Changes in Gratitude

You do a favor for someone, or they do one for you. Do you expect at least a simple “thank you” and “you’re welcome” to be exchanged?

I recently found a videotape I shot of a former boss’ children at an event, with him as the person in charge. He was always supportive and friendly — a very nice, honest, hard-working man. We had enjoyed at least one lunch together after my leaving his employ. I figured it would be nice to preserve the video rather than leave it to rot on the tape.

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Beating the Dead Horse Called Customer Service

Customer service truly is a dying art. In some places, it’s dead and being beaten.

My nine-year-old son and I ventured to our city’s historic downtown district on Sunday afternoon. Our goals were simple: enjoy the 80-degree weather in December and find something for him at the Star Wars toy store. For five dollars.

On the drive there he and I grabbed some fast food, because our cupboard had been bare, and buying food downtown was not in our budget. For that I used all but one dollar of the cash I had brought with me. The boy had the cash he needed, and I didn’t intend to buy anything, so I wasn’t concerned.

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Anywhere, Unlimited

This is as much a confession as a rant, as much a catharsis as a condemnation.

Nobody got anywhere in the world by simply being content. -Louis L’Amour

In the United States we are dumbing ourselves down and fattening ourselves up by using too many things that offer unlimited use anywhere, any time. It has shaped our entertainment and social habits. Certainly, the individual is responsible for self-control, and besides children I’m not arguing that there are any victims here. I’m just making observations.

This all goes back to my (not original) belief that just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.

When video games first hit the scene, one had to go to an arcade and insert (someone’s) hard-earned money for each play. Only a relative few ever “finished” a game, and without exception, casual gamers and those regularly entering their initials on the high score lists had to leave when the place closed — if their money held out that long. They went home, and the game stood alone in a dark arcade while the players lived their lives.

Video games could be played at home, but the options were limited compared to today. For at least a decade home video game consoles lagged far behind the gameplay experience on standalone arcade machines. At that time, too, time playing video games at home had to be coordinated with the family’s TV viewing time. Home computers could play comparable games, but most home PC owners didn’t own an advanced gaming setup. Handheld games at that time were limited to primitive red LED displays and tinny speakers producing simple bleeps and bloops.

Now gamers can enjoy their favorite pasttime at any time, anywhere, with graphics and sound easily rivaling that found in the arcades. Playing one hour costs no more money than playing 24 hours. It’s not unusual to see a gamer start playing at 7 p.m. and continue into the wee hours of the morning. In some sad cases, even that time-frame would be considered restraint.

Like video game play, movie viewing at first required a trip outside the home and a price for each opportunity. Gradually, as technology improved, the movie-watching experience in large part migrated from the theater into the household. For decades, viewing movies on demand at home required paying for each movie either by purchasing or renting. Just like when movie theaters held a monopoly on the viewers’ options, paying attention to friends’ suggestions and critics’ reviews helped determine which films were worthy of shelling out the green. Sure, there were cable channels like HBO and Showtime available at a flat rate, but the viewer was limited to what was scheduled, and the stations increasingly moved toward airing original series.

At the advent of television and decades beyond, viewing was limited to the hours that the local stations were on the air. For many Americans, when the broadcast day ended, it was time for bed. In rural areas where cable TV was not available, this remained true until small, more affordable satellite dishes hit the scene and grabbed a significant share of the market.

Thanks to around-the-clock programming and Netflix, movie and TV viewing are not limited to any certain schedule, and the viewer can see what he or she chooses, without time limit, for a flat fee. Although VCR’s have been around for decades, the popularity of time-shifted viewing did not take off until the digital video recorder made it easier than setting an alarm clock. Although all of the above undoubtedly have been a boon to TV fans who do not work an 8-5 shift, that is not the crowd addressed here.

Talking on the telephone once required using a device tethered to a wall. Then it required only a base be attached, with the user free to roam about the home. Mobile phones, at first relegated to powerful boxes that rarely if ever could wander from a car’s lighter socket, took communications outside the home but still in or near a vehicle.

Now mobile phones (often lumped into the more specific category of cell phones) are ubiquitous, at first supplementing and now often replacing the old-fashioned land line. No matter where the user goes, he or she can communicate with people who are miles away just as easily as speaking to someone in the room — as long as the battery doesn’t run out. One can (and often does) ignore those in the immediate vicinity, sacrificing development of face-to-face social skills and making it simpler to avoid diversity.

Thanks to texting, however, one can be rude quietly and politely.

In all the aforementioned areas — gaming, TV, movies, communication — the size of the devices required has become so diminutive that it’s more convenient to carry them around than it is to lug a book or a newspaper. In addition, because they provide their own light source, they can be used anywhere, around the clock. Reading is becoming increasingly optional, too, as most of these devices also play video and audio.

We’re turning our society back to a time when only a select few could and needed to read and write, and the rest lapped up whatever was delivered to them.

By themselves these technologies are amazing. The internet and the ease of connecting to it have helped ensure that one can always find like-minded individuals or those with differing beliefs. Revolutions in the real world have been started on the internet. More choices in entertainment have all but eliminated “appointment TV” viewing, and gamers can get many more hours of enjoyment from a $50 game than the same amount of money would provide in an arcade, often without sacrificing the social context.

The capitalist system requires consumerism to survive, and today’s devices do an impeccable job of supporting that by delivering both paid and ad-supported content. What made America and Americans great, however, was not sitting still and consuming, but moving and creating — also vital components of a successful capitalist economy.

All of this convenience requires we use our eyes and our ears, but not necessarily our minds or bodies. Watching a story, with all the characters’ appearances and scenery decided for us, has become as easy and as portable as reading and using our imaginations. This has contributed to the creation of a culture that encourages complacency — a trait that leads to laziness. In the end, if we cannot control ourselves, we will become dumber and more isolated — easy targets for rising nations.

The Brevity of the Situation

Some may remember my post, “Had Just Assume Forget.” In it I rant a bit about mangling of popular phrases and of grammar in general. In “You Should of Seen It,” I have fun with common mistakes.

On Monday while on my lunch break, I thought it would be funny to have a character mistakenly say, “the brevity of the situation,” rather than “the gravity of the situation.” I searched for that exact phrase on Google, using quotes, to see whether anyone else had thought of this (which usually reveals that my idea was not new).

I got 206,000 hits, and after clicking down to the third page of results, I realized that the writers were using it incorrectly, not satirically. In one case it was used in a tirade about Sookie, an annoying character from “The Jersey Shore.” There it was not surprising, but often it was used within text that otherwise seemed to be written by an educated, well-read person. (On second thought, perhaps the Sookie comment was a very clever reference to the character who calls himself “The Situation,” but I doubt it.)

Curious, I searched for the phrase “the gravity of the situation.” That time I got 1,200,000 results.

That means that, out of a total of 1,406,000 occurrences of both phrases, “the brevity” was used nearly 15% of the time. I can’t possibly know whether it was used for comic effect or not, but extrapolation from the first three pages of results on that phrase isn’t promising.

Please pardon the gravity of this post. I mean, the brevity. Dang!

Legislating College Football

I moved to the Dallas metro area a little more than four years ago. Driving past the behemoth high school football stadiums and listening to horror stories of seven-year-olds suffering broken bones during practice reminds me just how important football is to sports fans in this state. With the undefeated TCU Horned Frogs hailing from just down the road in Forth Worth, and the currently maligned Dallas Cowboys located even closer, it’s difficult to go a day without hearing the sport mentioned.

It should come as no surprise, then, when I hear that Republican Representative Joe Barton, of Texas, is sponsoring a bill to change how the college football champion is crowned. The bill’s co-sponsor is Illinois Democrat Bobby Rush, and part of their argument is that teams like the aforementioned TCU do not get a fair shot at the title.

Really? We’re going to ask our elected officials to spend time on this?

Although the bill passed a House subcommittee on Wednesday with bipartisan support, it “still faces steep odds,” according to the Associated Press report.

That’s a relief.

But, still, it’s sad that it took meddling in college football’s business to bring the political parties together. Rep. John Barrow, D-Georgia, said it best in that same AP article, “With all due respect, I really think we have more important things to spend our time on.”

Here’s hoping that the House subcommittee is the last group to pass this bill.

(set to auto-publish at 8 a.m. CT)