Monthly Archives: February 2009

Think – it’s not illegal yet

I have a magnet on my fridge that I love. It’s an image of a boy’s face and hands covering his ears and it says “Think – it’s not illegal yet.” It’s one of the awesomest things about being human and about being American. We have the ability as humans to think and communicate with each other, so we should, I think. And Americans (technically) have the power of FREE thought and speech, which means we shouldn’t be persecuted for this and we are (theoretically) encouraged to think and speak with each other. Which is why I blog, why I love my commenters.

Thanks Sleepydumpling for your comment on my last post. Hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to quote it here and my response.

Sleepydumpling:

Wanna know the truth? Our parents had the same bewilderment at our using the boring old telephone when we were teenagers.

THEIR parents had the same bewilderment at them watching TV.

And THEIR parents before them had the same bewilderment at our grandparents listening to the radio.

And it goes right back to the parents of those post Gutenberg who wanted to learn to read and own books.

Technology is inevitable, it’s just always getting shinier than it was for the previous generation.

Roll with it baby!

My response:

You make a good point. But I think you also help to illustrate mine. This kind of change, generational confusion and miscommunication is NOT new, no.

However, it’s speeding up. What’s a generation? Didn’t it used to be like 20 years, the median length of time in which, theoretically, a human could begin to mature and become sexually active and reproduce? However, everybody I ask seems to be confused about whether this is still a typical generational length because the people born at opposite ends of a twenty-year time period have less and less in common with each other.

Here’s a quote from Wikipedia:

“It is important to distinguish between familial and cultural generations. A familial generation is defined as the average time between a mother’s first offspring and her daughter’s first offspring. This makes a generation around 25 years in length give or take a few years. Cultural generations are significantly shorter, as noted below. Many experts now believe, partly because of the acceleration of culture, that cultural generations are approximately 10-15 years long. This trend of shorter generations is increasing, so that it is most relevant for recent generations.”

So my point is that while it’s normal for OUR PARENTS and THEIR PARENTS to be bewildered at their children, etc. I AM NOT A PARENT, there is technically no generational shift and I am currently bewildered at people who are 5 and 10 years younger than me, part of my generation, officially. While I was teaching, most of my students were about 5 years younger and often didn’t get many of my references (keep in mind, I’m a dork and I’m an only child raised by what was considered “older” parents at the time) and I was consistently bewildered by them. My family got their first home computer when I was 16 whereas my students, most of them, have never lived in a home without at least one computer. Many of them don’t remember a time before everyone had cell phones, before GPS and etc.

So one of my points, I suppose, is that technology makes it easier to communicate, but it also makes it much, much harder in ways that are hard to quantify and understand. The real point – we need to make constant, conscious efforts to understand, take time to hesitate before jumping into the latest craze.

One of my exes said that he would be happy to replace one of his flesh and blood limbs with a rocking mechanical one and be a cyborg. Regardless of whether he would, if really faced with this, er…opportunity, there ARE people who would, undoubtedly. And this worries me. While it’s amazing what mechanics can do for people who do lose their limbs, why would anyone voluntarily give up some of their natural body, their human qualities, in order to become more machine-like? Please keep in mind I’m not saying that people with prosthetic limbs are less human; my point is that the mentality behind replacing our bodies, our minds, our skills with computers, without thought, without consideration, without hesitation, is confusing and upsetting to me.

Maybe this sounds extreme to you, but check this out, it’s already happening

But you know what I’m saying? About communication, hesitation? Dentyne gets it. Really gets it. Not to mention, they’re smart.

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Technology Resistant

It’s time for a new post. Beyond time, probably. I stand by my accordion post, but I got a few emails about that one. LOL. Eh, at least you’re writing me.

So I recently described myself as technology resistant. I should clarify that I understand most technologies, especially the ones I need to become accustomed to as a writer and for jobs. You’re looking at the product of one, actually. And, I was a squealy squealy girl when my friend Mel plugged a dohicky cord into my MP3 player, attaching it to her car radio and we got to drive around South Louisiana to my favorite songs. Her iPhone is pretty fantastic, actually. She can solve trivia disputes, find the times for movies, get directions, play music, etc., all with a single tool.

I resist, resist, reeeeeeesiiiiisssst the iPhone, however. I acknowledge its greatness and this is WHY I resist it. Once you pop, you can’t stop. Every iPhone owner I know tells me this and I take one look at it’s glittery goodness and I know. I will be come THAT person, the one none of us can stand, who is addicted to technology and helpless without it. I purposefully buy the cheapest, least glorious phone I can find and limit all the bells and whistles. And you know, as much as I complained about my basic red Samsung, I have dropped that thing a million times and it’s still going strong. It’s so dinged, cracked and scratched nobody would steal it. I took that thing to Europe, to Russia, to New York and back. It did the trick.

And what about cell phones? It used to be, you screened calls if you didn’t want to talk to someone. “Oh, I wasn’t home.” But there is something about my cell phone answering that urges a Pavlovian response. I can’t bear to ignore the call. And I feel like, if I miss a call, I must respond very quickly. Texts have to be returned asap. I’m connected. Some of the happiest moments are when I forget my phone at home or in my car, except then I’m worried my car will break down and I can’t call for help…

The thing is, folks, I can’t even remember phone numbers anymore. I’m entirely reliant on the pre-programed numbers in my phone. I can remember two of my best friends’ parents’ phone numbers from like 10 years ago with barely any prompting, but I can’t tell you my last boyfriend’s phone number. Or my best friend’s. If I should upgrade to a shiny iPhone, how much more helpless and dependent will I become?

The other day, I struggled for 20 minutes to find phone numbers for a friend using Google, etc. I got the wrong person when I did find a potential number and she promptly opened up her phone book and gave me several helpful numbers. Her phone book. You know, old school, a book. That thing the phone company throws on your porch periodically.

Are we capable of keeping our McGuyver-like, practical, real-world skills as we allow machines to further simplify our lives? Somehow I doubt it.

Another friend (you shall remain safely anonymous) recently asked me sheepishly, “What does LMAO mean again?” We’re not even 30, so don’t call us fuddy-duddies, but the thing is, everything is changing so much faster now due to technology. Sometimes, that’s a cool thing. But more often, it’s bewildering. I find myself saying old-fashioned things like, “Can you turn that down? Do you know correct English? WHAAAAT?!!” quite often. I dream of cabins in the woods without electricity and plumbing, then I kinda shake myself and wonder, “But what would I DO? I’d miss Bones and American Idol. I couldn’t write after it got dark. And outhouses??”

I’m the girl who’s almost desperate to go on Survivor and has confessed to friends that I’d like to be turned into What Not to Wear (Stacy would kill me), except I don’t want to be on t.v. I don’t want my 15 minutes of fame, my blogger stardom. I remember thinking, as a kid, that one of the best things about being a writer was that, unless you were Stephen King, everyone could know your work and not know your face. It was possible for your name to be famous, but you could also go to the grocery store unaccosted. We’re all competing in a super-saturated market.

So how do we market ourselves and our work and still lead private lives? That IS the question. This world is getting faster and smaller and to me, often, scarier.

Take Google Earth, for instance. Ohhhh. Yesterday, I walked up to one of my neighbors at Cheers and he waved me closer to look at his computer screen. And there was… our street. My front door. Satellite images (not real-time, thank goodness) of our street. Up close and personal. It was cool, but I felt a wave of terror and revulsion. I got a bit distracted, back at my own table, by plugging every address from my address book into Google Earth. I was fascinated and really, really creeped out. And you know what? With every address I checked, except for one, I could see front doors, yards, cars, whole streets outside their houses like I was going to visit for lunch.

When did we stop asking, “Just because we can — should we?”

And structured controls of things like satellite imaging and say cloning can get scary too, cause then we’re looking at Big Government, Big Brother type situations. So I guess it comes down to each of us choosing to make active decisions. To try to remember phone numbers, to stop morbidly typing in every address we know into Google Earth. Hesitate. What’s wrong with that? Take your time. We don’t have to jump into everything without thinking about it first, evaluating how it makes us feel, how it may change our lives.

Sigh. So this post all came together because I accidentally got AIM. I signed up for a MapQuest account so I could save my searches and apparently, simultaneously signed up for AIM. This entire blog/rant began there and then I remembered everything that’s happened recently that also pinged the same technology anxieties.

How do we have a private life these days? Between MyFace (let’s go ahead and add AIM, OkCupid, Twitter into all of that) and Google Earth and our iPhones. Everything is connected and some days, that can be great. But it can get problematic. I’m looking for a job right now. All a prospective employer needs to do is type my name into a search engine and this blog comes right up. Perhaps my MySpace, as well. Instantly, they read this latest post “technology resistant” and they’re uncertain whether I can work a fax machine (I can), scan (yep) or probably even type (fastest fingers in the southeast, folks). Maybe they’re resistant to hiring me because I’m technology resistant.

The consequences of everything are harder to escape because the world is small and faster. There’s nothing wrong with being careful, using our problem-solving and analytical abilities to work out what feels right for us, how and when we’re going to invest in the McMyFace world.

Another thing that sparked this blog for me was watching a slideshow of “weird news images” and seeing a picture of a robot acting in a play with a woman. This isn’t where I saw it, but where I found it, second image down. Let me know what you think.

The whole technology issue is brought up in He’s Just Not That Into You, by Drew Barrymore’s character. Her technology stress and anxiety is eerily spot on, very valid. Also, watch the hysterical Top 10 Cliches (under videos) that has three of the male actors (Justin Long, Bradley Cooper and Kevin Connolly) playing girls in cliche romantic comedy scenarios. Very, very funny.

Also, from a little while ago (and wordsmith.org), A THOUGHT FOR TODAY: Myth: we have to save the earth. Frankly, the earth doesn’t need to be saved. Nature doesn’t give a hoot if human beings are here or not. The planet has survived cataclysmic and catastrophic changes for millions upon millions of years. Over that time, it is widely believed, 99 percent of all species have come and gone while the planet has remained. Saving the environment is really about saving our environment – making it safe for ourselves, our children, and the world as we know it. If more people saw the issue as one of saving themselves, we would probably see increased motivation and commitment to actually do so. -Robert M. Lilienfeld, management consultant and author (b. 1953) and William L. Rathje, archaeologist and author (b. 1945)

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There must be something wrong with me…

Confession: I think the accordion is one of the sexiest instruments ever. This twisted part of my psyche is made doubly worse by the fact that my mamma mia! was forced to learn the accordion as a girl and hated it. I *am* researching the circus, so perhaps that makes it better. Probably not. Let’s see if she reads this blog and learns that her daughter is obsessed with the accordion. Should be interesting.

Every time I mentioned the word accordion in this post, I linked to a great song that uses the accordion. Check them out. One of them has not one but TWO accordions playing at the same time (and it’s not the one linked to in this sentence). Sigh. 🙂

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Personal change and political change, a recap and celebration

Where in the world has Emilie been?

So I fully intended to write a blog responding to the inauguration, was super excited about so many things that day. However, in addition to that good kind of excitement, the rest of the day was devoted to a lot of personal emotional highs and lows. It seemed like drama and emotion was coming at me from every angle and all at once. I did get to cap the evening with a drink to toast President Obama with some friends and that was nice, to come back round to that excitement.

I’m kinda surrounded by President Obama at the moment. I’ve been reading Dreams From My Father for some time now. It’s a brilliant achievement in and of itself, but reading it while knowing that the author became America’s president a few years later is pretty cool. I’m consistently amazed at Obama’s storytelling ability, impressed as a writer studying another writer. And I’m fascinated at how troubled and conflicted he is in the book, that he’s brave enough to demonstrate that. And awed at how fluently he describes things I feel every day and struggle to capture.

Additionally, he’s been on pretty much every cover of Newsweek and Time Magazine lately, or at least it seems so. C., my out-going roommate subscribed to both of those, so I got to peek at his copies when they came in the mail. I believe he was even prominent in EW, which is the mag I subscribe to. A few days after the inauguration, I remember grabbing several magazines and DFMF and laying them out on my desk, suddenly struck by the fact that Obama was featured in and on every one. Luckily, I’m happy to be so surrounded. But it’s gotta be tough to be so exposed. I think this is going to have to subside a bit or we’ll all get a little overwhelmed, even and especially President Obama himself.

Right after the inauguration, I planned to break down my favorite portions of his speech, to discuss my feelings and opinions quite leisurely and completely. But since some time has passed, I’ve come to feel that words are largely inadequate to describe everything I’ve thought since the inauguration completely. There will be no completeness – I can’t blog once and finally about this. It’ll crop up later, I’m now quite confident.

In an opening summation, I feel like the speech hit all the right notes. We need to celebrate Obama’s historic presidency, but we also need to get to work right away. So many of us have such faith in him, faith that he can bring about at least some of the change that we need. But for that faith to work, we need to give him time and have patience and he needs to roll up his sleeves and begin immediately. His speech delivered a confidence that he knows this and is ready, while also celebrating what we have already achieved just by choosing this man for the job. His election stands already as a vote of confidence in our future, a willingness to embrace change and each other.

I was rapt for the entire speech, but my favorite parts were mostly toward the end.

– “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.”

– “As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.”

– “And so to all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.”

– “For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass…”

– “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” [By far, my favorite moment of the speech.]

– “Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.”

Read the entire text of the speech here.

Newsweek‘s latest issue commemorates the inauguration and I very much enjoyed the quotes at the end from artists, actors and writers. “What Obama Means to Me” in the Voices section is a must read. Here are some of my favorite parts.

“The United States, a country that (to borrow from Kanye) never really cared about black people, has elected a positive, liberal, non-self-loathing black man to the most powerful office on the planet! WTF?! Who besides the science-fiction writers and the producers of 24 and the most optimistic among us could have imagined this? …. I grew up in a world where people in power didn’t look anything like me. I grew up in an America that didn’t reflect me at all, where I was therefore a ghost. …. India and Matteo, though, will grow up in a world where the most powerful man reflects them back, at least in part. This might mean nothing. It might mean everything. But for the first time in human history we’ll have a chance to find out.” – Junot Diaz

“He is a person whose head and heart are connected, who sees people as linked rather than ranked…” – Gloria Steinem

“The world can put faith in our elections. We finally picked the most qualified man.” – Wynton Marsalis [Despite my desire to someday have a woman president, I actually think we finally picked the most qualified PERSON this time around.]

“…and for the first time in the lives of a lot of white Americans, and maybe even Latino Americans and Asian-Americans, there is going to be a black person in their midst on a daily basis. And over the course of time, gradually, they’re not going to see his color, and certainly won’t focus on it. They’re going to see him as Obama. His race is going to disappear. And in and of itself, that’ll be a tremendous revelation: that, to quote the Muppet movie, ‘people is people.'” – Scott Turow

“He’s a very smart guy. I’m sure he will eventually get that his beliefs should not infringe upon my rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The same way he fell in love with a beautiful woman and had the right to marry her, I should be able to do the same.” – Wanda Sykes

“He is not a black man. He is a black man and a white man. That’s running in his blood, and this is important. It’s a symbol of the bringing together of two sides…” – Nadine Gordimer

“When we look at Obama we see our own possibility. When we look at ourselves in the mirror of our new leader, we aren’t looking for a single simple narrative to take our differences away. We know that’s not real. We know how complex we are. Maybe we didn’t realize how ready we were to accept our complexity.” – Anna Deavere Smith

“Obama means a world I never thought would come to pass. At least not with me here to see it.” – Sidney Poitier

“I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on earth is my story even possible.” – Barack Obama from his “A More Perfect Union” speech (near the end of the Newsweek issue).

For the record, I couldn’t find any of the Commemorative Inaugural Edition online so I could link to it – I think Newsweek‘s trying to keep it special so people will buy the issue to commemorate the event. I recommend you do so, cause I only selected partial quotes and there was a lot of cool stuff in the issue.

Right after the inauguration, I was talking with anybody who’d listen and started musing over an Obama/Superhero analogy. Because he’s become an important historic figure and such a pop icon (so relatively quickly), I think it’s important that we keep things in perspective. I’m not so worried about President Obama himself – anyone looking at his family can see they’ve got that covered. Now for my superhero comparisons, let’s take the various movie editions because they’re the ones the greatest majority (including me) are more fluent in, because they’re the pop culture result of another pop culture entertainment format that often embodies a lot of psychology and philosophy.

Batman – At first, I thought Obama and Batman are only shallowly related because of the Chicago/Gotham City aspect. Batman is essentially a vigilante and that goes against my vision of Obama. But then I found this blog discussing Obama and politics in relation to the newest Batman movie and I thought it was interesting. It made me think maybe they do have more in common. Batman has no powers and has to use the resources he does have to compensate in order to protect Gotham – intelligence, cleverness, money. And then I remembered an EW piece I read where Obama and McCain were asked their favorite superheros and Obama said, “‘The guys who have too many powers, like Superman, that always made me think they weren’t really earning their superhero status. It’s a little too easy. Whereas Spider-Man and Batman, they have some inner turmoil. They get knocked around a little bit.”

Which brings us to Superman – Superman is iconic of America and though he grew up here and protects America, he’s from elsewhere, Krypton. He was sent here in order to give him the opportunity to survive and thrive, but he remains an insider/outsider. Though American, Obama was raised in Hawaii (at the time a new addition) and Indonesia, his father and many of his family members are from Africa. Like Superman (Kansas), Obama was influced by the midwest (Illinois/Chicago). As Superman can treasure and come to embody American ideals, Obama is an insider who has the perspective of an outsider, who can truly value America because he can see it for what it is, both positive and negative.

And finally, Spider-Man – Remember when Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man gets full of himself from all of the acclaim and attention? Remember how he is brought low? Sometimes the public depicts him as a villain himself. The lesson this should teach us, President Obama included (though I suspect he knows it), is that Spider-Man is a man who does great things. Sometimes he messes up, sometimes he saves us. Despite a superhero’s superhuman status, the essentially function to remind us about human qualities. We need to allow President Obama his humanity, value and respect him, appreciate all that he has done, is doing and will do for this country and our global community. We need to have faith and give him time and we need to keep this pop-frenzy in check so that we do not lose sight of the man within the image, the legend.

So I smile when I see Barack Obama’s face everywhere, but I worry too. We’ll get it right, I know. When it’s hard to have faith, I have faith in President Obama’s humanity and in his awareness of ours.

The economy is troubled and rapid, vast change is underfoot. Ironically but probably appropriately, my life mirrors this. Whenever change happens in my life, it usually comes from all directions and all at once. That is the case now. I was a little preoccupied the past few weeks, but I hope to be writing here regularly again.

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