Digital Natives Are Becoming ‘Generation Invisible’ – MediaPost Communications

From hacked passwords to stolen photographs, 2014 has not been a good year for online privacy. As a result, it’s not much of a surprise to see that we’re becoming more worried about
this issue than ever before. Across the 32 countries that GlobalWebIndex surveys, 58% now say that they are concerned about the internet eroding their personal privacy — a figure which has been
rising slowly but surely every quarter since 2010. What’s more, this is a sentiment that cuts across demographics to be felt by virtually all groups in equal measure.

Of course,
it’s pretty easy to say that you’re concerned about online privacy. It takes much more effort to do anything about it and to challenge the status quo. However, our latest research
shows that this is one area where digital consumers are not just talking the talk: sizable groups are now taking direct and pro-active steps to safeguard their digital footprints. In the process, they
are creating major headaches for traditional tracking techniques. 

At the most mainstream end of the spectrum, over three-quarters of online adults say that they have deleted cookies so
that websites will not remember them — with 40% doing this on a monthly basis. Use of a private browsing window is equally widespread (nearly 50% have done so in the past month), whereas smaller —
but still significant — segments are turning to ad-blocking (30%) and anti-tracking (20%) tools.

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and Proxy Servers are thriving too. For anyone who is
unfamiliar with these tools, they allow people to bypass traditional connections and tracking methods to use the Internet via a remotely located server; essentially, it’s as if people are
entering the Internet discretely via a side door rather than through the main entrance. At present, VPNs are still viewed as pretty niche tools used mainly by savviest or geekiest of Internet users.
Worldwide, however, it’s over a quarter of online adults who say they have used one to connect to the Web. And while it might be just 7.5% who report doing this with the explicit aim of
protecting their online anonymity, that figure translates to more than 100 million individuals across 32 countries. Hardly that niche, then — especially if we recognise that this rather specialized
behaviour is an extreme response to a sentiment felt much more widely (globally, just over half of online adults say they “prefer to by anonymous when using the Internet”).

Wherever we look, then, it’s clear that significant segments of Internet users are a lot more switched on in terms of their online privacy than is often acknowledged. While none of these
tools is (yet) mainstream, we’re faced with the stark reality that weighty chunks of the online population are becoming — and want to become — increasingly hidden from view;
they’re the “forgotten” internet users determined to shield their details and activities from media providers and advertisers alike.

For any brand or marketer out there,
these figures should make for some pretty uncomfortable reading. But drill down into the demographics of online privacy behaviours and picture becomes starker still — especially in relation to age.
Currently, older segments are more likely than others about to be worried about their online privacy, but less likely to be taking any steps as a result of these concerns; in short, privacy-related
concerns peak among the oldest age groups, whereas privacy-driven actions are more common in the younger age brackets.

Of course, this type of age distribution is hardly unusual
when it comes to digital trends; youngest groups always tend to be ahead of the curve. Here, however, it carries some pretty major implications: among 16-34s, for example, using a private browsing
window is already a majoritarian behaviour, scoring above the 50% mark. The same is true for deleting cookies.

Now, it has long been known that today’s youngest Internet users are
digital natives — completely accustomed to behaviours like second-screening and multi-networking. Increasingly, though, it looks like they’re becoming privacy specialists too — the opt-out
generation whose default setting is to deploy privacy-boosting tools. Unless brands and agencies start taking steps to address this, we might as well forget about targeting Gen Y or Z and prepare
ourselves for the arrival of Generation Invisible.

Win8 <b>Proxy</b> Malware Prevents Safe Mode Boot and <b>Browsing</b> – How <b>…</b>

A Win8 Proxy Malware Prevents Safe Mode Boot and Browsing. Chrome, Firefox, and IE get a proxy error browsing any site. Malwarebytes antimalware

Somehow a nasty piece of malware infected client’s laptop running Win8, so he handed it to me. He complained that he could not browse the web with Firefox because of a “proxy” problem (browser displayed a related message).

Digging, I found reference to a Youtube video showing that unchecking the Chrome Browser settings/advanced/lan/proxy box did no good because the malware rechecked it immediately after closing the dialog. The video suggested rebooting in safe mode, resetting the proxy flag to zero in the registry, removing the unwanted command in Run in the registry. That would fix the problem.

It didn’t. In fact, I could not make Win8 boot in safe mode at all. I ran rootkit detectors from Kaspersky (TDSSkiller) and Malwarebytes (MBAR) to no avail. I’ll keep grinding till I find a permanent solution.

Meanwhile, I did find a temporary solution. I installed Comodo DRAGON browser (a Chrome clone). It provides an advanced setting that lets you check the DIRECT browse box (disabling proxy). That lets me browse web sites with IRON. However the other browsers still suffer the proxy block.

FYI, in Chrome you can see the proxy is setup at Settings/ShowAdvancedSettings/Network/ChangeProxySettings/LANsettings/Advanced

On my client system it shows these settings which I imagine the malware creates and reinserts every time you delete them:

Proxy Servers HTTP:
Exceptions <-loopback>

Chrome Data Compression <b>Proxy</b> Extension To Improve <b>Browsing</b> <b>…</b>

Data Compression Proxy is a free Chrome extension to improve browsing speed. As the name pretty much makes it clear, Data Compression Proxy lets you browse the web a little bit faster while using Chrome, by compressing the traffic. Data Compression Proxy essentially routes all of the regular HTTP web traffic through Chrome’s own Compression Proxy server, utilizing the proprietary SPDY (pronounced as Speedy) protocol. An experimental extension, Data Compression Proxy brings the data compression goodness of Chrome’s mobile version to its desktop counterpart. Apart from standard data compression features, Data Compression Proxy also includes a built-in ad blocker with customizable rule based blocking. It even includes a bypass filter which can be used to exclude certain servers from being proxied at all. And the best part is that you can enable or disable it with a single click. Sounds too good to be true? Keep reading and find out for yourself!

data compression proxy in action
Sponsored Links

How To Use This Free Chrome Data Compression Proxy Extension To Improve Browsing Speed?

Before you can get started with Data Compression Proxy to supercharge your web browsing, the installation part needs to be completed. Installation is a simple affair, akin to installing any other extension to Google Chrome. All you have to do is head over to the Chrome Web Store, search for Data Compression Proxy and when found, hit the Add to Chrome button. Once installed, it’s all up and ready to work. Let’s see how this thing does what it does:

Step 1: Once Data Compression Proxy is successfully installed, you will notice the extension’s icon on the Chrome options bar. By default, the color of this icon is Red, indicating that the proxy features are disabled. Here’s a screenshot:

data compression proxy icon

Step 2: Now, what do you do to turn on Data Compression Proxy’s mojo in order to make your web browsing better? It’s ridiculously simple. All you have to do is click the Data Compression Proxy icon. Once you do that, the thing will turn from Red to Green, indicating that the extension is now activated. From now on, all of your HTTP web traffic will be routed through Chrome’s own Compression Proxy server, utilizing the SPDY protocol. As you browse the web using Data Compression Proxy, you should notice a slight increase in the browsing speed. Pretty cool, right?

As mentioned before in the article, Data Compression Proxy also includes a built in ad-blocker and bypass list, both of which are customizable. If you want to dig in and configure these tweaks, you can easily do so via the extension’s options.

data compression proxy options

Also See: Free Chrome Extension To Browse Anonymously: GeoProxy


Data Compression Proxy is a nifty free Chrome extension to improve browsing speed. It uses Chrome’s mobile version’s data compression goodness to improve your web browsing experience on the desktop. Although the difference in performance might not be that big in some cases but hey, any improvement is always welcome, right? Do give it a try, and let me know what you think in the comments below.

Get Data Compression Proxy for Google Chrome Here.

Home Page: Click Here
Works With: Google Chrome
Free / Paid: Free

Link to This Page:

free of <b>proxy browser</b> |

[unable to retrieve full-text content]Enabled will Its to Browsing QuestionsFeedback. IP Proxy Proxy. Free FOR FREE Proxy Browse Servers connection proxy hidden free in online, download downloading option proxy is browsing VERSION or Web Chrome …

CyberGhost VPN – Free <b>Proxy</b> extension – Opera add-ons

CyberGhost’s Opera browser extension is FREE to use for everybody. It’s also very easy to use. Just hit our Power button and your IP will be changed in a second.

CyberGhost is a trusted VPN provider, with over 3,9 million satisfied customers worldwide.

Here’s what you get with our Free Proxy Plugin:

✔ Fast online anonymity
With just a click, your identity when browsing online is protected.

✔ New IP
We change your IP address with one of ours.

✔ Encrypted connection
Just like the encryption used in military organizations, we’ll protect your browser data with 256-bit AES encryption.

✔ Unblock Online content
Having troubles watching YouTube videos, or Hulu or BBC? Turn this proxy plugin on and all your problems will fade away. Local restrictions no longer apply to you.

Please note that this browser plugin is not secure when accessing Flash content. For full online protection, we recommend you to install our desktop and mobile VPN solution: CyberGhost VPN (

Got questions? Write to our support team at [email protected]
Do you want more? Try out CyberGhost VPN, available for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, today:

Join also our online communities:

CyberGhost VPN – Free <b>Proxy</b> extension – Opera add-ons

CyberGhost’s Opera browser extension is FREE to use for everybody. It’s also very easy to use. Just hit our Power button and your IP will be changed in a second.

CyberGhost is a trusted VPN provider, with over 3,9 million satisfied customers worldwide.

Here’s what you get with our Free Proxy Plugin:

✔ Fast online anonymity
With just a click, your identity when browsing online is protected.

✔ New IP
We change your IP address with one of ours.

✔ Encrypted connection
Just like the encryption used in military organizations, we’ll protect your browser data with 256-bit AES encryption.

✔ Unblock Online content
Having troubles watching YouTube videos, or Hulu or BBC? Turn this proxy plugin on and all your problems will fade away. Local restrictions no longer apply to you.

Please note that this browser plugin is not secure when accessing Flash content. For full online protection, we recommend you to install our desktop and mobile VPN solution: CyberGhost VPN (

Got questions? Write to our support team at [email protected]
Do you want more? Try out CyberGhost VPN, available for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, today:

Join also our online communities:

Gearhouse orders huge EVS upgrade – Televisual

Gearhouse Broadcast is upgrading its entire 115-strong fleet of EVS machines worldwide.

The upgrade includes migrating all of Gearhouse’s EVS kit to the latest 10 Gigabit Ethernet connectivity and means all of its 8-channel XT3 production servers will have onboard low res proxy recording.

All EVS equipment, designed for the management and production of live video, will have the latest XFile 3 software enabling them to manually or automatically archive content from EVS servers to transportable hard drives.

Gearhouse will also be able to restore content from hard drives to EVS servers.

The company is also investing in the first 4K licensed XT3 server and all of its OB trucks will have C-Cast live connection technology.

The upgrade brings additional tools to Gearhouse’s EVS kit, including the C-Cast Xplore live content web-browsing interface and OpenCube MXF server and media interoperability software applications.

Also included in the upgrade is EVS’ multi-review system and Epsio FX.

This provides immediate access to live effects while saving post-production costs and enables the addition of artistic replay effects and highlights enhancements for viewers by inputting simple parameters.

Gearhouse Australia sales and marketing director Manny Papas said: “We are aligning all 115 EVS machines in our fleet to the very latest EVS workflows making us one of the biggest EVS providers in the world and giving our clients access to the very best production tools available.”

Giving Good Technology a History Lesson on Secure <b>Browsing</b> <b>…</b>

In a July 10, 2014 blog post, Good Technology claims that it was the first to provide an “enterprise class secure browser to deliver support for Proxy auto-configuration files,” more commonly known as PAC files. Enterprise users that have multiple proxy servers may use PAC files to access URLs via web browsing or other applications. To simplify, just as a TV guide tells you what channel to select for a specific program, a PAC file will tell the device which proxy server to use to reach a specific URL destination.


Good needs a #BBFactCheck.

BlackBerry has been supporting PAC files on BlackBerry devices for years. We had it way back in 2003 with BlackBerry OS. So of course our latest platform, BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10, supports PAC files – BlackBerry 10 OS starting on January 31, 2013, Secure Work Space for iOS on October 9, 2013 and Secure Work Space for Android on June 26, 2014.

With an 11-year difference between BlackBerry and Good support of PAC files, it’s inaccurate for Good to claim that they were the first. Even if they were only comparing from an Enterprise Mobility Management perspective, we still have them beat.

This is another example of Good’s marketing being misleading– which should not be “Good Enough” for customers looking for a mobility partner.

About BlackBerry Fact Check

BlackBerry Fact Check is a place for BlackBerry to set the story straight on our products and our company. We are in a volatile, fast-moving industry, and misinformation – whether the source is a competitor, an analyst report or simply a rumor –creates uncertainty. In light of the inaccuracies and misleading comments flooding the public domain where BlackBerry is concerned, our best offense is to present the facts directly, and you can find them with #BBFactCheck.

Follow the latest BlackBerry Fact Checks and share your suggestions with us in the comments, on social media with #BBFactCheck or by emailing [email protected]

This is how you invent a person online – Quartz

On April 8, 2013, I received an envelope in the mail from a nonexistent return address in Toledo, Ohio. Inside was a blank thank-you note and an Ohio state driver’s license. The ID belonged to a 28-year-old man called Aaron Brown—6 feet tall and 160 pounds with a round face, scruffy brown hair, a thin beard, and green eyes. His most defining feature, however, was that he didn’t exist.

I know that because I created him.

Fake drivers license

(Curtis Wallen/The Atlantic)

As an artist, I’ve long been interested in identity and the ways it is represented. My first serious body of work, Springfield, used the concept of a Midwestern nowhere to explore representations of middle-American sprawl. A few years later, I became interested in the hundreds of different entities that track and analyze our behavior online—piecing together where we’re from, who we’re friends with, how much money we make, what we like and dislike. Social networks and data brokers use algorithms and probabilities to reconstruct our identities, and then try to influence the way we think and feel and make decisions.

It’s not an exaggeration to say everything you do online is being followed. And the more precisely a company can tailor your online experience, the more money it can make from advertisers. As a result, the Internet you see is different from the Internet anyone else might see. It’s seamlessly assembled each millisecond, designed specifically to influence you. I began to wonder what it would be like to evade this constant digital surveillance—to disappear online.

From that question, Aaron Brown was born.

* * *

My project started at a small coffee shop in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. With the help of Tor—a software program that uses layers of encryption to anonymize online activity—I searched Craigslist and tracked down a handful of affordable laptop computers for sale in New York City. I registered a new email address with the (now-defunct) Tormail anonymous email provider and arranged to buy a used Chromebook.

[email protected] (1/27/13 – 11:23):

I’m punctual, I will be there on time at 1. Theres an atrium at citi center, will let you know when I’m there.

[email protected] (1/27/13 – 11:25):

Perfect. See you there.

[email protected] (1/27/13 – 12:59):

Im here in the atrium at 53rd and lex… Gray jacket, blonde hair. Sitting at a table

The meeting was quick. I wore a hat. I kept my head down. The man at the table in a gray jacket was a real person—in a busy public place full of cameras—who could later potentially connect me to the computer. These face-to-face moments left me the most vulnerable. If I was going to evade online surveillance, I had to avoid any ties between my digital footprint and the physical world.

When I got home I immediately reformatted the computer’s hard drive and installed a Linux partition. This meant I could encrypt and cosmetically “hide” the part of my computer that was using Linux. My new laptop would boot up Chrome OS like any other Chromebook, unless I gave it the command to boot up Linux instead. I never connected to anything using  Chrome OS. And on the Linux side, I never accessed the Internet without Tor, and I never logged into anything that had any connection to Curtis Wallen.

For a couple months I poked around on the darknet—a hidden network that relies on nonstandard connections. At first, my goal was simply to exist as an anonymous user. However, I realized that this meant fundamentally changing my relationship to the Internet. I couldn’t log in to Facebook, I couldn’t send emails as Curtis, I couldn’t use the Internet the way most of us normally do. I simply couldn’t be me if I wanted to stay hidden. So my original idea began to shift. Rather than simply evade digital tracking, I began to play with the idea of generating a new digital person, complete with the markers of a physical identity. I gathered my roommates and took a series of portraits that fit the requirements for passport photos. I then carefully isolated various features from each one in Photoshop and composited a completely new face: Aaron Brown.

Faces used to create Aaron Brown

(Curtis Wallen/The Atlantic)

Up to that point, I had been largely operating on instinct and common sense. Now that my project was expanding, I figured it’d probably be a good time to reach out to someone who actually knew what she or he was doing.

I created a new Tormail account, the first evidence of my new person—[email protected]––and sent an encrypted email to the enigmatic researcher Gwern Branwen, asking what advice he’d give to someone “new to this whole anonymity thing.” Branwen replied with a simple but crucial piece of advice:

“Don’t get too attached to any one identity. Once a pseudonym has been linked to others or to your real identity, it’s always linked.”

Taking Branwen’s advice to heart, I put a sticky note next to my keyboard.

Post it note

(Curtis Wallen/The Atlantic)

When most people think of Internet surveillance, they imagine government bureaucrats monitoring their emails and Google searches. In a March 2014 study, MIT professor Catherine Tucker and privacy advocate Alex Marthews analyzed data from Google Trends across 282 search terms rated for their “privacy-sensitivity.” The terms included “Islam”, “national security”, “Occupy”, “police brutality”, “protest”, and “revolution.” After Edward Snowden’s leaks about NSA surveillance, Tucker and Marthews found, the frequency of these sensitive search terms declined—suggesting that Internet users have become less likely to explore “search terms that they [believe] might get them in trouble with the US government.” The study also found that people have become less likely to search “embarrassing” topics such as “AIDS”, “alcoholics anonymous,” “coming out,” “depression,” “feminism,” “gender reassignment,” “herpes,” and “suicide”—while concerns over these more personal terms could have as much to do with startling Google ads, the notable decrease observed in the study suggests the increased awareness of surveillance led to a degree of self-censorship.

In other words, people are doing their best to blend in with the crowd.

The challenge of achieving true anonymity, though, is that evading surveillance makes your behavior anomalous—and anomalies stick out. As the Japanese proverb says, “A nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” Glenn Greenwald explained recently that simply using encryption can make you a target. For me, this was all the more motivation to disappear.

Aaron had a face, but lacked “pocket litter”—an espionage term that refers to physical items that add authenticity to a spy’s cover. In order to produce this pocket litter, I needed money—the kind of currency that the counterfeit professionals of the darkweb would accept as payment. I needed bitcoin, a virtual currency that allows users to exchange goods and services without involving banks. At that time, one of the few services that exchanged cash for bitcoin was a company called Bitinstant. I made my way to a small computer shop in the Chinatown neighborhood of Manhattan to make the transfer.

At a small, teller-like window, I filled out the paperwork using fake information. Unwisely, I wrote down my name as Aaron Brown—thus creating one of the links to my real identity I should have been avoiding. As a result, my receipt had “Aarow Brown” printed on it. It seemed fitting that the first physical evidence of Aaron’s existence was a misspelled name on a receipt from a computer shop.

Moneygram image

(Curtis Wallen/The Atlantic)

When I got home, 10 bitcoin were there waiting for me in my virtual wallet, stored on an encrypted flash drive. I made the necessary contacts and ordered a counterfeit driver’s license, a student ID, a boating license, car insurance, an American Indian tribal citizenship card, a social security card scan (real social security cards were a bit out of my budget), and a cable bill for proof of residency. The final bill came out to just over 7 bitcoin, roughly $400 at the time.

As I waited for my pile of documents, I began crafting Aaron’s online presence. While exploring message boards on the darknet, I came across the contact information for a self-proclaimed hacker called v1ct0r who was accepting applications to host hidden services on a server he managed. I messaged him with a request to host Aaron’s website. He was happy to offer a little space, under two conditions: “no child porn nor racism; Respects the rules or i could block/delete your account.”

I also set up a simple web proxy so that anyone could contribute to Aaron’s online presence. The proxy serves as a middleman for browsing the Internet, meaning any website you visit is first routed through the proxy server. Anyone who browses using the proxy is funneling traffic through that one node—which means those web pages look like they’re being visited by Aaron Brown.

Aaron’s Twitter account worked much the same way. There was a pre-authenticated form on the project website, allowing anyone to post a tweet to Aaron’s feed. As Aaron’s creator, it was fascinating to see what happened once strangers started interacting with it regularly. People would tweet at their friends, and then Aaron would received confused replies. Under the guise of Aaron, people tweeted out, jokes, love messages, political messages, and meta-commentaries on existence. I even saw a few advertisements. Ultimately, the account was suspended after Spanish political activists used it to spam news outlets and politicians.

Aaron Brown Twitter feed

(Curtis Wallen/The Atlantic)

In a sense, I was doing the opposite of astroturfing, a practice that uses fake social media profiles to spread the illusion of grassroots support or dissent. In 2011, the Daily Kos reported on a leaked document from defense contractor HBGary which explained how one person could pretend to be many different people:

Using the assigned social media accounts we can automate the posting of content that is relevant to the persona. … In fact using hashtags and gaming some location based check-in services we can make it appear as if a persona was actually at a conference and introduce himself/herself to key individuals as part of the exercise … There are a variety of social media tricks we can use to add a level of realness to all fictitious personas.

Aaron Brown turned that concept inside out. With a multitude of voices and interests filtering through one point, any endeavor to monitor his behavior or serve him targeted ads became a wash. None of the information was representative of any discrete interests. The surveillance had no value. I’d created a false human being, but instead of a carefully coordinated deception, the result was simply babble.


“The Internet is what we make it,” wrote security researcher Bruce Schneier in January 2013, “and is constantly being recreated by organizations, companies, and countries with specific interests and agendas. Either we fight for a seat at the table, or the future of the Internet becomes something that is done to us.”

For those of us who feel confident that we have nothing to hide, the future of Internet security might not seem like a major concern. But we underestimate the many ways in which our online identities can be manipulated. A recent study used Facebook as a testing ground to determine if the company could influence a user’s emotional disposition by altering the content of her or his News Feed. For a week in January 2012, reseachers subjected 689,003 unknowing users to this psychological experiment, showing happier-than-usual messages to some people and sadder-than-usual messages to others. They concluded that they had “experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks” because users responded by publishing more positive or negative posts of their own, depending on what they saw in their own feeds.

The US Department of Defense has also figured out how influential Facebook and Twitter can be. In 2011, it announced a new “Social Media in Strategic Communication” (SMISC) program to detect and counter information the US government deemed dangerous. “Since everyone is potentially an influencer on social media and is capable of spreading information,” one researcher involved in a SMISC study told The Guardian, “our work aims to identify and engage the right people at the right time on social media to help propagate information when needed.”

Private companies are also using personal information in hidden ways. They don’t simply learn our tastes and habits, offering us more of what want and less of what we don’t. As Michael Fertik wrote in a 2013 Scientific American article titled “The Rich See a Different Internet Than the Poor,” credit lenders have the ability to hide their offers from people who may need loans the most. And Google now has a patent to change its prices based on who’s buying.

Is it even possible to hide from corporate and government feelers online? While my attempt to do so was an intensely interesting challenge, it ultimately left me a bit disappointed. It is essentially impossible to achieve anonymity online. It requires a complete operational posture that extends from the digital to the physical. Downloading a secure messaging app and using Tor won’t all of a sudden make you “NSA-proof.” And doing it right is really, really hard.

Weighing these trade-offs in my day-to-day life led to a few behavioral changes, but I have a mostly normal relationship with the Internet—I deleted my Facebook account, I encrypt my emails whenever I can, and I use a handful of privacy minded browser extensions. But even those are steps many people are unwilling, or unable, to take. And therein lies the major disappointment for me: privacy shouldn’t require elaborate precautions.

No one likes being subliminally influenced, discriminated against, or taken advantage of, yet these are all legitimate concerns that come with surveillance. These concerns are heightened as we increasingly live online. Digital surveillance is pervasive and relatively cheap. It is fundamentally different than anything we’ve faced before, and we’re still figuring out what what the boundaries should be.

For now, Aaron’s IDs and documents are still sitting inside my desk. Aaron himself actually went missing a little while ago. I used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk marketplace to solicit descriptions from strangers, and then hired a forensic artist to draw a sketch. He resurfaced on Twitter. (You can go here to try tweeting as Aaron Brown.) But other than that, no word. I have a feeling he’ll probably pop up in Cleveland at some point.

Everyone always seems to get sucked back home.

This post originally appeared at The Atlantic. More from our sister site: 

Why the NSA keeps tracking people even after they’re dead

What is Hezbollah doing in Europe?

Anti-surveillance camouflage for your face

Where the sidewalk ends – Real Change News

In a memoir of her parents’ decline, cartoonist Roz Chast explores the anxiety of aging in America

In her new graphic memoir, “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?” (Bloomsbury), acclaimed New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast shares the poignant and often darkly humorous story of the final years of her elderly parents and her own complicated feelings as she took on their care and navigated the bewildering worlds of elder law, geriatric medicine, assisted living, dementia, incontinence and hospice care.

With her trademark nervous drawings as well as photographs and documents, Chast’s book vividly recounts her parents’ tumultuous journey on what she calls “The Moving Sidewalk of Life (Caution: Drop-Off Ahead).” She dedicated the book to her father George, a talented foreign language teacher, who died in 2007 at age 95, and her mother Elizabeth, a no-nonsense assistant school principal, who died in 2009 at 97 — a close couple who grew up together and forged a remarkable bond.

Chast spoke recently at a standing-room-only gathering at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Bookstore. With humor and compassion, she told stories of her own worries as her parents confronted the realities of failing health. She described her sensitive, anxious father and his struggle with dementia, and her brilliant but domineering mother who suffered physical injuries and eventual delusions. As they aged and their conditions worsened, care became ever more expensive, stressful and complex.

The Seattle audience members responded enthusiastically to Chast’s account of the agonizing and absurd aspects of the plight of George and Elizabeth. Chast has drawn cartoons since her childhood in Brooklyn. She attended Rhode Island School of Design and majored in painting but, soon after graduating — according to her website — she “reverted to type and began drawing cartoons once again.” In addition to The New Yorker, her cartoons have appeared in a wide range of publications from Scientific American and the Harvard Business Review, to National Lampoon, Redbook and Mother Jones. She has written several other books including, “Theories of Everything; What I Hate From A to Z” “Mondo Boxo;” and “Unscientific Americans,” as well as children’s books such as “Too Busy Marco.”

Chast interrupted her book tour to talk by telephone about her work and her new book.

At your jammed event in Seattle so many people commented on how your humor and candor about your parents was helpful. Was helping others one of the reasons your wrote the book?

I’m really happy and enormously moved and grateful if it helped somebody out, but I found it hard to understand so many aspects of how to deal with the situation and I wouldn’t want to presume that it would be helpful to anybody. I’m really happy if it is, but it wasn’t really my intention.

You must be hearing similar stories on your book tour.

It’s been astonishing. I’m also getting a lot of letters from people. I didn’t know so many people were just starting the process of dealing with elderly parents who are no longer able to care for themselves and the difficulties of it.

In recalling your childhood, you showed a cartoon self-portrait at age nine, and your head is in “The Big Book of Horrible Diseases” and other books around on illness and even a Merck Manual of medical diagnoses are scattered around. Where did your fascination with morbid subjects come from?

I think I absorbed it from my parents. We always had the Merck Manual around. Definitely who had what illness and who was suffering from what was part of what I heard. And I thought I could wake up and be bleeding from every pore in my body. 

And lockjaw was a concern in Brooklyn because of all the metal playground equipment?

Yeah. It’s funny. Kids don’t talk about lockjaw anymore. When I was growing up in my little cosmos, lockjaw was something people knew about and thought about. 

What drew you to art?

I drew from the time I was a little kid, like most little kids. In high school, I went to the Art Students League in New York City. It was wonderful. I did a lot of life drawing. I’m not by any stretch of the imagination an anatomy-based figure drawer, but I spent many, many hours drawing from life and I loved that. And I had a great teacher.

When I went to art school, it was much different and, in the seventies, it was very serious. It seemed to me that the art that got attention from the teachers was theoretical [and] the artist would have a complicated theory about it, about the biomorphic, architectonic validity of it. I was just a kid from Brooklyn and had never been exposed to any of that talk.

And I stopped drawing cartoons in art school. I majored in painting and wanted to be a painter, but I was just a terrible painter. My senior year, I was doing painting, but I was secretly drawing cartoons in my journal. After I got out of art school, I went back to drawing what I really wanted to.

Did your parents encourage your art?

They knew that that’s what I was, but I think that they very sensibly hoped that I would become a teacher, maybe even an art teacher. My mother thought that I’d go into the family business which, of course, was education.  But I really didn’t want to do that.

I think they were proud of my work. They were definitely happy and they subscribed to the New Yorker. It was scary to them also that I did not get a regular salary, which was also scary to me, but oh well.

And you started drawing for Christopher Street and The Village Voice?

Yes. Christopher Street paid ten dollars a cartoon, which was terrible even back in 1978, and The Village Voice paid fifty. And I did some cartoons for the National Lampoon and, in April 1978, I started with The New Yorker.

In your new book, you write that you hadn’t visited your parents’ apartment in Brooklyn for several years. Then, in September 2001, when they were both nearing 90, you decided to stop by and you were stunned by their situation.

I hadn’t visited their apartment for a long time, but when I started visiting them, it was clear that they were getting older and gradually less able to keep up with day-to-day things in life like the mail, cleaning out the refrigerator, dealing with groceries. So I realized I had to get more actively involved in if not actually caring for them, then in monitoring it and keeping an eye on them and making sure I was more aware of what was going on than I had been before.

You soon contacted an elder lawyer. Do you remember what prompted you to contact that lawyer?

Yes. I had a conversation with a friend. Her mother was older than my mother, and she had recently gone through this, and she knew this elder lawyer. I didn’t even know there was such thing — a person who specialized in things like wills and health care proxies and knowing what questions to ask, and that was very helpful. I was so grateful to this friend who recommended him. Also, he was in Brooklyn, so he could come to my parent’s apartment and I was there when he was there. I didn’t even know what a health care proxy was. I was totally in the dark about all of this.

You have helpful hints in your book for caregivers. For example, you kept a notebook and documented everything that happened.

Yes. The two pieces of very practical information I’d give would be to get an elder lawyer to help you and to keep all of the information in one place. If you’re the person that is now paying your parents’ taxes, dealing with pensions, and paying bills — I didn’t know anything about any of this. I had one place for all of this information — important phone numbers, the conversations I’d have with a caretaker or agency or a bank, or a person with the Board of Education Pension Bureau. I noted the date I talked and who I spoke to and the telephone number. It sounds like minutiae, but it helped to have it organized in this one notebook.

A talk about aging and death is difficult for any family.

It’s a horrible talk. I totally understand why you want to avoid it as long as possible. The title, “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?” comes from my father. He would say that. My parents and I all wanted to talk about something more pleasant. I haven’t had that talk with my kids yet. It’s a very hard thing to talk about.

You were worried constantly about your parents. How did this stress affect your work and your family life?

I blanked some of it out. The worst was when they were still living in Brooklyn. The year after my mother got out of the hospital in 2006 — the last year they were in the apartment — was really scary. She kept falling and my father’s dementia was getting worse. I felt so far away from them and didn’t know what to do. I would visit them and sometimes bring them food or have Meals on Wheels come. But I couldn’t stay there forever because I had my own family.

Like everybody else, you just go through it, and put one foot in front of the other and say, “A catastrophe didn’t happen today.” Hopefully, I won’t get that dreaded phone call that anybody who’s responsible for an elderly parent fears.

And your parents resisted your help?

I think it’s partly generational and part of their not wanting to ask for help. Especially to my mother, any expression of being other than strong or not being on top of everything was just bellyaching, just weakness. She would give it “a blast from Chast.” She was very determined not to show weakness. I think that’s a generational trait and how she grew up. That’s what helped her survive and that’s who she was.

The story of your cleaning their apartment with your photos of their rooms was exceptionally poignant. What was the process of going through a half century of accumulation?

I didn’t go through all of it. I could not hack it. I went back several times, armed with Hefty bags. I thought I’ll just go through one area and try to sort through stuff. Once I started, it looked even worse. It was so much stuff packed into closets and drawers filled with newspapers from a million years ago. I’d open a drawer and the bottom had rotted out and it would fall to pieces. You saw the photos. I’d find Band-Aid boxes. A drawer of jar lids. They just never threw anything away.

I took a few things. The photo albums of course. And a few things off the wall. And, as I said in the book, I paid the super to take the rest. I told him he could take what he wanted, sell what he wanted. I didn’t want any of it. It was stuff. 

You look at things differently once you’ve been through something like that. The change was that I used to like browsing in second-hand shops a lot, but now it just looks like dead people stuff and it’s depressing.

But you also found a treasure trove of hundreds of letters that your parents exchanged during your dad’s service in World War II.

Yes. I haven’t even gone through a tenth of them, there were so many. At some point, maybe I’ll hire somebody to transcribe them. They probably put that box of letters on top of the closet in 1959, and I had no idea it was there. That was really a find.

Your book is very thoughtful in dealing with your parents’ eccentricities and their failing health. Was writing the book healing for you?

In a certain way it helped me to not forget them and I’m really glad of that. Writing in some ways is a way of holding onto things that otherwise would [be lost to] memory. When I read a page, I can remember their voices or the moment better. I have a dread of forgetting who they were and what they sounded like and what they looked like. I’m really glad when I look at this book because it brings them back to me.

It cost about $14,000 a month to keep your parents at an assisted living facility. How did you deal with the incredible expenses?

There’s not a lot a person can do. All of their savings went to end-of-life care. When my mother died, there was money for about two months’ worth of care left in the bank. I am getting the impression that this is pretty much the way it is for most middle-class people.

You combine your skills as an artist, humorist, researcher and an accomplished writer in this book. Were you inspired by other artists?

Everybody who’s done a graphic memoir. There’s Alison Bechdel, Art Spiegelman, Harvey Pekar. These are amazing people who tell stories in a way that resonates for me and that’s one of the wonderful things about the cartoon medium.

Is there anything you’d like to add about your book?

Well, we’re all on the moving sidewalk and our kids are probably going to be writing books like this about us. “I can’t believe all the crap I found in my parents’ apartment.”


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