Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Social Technology

This is one of those posts which are sorta serious but not depressing. Occasionally, my academic training kicks in and I muse about the world around me in a way which sounds much more intellectual than it is. Really, it is just my attemot to understand my world and deal with some of the raging controversies in a dispassionate way. If you are looking for a post about my kids, or why I'm angry at adverbs, or some other rant, come back later when I will, no doubt, be in more of a mood to complain about that guy who did that thing at that place. Right now, I want to deal with the current state of humanity. Once I figure that out, I should be good.

Technology is a neat thing. It is so broad a term as to include every invention and innovation which allowed people to deal with their world. On a side not, "techology" is not a word but I am laying claim to its coinage (the 28,000 or so google hits be damned) as the study of technology. Recent improvements in technology, especially with the introduction of electronics and the computer have changed how mankind deals with the world and other mans-of-the-kind.

But criticisms seep in. This reliance on the web and computers actually, according to recent news stories, makes us dumber than cavemen who had to solve problems themselves. Yeah, but they also lived in caves. Sure, having guns makes us less physically able to kill dinosaurs with our bare hands, but I'll stick with the gun approach, thanks.

So here are some of the ironies I have noted based on anecdotal observations, not cold, hard statistics.

We read fewer books and thus fear a loss of literacy. But increased texting and the proliferation of smart phones increases the amount we have to read and write.

Texting and such allow for a sloppiness of spelling. And yet the built in dictionaries increase the chance tha our finished product will have properly spelled words.

We spend so much time staring at the screen that we increase isolation from other people, yet we now interact with more people in constant ways than ever before because the web allows us to send our thoughts around the world to complete strangers.

Facebook and its watered down notion of "friend" cheapens the import of actual human bonding. But through the FB system we can connect with people from our pasts who, a generation ago, would have been wiped from our memories, thus limiting the number of "friends" we could connect with.

The electronic age has fostered a need for immedate gratification -- the web means I want to know everything and get answers right now. But the immortality of material online means that I can make comments on a year-old story or read over comments made years ago and see how they compare to subsequent growth in the world, or the person who wrote the ideas.

Ever present technology leads to a laziness of intellect and body but the constant stream of new products and devices requires a flexibility and need to assimilate new skills and vocabularies unheard of in the past.

A lack of online gatekeepers makes it difficult to distinguish quality of information, but that same lack removes the censors, blinders and limitations and exposes us to voices which we would have not heard of otherwise.

So it looks like all this computer stuff is a double edged sword not seen since the invention of, well, every technology that came before it. From TV and radio to refrigerators and double edged swords, themselves, it seems that every shift in technology has made humanity adapt when it adopts.

I think one could start a class about this -- maybe even an entire Techology department. Dibs.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Really real

I am trying to break down reality television into its parts. This way, not only can I categorize any current show, but I can predict what will be the next big show.

Verb it shows

Design it
Build it
Find it
Buy it
Sell it
Break it
Fix it
Paint it
Cook it
Perform it
Test it
Judge it
Do it (as long as it is unusual)

With him/her/them shows (though some are "for" not totally "with")

Live with []
Date with []
Drink with []
Sleep with []
Race with []
Compete with []
Fight with []
Sing with []
Search with []

So there are still openings for

Teach it


Deal with (both [] and it)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

There must be some misunderstanding.

I know that parents and teenagers are not supposed to get along. It's a rule or something. But I have been doing fairly well with my elder teen. She is a couple of years into the teen age and still acknowledges me in public. I see this as a victory.

Truth is, she has little choice. I teach in her school and if she didn't accept my presence and even talk to me, how would she be able to soak me for money during the course of the school day? Also, I teach many of her friends and they don't say universally negative things about me so she has to deal with the fact that, though I'm her father, other teenagers think I'm not all bad.

I am interested, though, in the psychology of the parent-child divide. I have spotted a whole mess of reasons why adults and kids argue, some general and some specific to the dynamic in my house. I won't bore you with the details. I'll bore you with the generalities. Or not. I'll stick with the details. Feel free to be bored.

This morning, I was sitting in the car with my elder-spawn. I drive her to school every day. This way she doesn't have to catch the bus and I can be sure she gets to school on time. Win/win except for the part where I have to wake her up every morning and get her to be ready for the car ride. So this morning we were leaving extra early as she and her class are departing for a grade trip to Canada, our suburb to the north. The Great White Away, Land of Maple Flags and secessionist thinking. You know the place. I think there was a National Geographic special about it.

While waiting in the car, the youth spoke to me (huzzah). She said (and I quote), "I feel that Verizon texts are free in Canada." I paused and considered her statement. I know nothing of charges in Canada or of Verizon's pricing structure there. I barely know about them in America and I live near America so you'd think I know. I kept thinking about it while staring off into the distance in the car. I realized, though, that one should not completely ignore comments made by children as the day will come, too soon, that said child will refuse to talk to me all together. So I gave a phatic response of "mmmhmmm" to show her that I was listening. I imbued it with no emotion and said it in the noncommittal way you'd answer someone who says, for no reason at all, "I think that tulips are the tastiest flower."

Silence followed. A nice awkward, heavy silence. Then my daughter's friend, who was also in the car (as I was driving her to school for the trip as well) said "How do you know texts are free in Canada?" Child-A responded "My dad said so."


I pounced. "I said NO SUCH THING." I spoke now EMphatically. I did not yell, but I was speaking in all caps. "Yes, you just did" she insisted. Now, I know I was there in the car. And I know that not 30 seconds had elapsed, and I haven't had a drink in days, if not days. I stuck to my guns. "No, I never, ever, said that. I have no idea about Canadian texts -- why would I say that?"

She wheeled around to her friend, "Didn't he just say mm, hmm when I mentioned it?" Her friend agreed that I had said "mmm hmmm."

I said "I said that the way you would say 'mmmhmmm' if I were simply to say something crazy like 'I feel that the moon is made of green cheese,' or 'Clean your room' and you didn't want me to claim I am being ignored."

She came back with "You said texts were free." Very witty that child.

"No," I explained, "YOU said it. Did you ever hear me say those words?"

She admitted that she hadn't heard me say those words but ended with "But you told me that they were." We were getting nowhere, and not even all that quickly.

I tried to explain that I would have understood had she said "When I made my comment you didn't disagree and made a sound which I thought was agreement." I tried to explain that all she could attribute to me was (at best) corroboration, but to claim that "I said" it to her was incorrect. I tried to explain that this is why, in 100 other cases, she insists that "I said" something when I know I didn't, and I'm not a lying lunatic. I really didn't say them but she is projecting her having said it and not (caring to hear or) hearing a clear objection, imputing the actual saying to me. She interrupted me with a classic teenage response.

"Fine! Whatever!" That's kid-speak for "shut up jerkwad, if I wanted to hear you have an opinion I wouldn't have become a teenager."

Then the kicker. She tried to sum the entire experience up with "We just had a misunderstanding."

This is not a misunderstanding. A misunderstanding is when two people who generally share a common dialect find that one semantic tool within that dialect actually has divergent meanings and they do not encode/decode using identical schema. We would have had a misunderstanding had she attributed to me the validating "mm hmm" when I was using the phatic "mmmhmmm." What actually happened was that the teen aged brain created a reality -- she called an entire universe into existence in the car. She revised history to fit with her new universe, and then dragged me into it as the guilty party.

So if you want to know why parents and their teen-aged kids argue, don't ascribe it to some generalized age gap, or cultural differences or anything as mundane as that. The cause is simply that teen agers are insane and adults are not.

I'm glad I cleared that up for you.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

"Gleek" refers to spitting.

I'm not a fan of Glee.

I wanted to put that out there because I need you to understand where I'm coming from in this post -- it is a very well established position. Those of you who know me probably aren't surprised that I don't like Glee and are wondering why I felt the need to put that sentiment out there. I really just wanted to make sure that the 6 viewers who drifted in from China over the last week know what they have gotten themselves into.

So anyway, I wanted to explore this idea before the world realizes that Glee's 15 minutes of fame are up (ironically, Fame had only 10 minutes). So why do I dislike Glee with such a passion? We'll ignore that I don't enjoy lip syncing (cf ), musicals (with the exception of Singing in the Rain, The Muppet Movie and The Blues Brothers), teen-angst driven soap operas and any combination thereof. I don't like Glee because it takes the songs I hate and drives them down my throat and mixes it up by taking songs that I grew up with and like and watering them down so that my pre-teen walks around humming them.

I'm OK that my brood can appreciate some Foreigner or Beatles, but I'd like to think it is because she heard it in its original form and appreciated quality -- not because she saw some guy singing it on TV and he's just so dreamy. It is disconcerting when a 12 year old hears a song from 1972 and says "Oh, they're covering that Glee song." Music is part of a continuum and one has to appreciate the whole to connect fully with the parts. To take a song out of context, sanitize it and then stick it in the mouth of some actor so that the Kidzbop generation can latch on to it irks me no end. Then I considered that, eventually, the show will run out of classic hits to rip-off and will either have to write new songs and live or die on the strength of its own performance, or it will start to sing songs that it can't mask as being pop pap. Sure, they can find a way to incorporate Conquistador into a show but will they have Bridge of Sighs? I'd even like to hear them do Seven Bridges Road, but can they tackle Journey of the Sorcerer? When is there going to be a theme show dedicated to the songs of Bob Dylan? Can I set my DVR for the show based on the musical stylings of Gary Numan?

And another thing -- this is not life. When we sing in real life, it is in the shower and even to ourselves, we sound mediocre at best. Set pieces don't erupt from no where and accompaniment doesn't materialize when we, in the midst of a tense class, find the lyrics to some song by Jo Jo Gunne are hauntingly relevant. Also, I don't want my young 'uns singing and dancing to One Toke Over the Line because there was a 'very special episode' on about drug use. So until Glee decides that they can make Boris the Spider into the next big thing, I'll pass.

And finally, Glee glamorizes the songs already glamorous. I have had the good fortune of hearing many un (or under) signed bands. If the Glee people want to perform a service, adopt some great music from small bands and make them famous instead of jumping on the most popular bandwagons in town. Sure, anyone can have a Madonna episode, but what about a Gripweeds episode? Trust me -- it would be awesome! So if anyone out there knows someone who works for Glee, pass along my credentials -- I'm an angry old man and I have great ideas for how we can finally run that show into the ground but regain musical integrity.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

2-4-6-8 why don't I appreciate

Sandy is gone. Bluster and brute force that she was, she has moved on to kill greener pastures. In her wake (an eerie word to choose) she has redrawn the map of the east coast and left a swath of devastation. I don't think we use the word swath enough so we have that to be thankful for. But while I like to think globally I really can't get past the local angle.

In case you are wondering, and even if you're not, I am writing this on my phone as I sit in my brother's house. You see, I am still out of power and heat. I used to look at people who were later to receive utilities and think, "wow, how rustic." Now I'm one of them and I'm just annoyed. But every time I get ready to complain about it someone posts something on Facebook or in an email reminding me of how many people have it worse than I and how appreciative I should be that I am alive and all that.

Sure, I am glad that my house isn't under water. I am glad that I had the foresight to fill the cars with gas and assemble flashlights, batteries and candles. I am glad that no tree or powerline fell on me or anyone or thing that I love. But come on. Isn't enough already? Must I continue to be so appreciative or can I finally shout "well, having no power or heat is pretty bad too, you know!"

I don't want to sound selfish. I know I have so much to be thankful for (including good friends and wonderful family all of whom have opened their houses to us) but there comes a time when I want to stop being reminded how bad off someone else is and be allowed to acknowledge that my situation is pretty stinky as well. I'm not wallowing or looking for pity. I just want permission not to feel guilty when I consider my own problems and ignore, at least for a time, anyone else's. I want to look out for my own family's lack of shoes and not have anyone tsk tsk me for not recognizing that some people don't have feet.