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Faux Outrage

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Category Archives: Technology!

The accusations began suddenly and strangely.

The bold ones would simply declare, “You are left-handed!” while those compromised by self-doubt or a sense of humility and calm would less confidentially raise this serious allegation in question form:

“You’re left-handed, right?”

“Right.”

(ABOVE) An emporium of woe.

“That’s what I thought.”

“No, right.”

“You’re a righty?”

“Yeah, right.”

“So you are a lefty?”

“No, right.”

[etc.]

These types of conversations consistently left both parties confused, and following each successful defense of my correct-handedness, the accusing party would always walk away muttering the same sentence: “I don’t know why I always thought you were a lefty.”  And I didn’t know either.  For years, I could not understand why I was so often called upon to defend myself from the serious, frightening allegations of left-handedness.

I used the regular scissors in grade school!

Notebooks are made for me and my people!

Standard manual can-openers do not frustrate me in the slightest!

And then one day, all at once, “miraculously” and without warning, I immediately realized why close companions would come to the conclusion that I was left-handed, even if they had no idea where the assumption came from: I wore a (calculator!) watch on my right wrist.  For whatever reason, I did not receive the memo explaining that you are supposed to wear your watch on your non-dominant wrist.

I guess I’ve always been a bit of a rebel.

We tend to think of watches as a wardrobe staple, but the reality is that until the First World War — when watches were tied to the wrist with a leather strap for easy access — wristwatches were thought of as exclusively within the feminine domain.  To illustrate this point, in The History and Evolution of the Wristwatch, one gentleman lets it be known that he “would sooner wear a skirt as wear a wristwatch.”

Do you think he would be surprised to learn that today men wear both?

The common wristwatch rose in popularity throughout the early 20th century, buoyed in part by the invention of a self-winding system in 1923 by John Harwood (who is not famous enough to have a proper Wikipedia page but does have this).  By the end of the 1960’s, new electric-powered watches flooded the marketplace and by the 1980’s, electronic timekeeping devices had seized a majority control of the watch market.

It’s all true.

And yet, I think the day of reckoning has come for electronic watches.  For mechanical watches, too.  In twenty years, I would not be surprised to learn that watch market has completely collapsed, and that the folks still buying “timepieces” (as they will undoubtedly be re-branded in the future) are the same people who keep a record player in their house and/or are exclusively interested in the art and status of the watch.  Excuse me, the “piece.”

These days, though we may have many problems, we happen to know what time it is.  We have our cell phones, we have our computers, and we can tell by the position of the moon when The Daily Show is about to start.  Watches had a good run, don’t get me wrong, but I won’t be surprised when there is a 60 Minutes report in 2026 where Andy Rooney Jr. III laments the fact that we no longer have the human decency to wear watches.

Oh, and it would sound a little something like this (read in the voice of Andy Rooney):

Whatever happened to watches?  We still need to know what time it is, so why is it that people no longer wear a watch on their wrist?  My dad always wore a watch, and he was never late.  Watches don’t just tell time; they tell a story.  Why, when I was a boy, a watch was a sign of adulthood.  I got my first watch when I was 8.  My mother gave it to me.  She would tell me to be home by six o’clock, and by golly, if the minute hand — do you remember those? — one was click past 12, she would give me a time out.  I still have that watch, by the way, and every time I look at it, I remember to call my mom and make time for the woman who gave it to me.  A watch reminds us there is only so much time.

I am a little bit ahead of the trend, giving up my watch around 2004, and I am happy to report that I’ve barely noticed any change at all.

The only difference now is that nobody thinks I’m left-handed.

Dearest Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is time to move on!  

It is time we recognize that some of us continue to engage in completely inefficient, illogical behavior.  It is time we recognize that we should not expect the present to resemble the past, and that our future should not — and will not! — resemble the present. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is time to move on.

Let’s stop leaving voicemail messages.  Forever.

It is not often suggested that society should take cues from tweens, teenagers, tweenagers, or whatever we are currently calling Our Nation’s Most Insufferable Generation (side note: do not forget that you used to be exactly like them except your clothes were somehow even stupider).

Conventional wisdom suggests that unless you’re looking for the a comprehensive list of talentless pop stars or morbidly curious what it is like to speak with someone born after Y2K, it is probably best to leave these kids alone and hope that they won’t defund medicare and social security when they grow up.

But I recommend that we actually look to them, at least with regard to voicemail.  Simply put: kids don’t get voicemails.  They understand voicemails, sure, but that is precisely why they do not get them.

The next generation knows better.

To be clear, when I say “voicemail,” I’m referring to the voicemail tied to our cell phones.  Though there are plenty of landlines still functioning all over the world, the vast majority of the people I interact with on a daily basis depend primarily on their cell phones.

Every aspect of our voice mailbox is predicated on the technology that preceded it: the answering machine.  We all know that the original purpose of the answering machine was to provide a method for a caller to convey information to a telephone owner without actually speaking to him/her.  The answering machine benefited both the caller, who did not have to call back to convey certain information, and the owner, who did not have to be there to receive it.

The answering machine was a godsend.

Amazingly, though the technology has been around since there was a wall divided East from West Germany, our cell phone voice mailboxes contain the precisely the same instructions that we’ve been boring our friends and family with since the 1980’s.  “You’ve reached the voice mailbox of Soandso.  At the ‘beep,’ please leave your name and number and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.”  I think as a people, we should be beyond this by now.  There are those who do think we have it all figured out, the ones who use their message to record a simple, “You know what to do!”

Apparently, we do not.

Thankfully, understanding the magic of the answering machine is not passed onto the next generation through DNA.  “Kids these days” — the ones who did not grow up relying on this particular technology — are able to view the machine’s usefulness through an objective lens.

And that is a good thing.

So what does the next generation understand that some of us clearly do not? Simple: they understand that the most efficient, effective way to communicate with someone who is not answering their phone is to send that person a text message.

There are those who will deem this practice “impersonal,” but I think that criticism ignores the fact that impersonality is the very essence of the original answering machine: as a rule, you are talking to nobody.  What could be more impersonal than that?  

Text messages provide several benefits over voicemail messages:

  1. Caller is able to communicate ideas quickly
  2. Caller is able to communicate ideas discretely
  3. Receiver instantly receives communication
  4. Receiver is able to quickly read/respond
  5. Receiver is able to discretely read/respond

For example, let’s take a look at this classic Seinfeld clip:

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While it may be a little bit depressing that almost every single telephone-based joke in the Seinfeld clip above would be lost on a member of Generation Text, it is emblematic of the transition that is taking place.  Since the popularization of cell phones, the following situations depicted in the clip no longer resonate:

  1. George is able to listen to an answering machine message as it is being recorded
  2. George picks up the phone in the middle of a message recording
  3. George pretends he does not know that he has been contacted by Allison
  4. George plausibly calls the wrong number in order to avoid communication

The main concern that George has with regard to being “found out” is his not wanting to go to the coffee shop because Allison might spot him there.  Can any of us still imagine a world where our being physically located by chance is the only concern we have if we do not wish to be contacted by an acquaintance or have a plausible excuse for not having received their communications?

George was living in simpler time: simply ignore the answering machine and lay low.

Today, our cell phones give us great power to contact anyone in a moment’s notice, but on the contrary as well.  None of us are ever more than a touchscreen away.  Yet, despite the fact that 21st century technology and society does not resemble this particular Seinfeld episode, many of us pretend that we still live in George Costanza’s world.  

Count yourself among this illustrious group if the piles of cassette tapes stacked behind George and Jerry’s pre-iMac computer did not register as laughably dated.  Etch your name in stone if you also recognized the song being parodied in George’s answering machine message.

Let’s all agree to send text messages instead of leaving voicemails.

Who is with me?

The next generation of Americans may not know much, but they do know the best way to get in touch with each other.  Even if you can bet what they end up talking about won’t make any sense.

In any case, you can stop pretending like this isn’t good news: you hate what your voice sounds like anyway.

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On July 20th, 1969, Two very important things happened as a result of the Apollo 11 mission:

  1. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to walk on the moon.
  2. Children began to reasonably expect that by the time they became adults, they would own rocketpacks.

I can’t help but feel a deep, nerdy empathy for the 10-year-old who, with tears welling, watched Armstrong and Co. touch-down and romp around in the Sea of Tranquility.  That child had fantastic expectations about his future that made perfect sense at the time, but that we know today to have been completely misguided.

Though our instincts might be to partially place blame on an overly optimistic star-gazing youth, it is impossible to ignore the incredible amount of rocketry-related technological progress that had taken place during his sentient lifetime.

Yet from the perspective of that 10-year-old at the time, it wasn’t incredible at all.  In 1966, just three years before the manned mission, the United States had sent its first unmanned missions to the moon’s surface.  Only 4 years before that was the United State’s first spacecraft to reach another celestial body.  The pace was incredible, and no scientifically-inclined individual in those days — child or otherwise — had justifiable reason for pessimism.

It was just life.

Of course we are shooting rockets into space.

Of course there are people standing on the moon.

Of course I’m going to have a rocketpack.

What were the reasons to believe otherwise?

To be sure, my generation dabbled in the promise of rocketpackery, but oddly, though I was born more than a decade after the moon landing, I never felt that I was destined to carry a rocketpack. My friends and I more closely associated the technology with science fiction than the obvious end-result of our current scientific pace.  We never lived in a time — like those kids who watched the moon landing — when strapping a jet engine to our back seemed plausible, let alone the logical conclusion of the direction we were headed as a society.

At least I had video games.

Let me be clear: It’s not unusual or remotely interesting that a 10-year-old in 1969 has a vastly different impression of how the world was going to progress by the time he became a grownup compared to the impressions a 10-year-old in 1992, but the promise of a rocketpack is an interesting case.  Usually, a modern child would have a more optimistic sense of what is possible given the advances that had occurred in his lifetime on top of whatever the child from a previous generation knew/understood.

Not so in the case of the rocketpack!

As time went on, while the desire to fly around via one’s own personal rocket remained constant, the reasonable expectation that it would happen in our lifetime diminished with gradual-to-great speed.

Ironically, full-scale globalization and unrelenting world-wide media is what distracted wide-eyed kids like myself from the planet earth.  By the time I was cognizant, national attention had shifted from space travel and exploration to military technology.  Growing up, I was far more likely to hear reports of the Patriot missiles and “bunker-busters” of the (First) Gulf War than anything resembling the optimism inherent in the Apollo missions.  I feel this is true despite fond, specific memories of watching the sun rise one morning in Florida in hopes that we would see (what turned out to be an aborted) Endeavor launch.

So here we are, even further from July 20, 1969.  Do any of us still feel as though rocketpacks are in our future?  Do kids today have any optimism whatsoever about rocketpacks?  I know there are a bunch of prototypes floating (!) around, and I know that investors are always “working on a new fuel source,” but we landed on the moon over 40 years ago and the best we have to show for it are jetpacks that hover for around a half minute.

I’ve had sneezing fits that lasted longer.

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Color me unimpressed.

In any event, my generation lucked out.  What we lack in rocketpackery we make up for with the Internet.  Sure, we don’t have any fancy astronaut heroes, but there are over a billion search results for “cat videos” on Google.  Yeah, it’s true that we never really experienced what it was like to root for our country in a purely scientific, progressive context (as opposed to military and athletic prowess), but now we can order a pizza without picking up the telephone!  And our telephones don’t even have cords anymore!  No, we won’t get to watch US citizens walk on the surface of Mars anytime soon, but hey, did I mention the cat videos?

I’m turning 30 in a few months and I’m starting to believe/fear that I’ll never own a rocketpack of my own.  Maybe it’s for the best, though.  A rocketpack would seriously cut into my Internet time.

The fictionary was recently invented (by me, out of thin air), so we might as well add to it.

cropportunity (krop-er-too-ni-tee)
noun

a favourable, appropriate, or advantageous combination of circumstances whereby a formerly pleasant (though now undesirable person) is able to be easily removed from a digital photograph, the result of which is an enjoyable photo still worthy of display

For example: “I can’t believe I invited my ex on our trip to Parthenon, but I found a bunch of cropportunities in the photos in Athens where he is posing way to our left.”

In The Era of Facebook (or however you would like to drastically overstate the importance of any single technology), we find ourselves in a constant state of backward-looking awareness.  No single era of our life is ever completely buried, emotionally or otherwise. Photos from ten years ago will always seem as though they were taken yesterday when reviewed regularly, for better or for worse.

Our pictures and videos and messages from (ex-girl)friends are always a click or three away, and never strewn about the inside a shoebox placed neatly underneath stacks of yellowed newspapers.  Our pictures and videos and messages have no physical form and exist only on the hard drives in our computers and in our minds.

Even the squares in my generation know to shake ‘it’ like a Polaroid picture, but we haven’t seen one of those black and white rectangles in years.

We keep shoes in our shoeboxes.

And to the extent that our memories are only kind of shaped by what actually happens and mostly shaped by the way we choose to document and digest our experiences, I think we ought to train ourselves to look for cropportunities.  Remembering a slightly modified, half-true happy memory certainly beats the heck out of removing those photographs from your hard drive (and consciousness) forever.

I guess this is also a reminder that you should never let your (possibly temporary) significant other get between you and your friends and family, literally.

If you do, you might miss out on a wonderful cropportunity.

Remember: You can check out the other mostly-useless Faux Word of the Day words by checking out the Faux Outrage Fictionary!

The phrase “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results” is often attributed to a guy named Albert Einstein.

We attribute these words to Einstein in part because the fundamental idea presented (“Experiment!”) certainly seems like something he would have subscribed to — if our celebrity-obsessed caricature of him is to be maintained — and also because we tend to stare extra hard at words when we know that they were uttered by a person that we generally respect (even if that particular person is at least partially responsible for 200,000 human casualties, give or take).

As it turns out, though Einstein said a lot of things, there is no record of him having made this particular quip about the relationship between insanity and repetitive thing-doing.  The reality is that the quote should be credited to Rita Mae Brown, a relatively and theoretically famous writer, but not the really famous writer of the Theory of Relativity.  That we attribute this quote over and over again to Einstein is, in my opinion, is equal parts insane and ironic.

Regardless of where the quote originated, and despite the fact that there is ample reason to discourage repetitive, unsuccessful thing-doage, I don’t think it quite captures precisely what it means to be/act “insane.”  Instead, I think we should start printing the following on posters, from sea to shining sea:

“Insanity is dealing with a problem effectively at first but then, for no discernible reason, ignoring the solution and replacing it with nothing.”

In other words, everything we need to know about insanity can be understood by addressing the rise and fall of the standard, no-frills bicycle bell.  And though this tiny bell has never been a reason to commit an otherwise healthy person to a padded room, our complacency about (at best) or disdain for (at worst) this metallic marvel is nothing short of cuckoo.

The percentage of bikes that sport a bell, so far as I can tell, has taken a nosedive.  And though we still are very much living in the same world and surrounded by the same circumstances that necessitated the invention of the bicycle bell, we seem to have chosen to remove the bell from our bikes and replace it with…nothing.

Instead, bikers are “forced” to hearken back to the olden days and insist on warning pedestrians by yelling any number of versions of the technically accurate though actually most dangerous phrase in the universe“On your left!  Your left!”

This string of words produces, a vast majority of the time, precisely the opposite reaction than the speaker hopes.  When a thinking person hears, from behind, someone anxiously shriek, “Your left!”, the natural, understandable and immediate reaction is to move quickly to the left (directly into the bike’s warpath).  A far more effective technique would be to take this standard warning call and replace it with literally any other loud noise, which would prompt a pedestrian to triangulate the location/distance of the bike and move their body appropriately.

Literally any other loud noise.

You know, like a bell.

Ideally, when a new technology results in unintended negative consequences, the solution cycle (!) looks like this:

  1. Useful Technology invented 🙂
  2. Useful Technology causes unintended badness 😦
  3. Implement Other Thing to limit unintended badness 😐
  4. Final Solution = Useful Technology + Other Thing 😀

If we know steps (3) and (4), we should never ignore them nor pretend as though they do not exist.  As Albert Einstein — whose name gives instant credibility to this phrase — once maybe said, “Insanity is dealing with a problem effectively at first but then, for no discernible reason, ignoring the solution and replacing it with nothing.”

In a sane universe, here is how we would deal with the unintended negative consequences of bicycle traffic causing confusion when riders approach and overtake pedestrians:

  1. The bicycle is invented!
  2. The bicycle causes confusion for pedestrians!
  3. Ringing a bicycle bell alerts pedestrians of bike location.
  4. Final solution = Bicycle + bell

Unfortunately, this is not the world we currently live in.

Yet I still have hope that (one day!) we will re-learn to embrace the fantastic power of the simple bike bell.

As someone who has only recently begun to acknowledge that on the Venn Diagram of Life, I am officially outside the oblong spheroid that reads “The Next Generation.”  One of the few benefits of this unfortunate realization is that it is finally acceptable — and encouraged! — that I begin sentences with the phrase, “In my day…”

Kids these days — with their texting machines, Jersey Shores, and Justin Beibers — can you believe them?  No, you can’t!  You can’t believe them at all.  Someone has to set this babyfaced group of ungrateful whippersnappers straight.  And that someone is me, at least for right now, until I get distracted by some YouTube video of two otters holding hands or something.

I guess I’m not that far removed from these 21st century digital kids, you know.

 

A lot has changed in Internetland since the reality of online chat first slapped me across the face in the mid 1990’s — mostly for the better.  The population of Internet users has grown — quite literally — exponentially.  The number of legitimate resources, for reference and entertainment, is essentially — though not literally — infinite.  We are no longer at the mercy of our analogue phone lines.  These are all enormous steps in a positive direction.

Almost everything about the Internet that could have been improved has been improved.

That said…

In my day, we had more than just ‘BRB’!

And we liked it that way!

Really, we did.  It was a lot better.

Paul Simon is pretty adamant that there are 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, but there are also a number of ways to leave your computer in the midst of an online chatting session.  “BRB” is just the tip of the not-here iceberg, yet it has become the default, the gold standard for every situation, regardless of circumstance.

It didn’t used to be this way.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Just slip out the back, Jack.

Here’s how we used to do it, in the Good Ol’ Days, back when New York Times editors insisted on modifying the word “Internet” with “a series of interconnected computers.”

BRB / “be right back”

BRB actually means something very specific!  It means “be right back.”  Period.  If you are not going to “be right back,” then you should not use BRB.  If you’re going to the bathroom, you will BRB (unless, well, you know).  If you’re getting coffee from the break room, BRB is appropriate. But if you are heading out to lunch, find a different string of letters.

My general rule of thumb is this: Use BRB if the task you are about to engage in is in the same building as the one you are currently inhabiting and will definitely be completed in 5 minutes or less.

Otherwise, here is a list of useful acronyms to choose from.

AFK / “away from keyboard”

Nowadays, when we say BRB, what we usually mean is AFK.  You use AFK when you intend — intentionally or otherwise — to be as vague as possible regarding the amount of time you will be unavailable.  This acronym is used for several reasons, but most often because the speaker (typer?) is unsure of the amount of time that s/he will be absent, or the conversation is over and the amount of time is irrelevant to the other party in the conversation.

If you are about to go help a cat out of a tree, you are AFK.  If you are a cat who is about to go up into a tree, you are also AFK.

BBIAB / “be back in a bit”

BBIAB, for my money (approx. $0), is the most underutilized going-away acronym.  Those of us who used this string of characters back in the day should strongly consider resurrecting it on a permanent basis.  When you type BBIAB, you are communicating to the listening (reading?) party that the amount of time between now, the leaving time, and once again being available to chat is going to be long, but possibly not so long that the current conversation should be considered “over.”

When the party you are communicating with claims BBIAB, feel free to temporarily remove yourself from the conversation.  Get up.  Have a glass of water.  Crank out a few more pages of that memoir you’ve been working on.  They’ll be back, but not soon enough that you should feel compelled to be an active member of the conversation.

BBL / “be back later”

BBL is as close as you can get to saying goodbye without typing T-T-Y-L.  The only thing that separates “be back later” from “talk to you later” is that the former suggests that the conversation currently taking place is not yet complete.  In other words, whereas TTYL means We’re done with this, BBL roughly translates to We’re done with this for now.

Epilogue

Unfortunately (Fortunately?), this whole discussion about which chatting acronyms are superior to or compatible with BRB will soon be moot.  Some would fairly argue that it already is moot.  The notion that you would feel compelled to communicate the idea that you are not available to be contacted via some form of digital chat already seems a bit antiquated.

We are slowly, for better or for worse, living our lives based on an overwhelming sense of omniavailability. We are available, always, and thus never feel as though we are “leaving” our conversations, even for a moment.

How can we BRB or even BBIAB if we are never really AFK?

Ain’t technology (and awkward folksy speech) grand?

Every so often, in the midst of an all-to-common daydream (the one where I am doing the opposite of whatever I am actually doing), I am comforted by how wonderful it is to live in a time when most of my otherwise fatal — or at the very least, highly destructive — flaws are muted by the tangible result of a long line of expertly developed technologies.

For example, I can’t spell, but what I can do is press F7 and notice red squiggly lines beneath my unintentionally-though-irresponsibly-lettered words!  My sense of direction is as developed as my extra sensory perception, but I have no trouble following the soothing, robotic instructions from that not-quite-British lady’s voice on a GPS.  I’m a terrible hunter (probably?), but man, these modern food delivery systems really make eating really, really simple!

Technology: quite grand, indeed.

And yet, as the years go by, as technologists continue to technologize technologizingly, there are folks who wish to turn back the clock — to the extent that we still physically “turn back” clocks, which we don’t, because clocks are digital now.  We have somehow gotten to the point where the phrase “turn back the clock” has evolved into an example of the days-of-yore notion it references. It’s pretty incredible, actually: a saying that hearkens back to the past is completely outdated.  So, as a general rule of thumb, the next time you wish to accuse someone of being a Luddite (Ludditity?), do not fist-poundingly declare that they wish “to turn back the clock” unless you are trying to score some serious irony points.

I digress.

(Really.  It’s what I do.)

(Also, I do a lot of typing in parenthesis.)

Anyway, back to the intersection between food delivery systems and technology.

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to suggest that the development of food preservation technologies radically changed the course of human history.  By storing and modifying foods in such a way as to increase their shelf-life, people were able to apportion time otherwise spent on fresh food prep for, well, pretty much anything else.  And that was a good thing, except when that “anything else” time was used for causing destruction and general mayhem.  Food preservation led to reduction of illness (though an increase in slicing-your-hand-open-on-jagged-can), extended life expectancy, and enabled complex communities to form by centralizing food production, which allowed people to focus on developing other socially useful skills (like clock-making!).

Preservatives changed the world!  For the better!

And yet, today, “preservative” is a bad word.  Preservatives are not to be trusted, consumed, or ever even purchased in the first place.  We are now inundated with reports that they will make you sick, ruin your local community, and even kill you in the long term!  In other words, the opposite of the actual history of food preservation.

Of course, there are good reasons for buying preservative-free food when preservation is not at the top of your list of concerns, but let’s cut these world-changers some slack.

So please, when you’re standing in line so you can pay twice as much for bread that will last 15% as long, just know that one of the primary reasons you’re able to make the choice to live a highbrow, organic lifestyle is due to the trail blazed by those pesky, icky preservatives you’re paying so much to avoid.

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