I’m going to say the most dangerous word on the internet. I can’t vouch for your safety.

Your paper might catch fire if you say it aloud. Your phone might dissolve. Your laptop might start to smoke, then try to give it up by switching to the gum, go back to smoking, and eventually start demanding lots of sunflower seeds.



Everyone OK? Nothing bad happened? Good, but I owe you an explanation.

The other day my phone lit up with an e-mail from my work account, and it had all the markings of something phishy. The subject line was “Fwd: BRAZILIANPINGPONG11.mp4. It had the message: “Using your head!”

It was forwarded to about 20 people, none of whom I recognized.

“Open the e-mail,” said my daughter, and I was immediately disappointed: Didn’t I teach you to trust nothing on the internet?

“It’s not going to infect your phone if you just open the e-mail,” she said.

“Au contraire,” I said, although I’m sure I sounded like a good Minnesotan and said “oaken trare.” “It’s like the Ark of the Covenant in the Indiana Jones movie. They had to open that up for the vengeful spirits to emerge and melt everyone’s faces. So basically, oaken trare, it’s a potential Ark of the Covenant.”

I think I was speaking to an empty room at this point.

Paranoia with e-mail is a good thing. It keeps you from having some miserable criminal hoover up your info or use your phone to send useless messages to 97 million other people.

But are we becoming paranoid about all kinds of hygiene because of the Covidien Lamentations? The city of Minneapolis, for example, is putting up signs telling people that the walk buttons at the crosswalks have been disabled because they might spread the novel coronavirus, or even the less-dreaded short-story coronavirus.

Apparently people have been dropping to their knees and coughing on the buttons, then other people come along eating Kentucky Fried Chicken, push the button, and lick their fingers out of habit.

It’s understandable that the city wants to take precautions, but having been downtown recently, there’s not a lot of people marooned on the street corner waiting for the light to permit safe passage. You can cross the street at the speed of a slug on sand­paper and you’ll make it just fine.

Anyway: precautions, that’s the order of the day, and e-mail is no exception. So I decided not open it.

Wait a minute. Daughter was in Brazil for a year.

“Is there anything special about Ping-Pong in Brazil?” I added.

“I think they play it with their head,” she said. Ha ha.

For the next hour or so I was haunted by the thought that the designation Brazilianpingpong11.mp4 suggested that there were 10 other Brazilian Ping-Pong videos.

You think, “I’ve resisted the 10 iterations of Brazilian Ping-Pong, but dang it, if they’re going to 11 this has to be good.” And then you click, and the file turns out to be malware that locks your screen and demands you type in the numbers for a $100 Target gift card.

But what if it was legit? What if it was sent to me by a reader who thought I’d get a chuckle out of it?

A few hours later, I got another e-mail, sent from someone else in the list. “Good one!” it said.

Was the scam this sophisticated that it sent follow-up replies? Or was I completely overthinking this, because our public trust in the internet has become completely debauched?

Or is this, like so many other things these days, an opportunity to remake the world and eliminate the bothersome things — like e-mail — and return to the old ways that were tried and true, handmade, imbued with tradition and trust?

No more e-mail. No more lying crosswalk buttons. Let us return to handwritten letters and be free of our fears.

(Update: I couldn’t contain my curiosity. I opened it. Lying SOBs! First of all, the video was Brazilianpingpong10.mp4, not 11, and I think it took place in Ecuador. Pretty funny stuff, though. Drop me a line if you want a link.)