what Camus and other existential philosophers perceived to be the absurdity of existence. Sisyphus in a figure in Greek mythology who was condemned by the gods to spend his days rolling a boulder up a mountain. At the end of each day, the stone rolled back down so he would have to repeat the task daily through eternity.
As the CIT webmaster, my thoughts returned to this story recently as our web host, DeafVision, prepared to move our web site to a new server. They were upgrading software, and moving us to a faster server. In the process, I had to backup all the site’s files and databases, so in case the digital migration went astray, we would be able to get the web site functioning again.
Just as with Sisyphus, this was a repeated task. Several times, I got the message that the migration was going to happen. I dutifully did my backups only to get a follow-up note that our departure had been delayed. Enough time passed that the backups were no longer accurate copies of our information. And then we began the process again.
The stone rolled up. The stone rolled down.
None of this is a complaint about the service we receive from DeafVision. They are an excellent provider and I am grateful for all the support they given CIT’s online presence. To me, the experience was more about the absurd part of the digital mountain we live on. Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, and yet often, the changes that come with it often cause is more complications.
The unfortunate reality is that without software updates, people can exploit old code for nefarious purposes. Recent hacks at Target and HomeDepot meant millions of customers had their credit card information exposed. On CIT’s site, we try to limit the sensitive data we collect. We have no social security numbers or credit card information in large part because we don’t want to put any of your information at risk. We pay the 2% processing fee to PayPal so that can be their headache.
Not collecting this type of data does not mean that we can be lax. This summer, our site was actually hacked by spammers. An older version of a blog – which I had created for the 2012 CIT Conference – had not been updated for a while. To be honest, it was not high enough on my priority list to be tended. I had been meaning to delete it, but just never got around to it.
It turns out that some spammer was able to exploit the old code and use it to send out volumes of e-mails. I don’t know what the messages were about, though selling Viagra or replacement windows are probably good guesses. What I do know is that I logged on one morning and found that the CIT account was suspended. At first, I suspected the issue was financial i.e. we had missed some payment. I soon discovered that in fact our account had been creating a heavy load on the server – causing e-mail delays for all the other accounts that shared the server.
At this point, I felt like Sisyphus at dusk, standing on top of the mountain after my days labor and watching as the stone starts to respond to the inexorable tug of gravity. It was not a good feeling.
I spent the next two days rolling that boulder up the digital hill. I had to wait until the DeafVision support team got the server backlog taken care of. Then, when they re-instated our account, I immediately deleted the old blog and proceeded to update all of online software. Because of this hack, our server was listed on a site that identifies spammers, so it took a few days before we could send e-mail from cit-asl.org accounts. Each time I tried to send something from firstname.lastname@example.org, I got a rejection message – yet another reminder of how the stone had rolled downhill.
Eventually, I was able to make all the updates and get the CIT web site back online. I learned a lot about internet security in the process. Unfortunatley, it came at the expense of an increased work load for the tech support team of DeafVision and their customers. And for our members who weren’t able to access our web site while the account was suspended.
As someone who truly appreciates life away from a computer screen, I found myself asking a similar question of technology that Camus did of life. Is it really worth all the trouble? Have all of these technological upgrades made us better educators? Better practitioners? Better advocates and allies? I don’t think the answer is unambiguous. Yet for me, as a volunteer who devotes numerous hours to making CIT’s technology serve our mission, I have to agree with Camus. In the final analysis of the situation of Sisyphus (and humanity) Camus wrote, “ The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill [one’s] heart.”
So, too with technology. Our web site has made it possible for CIT to increase our use of ASL as a language of discourse. It has allowed us to publish 6 volumes of the International Journal of Interpreter Education. It has enabled us to become a global association -with members in 12 countries. It has helped us to organize a wonderful conference in Portland with committee members spread around the nation.
Yes, technological upgrades can be a hassle. I grow tired of hearing about “The Next Big Thing.” I suspect that the time will come again when I click an “update” button and and have a program or a web site stop functioning because of some glitch and my next few hours or days will be spent on the computer making a repair, rather than doing what I had planned. Despite all of this, in the end, the trek up and down this digital mountain is still a hike worth taking.