Monday, August 20, 2012

Inga's Guide to Internet Idiocies

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published August 23, 2012© 2012

The misinformation superhighway seems to be traveling at warp speed this year.  Several months ago I wrote a column called “Please don’t send anything to everyone you know” about the internet screeds that the wingnuts of the world forward to everyone in their address book without passing them through even the most rudimentary filter of  credibility.

Ironically, two days after that column appeared, our county’s major daily printed a Letter to the Editor that had alarm bells going off in my head, and those of a host of other readers as well.  Normally these things take about four seconds to track down on, but this one took almost thirty.  It appears that as part of its budget cuts, the county rag has done away with fact checkers, a point that was made in a second Letter to the Editor by a reader who documented that not a single “fact” in the first letter writer’s missive was even remotely true.  But the paper had already given legitimacy and credibility to an ugly urban legend. 

As the oft-quoted saying goes, We are entitled to our own opinions, but not to our own facts.  Why did so many people miss that memo? 

What baffles me is that urban legends, mythical stories, and general folklore are so astonishingly easy to spot if the brain is switched on at even Energy Saving levels.  These stories are more formulaic than romance novels:   Start out with a much distorted statement, pad with patent delusions, cite bogus page numbers and dates, misquote a prominent citizen to give it credence, and send to one’s entire distribution list with the subject line in all caps.   Voila! 

 Last week, for example, I received an internet communication from an otherwise intelligent well-educated La Jollan that had been sent to, apparently, everyone he knew;  the previous distribution lists were stacked up below it, none of which had fewer than eighty names on them.  The topic – a current favorite in the world of internet hysteria – was Obamacare, and more specifically, the Ethics Panels (a.k.a Death Squads) that Obama has allegedly created to alleviate the country’s burden of that cumbersome group, old people. 

Of course, the first thing that made me the taddiest bit suspicious was that the originator was illiterate.  You may not be there yet, but what comes next [sic] our children? If your [sic] are handy capped [oy sic]?  This effects [sic] everyone we know.” 

OK, so not everyone has access to them new fangled spell checkers.  The article goes on to quote a woman doctor in Tennessee (I’m guessing by now she’s moved to an unlisted country and changed professions) noting that she is a “real person” and giving a link to her medical group’s on-line listing.  As with most such internet info-mationals, a whole lot of material having nothing to do with anything she actually said is then inserted, including the telltale internet idiocy nebulous statement:  “If you needed a lifesaving operation, Medicare will not provide coverage anymore after 2013 if you are 75 or over.”

Another popular Obamacare rant I’ve received from several curiously uninquisitive towns folk this year maintains that Obamacare will require the microchipping of all Americans with their medical and bank information and even a tracking device by March 23, 2013. (Alarm bell #1: Like the federal government could ever be that efficient?  Alarm bells 2-50 to follow.)

So here’s Inga’s short guide on how to recognize internet – or Letter to the Editor - insanity:

(1)  Did the writer finish third grade?

(2)  If the bells going off in your head sound like klaxons, maybe it’s not true.

(3)  If there is even a single phrase in capital letters accompanied by more than one exclamation mark (“TOGETHER WE CAN STOP THIS!!!!!!”), YOU ARE BEING SCAMMED!!!!!

(4)  Does the sender sent it to 150 people of his or her closest friends?

(5)  The only thing a photo proves is that the sender has Photoshop.  For example, a heavily circulated photo shows Romney standing in front of an American flag with five children whose T-shirts spell out the word “Money”.  It was actually a digitally altered Associated Press photo; the kids’ shirts actually spelled Romney with the “R” being the Romney campaign logo and the letters “o” and “m” on the kids’ shirts reversed. 

(6)  Just because a “real” person is quoted doesn’t mean they actually said anything attributed to them.  Check it out yourself on  (Yes, YOU.)

(7)  While celebrities – and particularly politicians - say all manner of ill-considered things, consider the source.  The text of a hilariously clueless speech by Romney that has made the rounds quotes him as saying that he could relate to black people because his ancestors once owned slaves.  (They didn’t.)  The “speech” was from a spoof article on the satirical web site, which, incidentally, proclaims prominently that it is a satirical web site and they are just funning you.  (Another recent post:  “Romney to supporters at rally:  ‘Everyone here gets a car!’”)

As for the chronically-overused and abused Forward button, I think it should be programmed to give you three sequential prompts before it will actually allow your screed to contaminate the ether.  As in:

(1) C’mon, really? 

(2) “Are you SURE some yahoo didn’t send you this? 

(3) “Do you want people to think you’re a yahoo too?” 

Of course, it won’t help.  But I’ve done my best. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

iNga Gets an iPhone: Crossing to the Techno Dark Side

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published August 9,2012] © 2012

Several weeks ago, I wrote a column called “Where’s the Prozac for Techno Depression?” about feeling like I’d been left in the digital dust.  That was largely because I HAVE been left in the digital dust.  My younger son had insisted that the only way to overcome techno depression was techno skill acquisition.

I got quite a few responses to that column from the similarly techno afflicted but one particularly delightful one asserted:  Your younger son is dead wrong.  The cure for techno-depression is techno-scorn.”   He went on to conclude:  “I won't surrender my land line until they pry it from my cold, dead hands!”

Definitely a kindred soul.  So you can imagine how hard it was for me to write back and confess that a mere day before, I’d gone to the Dark Side.  I bought an iPhone.

The AT&T sales child tried to dispatch me post-purchase by telling me the phone was totally intuitive and I should just take it home and play with it. Hah!  The fact that I was back at the AT&T store for the next nine days every morning when they opened with yellow notepad in hand tells you how intuitive these phones are.

But I do have to say:  my old phone should be shot.  And the guy at Nokia who designed it should be shot too.  I feel far less bad about not being able to work the thing.  The iPhone is infinitely exponentially stratospherically friendlier.

I’m getting the hang of my new phone but it hasn’t been without its truly terrifying moments. One feature I really have to be careful with: When trying to send texts (yes, me, texts!) my fat little fingers keep hitting the little icon next to the space bar and messing up my whole message. The third time it happened I started yelling bad words at the phone. (I have the frustration tolerance of a gnat.)  Next thing I know the bad words show up on my screen.  “Oh [a different bad word]!” I said, simultaneously realizing that that little icon is voice recognition. And sure enough, that word appears on the screen next to previous ones. Sweat breaks out on my forehead. How to get out of this message?   (The choices were “Send” and “Done”, as opposed to the “Delete this message in perpetuity” option I was looking for.) I’m really going to have to behave myself. This phone knows a lot of bad words and it’s not afraid to use them.

I felt better when I learned that a much younger friend couldn’t figure out how to get voice mail off her iPhone for the first six months.  This might not seem unusual except that her husband was key in developing CDMA technology for cell phones.  So, you might ask, why didn’t she ask HIM for help?  Well, first of all, because CDMA technology has nothing to do with actually accessing voice mail.  And second, because her techo-geek  husband has become about as patient attending to her tech support needs as my techno-geek husband.  Which is to say, downright surly. It also assumes that he himself can figure out how to get voice mail, a fact not in evidence.  She reports that whenever she asked for help and he couldn’t figure it out, he merely handed it back and said, “Poor design.” 

And there are definitely some design flaws to this phone.  Whole websites have been dedicated to the perils of Auto Correct.  But more importantly, there needs to be a version of Siri for women’s phones.  Unlike the TV commercial, when Siri is happy to cancel the guy’s tennis date, tell him when to put the gazpacho on to cool (where was it before? out in the sun?) and even tell him jokes, Siri has had only one answer to any question I’ve asked her:  “I’m sorry.  I can’t help you with that.”  Can’t or won’t?  Siri’s cloying voice was obviously designed to appeal to guys who are into fawning subservience. 

Women’s phones need Sirus.  He would intone in a smoldering voice (and preferably a slight Italian accent), “Inga, how may my four and a half inches be of service to you today?”  And unlike Siri, the obsequious toady, he would actually perform. 

“Sirus, carissimo,” I would command.  “Please locate all photos of me and make me look thirty pounds thinner.”  And he’d say, “Subito, Inga bella.”

But I have to confess I’m liking this little phone.  And even more amazing, I’m feeling all those moribund techno brain cells that have been wheel chair bound for decades rising up, throwing off their tiny crutches, and climbing aboard the nearest synapse.  So maybe my son was right. 

And no, Siri, you didn’t help with any of it.