When was the last time you changed your mind about something?
Anything at all.
Have you thought of something yet?
It’s very risky to open any post this way, because I’m all in on the conceit that I know the answer to my question. Some reader, maybe two or three, came up with an answer immediately, but I suspect most people couldn’t think of a response beyond “paper or plastic.”
Despite the fact that we like to think of ourselves as open-minded and thoughtful, most of us would need a day or two to recall a change of view for something truly significant. That’s because we tend to reach conclusions very quickly and then spend the rest of our lives defending them.
“Hey,” you’re shouting at the screen, “I’m too busy to keep going back to revisit every decision I’ve ever made. I took the time to make the right decision already and I don’t need to do it again.”
Yep. Got it. Except, of course, that’s probably not true. Usually, we receive an opinion about a topic we know little about, assume that opinion is correct, and let confirmation bias handle the heavy lifting. Ten years later, we know we’re right and we’ve spent a decade reinforcing our defenses. Is it true? Was it true? Of course it is, because I have known this for a long, long time.
Over the years, I’ve changed my mind about the death penalty, government-sponsored health insurance, gay marriage and high-rise living. I’m still on the fence about term limits, ride shares, and that whole duck/rabbit thing. I’d like to think I’m more a deep thinker than a flip-flopper, but I might change my mind about that characterization at some future date.
So how about you? Where were you on your life’s journey when you locked in your views? Was it when you were 15 and envious of the kids with driver’s licenses or when you were 18 and graduating from Harvard? Was it when you took on your first mortgage, brought your newborn home, got your first promotion or suffered your first layoff?
Equally important, how did you decide? Did you handle it like a debate, gathering details pro and con, or did you adopt the views of an advocate who sounded smart and knew his facts? As with the start of this post, I am fairly confident I know the answers to these questions.
Look, we’re all human. Our first experience creates our frame and everything after that either reinforces our belief or gets dismissed as an exception. We all ascribe to viewpoints that we simply accepted without thought from sources we cannot trace, but we cling to them like they were handed down at Mt. Sinai.
Miles’s Law argues that, “Where you stand depends on where you sit,” so it should be normal for our stances to change along with our status in life. Times change, new information emerges, unintended consequences reveal themselves, and we gain new awareness…if we’re paying attention.
Our opinions don’t necessarily improve with age, or stand the test of time. Perhaps today would be a good day to pay a new visit to an old friend.
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As it happens, I’ve never visited a porn site on the internet. I understand this makes me a moocher, because porn is the profit engine that built the worldwide web and I have been enjoying the free parts without chipping in my fair share. I am deeply sorry for letting the internet down and, most likely, forcing others to pick up the rest of the tab.
On the plus side, my lack of engagement in the world of online sex gives me a different perspective when certain emails pop up. No, I’m not referring to the emails from goddesses in faraway lands who want nothing more than to send me their photos and, um, watch Netflix with me.
Rather, it’s the notes that offer me my own career as a porn star by sharing my intimate online moments with an adoring and appreciative audience of friends, family and strangers alike. I get a few notes every week and they all read about the same: “Your password is __________. I hacked the website you were watching for porn and I recorded a really embarrassing selfie. Either you pay up or I will post the video for all to see.”
When I opened the first of these emails, the password looked like one I might have used several years ago, but it isn’t close to anything on my current list. I can only assume my friendly neighborhood sextortionists bought or stole some old login information from one of the many sites that insist I create a “secure” account in order to do business with them. Of course, they also insist they will protect my information with the greatest security system in the universe, although I get a steady stream of emails that give lie to that claim.
I do feel great sympathy for all the people who are scrambling to come up with the Bitcoin to pay off their new friends. Like the hospitals that must pay off hackers to unlock their critical patient data, victims of sextortion must rely on dishonorable people to behave honorably after the payment is made.
Good luck on that one.
Of course, it’s possible that all these emails are based on no hacks at all, but include enough info that they’ll apply to some percentage of the recipients on the list. If a bot sends out 2 million emails that indicate a password and a porn site, they’re bound to make a match with a few hundred recipients. It’s a very wide net, but at $1,500 or so per payoff, that’s a profitable venture.
And it’s important to recognize that the extortionists are fulfilling the core profit model of the internet, in which companies collect as much information as possible about their customers and then sell that information to other businesses. Nobody needs to pay Google for search because Google sells the searchers to its paying clients. Ditto for Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and pretty much everyone outside of this blog. The services are free because you are the product.
Of course, paying for silence is not exactly the same as paying for titillation, but it’s one of the many ways the internet has transformed its users into the product being bought and sold. We can’t help but wonder how much better, saner, more civil and more efficient the internet would be today if everyone was paying their own freight. It’s probably too late now, but it might have been so much better.
In the meantime, caveat emptor. Viewers, too.
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So it turns out the funniest people in the world are software developers. Unfortunately, none of the rest of us gets to be in on the joke, and the punchline is always the same:
“And that idiot clicked ‘accept’ anyway.”
I know it’s true, because a sheriff’s deputy came to my place last week to repossess my nose. It turns out I failed to change my Instagram feed from freemium to premium within twelve months, as I agreed when I clicked on the user agreement. I lucked out, though, because another deputy showed up two minutes later with an identical warrant from Snap Chat, so I can keep my schnozz unsullied until they resolve their custody dispute in smell claims court.
As Jimmy Buffett would say, it’s my own damn fault. When I bought my first microcomputer software nearly 40 years ago, I read the software (CP/M!!) user agreement and marked the parts that I didn’t accept. Of course, the terms were non-negotiable and the computer wouldn’t work without the software, so I had to take the deal.
Since then, I’ve signed more than a thousand binding agreements with software companies, doctors, car rental agencies, and pretty much anyone else who shoves a 47-page disclaimer in my face. The language varies a bit, but the terms are depressingly similar:
I thought they were just kidding about that last part until the sheriff’s deputies showed up at the condo. I was wrong, and it’s only getting worse.
A few years ago, I walked into a shopping mall in Cape Town where they had a particularly onerous “user agreement” on the wall. Basically, it said the mall was blameless for anything and everything that could possibly happen inside the facility, whether accidental or intentional, and that I was agreeing to those terms simply by walking into the building. If the mall owner came by and cut off my head, it was just fine by me, and I acknowledged that by crossing their threshold.
“That would never fly in the States,” I thought, until I walked into a Chicago restaurant with a similar “user agreement” at the host stand.
Down the street from that restaurant, there’s a new spot where you can order your food at a kiosk instead of talking to a human being. There isn’t a user agreement, yet, but it’s only a matter of time before I’m agreeing that:
When I’m in a charitable mood, I want to forgive the coders for their insatiable need for absolution. It must be very difficult to spend your day on a computer, typing indecipherable crap that nobody will read and inserting inside jokes that nobody will comprehend. It’s a lot like blogging, but coders have cool pocket protectors.
Anyway, it’s the lawyers who produce the disclaimers, and they’re the ones responsible for churning out 5,000-word argle-bargle that could be condensed down to “abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” If there’s any justice in the world, those lawyers will be the first to lose their noses, or other appendages, for violating Terms of Service.
On the upside, it’s likely to take years before the courts decide which company can repossess my nose and maybe the statute of limitations will expire—or I will—by then. In the meantime, I’m going to spend some extra time smelling the roses, just in case.
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I knew a fastidious guy who often commented on the need for proper attire, neatness, cleanliness, and decorum. One day, we were talking about something or other and he started picking his nose. When I made note of that transgression, he said quite simply and without affect, “It’s okay. Mine is different.”
I wish I could convey the tone of his voice when he said it. He was matter of fact, the expert, letting me know that I had no need to worry because his was different. Nothing to see here, citizen. Just move along.
In the greatest feat of self-control I have ever mastered in my life, I did not laugh, sneer, chuckle, snort or make any comments about his assertion. Perhaps I was floored so completely I couldn’t react at all, but the conversation continued as if nothing had happened.
I was thinking about that situation recently as I began contemplating the Ten Days of Awe, beginning this evening with Rosh Hashanah and continuing through Yom Kippur. I’m not the most observant of Jews, but I get fully engaged in the period of introspection, confession and atonement that comprise the High Holidays. And in my more self-aware moments, I am reminded how much I am like my (mostly) fastidious friend.
Mine is different, or so I will claim in one way or another. All too frequently, I write myself a permission slip to excuse the things I just did, or the things I know I’ll do again. It’s okay, though, because I’m a good person and I’m not really hurting anyone, or hurting them much, and it’s only fair because they do it, too, and it’s not like they’re apologizing for what they did, which is much worse than what I did, and, anyway, they pretty much deserved it. And I’m a good person, dammit!!!
I’m not alone, of course. I am bombarded daily with explanations, excuses, and the total lack of any self-awareness exhibited by people who know they are justified, permitted, forgiven, graced. Perhaps our most human failure is our willingness to forgive ourselves for the things we would not forgive in others, a willingness to assert that a wrong is not wrong if the right people do it. And, of course, it is absolutely true that WE are the right people and THEY are not.
We never add up all the lame excuses, and then the Days of Awe arrive. It’s not a surprise, but the arrival of the holidays brings a sudden awareness that, maybe, Someone with an infallible memory has been tallying up the damage. Perhaps, Someone with a really great sense of right and wrong has noted our willingness to pardon ourselves as if we were the true judge. Even if a person has no faith in a Higher Being, the process of introspection and repentance is truly awe-full.
For the past year, much like my friend with the itchy nose, I’ve made too many excuses, too many deflections, too many claims that mine is different. That probably makes me like everyone else in the universe, but I’m not responsible for all of them, just myself. And so, I’ll be spending the next ten days hoping for a second chance, or maybe a 67th chance, to get this thing right. Wish me luck.
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Not that I’m really needy and whiny and crave the attention of tiny young people who are blissfully unaware of all my flaws, but it’s worth noting that today is Grandparents Day across the United States.
While parents double-dip with Mother’s Day in May and Father’s Day in June and then Parents’ Day in July, there’s only one day in the year for Grandparents, and it must be shared by both Gramps and Grammy. (Actually, I think I saw a National GILF day during my research, but this is a family blog and we’re not going there.)
Being a grandparent is one of the great joys in life, because it combines all the fun of having children with zero responsibility. Take them to the zoo, gorge them on cotton candy, buy them a puppy and then drop them off when they get cranky. If mom objects, remind her of that video with her singing on the toilet while she pooped.
(Disclaimer: I am supposed to note here that I do not actually have any videos of my daughters singing while they pooped. I do, however, have several that are even better.)
As grandparents go, I would describe myself as ridiculously greedy. I love spending time with the children and I make sure to file my requisition forms at least once a week. And why not? There are a ton of things that make grandchildren far, far superior to all other forms of people:
It’s important to reciprocate, of course. As a grandfather, I want my grandchildren to know there is always a person who is happy to see them, happy to play with them, happy to teach, happy to listen, and always, always, rooting for them. That’s not a tough investment on my part, and the returns are huge.
I know there will come a time when they're too cool for me, too engaged with their friends or their start-up businesses or their viral videos or whatever. Right now, though, we're still in the magic zone and it's time for me to fill out my requisition forms for next week’s visits.
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Writing a blog called Dad Writes, it’s natural for me to think about my own dad quite a bit. His approach to life shaped my journey and I learned a ton from his stories. Among them was a very old joke that he told me several times over the years, a joke whose meaning became much clearer as I matured.
Sign on a light pole:
One leg missing.
Right ear torn.
Blind in left eye.
Tail doesn’t wag.
Answers to the name of Lucky.
Okay, not the best joke in the world, but I’ve come to think of it as very meaningful.
Like other dogs, Lucky doesn’t mope around with resentments for the damage life inflicted on him. He doesn’t plot revenge for the torn ear and the broken tail. He doesn’t look at us with soulful eyes that seem to plead, “Why me?” Instead, he takes each day as a new opportunity to have fun and sniff out whatever life has to offer.
"Eat the same food every day? Sure."
"Poop in the snow? No problem."
"Sleep in a crate? Sounds swell."
"Stand still while other dogs smell your butt? Doesn’t everyone?"
After reconsidering my dad’s old joke, I’ve decided to live like a dog. I have a few scars and I’ve had parts removed and my psyche has suffered a few hundred slings and arrows, and every so often the weight of it all can wear on me. In spite of that, I want to wake up every day with a real gratitude for the life I have and the opportunity to have fun with whatever comes my way.
That doesn’t translate into treacly commentaries on the super-duper glee of mindless delight. Rather, it informs a philosophy of gratitude for what I have and confidence in my ability to deal with whatever comes next.
Lucky is undoubtedly dead by now, but a big chunk of my life is committed to following his example, his worldview, and his willingness to sniff absolutely anything. As he could teach us, everything in life is interesting and fun, in its own way.
By the way, Lucky would have loved the opportunity to subscribe to dadwrites and experience the joy of sniffing, or peeing on, our weekly updates. You, too, can live like a dog by clicking here to become a subscriber.
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.