For years, I have been trying to get my mother into computers.

“You can e-mail me,” I say.

“I can call you on the phone,” she says.

“You can send pictures,” I say.

“I can visit you in person,” she says.

Once again, as with pretty much everything in life, mother is proving to know best.

We got a dose of just how frightening computer life can be last week, when
“the love bug” virus started somewhere in Asia, spread quickly throughout Europe and North America, and interrupted, disrupted or rendered totally useless entire households, offices and corporations. From the average Joe to companies as large as Ford, Estee Lauder and even, if you can believe it, Microsoft, there was collapse and panic.

The fastest moving, most havoc-wreaking, most widespread computer virus ever.

Imagine. A single e-mail. You click it open and it’s like accidentally swallowing arsenic. Nothing you can do. It begins infecting your system almost instantly, shutting down e-mails, destroying graphic and music files, and — worst of all — automatically sending its poison self to everyone in your address book, under your name.

Of course, the irony is that it begins with three little words.

“I Love You.”

Don’t believe what you read

Now, if you received an envelope that read, “From A Stranger” you would not open it.

If it read, “You Don’t Know Me” you wouldn’t open it. If it read, “A Message From Some Lonely, Demented, Evil-minded, Button-pushing Geek” you wouldn’t open it, right?

But when a message begins, “I Love You,” who can resist? We all want to be loved. We all like the idea that someone out there thinks we’re special.

And the more we get into computers, the more we embrace home offices, telecommuting and video conferencing, the more we distance ourselves from one another physically and emotionally, so that we needn’t see anyone in the course of a day of we don’t want to — the more the idea of someone loving us becomes appealing.

And the quicker we might be to open a message that promises love — even if it comes to us via a screen.

Whoever created this virus knew that. Somewhere out there — maybe in some dank basement, maybe some midnight office, maybe some back room at a factory under a dimly lit bulb — some twisted computer whiz worked on this bug, pressed a few buttons and sat back to watch.

There was little to gain. Nothing financial. Nothing held for ransom. Whoever did this, as one computer security expert told me, “did it for bragging rights.”

Bragging rights, and a delight in destruction. As an arsonist watches his fire, as a serial killer collects his newspaper clippings, so, too, does a hacker revel in his technological carnage.

This time, in the name of “love.”

Don’t trust anyone

Is it any wonder older citizens, like my mother, see no lure to the new technology? Think of all the things you have to worry about these days that didn’t exist just a few years ago:

You used to worry about the guy on the subway stealing your wallet. Now, from anywhere in the world, they can go into your computer and steal your identity.

You used to worry about your kids talking to strangers on the street corner. Now they can be in their bedroom, chatting on-line with a killer.

You used to worry that a spark might fly from your furnace and start a fire. Now you worry about clicking the wrong e-mail and shutting down your computer world — which, these days, could mean everything from your job to your bank account.

So maybe my mother has it right. You trust what you can see and hear. You trust the faces you know in front of you.

Isn’t it a sad state of affairs that, as the virus spread last week, bosses were racing through offices warning employees, “Don’t be fooled! Don’t open that message! You are not loved!”

You are not loved. As if we needed another reminder. All the technology in the world won’t eliminate the world’s most basic need. And the saddest part of last week’s techno crisis is that whoever invented a virus named for love, obviously never got enough of it.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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