Zak of All Trades: My theory — The Internet is messing with us

Yesterday, after giving one particular Internet browser a trial run on my newer laptop, I decided to switch back to the one that I've used since college because I realized I missed some of the components I'd grown accustomed to.

I downloaded the new browser, opened it up and was comfortable once again.

It felt good to be back in the safe, comfortable arms of the browser's latest version, Zakintosh 3.0 (as we'll call it not to show favoritism or start any geek wars about the proper browsers).

Then came the message. I opened YouTube to play a music video I'd been singing one particular line from all day, and after searching for it, a pop-up appeared: "Zakintosh 3.0 is outdated and needs to be updated to match Java requirements."

Now, listen, I don't mind the occasional upgrade on my computer, even though it slows it down to a less-than-snail's pace, and I understand that the world of technology is ever-evolving.

But I literally had downloaded Zakintosh 3.0 — acclaimed on the Zakintosh site as the "newest, latest version" — no more than three hours before this message popped up.

You mean to tell me that the newest, most-improved version that they had to provide went out of date in three hours? Seriously, they have to be messing with us here.

Then, still frustrated from the little Java run-in, the next YouTube video I tried to open told me my Flash Player was out of date and that my computer was at-risk.

Here's an idea! How about you make a program that doesn't have a self-destruct button, putting my computer at risk the day after you decide it's time for a new version?

Everything's supposed to be quick and easy these days, right?

Technology and the Internet make everything, from going to the store to paying bills to communicating with one another, easier — at least in theory.

Going to the store should be easier, because I can research what I want to buy off the shelf when I get there, confirm that the store I'm going to has the item and even see how much I'm going to have to fork over to take it home with me.

Sounds great — in theory.

Last time this happened, I was looking for a particular item that Superstore's website said had "limited availability" in different stores in my area.

The Punxsy store, it said, had no items in stock, but it was my lucky day, as the DuBois store had three on the shelves.

So, off to DuBois I went, certain that I'd be coming home with item X in my trunk as pleased as a pig in a mud bath.

When I got to the store, though, after searching the entire department and trying to find what I was looking for, I was greeted by a friendly customer service specialist — and I'm not being sarcastic, as she was very friendly and good at her job.

The one that wasn't good at its job was the website, as there were no item Xs in stock, there hadn't been for the past week, and, in fact, item X had been discontinued, so the store wouldn't be carrying it anymore at all.

Just my lucky day. So much for easier shopping thanks to the Internet, huh?

Item 2: Paying bills should be much easier online — in theory.

All of my utility companies tell me paying online is easier for us all, but it turns out the spam-bots that have taken over online form submissions have made my life a little more difficult than it should be.

It's tough enough sifting through the endless information needed to submit an online payment — birth date, social security number, credit card info, confirmed credit card info.

Then, they need all kinds of personal — and I mean personal — information to make sure that I'm actually me.

It goes something like this: "Choose between this list of security questions so that we can ensure you are you next time you come back to our site: What color was your first car?; What is your oldest brother's middle name?; What is the first name of the first girl you kissed?; Was she a good kisser?"

See what I mean, they just keep milking more and more personal information out of me!

Then, if we can sneak past the security questions, we come to the final step — the CAPTCHA.

If you played Super Mario Brothers growing up, like I did, the CAPTCHA is your Bowser — and every time I try to type in what it wants me to spell, it gives me the "Sorry Mario, but your princess is in another castle" message.

You know it well. It says, "You have one simple step between you and submitting this online payment. Decipher this impossible riddle, and we'll accept your money."

If you don't know what a CAPTCHA is, I can explain. It's that box that says, "Fill in this word (which is never an actual word by the way) so we can be assured you're not a robot."

It used to be simple to fill in the CAPTCHA. You just used to have to spell out a word like cat or dog to prove you were a human.

Apparently, though, hacker technology has developed, and now I have to play the "guess what letter the fuzzy blob is" game over and over until I finally guess correctly.

Oh, and once I do guess correctly, you can almost bet your allowance that you'll get one of these messages: "We're sorry, this session has timed out. Please return to the home page and start over."

Technology really is a beautiful thing — in theory — but I'm pretty sure they're just using it to mess with us.

Zak Lantz is the editor of The Spirit and (to read the rest of this column, please prove you actually exist by typing this "word" into the box provided: axolonizm).