Dirty Pixels

Ten-year-old Anders Urmacher of New York City likes to hang out with other kids in what's known as the Treehouse chat room. It's part of America Online. One day Anders received e-mail from a stranger—mail that contained a file with instructions for downloading it. Anders did download it. The file contained 10 pictures showing couples engaged in various sex acts. His horrified mother told Time magazine, "I was not aware that this stuff was online" in a computer. Neither are many other parents. In a recent cover story, Time explored the problems on-line pornography brings—especially to children. Today's computer technology allows a pornographic photograph to be scanned onto a disk and distributed via modem. Disk catalogs now advertise electronic erotica: Slip the disk into the computer and your screen is transformed into the equivalent of a Sports Illustrated "swimsuit issue." Computer games now have erotic themes as well—from Leisure Suit Larry, sold in local computer stores, to hard-core games featuring bondage and bestiality. Even computer bulletin boards, used by thousands for legitimate information exchange, have become haunts of pornographers and pedophiles. A new counterpart to phone sex is "cybersex," erotic conversations typed back and forth on a computer screen. Police have investigated child abuse cases that began when men struck up conversations with adolescent boys via computer bulletin boards, then arranged to meet them in person. Computers are adding a new, interactive dimension to pornography. Old-fashioned photos were effective enough in arousing lust and inciting sexual assault, as police records show. But the medium itself was passive. The active part was in the user's imagination. A computer program, on the other hand, requires interaction. You type in commands and tell your character what to do. You can give commands to a female character and she'll do anything you want—at least anything she's programmed to do. With full-color screens, movement, and sound effects, computers can create the equivalent of X-rated movies . . . where you are a participant. Well, the technology may be new, but the age-old moral law still applies. Jesus taught that looking at someone with lust in our hearts is sin. The images we linger over with our eyes train our appetites—and ultimately influence our behavior. In cybersex, that influence can be even stronger. The interactive format literally rehearses behavior. How can we protect ourselves from computer pornography? The police can't do much about material transmitted via modem because it's protected by the same privacy laws as phone conversations. So Christian parents need to supervise their children carefully. Today many homes have a computer, often hooked into computer bulletin boards. Don't assume that everything your children encounter there will be benign. Some companies, like Prodigy and Compuserve, monitor their public bulletin boards and occasionally delete obscene material. Christians ought to contact their representatives in Congress and push for more stringent monitoring. The futurists tell us we're moving toward a global village. Let's make sure there's not an electronic smut shop on every corner.


Chuck Colson


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