More than forty (yikes!) years ago, I wrote a presentation about the dangers of becoming too reliant on technology. The technology of the time was the pocket calculator, and my concern was focused on the tendency of garbage in to become garbage out.
I was writing for high-school students and my point was that we need to know the basics in order to catch our keyboarding errors. Type 5 times 7 into the calculator and your answer should be 35. (Really, I checked this.) But enter the information incorrectly and you might get 28 or 40 or some other error that you wouldn’t recognize if you didn’t spend so many hours memorizing multiplication tables.
It was a brilliant argument and, of course, every student who heard it threw away their calculators and bought a gross of #2 pencils. JK. Instead, they all assumed they would be company presidents and their minions would do all the heavy lifting, and addition.
Fast forward four decades and I find I must sound the alarm again, this time in response to a more insidious danger of technology that comes in the form of masters who look like servants. Yes, I’m talking about you, Siri, and your co-conspirator, Alexa, and whatever Google calls its viper at your breast.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, everyone is going nuts about Siri taking notes when your kids sing that baby shark song, but that's just a head fake. Our internet gods will announce the end of eavesdropping and we'll lower our guard once again. That's when they'll pounce or, more accurately, devour our paychecks from ambush.
That's because you might have paid to have Siri live with you, but Siri doesn’t work for you. Siri works for the companies who buy advertising and positioning opportunities from Apple. Alexa serves the highest-margin clients of Amazon. They reply to your commands, but their hearts belong to someone else.
In-home assistants are the avant garde of the robot revolution, the takeover of our lives by artificial intelligences that smile and smile while being villains. These devices are undermining the consumer’s advantage online, and eliminating the race to the bottom that is the design flaw—and consumer edge—of the internet.
Search engines enable us to find exactly what we want at the lowest total cost. We can see which offers are promotions paid for by advertisers and we can check the reviews of the low-cost offers to find out if anyone actually received the products they bought. We can take the offer that’s highest on the page, knowing somebody paid Google for the placement, or we can take a few minutes to refine our search and determine the best overall value for ourselves.
Delegate those decisions to Alexa and you might as well declare that money is no object. There is no simple way to ensure that she or Siri or the Google thing will get the best deal for us. We own the device, but we are absolutely not the customer.
When we buy a house, we don’t confide our maximum offer to the real estate agent because the agent works for the seller. We engage the agent, but the seller pays her, so her duty is to them, not us. We apply similar skepticism with insurance agents, stock brokers, lawyers and doctors, because we know they get paid more for certain advice and less for other recommendations.
We’re inclined to lower our guard, though, when the same servant that’s making our buying decisions is also playing our songs and ordering our pizza. She sounds so friendly and servile and efficient. How could you not trust her to get you a deal on humidifier filters?
The more we rely on counter-top assistants to handle our day-to-day activities, the more we’re likely to pay for everything we buy. Trust me on this. I was right on target with my prediction 40 years ago and I am overdue to be right again.
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Am I the only guy who decided to change his birthday?
I’ve always hated my birthday, and for good reason. My chronological bday is May 13 (Uh, oh, did I just give too much info to the dark websters?), which means that my birthday will be within spitting distance of Mother’s Day five years out of seven. By spitting distance, I mean the weekend we would recognize my birthday would also be the weekend we recognize mom.
First, there was mom and grandmom; later, mom and grandmom and wife; then mom and wife and daughter-moms and, oh, yes, I think Michael has a birthday this week, too.
I don’t suffer particularly from fear of the number 13, but you run into all kinds of paraskevidekatriaphobics who want to rain on your parade.
“Your birthday’s this Friday? The thirteenth? I hope a black cat doesn’t cross your path, Ha Ha Ha. Hah. Snort. Chuckle.”
Where was I? Oh, changing my birthday. When the girls got into high school, they joined (insert jazz hands) SHOW CHOIR (insert jazz hands) and their big show, appropriately titled Big Show, was…wait for it…Mother’s Day weekend. So, for six years, I spent most of my birthday weeks in the dark, videotaping the rehearsals and the shows, followed by dinners with other parents or the moms in the family.
At some point, it occurred to me that I could follow the example of America’s Presidents, Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King, and Jimmy Thanksgiving by “observing” my birthday on a date when I absolutely was not born.
Picking the right date, though, is a tough job. As far as I know, there is no Idiot’s Guide for Changing Your Birthday, although this is clearly an untapped market with huge potential. First, I had to find a date that didn’t put me into the cross-hairs of another holiday, so anything too close to Father’s Day or the Fourth of July or Arbor Day was off the table.
Likewise for dates that might conflict with major Jewish holidays, since I would hate to be unable to have birthday cake due to Passover or any food at all on Yom Kippur. It couldn’t be a date that was within a week or so of someone else’s birthday or anniversary, either.
And, being a Druid at heart, I wanted a date before the summer solstice, so my birthday would come during the time of year when the daylight is growing. That pretty much narrowed the opportunities to a month between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, plus a few weeks in the winter.
I’d put the quest on the back burner and then….drumroll…fate stepped in to solve the problem. The day we sold our house in the suburbs, planning to move into the city, all the tension and adrenaline of the process drained from my system. Unfortunately, I was driving downtown on the Kennedy Expressway at the time. As the arms of Morpheus enveloped me, I rammed two other cars. Luckily, nobody was injured, including me, and I found the date that would become my new celebration of birth.
So Facebook announces my birthday each year and I get the perfunctory good wishes from many of my "friends," but insiders know the real date to send me a note. It's almost like being president of a secret club, without the initiation fees or the felt hats.
Am I the only person who has done this? I’m okay with being the only one, since that would make me unique and clever, but surely someone else has taken this road before.
One great way to say happy birthday to me is by joining the billions of other subscribers to this incredible weekly ramble. Subscribers get all kinds of free stuff, including access to each of our posts and, well, that’s pretty much it. Anyway, click here to subscribe and maybe we’ll be writing about your birthday in the future.
Panic time starts this month as a million young adults feel the sting of being ejected into the real world. Yes, we’re entering graduation season and 99.9% of the post-millennials who shake hands with the principal/dean have no idea what happens next.
It’s a failure of parenting, if you ask me. The time to prepare your kids for the future is when they’re in diapers. Even if you bribed the dean to get your kid into school, or went the old-fashioned route of endowing a chair at your selected institution, and even if you hired dopplegangers to sit in on their classes and take all their tests, you’re still a failure if you didn’t begin paving the way for them in utero.
Proper parenting requires optimal curation of the music that’s piped into the womb, detailed consideration of the best native language for their nannies and precise dietary choices. Most important, success-driven parenting must focus on the ultimate prize: the best possible job for our scions. Beware, though, because predictions about the best jobs are often wildly off target.
Every so often, I’ll read an article about preparing our kids for the jobs of the future, and precisely as often, I get a good laugh. Coding is the rage right now, with special coding camps and toys that teach preschoolers the basics of writing ifXthenY and ifJdoK.
There’s no harm to it, of course, but the future has a tendency to turn out differently than we planned. The earlier we set our direction, the more off course we’ll be ten years from now. When I was in high school, we learned Fortran, which, as everyone knows, is the dominant software language today.
Absolutely nothing could move Fortran from the top of the list. Ditto for the punch cards we used to enter data into our computer. Such a great tool, absolutely irreplaceable.
Similarly, we were encouraged to plan for careers in space travel and we would have levitating cars and trains to ride in. Also, as predicted, we’ve been moving around for the past 40 years on jet packs strapped to our backs.
Ah, good times.
When our girls were younger, we were encouraged to teach them Japanese, since Japan’s economy was ascending and Japanese businesses were obliterating American industries. I never got around to enrolling the girls in Japanese studies, but it didn’t make a difference in the end. It turns out they should have been learning Mandarin.
Yogi Berra said it’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future, and that is a very wise bit of wisdom. One thing we can assume about almost every prediction is that it will not come to pass, and the odds of failure increase with the length of the timeline.
Still, we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t err on the side of hubris, so I have identified with 110% accuracy the top five jobs of the future. Train your children now, and you can thank me later.
Remember to thank me when your children have grown up and can afford to move out, thanks to these incredibly surefire job predictions. And, as a bonus, here is one more career that is certain to be a winner decades from now: Job of the Future Predictor. It’s a no-brainer.
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Whatever you do, don’t file your request with the Etymology Department on a Monday morning or a Friday afternoon. You’re bound to be disappointed.
As we all know, the bureaucrats at the U.S. Department of Etymology are a hard-drinking bunch who arrive bleary-eyed on Monday and race out the door on Fridays at 2:30 p.m. sharpish.
All day on Thursdays, our national wordsmiths are giving 110%, assigning names like yellow crested songster and lilac breasted roller to the birds and passion or mango to the fruits. On Friday afternoon, though, they phone it in.
“This bird? Blue. That bird? Black. That flower over is a violet. Are we done yet? Happy hour just started.”
“No, we still need a name for this fruit.”
“That’s an orange.”
“Hey, don’t forget this pepper.”
“Green. Done. Time to party.”
Even worse than the slapdash effort on Friday afternoon, the bureaucrats who come up with these names are demons on Monday mornings, when everyone shows up with a hangover and intense hatred for the week ahead.
You know what got named on a Monday? Kumquats, that’s what. Also platypus, cucumber, squash and vacuum. If you find a word that has at least five letters, plus “U,” it’s a Monday word. They’re ubiquitous.
These decisions have real-life impact, even if it’s invisible to most people. Imagine the embarrassment at all those networking events in the animal kingdom.
“I’m a Madagascar flying orbital squirrel. What kind are you?”
Frankly, it’s a wonder that some animals get any dates at all.
You wanna know a word that got its name on a Tuesday? Buzz. Great word. Easy to spell. Sounds like its meaning. Yeah, it has a “U” in it, but it’s less than six letters, like hum, which should really be humm, but why quibble with near perfection?
The worst offenders are the college interns, all those library science majors who want to make an impression by inventing creative spellings. They’re the eager beavers who come up with all those words that have extra letters, like the silent “H” in khaki and rhyme and ghost and gherkin and rhubarb. Honestly, it’s exhausting.
At least we’ve escaped the Brits’ insufferable insistence on adding extraneous letters to colour, humour, flavour, and labour. If you ever wondered about the decline of the British Empire, look no further. In the States, we fixed all those pretentious spellings and productivity soared, while the Brits got Spotted Dick and Brexit.
That doesn’t mean we get off without at least a slap on the rist in the States. While we don’t have a Royal Etymologist to screw things up, we do quite nicely with our free-market coinage. The Big Apple, Motor City, Big Easy, and Lost Wages are all Tuesday words. On Friday at 3:30 p.m., we got Frisco, Big D and Chitown.
It’s the same situation with euphemisms, which are quaint inventions that let us call someone a *$%^*)*&%$# without actually needing to say *$%^*)*&%$#. During the middle of the week, we get terms like downsizing, vertically challenged and negative earnings, but on Fridays they don’t even bother to think about it before heading to the tavern.
“Just call this the A-word. This will be the J-word. That’s the Z-word. Enough of this!! It’s five o’clock somewhere.”
How can we repair some of the damage that’s already been done and avoid future catastrophes? As always, I am looking to Millennials to bail us out. Yes, I’m talking about the same people who gave us emojis, but hear me out on this. Besides adding a picture of poop to all their texts and abbreviating everything nmhotwopi*, Millennials also have a powerful disregard for traditional spelling.
I estimate it will be less than three years before tomorrow is tmoro and neighbor is nabr and we’re all texting the deets to our frenz. All the abbreviations will reduce our need for paper, ink, data farms, and electricity. Global warming will reverse itself and the shorter words and sentences will free up an extra hour or two each day for sharing fraudulent memes.
Clearly, it’s time for the Millennials to take charge of this whole wordy thing and for the Feds to “rightsize” the Etymology Department. It’s too late for the platypus, of course, but perhaps there is still hope for tmoro’s anmls.
Meanwhile, it’s time for me to pour myself a brown and chow down on some purples. All this writing can drain my taupe.
Wasn’t it clever of us to explain the asterisked item (nmhotwopi*= no matter how obscure the word or phrase is) in the same place where we beg you to subscribe? Don’t you think this kind of ingenuity deserves a click on this link and signing up for our weekly rants? Uh huh.
The true test of friendship, a double standard for sympathy, and our gassy Founding Fathers are all featured in this week’s observations, written specifically for you…
Did I mention flatulence?
There was a time when you could put yourself through college by selling subscriptions door to door, but those days are long gone. Today, even the most valuable of subscriptions can be obtained online, such as the absolutely free portal presented by this link. No, the link just before this sentence. If you’re clicking here, you’ve gone too far.
Now that we’ve avoided a visit from the Census Bureau’s enforcers, let’s consider the questions our government should be asking, but isn’t, about life in the USA.
As you’ll recall from last week’s musings, Jill and I received an invitation to take part in the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, an hours-long dive into the most intimate details of our lives. To be more accurate, “invitation” is a euphemism. In fact, the materials came with a warning that we could be liable for penalties if we didn’t respond and they might be forced to send people to our condo to, um, obtain the responses they needed.
So we complied with their “request,” answering questions about whether we have indoor plumbing, the age of our building, whether we had gotten married or divorced in the past year, and how we pay for our internet service. The survey covered a wide swath of basic information that might prove useful for government spending decisions, but none of it is going to answer the most pressing questions facing us as a nation.
Never fear, dear readers. The public spirited team at dadwrites will right that wrong today by presenting the questions America needs to answer, a list that should be added immediately to the 2020 Census. Our inquiring minds want to know:
1. Did you look in the mirror before you decided to leave the house like that?
2. Ginger or Mary Ann?
3. What percentage of your income is derived from delivering other people’s food, clothes, or vaping supplies?
4. How many hours did you spend working in an office last week?
a. How much of that time did you spend on Instagram, Fortnite or Googling your ex?
b. How many hours did it take to fill in your March Madness brackets?
5. How many hours did you spend working outside your office last week?
a. Were you at home or at Starbucks?
b. Did you actually get anything done?
c. Were you still in your jammies?
6. Have you ever snorted Tide pods or condoms or dumped a bucket of ice on yourself?
a. If yes, did you do this as part of a charity challenge or just because it sounded like a fun idea?
b. Did you post a video online? (No need to respond. We know you did.)
7. How many trips did you take last week in an Uber, Lyft or other ride-share vehicle?
a. For how many of those trips were you the driver?
b. Could you find any of the locations without GPS?
8. Do you have any money saved for retirement?
a. If so, how many days do you expect it to last?
b. Do your adult children have a spare bedroom that you can use?
c. Are your adult children currently living in your spare bedroom?
9. Did you ever finish reading that Stephen Hawking book about time?
a. Did you actually understand it?
10. Have you ever changed somebody’s mind on Facebook?
11. Has anyone ever changed your mind on Facebook?
12. Couldn’t you be doing something better with your time?
13. In the past year, have you suffered irreparable harm from:
b. Uninsured motorists?
c. Hernia mesh?
d. Ads from law firms?
14. In the past month, have you:
a. Taken an online quiz to find out which Disney princess you are?
b. Suddenly realized the quiz was just a ruse to collect more personal information for advertisers?
c. Retaken the quiz to get a better princess?
15. In the past week, have you:
a. Spent more time complaining about traffic than you actually spent in it?
b. Reposted a meme you knew to be false, because you agreed with the politics?
c. Stolen Marla’s lunch from the office refrigerator?
i. If yes, did you also take Edgar’s Snapple?
ii. You fiend!!
16. In the past hour, have you:
a. Checked your phone more than 30 times?
b. Posted two or more story updates?
c. Ordered some Thai for lunch?
17. Would you like to avoid future surveys by just giving us permission to get whatever information we want from Google?
What other questions should we add to our list? If you had the opportunity to ask whatever you wanted and the authority to require an answer of every person in this country, what would you want to know?
Add your questions to our comments section and we’ll all be much wiser for your contribution. Just remember to keep it civil and that this site is a politics-free zone.
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Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.