Tag Archives: Internet

Oh really? You think vaccines cause autism? Huh?

You always hear about crazy people on the Internet who don’t believe in vaccinating their kids, but have you ever actually met one of those wackos in real life? It’s like, I personally think it’s nuts, the anti-vaccine argument. And pretty much every single person I know thinks it’s nuts also. And so you don’t really have to defend your position that often. We just kind of take these things as a given. Yes, we’re supposed to give out vaccinations to stop the spread of really bad diseases. And yes, there exists a small group of people who don’t believe in vaccines, but they all live far away, and so it’s nothing that I’ll probably ever have to deal with in real life.

But one time I met an anti-vaccine guy. He was my age, so he didn’t actually have any kids yet. I don’t have any kids either, and so, in retrospect anyway, I’ve tried to go back in my mind and think about how this conversation about vaccines actually got started. If I’m certain about one thing, it’s that I didn’t bring it up. No, like I said, I’m part of the majority of normal non-looney human beings who don’t doubt vaccinations as being what they are: a crucial tool in helping to keep us alive and healthy. So I don’t go up to random people that I’ve only just met and start talking like I’ve got to go on the offense against the controversial arguments of a fringe group of vaccine deniers.

My friends and I had gone out with a bigger group of friends, and so there were a lot of people I didn’t know. Like I said, I don’t know how I started talking to this one guy about vaccines, but all of the sudden there I was, this dude was in my face, challenging me to defend the use of mass vaccination. At first I thought he was joking. I thought he was making an over-the-top vaccine joke, and so I responded in a similar fashion, making some remark about Jenny McCarthy or Rob Schneider.

But this guy got a really serious look on his face. He was like, “Look man, I’ll send you some Internet articles, and I’m telling you man, you read this shit, you won’t put your kids anywhere near a vaccine.” And again, I don’t have kids. “You have kids?” I asked him. “Nope.”

And what do you say to a person like this? Because no, I’ve never done any hard research. I’ve never gotten under a microscope and checked the actual science. I’m not qualified. But every single news source that I trust, every doctor I’ve ever met in my life, they all tell me the same thing, that these vaccine deniers are deluded, that the overwhelming majority of actual science doesn’t really have anything to say to these people other than, you’re wrong, you don’t know what you’re talking about, please stop spreading misinformation.

So when I was actually confronted with a vaccine denier, I had nothing really to say. I just kept being like, “Oh yeah? Really? You think vaccines cause autism? Huh? You think the government’s trying to control us through vaccines? Really? Is that what you believe?”

And the guy was like, “Yeah man, that’s exactly what I believe. And they don’t want you to know that I know that they know. You know? I’m telling you man, just check out these Internet articles. What’s your email address?”

And what do I say? What could I have said to change his mind? Nothing. He had that crazy look in his eye that all fanatics have. There was nothing to be done. This guy was already lost. So I gave made up a fake email address and said I had to go to the bathroom.

X reasons why writing stuff for the Internet is all about lists

  1. I feel like I’m forgetting how to write anything that’s not in list form

A lot of these web sites that I submit material to, it’s not like anybody’s telling me, Rob, you’d better write us a list. But all of the popular pieces are always lists, and even though I want to tell myself that I’m better than that, that I can’t be bound by any format, I know that I’m not better. And I want to have popular stuff too. And so I figured I’d just start small, a few lists here, a bunch of indented numbers there.


But now I can’t stop. I open up a new Word document and my wrist automatically directs the mouse to the bullet point button. Before I even know what I’m doing, I’m writing out the beginnings of a numbered headline, and I’m off. It’s just part of what I’m doing now, I’m writing out things in numbers.

  1. And I look back at all of the other stuff that I’ve written

And it wasn’t always this way. I think I made it like a whole year and a half without ever having written something in list form. But, now that I’ve taken the art of list writing and incorporated it into my writing style, I can’t imagine how I’d ever written any differently. Because list writing is so easy. If the idea of filling up a whole page of text is too intimidating, don’t worry about it. Just write a sentence. Add a number before that sentence. Then write a paragraph or two.

When those paragraphs start to get stale, seriously, who cares? Just hit the return key, and start all over again. The form is so simple, but very addictive. I keep telling myself that I’m going to get back to basics, that I’m going to write stories, something with a beginning and an end. But here I am again, just another list.

  1. It’s got to be the Internet’s fault, right?

I mean, before the Internet, did anybody else ever write stuff in lists? I can’t remember ever seeing any lists outside of a computer screen. Lists were always for notes, right, like if you were writing out a list, the idea was that it was just an outline, something that would eventually form the basis of an actual piece of writing. If I had any of my old high school notebooks around, I’m sure it would be full of lists.

But somewhere along the way, it’s like we cut out that last step. Why bother going any further? We’ve already got this. No need for a finished piece. This is good enough, right? Yeah sure, whatever.

  1. And you just need some really loose sort of title to kind of bind all of these numbers together

Like for this piece that I’m writing right now, I have no idea where I’m going, there’s no sort of plan guiding any of these words that are coming out of my fingertips. But it’s fine, because I can just make up some ridiculous numbered title, like “X reasons why writing stuff for the Internet is all about lists.”

That’s total nonsense, but whatever, they’re words. I’m getting words down. And if this particular paragraph isn’t going anywhere, well, I only need like two or three sentences, and then I can start all over again with a new number.

  1. How many numbers do I even need?

It doesn’t matter. I always just start out writing “X reasons why …” and then whenever I’ve completely exhausted everything that I have to say, I just go back and count up however many bullet points I’ve made, and bingo, there’s the number. More often than not, for me anyway, that number usually happens to be five. But sometimes it’s six.

One time early on, when I just started list writing, I committed myself to ten. And it was just way too much. Like I got to number three and I started panicking, what did I get myself into? So now I never commit to anything in advance. And that way when I run out of words streaming through my head, I can just stop abruptly. And it won’t be a shock. Like by itself, sure, maybe it won’t feel like an ending. But to the reader, you already knew that it’s only going up to number five. After that, it’s done. So I don’t have to worry about wrapping anything up. You’ve already checked out just by reading the title. No surprises. No endings. It doesn’t matter.

My heart is bleeding

I just don’t feel safe anymore. Ever since the Internet found out about that huge security breach, Heartbleed. It was something to do with https, right? Whatever that means. I’m not too sure about the specifics, but all I know is, everything’s different now. Nobody’s safe.


When I first heard out about the breach, I thought to myself, I got this, I know what to do. And so I took out a fresh legal pad, I started coming up with all of these new passwords for all of my various online accounts. I try to do it like once every six months anyway, but I thought at first that this was a good thing, that I was ready, like my Internet habits were already pretty solid, you know, at least in terms of security, that this gaping hole the online force field was exactly what I had prepared myself for.

I do all of these crazy passwords, all sorts of acronyms with numbers and letters and random capitalizations. And I keep them all on that legal pad in front of my desk. And each different password is sort of its own separate sentence that, when combined with all of my individual online accounts, turns into this semi-coherent narrative.

It helps with the memorization process. At first I rely on it pretty heavily, reciting to myself the sentences and what keys to press for each word. And after a while, a couple of weeks or a month later, I’m not even thinking about it anymore, it’s like my fingers incorporate the keystrokes into their muscle memory.

This all takes a while, coming up with new passwords, playing them back over and over again in my head. But I did it, I finally came up with the perfect change of online locks. I was actually a little disconcerted to find that, when I attempted to change all of my passwords, my accounts had all told me that it had been over a year since my last password reset.

Had I really let a year slip by? What happened to all of that six month stuff that I was talking about earlier? It’s like the dentist. They call me up every six months to schedule a cleaning, and each time my phone rings, each that I see that 1-800-SMILE-DR pop up on caller ID, I think, what? Six months already? It just doesn’t mesh with the rest of my life. I’m usually a great judge of time, of how long things take. Like if you put a bag of popcorn in the microwave, I can usually predict within ten seconds or so when the timer is going to beep.

But whatever, I changed everything and made it a point to not forget about it again six months from now. Only, and this kind of caught me by surprise. I started getting emails from all of my online accounts. And then I started reading in the newspapers about just how severe this security breach actually was.

“Don’t change your passwords just yet,” was the message I was getting, “because until they figure out how to patch the flaw, you’re just going to be feeding a new password to any potential hackers.”

So that sucked. I had just spent like a good two hours coming up with my own personalized encryption. And it was all for nothing? It’s the worst, because there’s no way I’m going to be able to get myself to commit a similar amount of time to passwords anytime soon. Can you imagine leaving the dentist only to have him call you up a week later?

“Hey Rob, it’s the Smile Doctor. Yeah, I’m actually going to need you to come in for another cleaning this week. Yeah, I know it’s really soon, but trust me, OK, you’re going to want to do it again.”

I’d be like, “Yeah, OK, let me get back to you once I have an idea of what my schedule looks like.” And then I’d hang up and I wouldn’t answer the phone for the rest of the month.

So it’s like, what, now I’ve just got to be resigned to the fact that hackers might have access to my Instagram? My Twitter? That’s terrible. Jeez, I’m just imagining all of my photos and Tweets, and to think, all of that content might be compromised. I don’t know what I’m going to do. How am I ever going to get myself to open up and trust the Internet again? And this blog? How do you even know that I’m the one writing right now? This could all be a sophisticated network of hackers trying to copy my writing style in hopes of luring you into a sense of futility or complacency when it comes to cyber-security.

How can you trust me? How can I trust myself? What about Pinterest, have the hackers gotten into my Pinterest yet? What if they tell everybody that I’m using Pinterest? I feel like I’m looking into an online mirror, and I don’t even recognize my online reflection anymore. What’s happening to my online identity? When is the Internet going to be safe again?

D E L space star dot star

Back in the early nineties, I was in the third or fourth grade, and my family got our first computer. It wasn’t new, it was something my uncle was getting rid of. It didn’t really do much. There was no mouse. I don’t even think it had Microsoft Windows. I’m actually trying to remember how we used it, but I don’t think anybody did. It kind of just sat there as we all stared at it, longingly.


“Please mom,” I’d beg my mother, “Can we play with the computer?” and I remember my mom would call up her brother as he took her on a step-by-step tutorial on how to launch the solitaire app. They didn’t call them apps back then, they called them games, not like solitaire was much of a game, really.

That machine lasted like a month or two until my parents decided that maybe home computing was the inevitability everyone kept promising it would be. They tossed my uncle’s hand-me-down in the trash and bought a real computer. This PC had Windows, some old version of it anyway, something named after a number, way before Windows 95. But even though it was brand new, it was still old. Or maybe I’m just remembering it as old, because everything was so much slower.

But it was pretty old. When you turned it on, you had to wait like ten minutes before it took you to the DOS prompt. And you’d have to actually enter computer commands, just like in a cheesy 80s movie. You’d write something like, “Computer, run Windows.” And then you’d have to wait another hour or so while the operating system loaded. When it was all said and done, finally you could use its state of the art graphic user interface to click on the window that said, “Games.” And yeah, it was mostly just solitaire.

But then a few years after that we got a real machine, a Gateway 2000. I can’t even conceive of how my mom went about buying the computer, because I think about how I’d buy a computer today: I’d go on the Internet and pick something out. But we didn’t have the Internet yet. Our current computer wasn’t capable of handling the web.

The Gateway was everything that I wanted a computer to be. It booted right to Windows, which was awesome, and it was Windows 95, which was even more awesome. Now I could finally play with that Windows 95 startup CD, the one that all of my friends talked about at school. It had the video to Weezer’s “Buddy Holly.” And there were games, actual games: Minesweeper, Chip’s Challenge, Ski Free.

Everything was right in the world. My life had finally started to feel like the future I’d always imagined for myself. We had the Internet. I had an AOL screen name. But there was a problem. Instead of throwing out the old computer like they did that antique passed down from my uncle, my parents just moved it to the other side of the room.

“Now we have two computers,” was the idea, but it was a flawed idea, because while technically, yes, they were both computers, only one of them had anything worth using. I’d be waiting for my brother to finish up on AOL so I could take a turn on the Internet. I’d complain that he was taking too long, “You can always use the other computer,” my mom would offer, which was a joke, because it didn’t have the Internet, it was totally useless.

The only one of us who used it was my brother Joe. He had some trial version of a shareware game that one of his classmates gave to him on a stupid floppy disc. And he’d pop it in and play the same minute and a half of sixteen-bit action, over and over and over again. “He likes it!” would be the reply if we complained about having to watch him loop through the same screen on repeat for hours.

And that’s how life went for a while, waiting for my brother to finish up with the computer so I could use it, picking up the phone line every once in a while so as to interrupt the Internet connection, waiting by the door as he tried futilely to reconnect through the never ending chorus of busy signals.

I remember around that time telling all of my computer woes to one of my dad’s cousins at a funeral. This was a guy that I’d never seen at any family parties. He lived far away or something, I don’t know his story, my dad has like a thousand family members. But this cousin, nobody else was talking to him, and once I had his ear about computers, man, I was locked into that conversation.

This guy knew everything about computers. “You know,” he gave me some advice regarding that old PC that took up space in the computer room, “You could always wipe the memory.”

“How would I do that?”

“Easy. You wait for the DOS prompt to load up, and you type in ‘del *.*’”

I remember exactly how he said it, “D-E-L space star dot star,” and I repeated it to myself over and over again for the rest of the night, making sure that I’d be able to commit it to memory.

But once I had it in there, I couldn’t figure out what to do with it. Obviously I wanted to use it, to see if it would actually work. But destroying a computer? I wasn’t a bad kid or anything. Annoying, maybe, but not capable of actually ruining something big, like a computer.

I couldn’t get it out of my head though. I just kept hearing it on repeat in my head, del *.*. Part of me wished that my dad’s weird cousin never told me about the command in the first place. It started to encroach upon more and more of my daily thoughts. Sometimes I’d boot the machine up and start typing it out, not pressing enter, but holding my finger just above, not even an inch away. I felt powerful, with the tiniest of movements, I was capable of utter annihilation.

And then one day, I don’t know what came over me, but in a momentary lapse of judgment, I did it, I pulled the trigger. Del *.*, enter. And all of these characters started flying across the screen. The hard drive made audible clicking sounds, a sure enough sign that something was going on inside.

That’s when I regained my senses, realized exactly what I was doing. And I freaked out, I wanted to undo it. I pulled the plug, hoped that if I just gave it a minute, we could forget anything had happened, let bygones be bygones. But it was too late. While the power light showed signs of electric current, there was nothing on the screen, no signs of computing activity whatsoever.

So I turned it off and left the room. A few days later, I heard Joseph ask my mom to help him with something on the computer, “my computer,” as he was fond of calling it, seeing as how he was the only one who used it at all. A little while after that, my mom asked me if I knew what was wrong. “With the computer?” I pretended to act all shocked, running to the new computer, making up what I thought was an elaborate ruse, like I didn’t even know about the old computer.

“Oh, the old one?” I acted relieved after my mom told me what she meant. “I have no idea. I never use that thing.”

And that was that. It sat there for a few months, and then one day my dad hauled it outside and left it on the curb for trash pickup. I’ve always felt bad about it, lying to my parents, ruining the computer that for some reason brought my little brother such a simple joy. I guess, mom, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry? Is that good enough? I’m sorry I broke the old computer, on purpose. But mostly I’d like to blame my dad’s cousin, because why would you think it was a good idea to give a little kid his own computer self-destruct button? Not cool man, you might as well have given me a knife, or a bottle of spray paint, with strict instructions never to use them. Of course I’m going to use them. Don’t you know anything about little kids? So if anything, it’s really that guy’s fault, not my fault. Thanks for ruining my little brother’s computer.

If you were a BuzzFeed quiz, which quiz would you be? Take this quiz to find out!

I’ve been spending too much time on BuzzFeed. All of those quizzes, illuminating so many aspects of my personality that, until now, I just wasn’t aware of. Like which breakfast meat speaks most about my life? (Canadian bacon.) What’s your real favorite color? (Periwinkle.) Which Golden Girl are you? (Dorothy.) The amount of information I’ve learned about myself, it’s too much. All of those multiple-choice questions, I feel like I don’t know who I am anymore. Is this the real me, Buzzfeed?


It started out innocently enough. I took this quiz called, “What City Should You Actually Live In?” Right away, I started getting really anxious. I worried that it would tell me, “You should live in: Long Island!” because, and it’s nothing personal Long Island, that’s where I grew up, I love Long Island, but now that I’m living in the city, I’m very conscious of the army of “born and raised” New Yorkers lurking in the shadows, waiting for me to get involved in some sort of conversation about New York, and just as it sounds like I might know what I’m talking about, these people get right in my face, “I’m born and raised in Brooklyn Heights. What part of New York are you from?”

So yeah, I don’t even say I’m from New York anymore, I just say I’m from Long Island, to everybody I meet, chances are they haven’t even asked, because the minute I let my guard down and let a New York slip out, somebody shows up to out-New York me, “Sorry, Long Island doesn’t count as New York. You’re not from New York. I’m from New York. I just had Gray’s Papaya for breakfast.”

Anyway, I got to work on this city quiz, started answering multiple choice questions, asking me about my favorite snacks, what color socks I’d prefer to wear on a rainy Tuesday, I thought, I wonder where they’ll place me, Boston? Hawaii? New York? Nope, it was Albuquerque, New Mexico. Really?

“Yes, really,” it read in the little description afterward, “While you’ve definitely got a pretty serious mean streak, it’s not near-sociopathic enough to warrant a move to, say, an isolated homestead somewhere in the middle of Nebraska. You’ve never tried crystal meth, but you haven’t ruled it out completely. And you just love enchiladas, which is great, because Albuquerque has some of the best Tex-Mex food in the country!”

I don’t know exactly how they got the Tex-Mex answer. If I remember correctly, the question was something like, “If you had to eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?” And I looked at the selection of answers, nothing really spoke to me, it just seemed like nine food items placed on the screen at random, gummy bears, ramen instant noodles, steak. I don’t remember anything about enchiladas.

But I guess it must have been a really complicated quiz, all sorts of advanced algorithms and sophisticated programming, because who am I to doubt the power of the Internet? Some girl I went to college with posted that she should really be living in Barcelona. It was hard to judge her total reaction, but based on the, “OMG I knew it!” that she wrote on top of the results, it seems like these quizzes are working for other people.

I took another popular quiz, “What Age Are You, Really?” which, by piecing together character traits and behavioral patterns as deduced through yet another series of ultra-specific multiple choice questions, tells you what your real age is. Like, not your real, real age, but the age which you are really. Does that make sense? It didn’t to me at first either, but I saw on Facebook that all of my friends were really twenty-four, very adventurous, super carefree and full of life, even though everyone I know is either almost thirty or already thirty.

“You’re real age is …” I couldn’t wait to have the Internet confirm for me what I already knew, that I’m still as cool as I was in my early twenties, that even though I’m still young, I’m actually a lot younger, “three.” Three? I mean, I knew that I was youthful for my age, but this is pretty youthful. Do I really act like a three year old?

“You’re not afraid to take a knife and stick it right into a wall outlet, even though your fingers and hands are covered in electric burns, this time it’s going to be different, this time you’re going to find out exactly what’s on the other side of that socket. You’ve never outgrown your love of finger painting, and … what’s that smell? Is mom heating up some chicken nuggets for lunch? Mom’s making chicken nuggets for lunch! Yes! Extra ketchup please! No, I don’t want to wear a bib! Come on mom, I’m three years old, I can do whatever I want!”

This one was hit me a little hard, was BuzzFeed trying to tell me about some developmental disorder? Am I really this much of a handful to my friends and family? To my wife? I mean, doesn’t everybody miss the toilet seat once in a while? Those things are hard, man, and I’m so tall, it’s so far away. Why does that automatically make me a three year old?

But if BuzzFeed says so, then I guess I’ve got a lot of growing up to do. Which is nice, if you think about it, everybody else my age is busy worrying about unfinished dreams and graying temples, I can get back to basics, finally tackle those motor skills and basic social pleasantries. Because, yeah, I suppose it wasn’t really that nice when I grabbed that sandwich out of my coworker’s hand as he was about to take a bite. Even though I wanted it. That was his sandwich, and that was a really immature thing for me to do, to lick the whole thing so he wouldn’t try to get it back, and then to not even eat all of it, just the turkey really, I guess that wasn’t really grown-up of me.

And there are so many more quizzes, so much left to learn about myself. Thanks BuzzFeed, keep making quizzes, I’ll keep taking them, and I’ll continue to post the results on Facebook.