Why Won’t The Internet Just Grow Up Already??

I just got an email from Google telling me they revised their privacy policy to make it shorter and easier to read. They say…

“Our new policy covers multiple products and features, reflecting our desire to create one beautifully simple and intuitive experience across Google.

“We believe this stuff matters, so please take a few minutes to read ….”

If Google really believed this “stuff” mattered, why do they bother calling it “stuff” as opposed to “privacy”? Was this a way to try to relate to the average Google user? Aren’t Google users a group too diverse to even have a meaningful average? And how long did someone look at that email, considering whether to use the word “stuff,” and how many meetings were had over every word in that email? Who decided to try to temper the jargon-y, typical corporate speak with the carefully contrived use of a casual word such as “stuff,” and did Google ever consider that it might come across a tad (or more) condescending, trite, and offensive?

Google, and other similar companies such as Facebook, Apple, et al: please stop trying to sound hip.

The rest of us have grown up. No matter how many knit caps you may see bobbing on countless heads of too many 30+ year olds, underneath the hipster paraphernalia, many not so longer young minds are setting their wheels turning on how to save their own jobs, or supplement their income with a side trade or homemade product with the secret dream of sidestepping the dismal and abysmal and ever decreasing regular job prospects. Many are now thinking seriously about how scary old age looks in these shaky times, even while posting carefully crafted FB reports or blog posts proclaiming to be living a life driven by lackadaisical whimsy, struggling to convince all their “friends” how not worried they are.

But the truth is, as much as so many of us hate to admit it, we are growing up and we have grown up. It’s a necessary, if not always fun, thing to do. Now, Google, why don’t you?

To Fate, Faith, and Cheeseheads Everywhere

Noah’s uncle returned, as promised, bearing with him my not so long lost laptop.  I was curious what he looked like, where he lived, how he might be perceiving this switch up, whether he might be viewing it through the same possibly cosmic lens as me.  This closely held belief I have that everything happens for a reason has left me scratching my head before.  If I didn’t have this belief, it would be easier to chalk things up to chance, and move on.  My faith in fate, however, has not let me down.  Although the purpose of a thing has not always been readily evident, I have witnessed decades long loose ends tied into gossamer webs too glorious to be without design.

And so it was with trepidation that I assigned the task of retrieving my machine to my partner and offspring.  Now I would never meet Uncle … drat, I don’t even remember his name.  I think it was Dave.  Noah had copied him on an email.  It was his first one responding to my frantic first SOS, the one where he asked how, after our laptops were switched going through security at LaGuardia, I was able to find out whose computer it was and send him this email.  Transparency and trust are my curse and nature.  I shot off an email to him, barely thinking twice, explaining how I’d been able to hack into his hard drive once I got back to Brooklyn, and also noted (again) the numerous calls to TSA I’d made (hoping he would voluntarily explain his failure to also check the status of his own belongings).  After sending the email describing how I’d gotten into his computer, I mulled this decision over and over again in my head.  If I didn’t explain it, he probably would have figured it out anyway and then my failure to explain it may come across as disingenuous, which was the last thing I wanted to impart to a 17 year old kid on the other side of the world who was responsible for transporting, on person, all my digital belongings.  On the other hand, he maybe had considered doing the same thing (hack that hard drive Noah!) but didn’t want to invade my privacy and had settled on accepting a brand new computer as a reward for his goodliness instead.  Either way, slowly but suddenly Noah was not seeming so noble to me.  This was compounded by the eerie electronic silence that followed my second confessional communication with him.

Four days after our first (and only) exchange, I woke up in a cold sweat, convinced that Noah and his uncle were: 1) government spies; or 2) agents of an eagle eyed enemy who might find my legal briefs quite useful.  My faith in all human goodness was faltering.  Is faith in the goodness of the soul a childish thing?  Was Noah truly of the elder scrolls and now more sophisticated than me?  The morning of the cold sweat, I shot off an email to Noah and his uncle, telling them in no uncertain terms that I wanted my computer back, and why they hadn’t been in touch with me.  It wasn’t that bad, really, but it wasn’t very good either.  I didn’t hear from them right away, and grew bitter wondering what might be happening with my data in any instant and considered calling my bank, checking my accounts.  I am usually pretty good about not using the computer for online purchases but sometimes it can hardly be avoided, and those rare airline tickets now weighed heavily on me.  That, and a chilling quote I happened upon in a 2012 calendar I had gotten for Christmas and was gearing up for the new year:

I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.

The next thing I knew, Noah was writing back to me, explaining that he and his family were away for the holidays, and weren’t on email much.  I envisioned Noah and his Uncle Dave sitting with Noah’s mom and dad around the family hearth at the quaint little cottage (little meaning big), warming their hands with heavy mugs of hot chocolate, their ski shoes still on.  There’s a little girl there too, blonde locks and doe eyes.  The cottage has a full wall of stone mined from a nearby quarry, and a Wright-inspired open floor plan, so you can see the kitchen where fresh bread is being baked for them in the oven.  Through the window are snowy pines and a misty mountain sky.  Frost frames the edges of the window.  Maybe Noah finished his college application essay on another computer, and was free to enjoy this last Christmas break with his family before sprinting off to college and adulthood.  As for me, I was busy clawing back bits and pieces of briefs and affidavits and affirmations and notices of motions I had emailed back and forth with my lawyer, now that I couldn’t access the original files.  It was a hodgepodge kaleidoscopic reconfiguring of the various drafts I’d labored over to be finished in time for Christmas.  Ah, let Noah and his family have their idyllic winter wonderland.  Heck, even let him hack into my laptop and read the legal drivel that had been consuming my being.  I saw this as a call from the universe to step away from the monitor, and engage with my life.  Which, of course, was much easier to do when I confirmed that Noah was neither spy nor enemy.

Now here’s the postscript…I did not get to meet Uncle Dave, and he ignored my invitation to be Facebook friends (a desperate measure when I sleuthed the email address and found that he was sole proprietor of a production studio in midtown — leaving me to wonder whether, if they did break into the hard drive, they’d bother to read my old sci-fi script, now sci-fact).  Smart move, Uncle Dave.  I’m sure I started looking like a spy or evil agent at some point too.  I did get the laptop back.  My partner went to Uncle Dave’s two days after Christmas when I was back at work.  It turns out Uncle Dave was home with his little one too so I’m sure they had one of those daddy moments where neither dad gushes and coos the way a good mom is expected to do (I admit to envying the dads, I do).  They probably noticed the kids, nodded at each other in a knowing but appropriately abrupt sort of way, saying something to the effect of “hey, man, how’s it going,” then handed off the laptops and resumed life as normal, ticking this off a mental list of things I don’t wanna but gotta do today (before fixing stroller’s broken cup holder and after one more episode of Thomas and Friends).

The postscript part that’s hard to take is the mixing up of the loss of my laptop with the Green Bay Packers losing to the Giants this past Sunday.  The Packers’ winning streak was being dealt a lethal blow the moment, a few weeks earlier, when I realized I was holding someone else’s laptop.  In the twisted way that one can mangle their own belief in the greater meaning of things, my sister and I both felt that the lost laptop and the Packer’s fate were intertwined.  If I found some light at the end of the tunnel before the game was done that day, the Packers might still win that game.  No such light appeared, and the Packers lost.  But I found my laptop and it was returned to me unscathed.  All my Wisconsin buddies rejoiced this must bode well for the Superbowl.  But two days ago, the Packers lost to the Giants, and are not going to the Superbowl.  Fate, or I, f*#(kd up.   Here lies the rubadubdub.  What is f*#(kd up is thinking there’s any connection at all.  I vow now, right now, not to pretzelize the happenings of a moment into some form of shape or sense where there is none.  I believe in fate but not superstition.  I believe that a smile can spread round the globe in no time flat.  So can a jeer.

My FB friends cheered each other up.  These are many the same Wisconsinites who skulked away from the Brewer’s disappointing end to its season, and now again had to accept yet another hope punctured, tumbling down to the cold Wisconsin ground.  This one seemed an easier blow than I expected.  There was no screeching frustration I heard on FB.  It was like the loss to the Chiefs the day of the lost laptop, and the earlier disappointment of the Brewers so close season peppered our hope with a little jab of realism.  With collective sighs, I read as friends turned to the consolation of Facebook and beer, consigned to wait out yet another wicked winter until the ground thaws and planting can begin again.  With the recent cold front pushing its way across the eastern seaboard, and a concurrent visit from family, and the blessings of social media, my kinship with my home state is the same, and warm, as ever.  A friend of mine once said that the truest friend in Wisconsin is one you see in winter.  Hats off, to you, my friends.  Hats off, to you, dear Anne.  Hats off, to you, young Noah.  Hats off to you, my dear Packers.  Hats off to you, the Giants.  And hats off to, in the words of Allen Ginsburg…

Holy forgiveness! mercy! charity! faith! Holy! Ours! bodies! suffering! magnanimity!  Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent kindness of the soul!

(Howl, 1955)

Noah of the Elder Scrolls

“Carl, while you are not safe I am not safe, and now you’re really in the total animal soup of time.” (Howl, Ginsburg)

“Oh, [F—]! Oh, [F—]! Oh, [F—]!”. It was Sunday in Wisconsin. And even though the TV was on, which meant of course the game was on, my string of unstoppable expletives had nothing to do with the fact that the Packers were gaffing its record-breaking winning streak to the usually wobbly Chiefs. Instead, I was standing, heart pounding, eyes blurring, and hands shaking like the A train as I realized they held a total stranger’s laptop.

Given that I was traveling with my laptop and opening it on a Sunday while visiting family halfway across the country to do work during a potentially historic game (at least for dedicated cheeseheads) should tell you there are certain other matters keeping me up at night (two of which are in active litigation).

But dinky di!  The year closed out leaving me with renewed belief in the goodness of human kind, if not unfettered faith in our natural inclination to be good when no one’s looking.

That fateful Sunday, as I watched the Packers slowly and irrevocably break their near record streak, I believed that the fate of my laptop was inextricably intertwined with my home team’s performance.  I was only partly wrong.

As sure as my laptop was lost, the Packers lost.  Despite multiple calls, made with frantic freak out barely restrained, by the time I returned to La Guardia on Monday, there was still no sign of my laptop, no hint anyone was looking for theirs, and dwindling hope I would ever discover who “Noah” was.  (His name was revealed when I first turned on the laptop but then we got snared by the various gatekeepers, protecting all of Noah’s identity from about seven pairs of prying eyes).  It was small wonder no one had called to claim Noah’s notebook.  Mine was only two weeks old – that newness likely a fault.  It was shiny and pretty, and fit for heavy lifting or at least a really great screen for a serious gamer.

While, like a couple of Kubrick apes, my sister and I tried to break past face recognition on the mystery laptop, Noah, a 17-year old Aussie, was wondering where the hell his Skyrim disk was. He didn’t bother to call the TSA but, when I finally tracked him down through my partner’s super sleuthing and hard drive cracking, Noah didn’t run or hide. To his credit, he politely informed me his uncle would be returning to the great concrete jungle December 25th (yes, Revel, there is a Santa Claus and he comes from a land down under), and he would be happy to make the switch, and how did I happen to find him?

There is a favorite part of a Dr. Seuss classic: the end of the Cat in the Hat, where the very naughty gato has just whisked away every sign of his presence and suddenly Mother, who was not privy to the pranks and havoc that ensued in her absence, turns to the children to ask them what they did while she was away.

After finding Noah’s Skyrim: the Elder Scrolls disk (the disk drive – too obvious for any of the seven of us back in the Dairyland to think to check), my Brooklyn wizened and technogeek partner removed the hard drive, and we found young Noah’s treasure trove of surreptitious classroom snapshots, college apps, and, frankly, little else.

I was grateful for the clear compass on young Noah, a leery lad standing at the threshold of adulthood and high stakes academia (I only got on the wait list of the law school at the university he’s applying to), and soon certain to face harder ethical questions than whether to return the laptop of an adult who apparently was too distracted by this big busy world to notice having made the switch (another downfall of my laptop’s newness — I was judging its familiarity by weight and feel rather than actually looking at this thousand dollar piece of luggage going through security).  Yes, your author is the culpable party.  It was only later as I stood watching the Packers fall to pieces that I recalled a missed Blink of a moment: the person behind me had picked up his laptop and turned it over, looking at it oddly, almost like a Space Odyssey primate, while I strode confidently past, proud and smug at my deft ability to sail through security regardless how much luggage and crap was strapped on me.  It was not even a full second when it flashed that something was amiss(ing).

So Noah of the Elder Scrolls posed the question how I found him, which certainly was to mean what did I find out about him. My partner is perhaps more virtuous or less curious than me. I suspected there was much more Noah had in store. There were, I was sure, secret savant rantings and prodigious teenage genius locked behind some hyper-encrypted file, and couldn’t my partner please get out of my way so I could find it? The best he did was indulge me in looking at Noah’s college essay. It was a rough draft, needed some work, but it was a valiant beginning.

Noah, hanging out back down under still had my laptop in his possession, and could just as easily look for secret genius in my own traveling home (and would just as likely find none). But the question hung in the air, crossing continents, “how did you find me?”  And I silently questioned the same of him.  Had he, too, broken in and was he now poring over some long lost files, riveted by my screenplay eleven years in the making and insisting his father, the renowned and wealthy producer, read it immediately, or was he sifting through techno glut and the electronic clutter of one overworked paper pusher? Or was he biting his nails through another wave of Skyrim withdrawal, staring abjectly at the useless trapped gadget? And if I told him how I rifled through his files and found his email address on his college app, would he feel like turnabout was fair play, pop out the hard drive, and look at the person who on the other side of the globe was looking at him, both of us through electronic techno bobble eye goggles? I stood staring at his question in my email on my iPhone, and paused for a moment before I answered.

Ted Geisel asked his young readers, “Well, what would you do if your mother asked you?”

QUESTION: what would you do if your Noah asked you? Go ahead … Gimme the dirt!