Tag Archives: millennials

An eyewitness account of the rise of the Internet, for millennials

Why does everyone my age, the people who raised the millennial generation, now look to criticize the kids for being exactly as they were raised to be?

I hate it. My generation needs to take some responsibility for its choices, just one of which was the transformation of our society to a fearful, bubble-wrapped, constant-parental-supervision, hyper-PC world. Dodge ball is banned and yet school shootings skyrocket? Schools like jails? Crazy assloads of homework? Teaching to tests? At what point do we stand up and fess up to the kids: “We inherited a pretty good world, then got fearful and greedy, and screwed it up for you. We are sorry. We will stop giving you so much shit.”

Maybe, if we stop giving them shit now, they’ll pick out better nursing homes for us when the time comes. That, you realize, is the endgame. The vengeance of the elder is the calm understanding that the youth will one day experience arthritis, that one day Immodium will be more their recreational drug than ketamine. The vengeance of the youth is to make the elderly pray that their arthritic days end sooner. This cycle poisons us all. The kids need us: they need our support, our love, our examples, our wisdom, and our friendship. They need for us to share. And we need them: we need their liveliness, their change, their new outlooks, their ability to program the remote without wanting to throw it, their help with the physical tasks at which we are now semi-competent, and their friendship. We need for them to share. I can think of no more toxic way to spend my final years than in a gated community filled only with other old goats, who really buy into this ‘honored citizen’ and ‘senior citizen’ stuff, who leave miserly tips for harried waitresses they berate, and who do their best to hide from all youth, watching old Hallmark and INSP TV shows all day that reassure them how The World Ought To Be.

That world is gone. Be as nostalgic as you wish, but live in the now.

In the now, I just watched a video wherein teenagers attempted to use a typical twenty-year-old Windows 95 computer. I found their impressions fascinating. They did not intuitively grasp its basic functions, though some were very interested in the history. It occurred to me that many young folks, never having known a world without the Internet, do not apprehend how recent a phenomenon is this hyper-reliance on easy-to-use Internet. My generation’s harmful reflex is to ridicule them for this, which shows me that my contemporaries have lived this long without learning much. The proper response is not to make fun of the kids, and we ought to have developed enough wisdom to grasp this. If you’d like them to learn–if you would like some empathy and understanding from them–take time to teach them. Then let them teach you how their experience differs.

Speaking of which:

This comes from my own point of view as I lived it, now aged fifty-two, born in 1963, high school class of 1981, Bachelor of Arts 1986. When I was young, I reflected at how ancient I would be in the fabled year 2000: 37, practically a museum piece. I didn’t own my first computer until 1987, and it was a forgotten machine called the Atari ST. Of course, to use any form of Internet, one needs some form of computer, so it is essential to discuss the rise of the personal computer.

1980 (36 years ago): after striking a deal with Microsoft to bundle DOS (which in turn M$ buys off a fellow in the U-District who turns out to be like the guy who traded a winning lottery ticket for a caramel macchiato latte) with the product, IBM markets the IBM PC. At first, it costs about as much as a year’s public university dorm housing, or about 10% of an annual survival wage (at that time, one could almost eke by on minimum wage). The PC immediately wins, spawning a host of imitators (“clones”). Not much of anyone is on the Internet, which does exist in its ur-form, but is not for mere mortals.

1981 (35 years ago): That fall, I entered college at a major university which was as technologically current as any such institution. Very few students had personal computers, and none of them connected to the university’s systems, which were monsters that required entire rooms. PCs (to include all personal computers, including Apples and many long-deceased brands) cost several thousand dollars each, in an era where the minimum wage was around $3/hour. The university had computers for registration and other recordkeeping, as did large businesses. For computer science classes, there were ‘computer labs’ so people could practice fun stuff like Fortran programming. (Ask your engineer uncle about Fortran.)

1986: more students had PCs, but the Internet was still in its Arpanet ur-form, which had been around since 1969. This was a distributed network meant to operate by passing information through many possible paths to get from one point to another, rather than having to use This Dedicated Wire (which might be cut by an earthquake or the incineration of St. Louis, etc.). It wasn’t for us. I spent five years in college, as a history major, and wrote an inch-thick stack of papers. I typed and retyped every single one on an electric typewriter, typically three times: first draft, refinement and edits, final version.

By 1986 (30 years ago), a fair number of (the limited number of) computer users dialed into BBSes (bulletin board systems) in order to argue with strangers over common interests. It was like logging onto a web forum, but one had to dial in with a modem and phone line. Modems–little e-telephones which bore some resemblance to a DSL modem or cable modem in shape, size, and function–sounded bizarre when making the connection, like a bunch of springs boinging against a background of phone static. Maybe like a didgeridu played while tipsy. Of course, BBSes were never used as porn repositories or to share pirated software. That’s why we do not get the expression ‘l33t’ from ‘elite,’ which was not the term for a pirate BBS, because of course we would never indulge in warez (which was not the slang term for cracked pirated software). If the BBS was long distance, one paid through the nose in long distance charges.

1988 (28 years ago): PC ownership has moved well past IBM, which is showing an astonishing refusal to face facts. The Mac is the desktop publishing weapon of choice, but big companies still use ‘minicomputers’ (which could easily take up a whole room) or mainframes, a.k.a. Big Iron. IBM is cannibalizing its Big Iron business, trying to dictate to the PC industry, and the PC industry is listening to IBM about as much as you listen to your drunk uncle’s political and career guidance.

In 1988, I began a job selling computers, a foot soldier in the trenches of the IBM-Microsoft wars. M$ won, but it hadn’t yet decided to try and control the Internet. People who used modems to dial BBSes are now buying faster ones and signing up for Internet accounts; they still have to dial up. An always-on Internet connection, like your modern DSL or cable modem or fiber, is as affordable to average people as a yacht. Wireless is unknown. Windows is available, but it: runs on top of DOS, is buggy and cranky, and mostly sucks. This gives us a foretaste of what we can expect from M$ once IBM is crushed.

What did we even do with computers before we could dial up to the Internet and search? We wrote. We created art. We programmed applications, shareware, and so on. We compiled the code we wrote. We balanced checkbooks. We kept business books. We played games, oh god, how we played games. We used spreadsheets to automate calculations, letting do the heavy arithmetical lifting. We created databases to store large amounts of information, user interfaces to enable the research of the database, and report formats to present the research results. We drafted plans for building and bridges. We could look at the library’s card catalog, a voluminous wall of pigeonhole drawers we used to find books, and realize it would one day go away. So would the microfiche. There truly is much one can do with a computer that is not connected to a broadband network, and we did all of it.

1992 (24 years ago): The web will soon exist, and one will be able to browse it, but only with a text-based web browser. The dawn of the graphical user interface (which is how we elders describe the interactive front end of your Windows 10 or Mac OS whatever) is nearly at hand, ready to pave the way for unlimited porn. Windows is beginning to suck less. By this time, the PC has begun displacing both minis and big iron. Most people still get online with a modem, dialing in over a landline. Cell phones are uncommon and pretty spendy, and the idea of doing the Internet over your cellphone would have seemed like technological magic had anyone mentioned it. Laptops were big but not uncommon. Color inkjets were coming along.

1996 (20 years ago): a lot of PC office networks now ran on a thing called “Novell.” All you really need to know about Novell is that it was incomprehensible to normal people. By this time America Online–which had become one of the main ways people connected online (others were quaintnesses called CompuServe, Genie, etc.)–had unleashed its computer-illiterate, text-speaking “r u m or f?” and “ur a looser” hordes upon the Internet. That may have marked a transition point: until then, the Internet was sort of like a club that had unspoken rules and traditions, to which not everyone was willing to do the work to belong. It was rapidly becoming a free-for-all devoid of all standards (in other words, it was assuming a far more American character). For a while there, people like me got to enjoy a certain snobbish self-satisfaction, though I’m not sure how much good it did, since the AOL outlook took over. It was like one’s favorite pizzeria one day became a Chuck-E-Cheese’s–in mid-meal.

By 1996, the graphic web browser was king. The battle was between Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer. The release of Windows 95, which you laughed at when you saw the video of the teens, marked a major turning point in making mainstream computing more stable and easier to work with. As you might expect from M$, it was doing everything it could to require the world to use IE, and the world refused. All that warfare against IBM, and it had learned not a single lesson about customers. There is no corporation that will not turn into a moron factory given enough time and success.

2000 (16 years ago): by now, broadband (DSL, cable, other ‘always on’ connections) was going mainstream, and phone modems were starting to look pretty dated. By 2000, most non-Luddites had some form of Internet connectivity; all companies worthy of the name had web presences. Also, at the false millennium (1/1/2000), there was a major scare because most of the remaining big iron software didn’t support eight-digit dating, and they had thrown away the source code. Much doom-and-gloom, much foretelling of apocalypse, and in the end, not much impact. But by this time, one didn’t need to watch the TV news to know about it. By this time, quite a few people learned about it on the Internet. I would say that around 2000 was the time when the Internet became like the telephone was to my parents, and the cell phone is to my nieces and nephews: “can’t function without it.”

Also around 2000, M$ followed up the very successful Windows 98 with Windows Me. Everyone hated it. Everyone. It was the Jerry Sandusky of operating systems. At that point, we began to realize that every other M$ operating system was going to be crappy, and the savvy among us planned accordingly. We’re still doing it.

By 2000, the Internet was an integral part of collegiate life. Our next transition would be Wi-Fi everywhere, and the decline of the PC in favor of the so-called smartphone, but you were around for those. I’ll let you figure out how to teach your grandkids about it, someday after I’m long gone. And if you do it better than I did, I’ll doff my spiritual hat to you, and wherever we go, when you catch up to me, we’ll have a single-malt.

Was it strange for me, having this enormous transition happen just a decade too late to help me through college? It was, but mine is not the first generation such things have happened to. It just is. We adapt as best we can, some better than others. (My mother is 75 and simply refuses to get on the Internet, and in her case I suspect that’s a pretty good thing.) Around 2000, too, Internet-based shopping and reviewing had gone very mainstream. That’s how I got into writing, through writing book reviews at Amazon, then product reviews at a now-moribund site called Epinions. I still keep in touch with a lot of people from Eps.

So. If you are twenty-five, by the time you were old enough to think about shopping, you never knew a world without the Internet; it was just something that had always been there, like oxygen or Abe Vigoda. (Like the telephone was for me.) And yet it wasn’t always there, and we did live productive and happy lives without it. I swear.

But one can never really go back, and for as badly as my generation has hosed down the world you live in, most of it knows that much at least. Even so, when next you take a look at one of those comical videos where teens look at Windows 95 and can’t even imagine how it was ever useful, at least you will know how it played out.

One last thing: lest the fogeys sell you a bill of goods, just as you look at a Windows 95-based computer and laugh at its abacus-level technology, your parents were doing the laughing in 1990. Only then, they were laughing at the people still using their pre-DOS CP/M machines, such as the Kaypro portable with its tiny green screen and floppy disks, the size of a briefcase. Or their old Compaq Portable, size of a hardshell suitcase, better known as the “Compaq Draggable.” They chortled at the elders still using cranky electric typewriters with worn-out ribbons, and at those who bought computers but still insisted on daisywheel printers (essentially, computer-driven typewriters) over the obviously superior dot-matrix printers. (That old, greasy printer at your mechanic’s shop with the word ‘Okidata’ on it? That’s a dot-matrix printer, with its rough images and its eardrum-tearing whine.)

As for our times, we can work together. If you’ll keep helping me figure out how to connect all these stupid new cords I don’t understand, I’ll be happy to reciprocate by helping you see how your parents’ world really was, and feeding you useful bits of data about their times to help you dominate them in debates.


The Cold War: Cliff’s Notes for millennials

If you came of age after 1990, I’m not sure what the Cold War (traditionally 1946-1990) means to you. I can speculate:

  • A past period in which people somehow got by and had fun (if one can call it that without computers and cell phones) in spite of knowing that, at any minute, everyone might learn that their world could have twenty minutes to live.
  • A weird time full of fallout shelters, black-and-white duck-and-cover films in school, conscription (which means when you turn 18, it’s either go to college and be in the military later, or just get it over with now), and anti-Communist hysteria.
  • Nothing at all, since it’s before your time, and history is boring.

In fact, it is your time. Control of nuclear weapons technology is looser than it was during the Cold War. The threat of nuclear mines is greater than ever. The bomb doesn’t have to create a mushroom cloud: nuclear weapons exploded in the upper atmosphere would create electromagnetic pulses, disrupting everything within a certain very large radius that contains electronics (including most refrigeration). Chemical and biological weapons still exist, and can even be produced in homebrew fashion (though none of that would do as much harm as their military grade versions).

If anything, we were safer then than you are now, because the few Cold War nations with the capacity to deploy such weapons had very vested interests in ensuring that no one dared deploy them. A bunch of religious or political fanatics might not care. So, unfortunately, we didn’t win or end the Cold War. In the end, we just shifted it around. I know I feel less safe now.

But I promised to explain our Cold War to you. I will. It will explain a lot about your parents and grandparents.

During the Cold War, US policy involved combating avowedly socialist and communist world powers and their proxies or pawns. We did this by fostering and promoting our own proxies or pawns, which we called ‘allies.’ Non-aligned nations, of which there were many, would play both sides or just try to stay out of it all. Some, like Finland, had to do so as a matter of national prudence. Others, like India, realized that they had nothing of value to gain from embroilment in the Cold War, or had quite enough to deal with at home and on their own borders.

As a people, we liked to see the world in terms of ‘friends’ and ‘enemies,’ blinding ourselves to the truth: nations don’t have friends, just interests. But that has always been our besetting sin, has it not? The desire to see the world in terms of good and evil, white hats and black, with us of course always as the good guys and gals in the white hats? Old Western movies and series did more to foster this mentality than many may realize, but if so, it only worked because it was what we liked to hear and think.

Few of the avowedly socialist or communist countries were actually making an effort toward those political philosophies; they were simply blinds for authoritarianism. Even there, at the top, the leaders lived like royalty and the population suffered exploitation. The most successful model, in hindsight, was the Eurosocialist model. However, during the Cold War, US military power and protection gave northwestern Europe security it could not obtain on its own, greatly facilitating the Eurosocialist model. Not always, though; Finland and Sweden were among the most successful examples, and both were non-aligned, then as now. But make no mistake: nations who could take advantage of our defensive shield did so, because it was in their interests, and that helped them raise their standard of living above ours.

That also helps explain how Europeans decided to create an economic union that would become increasingly political. Divided, they would remain more vulnerable. United, they would gain economically. Europe is a much more stable place without fear of war between France and Germany.

It worked like this. ‘Socialist’ was a dirty word; ‘communist’ a dirtier one. In the 1950s, during the Red hysteria, we did what every country does in time of hysteria. We committed gross, ignorant miscarriages of justice. The logic was that one could look at the USSR and PRC (People’s Republic of China) and see where that led: shortages, general poverty, forced labor camps, secret police and zero popular voice in government. And it was true, though decreasingly true over the years in the case of the more developed USSR. Both countries eventually learned that a profit motive, while guaranteed to create wealthy elites who would surely take over the show, was also more conducive to economic growth and plenty than Utopian notions of the selfless evolution of the human spirit. Both countries kept up the fiction for a long time. Even in the 1970s, the Soviet government was promising ‘True Communism’ by 1980. The PRC still tries to present its system was ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics,’ which only the uneducated can fail to identify as ‘capitalism.’

It was bullshit. However, our own elites used it to get richer. If you were in a Latin American or African or south Asian country in the 1960s and 1970s, both sides warred for your soul; we, the US, also warred for your money. In many cases, US political activity during the Cold War was designed to further our corporate interests. So, if your country elected a pro-Soviet or pro-Chinese leader, we did our all to destabilize him; your people’s interest and choice did not matter. If it elected a pro-US leader, we did our all to sustain him; your people’s interest and choice did not matter. And it was nearly always a him, because this was when women in political leadership were very rare. We justified this at home by repeating over and over: “Capitalism is always better. Look at how they live in Russia and China.” In reality, for developing countries, there wasn’t that much difference, because they did not have the means to live at a First World standard. They were the playing pieces of a global political game.

At home, our politics were far saner than today. Leaders on both sides were less tied to ideology and more to the national interest, which meant we had the concept of compromise. That has changed greatly between my day and yours. The landscape was very different, but it was a time of great social change. The Civil Rights movement got traction. Open racism fell out of fashion. What we called Women’s Liberation (which must now sound very quaint to you) sought progress toward gender equality. We still had domestic secret police, though, and they were still mostly focused on counter-insurgency; in most cases, however, it was necessary to identify the supposed insurgency as communist or socialist (the average American never learned the actual meaning of either word, and still has not). There were exceptions, such as the infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan. In the 1960s and 1970s, we had a low-level domestic terror movement which openly boasted that it was communist or socialist, which obviated the need for a scorecard. Despite this, most people did not live in fear of becoming terror victims, though anyone attending a university might think a little bit about detouring around the ROTC building.

We had national moods come and go. I wasn’t alive during the 1950s, but I would describe them as prosperous yet paranoid. The 1960s were radicalized and manic-depressive, alternating between bummers like the King and Kennedy assassinations, the realization of futility in Vietnam, and the grossness of hippies who didn’t want jobs or baths, and happy stuff like the space program, relief of the Cuban missile crisis, and advances for blacks and women. In the 1970s, we lost our first war for real and for true, gas prices suddenly quadrupled and more; to imagine the impact, picture gas going to $15/gallon within a week. Nixon and his VP both resigned after evidence emerged of their scumbaggery, and Carter chose to deal with double-digit inflation and interest rates by pestering the world about human rights. (My student loans were at 9%, payable beginning 1986, and they were a bargain by the standards of the day.) We tied up the shit sandwich of the 1970s with a neat little bow when the Shah of Iran was overthrown (making us notice radical Islam for the first time), most of our embassy was taken hostage, and we couldn’t even mount a rescue mission without a fiasco. The 1980s saw a major investment in US military power under Reagan, and whatever one may think of him today, the national mood became buoyant and proud. And everyone born in 1965 or earlier will never forgive or forget the Iranians. They occupied the place of the Imperial Japanese of my parents’ generation, or the Bin Laden of yours: enemies to the grave. To understand your parents, understand that a significant number of them still think Iran is owed punishment with weapons of mass destruction.

It must seem bizarre to millennials, raised in an era in which everyone in military uniform receives instant promotion to Hero, and sports all begin with orgies of obligatory patriotic expression, but the military and the flag got no respect between 1965 and 1980. Patriotism and nationalism were very unfashionable. If you raised a flag outside your home, people thought you a weirdo. Even in the early 1980s, when I was in uniform on occasion, older hands would counsel me on how to avoid friction with the public. They had served in the 1970s, when it meant mostly abuse. I’m dead serious. Your great-uncle, whom everyone says was never the same after Vietnam, very probably did get off the plane Stateside to verbal abuse as a supposed “baby-killer.” I am not sure which was worse for the Vietnam veterans (many of whom were drafted): the horrors of guerrilla war to the knife in Vietnam, or the rejection and ridicule they faced back home after surviving the war. So why the enormous pendulum swing? In 2003, I was watching with my Vietnam vet father-in-law as the country fell all over itself to gush about our troops in Iraq, brushing aside the little detail that the war itself was stupider than a ‘social media consultant’ on a reality show. He was an old Texan with a heavy drawl. “Know what that is?” he asked, as the news showed the patriotic bacchanal. “Guilt,” I said. “Yep.” That’s what drives this. You are looking at people who are trying to make it up to the ‘Nam vets without actually giving the VA any money to help take care of them.

The Cold War supposedly wound down when the Soviet economy began to collapse in the late 1980s. It is popular today to attribute this to Reagan’s new arms race, but I’m not convinced that was the main cause. I’m sure the arms race didn’t help the Soviet economy, but a lot of other things were also changing at the time. In my college days (1981-86), the personal computer was a rare and costly luxury. By 1988, I was selling them for a living. With PCs came modems and networking, and the conversion of Arpanet into the Internet you know today was visible in the distance. I am not sure the USSR would not have come unglued on its own. In any case, it did disintegrate. It happened so fast that there wasn’t time for things to sort out before the Olympics, where the former USSR’s components competed as the ‘Unified Team.’

At that point, we faced an existential crisis. Our leaders had always had a Main Enemy to teach us to fear and hate. They did not adapt well at all. Until Bin Laden managed to get our attention with his second World Trade Center attacks in 2001, which you remember (his first was in 1993, but since it didn’t kill enough people or knock down a building, it didn’t get our attention), our leadership was in the unfamiliar position of not knowing who to tell us to hate. Showing a tremendous lack of imagination, they simply continued the Cold War as best they could, railing about socialism (communism being too bankrupt for anyone to get worked up about).

Now we reach your times, and you know what happened as well as I do. But that’s how we got there.

In my view, to understand an age group, it’s helpful understand the world in which it came of age. Let’s take my parents, born in 1935 and 1941. They came of age during the Red hysteria of the 1950s, and even today my mother worries about ‘falling into socialism,’ a term she cannot even define. They married and had children in the 1960s, where they saw large-scale civil disobedience and more prevalent drug use. They feared greatly for their children, that we might either be drawn into hippieism and drug addiction (they equated these two automatically), or worse yet, that we might all be incinerated by nuclear weapons. As their children hit their teens, my parents’ sense of national power and pride fell with the economy and the increasing struggle to make a living. Unsurprisingly, they turned heavily toward religion. They could not understand why their children rebelled and rejected it. In the 1980s, the pace of technological change empowered my father (who was perfectly positioned, educationally speaking, to embrace it), but bewildered my mother (who wasn’t and still isn’t). My father would be nearly eighty today; my mother turns 73 in exactly two weeks. The world looks nothing like the Kansas of their youths. Not even the Kansas of today looks like that of their youths.

Looking at your elders’ world, you can reach your own conclusions about why they now do and say what they do and say. I think it’s worth your time to do so, even if only because they expect you to pay into their benefits. Same for your parents’ world: if you know the times they lived through, you can understand them better. In my case, that meant understanding Depression-era grandparents and what it did to them. (Short version: epic cheapskates.)

There’s another reason, and let’s be blunt. Your generation is taking a lot of flak, most of which I happen to think is not deserved. I’m betting that you, quite reasonably, would like to be understood and respected. I’d like that for you as well. Life has taught me that the best way to get is to give, which is why I took a couple hours to write this piece about a world mostly witnessed through my own eyes. If you then give by seeking to understand those who came before you, one of two things will happen. Either you will get understanding in return, or if not, you will at least know what you are dealing with.

You can’t lose.

My ant crack dealership

Bugs are so valuable to the ecosystem we live in. Wipe out a vector of that ecosystem, and the damage ripples through the rest of it. If I weren’t married, I would leave yellowjacket nests alone outside my house, and spider webs alone inside it.

Yet even with my wife absent from the home, there’s no way I am going to tolerate ants in the house. No way. None. I generally support environmental protection, but it’s not as if I feel the need to show it off by being as conspicuously crunchy/green/Whole Paycheck/tilth/organic/etc. as possible. And in any case, that’s not going to change my approach to pest control. If you see a few ants, there are more, many more. If I thought it would work best, without harming the interior health environment of the home, I’d have zero compunction about putting down the insect equivalent of heavy nerve gas, strychnine, or whatever.

For millennials, who of late find themselves much maligned by the very generation who raised them and made the rules for them, I have a fun suggestion. Next time a middle-aged person tries to tell you that everything was better back when, that the old ways and old everything are the best, and that everything now officially sucks (including, by implication, your generation), ask them this:

“Okay, sir/ma’am. I’ll play. So, in 1970, when you had ants in your house and wanted to find the best way to kill them, you would not have preferred a five-minute online search? It was better, right, when you had to go to a library, or hunt up some consumer magazine, or ask your neighbor Vern, and do trial and error while the ants multiplied to invade your entire house? Just so I understand you here, sir/ma’am? Or, as an alternative, are you saying you liked ants in your kitchen just fine, and that it was better that way?”

They’ll harrumph. It’s all they can do. Because in reality, they just want a simpler time in the ways they liked, while continuing to use their Keurigs and research their osteoporosis on the Internet. They only want back the old parts everyone liked, such as cheap gasoline and pensions. I’m not even an old person yet and I am already making plans to call my peers out on hypocrisies to my dying day. (It helps to plan ahead.)

As for me, I’d like cheap gas and pensions back too, but I like even more the fact that I can find the answer to a pressing problem in a short time. Is it always correct? No. Is it a higher-percentage shot than spending the afternoon trying to track Vern down, going from store to store, wasting money on stuff that will not work, and ruining my day? Well, you tell me.

In this case, I went on a net.mosey for ant killers. I found lots of granola vegan non-toxic cruelty-free organic hippie home ingredient methods. Some of them may work very well in some situations for some people. I have never had any such method work for me on much of anything, which is why I tune most of those out. In this case, I found a product called Terro, which isn’t quite non-toxic, but isn’t exactly dioxin either.

Of course, it had a number of product reviews.

Of course, any cretin can post on the Internet, thus any given review might be wrong.

Of course, 933 product reviews does represent at least some sort of a sample base.

Of Terro’s 933 reviews, 750 gave it five stars.

Well, again, I’m not much of a fundamental believer in group opinion or the wisdom of the public. In fact, when I find myself in a majority, I’m tempted to ask myself what I might have overlooked. Even so, I started reading the reviews. Most said some variant of: “I put down these traps, and more ants than I had any idea were in my house swarmed all over them. Two days later there was not a single living ant.”

It didn’t take that many of those to get my attention.


Terro is some form of sugar glop–ant crack–mixed with borax. The ants hog it down, tell the other ants that the Ant Pizza Buffet is open, and take some samples back to the colony to share with others. One of those others is the queen, who gets waited on by the proletarian ants. Borax fatally injures the ants’ digestive systems (think of it like Taco Bell taken to its logical conclusion). When the queen dies, that’s disastrous for the colony, but in any case, it’s also disastrous for it when most of the regular ants croak.

Shortly after I put down the traps, long lines of little ants came pouring out of tiny openings in the wall, going crazy for the traps. Some died in the glop, like that kid in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Some died before they got back to the colony, which I hope were taken back to be cannibalized and poison some more. Many, I presume, took ‘food’ back to the colony to poison it on my behalf. Some managed to drag little chunks of dirt into the glop, gods know how or why.

It wasn’t over yet. In fact, the little bastards just about cleaned out some of the traps. A week in, I had put down a second box of traps. More armadas sallied forth to scarf it up. Just when I’d think it was over, a bunch would discover a new trap that others had walked past for a week, and swarm on it.

Three weeks to the day after I first started slinging ant crack, and whatever the fates of individuals, it very much appears as if the colony has gone the fate of Carthage. My ant crackhouse can shut down. I have seen exactly two ants around the traps all day, and neither looked real lively.

Somewhere in the ground near my house is Ant Jonestown.

Terro delivers, if you’re patient. I would recommend Terroism as a potential solution to ant problems in the home. Just follow the rules for the conscientious Terroist:

  • Keep animals and kids out of it, obviously. Wouldn’t kill them, I’m told, but borax is not in the food aisles of your grocery store for a reason, and is not one of the four food groups. If you have cats, they may actually have to endure some temporary freedom restrictions.
  • Put down all the traps (six in my package). I had good luck with stringing them out along the ants’ path, so that even the hardiest who ranged farthest would be able to find some poison.
  • Resist the temptation to mess around with the traps once they’re down. The ants could be frightened off, and you want them pouring out to eat hearty. Think about your placement beforehand, and leave them alone thereafter.
  • Don’t spill the gunk on the floor, as I’m told it’s tough to scrub up. While you’re cutting off the ends to open the traps, I recommend leaning them against something, colored (cut) ends up. Make sure they don’t fall, or tip the wrong way when you’re emplacing them.
  • If you have to, use a second box of traps. I bought two the first time, in case that happened, and it was a wise move. Job ain’t done until there are no living ants in sight for a while.
  • To use these outside, I think you’d need a small, heavy cover to put over each trap. Otherwise, something else would probably get into it. They sell outdoor ones, though, so that’s covered.

Yeah, it took a while, but it beats having someone come and fill the house with tabun, or whatever the pest control people use. It was also much less expensive. I spent $30 and I destroyed a large, persistent ant colony. I bet the Bug Brigade doesn’t come out for $30. Plus, if I have a way to rely on my own sense and observation rather than a contractor, after many, many examples of shoddy work, apathy and arrogance from contractors, I’ll do that every time.