Ranting over the Internet

I love the Internet. Thank you, Al Gore, for inventing it. I’ve written before about how lonely it was growing up in a rural area in late 80s and early 90s. After the sun went down and people went to bed, it could be very lonely.

I am so thankful that thanks to the Internet, I am never alone. Someone is always awake or at the very least, I can tweet something, knowing it will be seen later. Having such high regard for Twitter and Facebook seems silly and frivolous but folks, I lived in a rural area in which nothing happened after sunset. It was incredibly isolating and lonely.

That said, I like to think the Internet exposes us all to new ideas and ways of thinking. Unfortunately, what I’ve discovered is that while the Internet is a democratizing tool, what it enables is every mode of thinking from the incredibly ignorant to the brilliant. Or maybe I should stop beating around the bush: there are some stupid people on the Internet. And these stupid people often share their stupidity widely and loudly.

Am I being elitist? Narrow-minded? Judgmental? Yes, probably. And I own it proudly. Because when did the ability to think critically become a negative????

The truth is that that while the Internet has enabled unbelievable levels of connectivity, it has also given everyone a voice. And I’m shocked at some of what I read.

Before the rise of the Internet. I could believe that people were mostly intelligent and thoughtful. Now, however, I am forced to conclude that many people don’t have a damn clue what they are talking about and lack the ability to think critically. Because I’ve read them. Their articles. Their blogs. It’s appalling.

What the hell has happened to our civilization in which critical thinking has become a lost skill? And if your comment is anything other than, “OMG! U R a rock star,” your comment is deleted. What happened to discourse? To thought?

I realize that I am on a tangent, but I have seen some stuff recently that makes me want to throw knives at the wall. Hard. Deep impact.

So here is a brief list of what to stop doing on the Internet as of today. I know the list will grow and feel free to suggest your own items.

  • Stop trying to prove you can eat healthily on $5 a day or whatever. Here’s the thing. You are missing the full picture of what it is like to be poor in this country, so your experiment is nothing but ignorant and elitist. If you want to replicate typical conditions, work outside the home all day and then have to take mass transit to a store in your area. Buy only what you can carry and then go home.  Or, go to a store and buy what is available period. Do you have an hour to cook lentils or quinoa? Or are your children asking for dinner around 6 PM because they need to be in bed before 8 so they can be up when needed the next morning? If I want to cook fresh chicken, it will take me almost an hour in the oven or 15-20 minutes on the stove top. Pork? 30 minutes in the oven.  It’s easy to focus on, “I bought all this awesome food for $5 and cooked in 20 minutes” when  you are either home all day and/or live in an area in which such food is readily available.  The bottom line is that YOU DON”T KNOW what it is like, and your laughable experiments help no one.
  • Stop fat-shaming. Do you think overweight people don’t know they are fat? Do you think that your posting pictures on your blog of barely-obscured identities will help? Posting pictures is horrific and unethical. What gives YOU the right to be the arbiter for health and acceptance in this country? Especially when you likely don’t have all the information. Let’s look at statistics about poverty as well as food availability in an area.  Do you really think any parent wants their child to be overweight and unhealthy? NO. The problem, though, is likely what food is available and that can vary dramatically based on income level.  Not because the parents don’t know better but because of what is available and affordable.  So before you start fat-shaming children on the Internet, stop and think for a moment…a few seconds (surely your brain can spare that?) about what might be contributing the situation you feel compelled to pillory.

Rant over. For now. Seriously: what do you want to see ended on the Internet?

An Open Letter to Google

Dear Google,

I’m sorry to have to tell you this so bluntly, but you are pissing me off.
You’ve stated for years that your mantra, your top priority, was to “Do No Harm.”  Perhaps it is time to revisit that mantra in light of your recent behavior.  Let’s revisit, shall we, the products you’ve killed off recently:

  • Buzz
  • Wave
  • Friend Connect
  • Translate
  • Labs
  • Listen

And as of today, you can add Feedburner to that list when many bloggers woke up and discovered that their subscribers had disappeared completely.  Yes, I know.  You had dropped hints that you would no longer be supporting Feedburner in October, but it still came as a surprise to find that the benign neglect with which you had been treating Feedburner had morphed into outright destruction.

I have to wonder at how the decisions are being made at the company when you kill off so many products, some only a very short time after they were launched and heralded (by you) as the best thing ever.  Some tech pundits commend you for quickly and ruthlessly killing off products if they don’t catch on.  I can see that.  However, it makes me wonder at your overall strategy because such frenetic behavior suggests a business model of “throw it at the wall and see if it sticks.”   And the problem is that almost nothing sticks.

I understand that innovation is a must and drives you.  I know that the social media revolution caught you off guard and  you raced to keep up and stay relevant by developing Buzz and Wave.  The problem was that they sucked.  Did you learn from those mistakes?  No, because you gave us Google Plus.  I don’t care what any of the big tech names say, Google Plus is a graveyard.  It’s one social network too many.  It’s another place I have to remember to go and there is no one there.  I won’t abandon it completely, however, because it is favored so highly by you in your search results; that’s why I go there at all to occasionally link to a post.  I only want the search ranking love.

But killing off Feedburner?  Seriously, Google, that was really dumb.  Why would you do that?  A lot of bloggers use Feedburner.  It was possibly the one acquisition you had made that had an audience and was primed to grow.  Unlike some of your dubious innovations, Feedburner had potential and legs.  I personally have used Feedburner for 3.5 years for both my work and personal blogs.

Granted, I can almost count on two hands the number of followers I have, so moving to another option won’t be a huge burden for me like it will for many other bloggers.  I wonder, though, at your logic.  You are willingly sending users of one of your products to competitors; some of those competitors charge a fee, meaning that they will make money off of your decision.  I would go so far as to argue that Feedburner was one of your most popular and used products, so you can see why I’m questioning your decision-making ability lately.  Surely you aren’t feeling some sort of step-parent antipathy towards a product you acquired but didn’t develop?

In theory, Google, I would say that you have strayed too far from your search roots and should focus on it, your core competency.  However, I’m a little miffed at what you are doing with search lately too.

By day, I’m a web developer who dips my large big toe into marketing.  Therefore, I’ve been dealing with the hoops you have required us to jump through to rank highly for years.  Must use title and keyword metadata tags! Never mind. Inbound links are king! Cue link farms.  Make sure the anchor text of  your inbound links is descriptive and relevant, which is almost impossible when you aren’t the one building the link.  Maybe if you were buying the link, but no, no, that’s forbidden and a sure method of getting yourself blacklisted.

We web developers have danced to your alluring tune for years, constantly tweaking our content, our page names, our header tags, our site structure, everything.  And we dread the email from a coworker wondering why we aren’t on the first page of results like XYZ company, suspecting that the only constant, sure-fire way of being there is to spend a lot of money.

You’ve been busy.  This year you announced major changes to your search algorithm, causing webmasters everywhere to quake in their shoes, especially when these changes were accompanied by finger wags.  These updates were cutely named “Penguin” and “Panda” although I like to think of them more like “Barracuda” and “Wolverine.”

On the surface, those updates sound great.  You’ve stated that your goal with them is to improve search results and focus on the content being served up, desiring to make sure only the best, most relevant content is presented to the searcher. What could possibly be wrong with that, you ask?

My objection is that I don’t think it’s your place to judge and score content.  I don’t know if I trust a bunch of software engineers to be able to decide what good content is, let alone write an algorithm that does so.  Who are  you, Google, to tell me what good content is?  Who are  you, Google, to reduce the subjectivity and emotion of a riveting blog post to an unknown rubric and a series of If-Then statements? You think you can know how I think and what my preferences are by how I surf and on what I click, but I don’t think you can.  Maybe at a surface level, but not at any meaningful level.  Maybe one day you’ll get there, but that day is not now.

I’ve been dancing around it, but Google, the bottom line is that I don’t trust you and your motivations.  Back in the day, it was noble and necessary of you to step in and figure out how to organize the zillions of web pages proliferating madly.  It needed to be done, and you brought order to chaos.  And I don’t object to how you kept refining your search algorithms because it should be the goal of a useful search tool to serve up the most relevant content possible.

My problem is that I feel like along the way, your search methodology deviated from being user-centered to being Google-centered. Search works how you think it should work.  Webmasters must design sites according to the rules you deliver from on high.  When we fret, you tell us loftily not to worry about search-engine optimization, that good content will win the day.  But we know that’s not true, don’t we?    You know why?  Because you need to make a profit, and what better way than to game the system so that those who buy ads get the most prominence.  My fear is that your ultimate goal is to create a network in which we aren’t able to leave.  We have only the choices you give us.

But maybe I shouldn’t worry.  After all, is anyone else?  We’re happy to use your search engine.  “Google” has become a verb after all.  Do we ever stop to think about what is going on behind the scenes to influence the results we see?  When we search page after page of results, not exactly finding what we want, yet feeling that it must be out there somewhere, do we wonder if maybe you are playing by your rules and no one else’s?  Perhaps, but it’s often fleeting.  We don’t have time to ponder the results not found and what your motivations might be, so we end up using you time after time.

Do no harm indeed.

Oh, and as a librarian, I’m also pissed at you for indexing all of those books and not following appropriate copyright laws.  I’m also pissed at you for making people think that librarians are obsolete now that we have you when I’d argue that we need librarians more than ever to determine if the crap you deem quality content is in fact good.

So, Google, this user is pissed.  It’s been building for years and needed an outlet.  I just don’t understand you and your business model.  Maybe you need to return to your roots.

Do no harm indeed.


March 13, 2013 Google announced that Google Reader would end in July 2013.  The Internet gasped and the backlash was immediate.  I am dumbfounded by what I candidly say is a stupid decision.  Google Reader is used and beloved by millions.  It makes no sense.  Then again, very little that Google does these days makes any sense.  The techies are saying that Google Reader’s death reflects how RSS never really caught on with users.  However, they ignore the fact that bloggers, while perhaps not understanding the purpose or usefulness of RSS, depending on Google Reader to organize and read the sites they enjoyed. So yeah, Google.  Awesome move to kill something that is popular and more importantly used for the services that languish because no one wants to use them.

Stupid is as Stupid Does: Another Rant on Surrogacy in the News

I generally think that media coverage of infertility and surrogacy is a good thing,  helping to raise awareness of infertility and the process of surrogacy, but sometimes I read something that is so infuriating and just wrong that I can’t let it go.  Usually this reaction is triggered by the comment section, but this time it’s the articles themselves.

Over the weekend, CNN featured a story on James and Natalie Lucich, and James’ sister Tiffany Burke who is carrying their twin boys.  At first blush, the story seems so sweet: a sister generously carrying twins for her brother and sister-in-law after Natalie had an emergency hysterectomy.  Awwww.  But there’s this comment from Tiffany on her reaction to James and Natalie telling her they were considering gestational surrogacy:

“I was pissed!” [Tiffany] Burke recalled. She was worried: What if the surrogate drank or smoked or did something to harm herself? She didn’t want the Luciches to take that chance.

That’s right.  Because every woman who carries a child for another couple is an unstable crack whore motivated only by money.  Tiffany’s comment invokes the stereotypical view of the amazing women who generously disrupt their family’s life in order to give a couple the most priceless gift in the world.  Comments like hers are so frustrating because no matter how much coverage surrogacy gets, the gestational carriers always come off as lower-class, uneducated women of dubious character who must be watched very closely.  This impression is why people think that surrogacy is exploitative; if the gestational carrier is so ignorant and poor that she cannot be trusted to take care of herself and any baby she carries for another, clearly she doesn’t know what she has gotten herself into.

Edited to Add:  I’ve received some comments stating that the above quote was made two years ago and that Tiffany feels differently now and is collaborating on a documentary with her sister-in-law in order to help people understand surrogacy.  I think that’s awesome and that documentary will fill a much-needed void.  However, if I knew nothing else about Tiffany, didn’t read her blog, didn’t dig deeper etc., I would have only that quote to go on to draw conclusions about how she perceived surrogates in general.

And then there is this gem from the Huffington Post’s coverage of the Lucich/Burke story:

Burke is troubled by online speculation that her pregnancy is a form of incest because James is her brother. As Burke explained, the twins are Natalie and James’ 100 percent genetically and were conceived before they were placed in Tiffany Burke’s uterus. It has also been noted that James and sister Tiffany were both adopted and have no biological bond.

Are you serious?  People are so ignorant of biology that they honestly think that Burke’s pregnancy is a form of incest?  OMFG.  I can’t believe Burke has had to clarify that she is not related by blood to James.  When I read shit like that, I really fear for this country and its educational standards.  It’s worse than I thought.

And then there’s the coverage in The Stir that led me to this story in the first place: Woman Pregnant with Her Brother’s Twins Must Make His Wife Feel Guilty. My interest was piqued because I wondered if it was going to be some salacious tale of a horrible gestational carrier (just as with every situation, there can be a few bad apples) who is going out of her way to torment her sister-in-law.  What I read was actually worse.  First of all, it’s poorly written.  Secondly, it’s pure speculation.  Writer Mary Fischer muses that James’ wife Natalie must feel enormous guilt for the disruption in Tiffany’s life and the extreme nausea Tiffany has been experiencing during the pregnancy:

While she’s no doubt eternally grateful to her for being willing to give her and James the gift of more children, I can’t help but wonder if she has days when digging out from under the guilt is almost unbearable. She must feel so indebted to Tiffany for the rest of her life, because there’s just no way you can ever repay something like that.

I cannot speak for all Intended Mothers, but when I think of our gestational surrogate, I feel grateful to her and in awe of her. And no, there is no way we can ever repay her in any meaningful way that matches the significance of what she has given us, but Fischer’s notion of Nicole’s indebtedness seems slavish and overwhelming. As if the twins will be always be a bittersweet reminder of her sister-in-law’s noble sacrifice.

And last but certainly not least, Fischer throws Natalie a bone:

And as much as people will applaud Tiffany for carrying these babies for her brother and sister-in-law, Natalie’s strength should be noted as well. Not many women would be able to handle a journey like this without falling apart.

Excuse me?  Why wouldn’t a woman be able to handle a gestational surrogacy journey without falling apart?  Clearly Fischer knows nothing about infertility because by the time you have decided to pursue surrogacy as a means of family building, it is imperative that you have come to terms with your inability to carry children.  Based on my experience and the women I have talked to and read about, yes, you might feel a pang as you watch another woman’s belly swell with your child, but frankly, you’re kind of over it by that point.  The focus has shifted from pregnancy to parenting.

I also detect a bit of condescension that Fischer believes Natalie is lesser than her sister-in-law because she no longer has the ability to carry children and that not being able to do so must be damaging to her perception of herself as a woman that most women could not handle watching another do it for them.  One of the first reactions to discovering you can’t have children is often to feel like less of a woman: if your body can’t have children, why are you a woman?  One positive (ha ha) from infertility is that I was forced to confront cultural and societal perceptions and expectations of women and work through them.  I am a woman and a woman of worth in spite of my inability to carry a child.  Of course I have days when I struggle with this; I’m not that enlightened, but infertility has broadened my understanding of what it means to be a woman beyond reproductive abilities.

And then we come to NBC’s The New Normal.  I’ve griped about the show in previous posts, but I don’t think I’ve laid out my concerns.  In case you don’t know, it’s a comedy about a gay couple who decide to have a child through surrogacy.  Let me be clear: I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with gay couples having children and/or using surrogacy as their route to parenthood.  I support their ability to do so.  My issue is that I wish that the show were about an infertile couple pursuing surrogacy.

There are differences in the experience of a gay couple pursuing surrogacy versus that of an infertile couple: coming to terms with infertility; the relationship of the mother to the surrogate; the IVF process; stupid comments about who the mother is.  There are some similarities: stupid comments about who the mother is, misconceptions about what a surrogate is like and legal issues.  I’m not saying The New Normal is a bad show; I guess I just wished it told the story of what it’s like for a normal couple to experience infertility and pursue surrogacy, to act as an antidote to the stereotypes perpetuated in most media coverage.  I worry that people who watch the show will think they understand surrogacy and more importantly, what it is like to go through it or really, what it was like for us to go through it.

Rant over, I guess. I just wonder if it’s fruitless to keep railing against articles like these and how surrogacy is portrayed on television in the same way we can’t seem to get reporters to stop using “implant” for “transfer.” I have to keep trying, though, because articles like these and network TV capture the public’s attention and are the ones that color their perception of infertility and surrogacy.  They color their perception of my very personal story and how that little blond boy playing with legos at day care came to be.

What one thing do you wish the media would get right about infertility?

NIAW: What Not to Ignore

It’s National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW), the one week of the year in which it is socially acceptable to allow the infertiles to have their say and to celebrate the infertile in your life although as was pointed out earlier in the week, for infertiles, every week is infertility awareness week.

This year’s theme is “Don’t Ignore Infertility,” and I have a few suggestions:

If you are infertile

  • Don’t ignore your intuition.  I suspected we were going to have difficulty after only a few months.  If I hadn’t listened to my intuition, I would have wasted more money and more importantly, time.  I pushed for Clomid after only 6 months of TTC.  I made our first RE appointment before the prescribed 12 month guideline.  If your RE tells you that “maybe pain is normal for you” when you tell him that you hurt so much that you are writhing in the fetal position, crying and fantasizing about ripping out your ovaries with your bare hands because hey, it couldn’t hurt much more, find a new doctor. Six months after starting with our first RE, we moved on to our second who diagnosed me within 5 minutes of our first meeting and told us our only options were IVF-related or adoption whereas the first RE would had had us pursue more useless (though we wouldn’t have known it) IUIs. I’m still a little bitter about that first RE; can you tell?
  • Don’t ignore your feelings.  There is a lot of pressure on us to be happy and think positively even when life sucks huge donkey balls.  I call BS.  First of all, philosophically, if you never allow yourself to experience darker, less positive thoughts and emotions, how will you be able to know and fully experience the highs?  And guess what, infertility is mostly about the lows: the physical pain your diagnosis might cause you.  The toll on your self-worth, your body and your relationships.  The hit on your bank account or credit card because many infertiles don’t have insurance that covers treatment; treatment isn’t cheap.  We didn’t, and we had to pay a lot.  Wondering whether your infertility means that you have been deemed unworthy to procreate and that your DNA, the very essence of what you are, is not worth passing on.  Having friends muse that maybe your infertility balances out all the “luck” you’ve had in other aspects of your life such as marriage, school and career.  Dreading the infertility storyline in movies, tv shows and books because they always get it wrong and reinforce stereotypes.   A lot of lows.   So I’m giving you permission to revel in your grief and sorrow.  I’m a firm believer that if you don’t acknowledge feelings, they fester.  Revel in them.  Roll around in them and wrap them around you like a blanket.  Here’s the ugly truth: no one else is going to acknowledge your feelings, your reality.  And once you’ve indulged yourself, it is a lot easier to deal with the feelings, put them back in their box and even experience some happiness.
  • Don’t ignore all the family-building options out there.  When we started TTC in 2005, I never in a million, trillion years thought that we would end up having our son through gestational surrogacy. Of course at that point, IVF seemed exotic.  However, by 2007 we had a much clearer picture of our situation and we began thinking more about what we were trying to accomplish (having a family) vs how it happened.  Let yourself explore adoption, surrogacy, donor egg/sperm/embryo, IVF.  What made me willing to consider surrogacy was wanting to make sure we had pursued as many options as possible so that at the end of our lives, we never regretted not taking a certain path.

If you are friends or family with an infertile

  • Don’t ignore them.  I know it can be awkward figuring out how to handle the infertile.  I know that talking with us can be a little like approaching a sleeping lion: you never know what innocent, well-meaning comment will set us off, hissing and snarling or sobbing uncontrollably.  The problem is that sometimes, well-intentioned family and friends can decide not to talk about infertility with us and leave that conversational ball in our court.  That’s nice but what it often turns into is no contact or little meaningful contact.  Send us an email every once in a while.  Invite us out.  Ask how things are going.  If you don’t understand something, ask.  Pretend to be interested. Acknowledge our situation.  Because while you think you are doing the right thing by letting us have space, it feels like we are ignored.  Like we’ve become lepers.   Even if you don’t know what to say, a heart-felt, “wow, your situation sucks and I’m really sorry” would go a long way to helping the infertile feel like part of the human race again.  Because infertility does suck.

I hope these suggestions help. I’m infertile and always will be; this is the one week of the year I am allowed to be.  Here are a few other, better perspectives on NIAW:


Cancer, Steve Jobs and Truly Helping

Steve Jobs passed away tonight.  He had most recently been battling a rare form of pancreatic cancer, a cancer that hits pretty damn close to home for my family and others lately.  I was an Apple hold-out for a long time, but my first Apple product was the iPod Nano.  When the iPhone came out, I was dismissive.  I would never use a phone to surf the Internet.  Then I played with one in an Apple store and was hooked.  Three iPhones, two iPads and one MacBook Air later, we are almost 100% an Apple family (I’m typing this post on a 6 year old HP laptop).  I admired Steve’s vision and innovation.  He truly changed how we interact with everything from music to the Internet. 

He died in October, which is also breast cancer awareness month.  While last month’s Facebook meme about breast cancer seems to have faded away, I’m seeing tweets daily about breast cancer awareness and most of them are inocuous which is the problem.  If you want to raise awareness, that’s great.  Sure, we’ll be more aware that cancer exists.  But wouldn’t you rather DO something? Do something that could potentially help find a treatment for cancer?  Last night, someone I follow on Twitter tweeted whether she should add a pink streak to her hair for breast cancer awareness and asked yes or no.  Several others tweeted back versions of “yes, cool!”  I responded, “No.  Donate $$$ to research instead.”  She responded a tiny bit defensively but said she would dye and donate.  Ok.  Detente achieved.

I’m no role model.  I’ve walked on ONE Komen walk.  I need to do more with the American Heart Association for my father, but I’m just so tired of the easy, feel-good actions being pushed.    As the recent Babble MomCrunch article pointed out, a lot of brands grab on to breast cancer awareness but contribute very little of  your purchase.  What I really want everyone to do is the think critically and do something meaningful that will make a difference.

A few links of interest:

Tonight, I made belated donations to those groups.  Will you or will you dye your hair instead and hope that helps find treatments for cancer?