The Next New Thing

I logged in a bit ago to try to decide what to write for my end of the week post. Normally, I have a collection of voice memos on my phone of writing or blogging ideas, but the end of this week greeted me without inspiration, or at least without blogging inspiration. I’ll chalk it up to having a stressful parenting week. It happens.

When I logged in tonight (late Thursday) determined to go through the exercise of writing something, though, I was greeted with yet another notification (Google is getting pushy with those notifications these days, aren’t they?) about Blogger’s “new look” coming in April, and encouraging me to “upgrade now.”

Which leads me to two questions: why the need for the new look, and why is it an “upgrade?”

And perhaps a third question: why am I so reluctant?

You see, I really like change. As soon as I’m in a routine for too long, I feel the urge to mix it up. Sometimes this is a constructive thing, sometimes its a difficult thing, at least for Karen when I start talking about my wanderlust and wanting to relocate again. I’m an early adopter of new technologies. I like being in the loop. New look? I’m usually all about it.

Except for sometimes when the “new look” is ridiculous (new Mustang, anyone?).

Oddly, I don’t really follow trends in many other areas. I don’t really care what’s fashionable to wear, for example. I’m bothered by the idea of conformity in appearance. And, when it comes to social media site re-designs, I’m particularly wary. To be fair, though, I have reason to be.

Look at all of the “improvements” and “upgrades” that Facebook has deployed over the last few years (disclaimer: I’ve lost all of my love for Facebook), each making the site progressively more difficult to navigate while removing privacy incrementally.

Now, I’m not saying that all site re-designs are bad: Twitter’s most recent site update is a case in point. I’m curious as to why we feel that fresh, new, polished appearances are necessary, however, when they are frequently not accompanied by any changes in performance. Sometimes, it’s better to function with something tested and true…sort of like an old friend…rather than constantly trying to reinvent the wheel.

Aesthetic improvements are completely understandable when accompanied by new features or other performance tweaks. I get that. I don’t get why a platform or product that has built a reputation with a certain image suddenly decides to alter that image.

Are we really always so eager to leave the past and grab onto the next new thing? That leads to a set of problems all its own.

Image attribution: Sean MacEntee under Creative Commons.

The Anatomy of a Time Trap

For those out there who laugh at us geeks who are into blue police boxes used as decoration, obsess over the philosophical implications of time travel, and really, really want one of these as a gift for any upcoming occasion, I want to offer proof that we’re not as crazy as you might have thought.

I present exhibit A: the stairs to our apartment building.

You see, they look like normal stairs, but this is deceptive. I’m not certain if their hidden nature is due to tinkering by an alien race, or perhaps because the building was constructed over an extradimensional fault line, or if they have been enchanted by some mischievous magician. The fact is, however, that they are not just normal stairwells. Both of the stairwells in our building are, in fact, time vortexes. And those who live on the first floor have no idea how fortunate they are.

How do I know that we live atop a set of time vortexes, you ask? It’s simple. The evidence is there every day. What’s most devious about these vortexes is that they are minor, just large enough to be effective. You see, whenever one is caught in a time vortex, one doesn’t realize how much time is actually passing. When one is inside of a time vortex, time moves at a different rate for them than for the rest of the universe. Imagine the particularly cruel experience of unwittingly stumbling into a time vortex, going through what you think is an hour in your own time, only to emerge and face the realization that the world around you has aged fifty years. Everyone thought you were missing never to return, the world is so different you could never adjust…you get the idea.

Well,  time vortexes work on a shorter scale, as well, and they are able to cause a spectacular amount of havoc in one’s day when they do. The vortexes hidden in the vertical concrete tubes of our stairwells, for example, are limited to about ten minutes in my best estimation. The evidence for this? No matter how early I begin, no matter how early I leave our apartment, the result is always the same: when I get into my car in the parking lot, turn the key over and notice the clock on the dashboard, ten minutes have vanished. As best I can tell, it has only taken me two to walk from the apartment downstairs to the car, perhaps with a third to get my things together upstairs and loaded into the car downstairs. But, you see, that is how a time vortex works. The rest of the world has apparently aged ten minutes.

So, if you account for every time I leave and return during the course of an average day, that could be an hour of my life that I’m losing daily. And you complain about your commute?

Of course, the residents on the first floor must not experience this. I’m considering polling everyone else in the building, though, to see if they’ve experienced this vortex.

In the meantime, I keep hoping for that sonic screwdriver. Perhaps then I’ll have the necessary equipment to scan the vortexes properly and find a way to stop this most nefarious of tricks.

Photo Attribution: Ewen and Donabel 

The Friend of my Friend is My…?

As you may have heard, I use a lot of social networks. It’s interesting, really, to explore different networks and decide whether or not they fit into your lifestyle, and then how you use them. That last piece is really important. Every network, I think, has a way that its developers originally foresaw it being used. How each of us uses a network, though, can be subject to some interpretation…just like an author and a reader of good fiction.

Take, for example, Facebook. I used to be quite enamored with the book of faces, and it has certainly had a positive impact on my life. Then, I went through a phase in which I really didn’t use it that often, which was right after Karen and I were married. Then came a brief addiction to Mafia Wars, and now I’m recovered and have discovered that Facebook has lost any identity of its own as it has attempted to copy what others have done well. Further, their complete disregard for privacy turns my stomach.

I keep a Facebook account, although I don’t really post to it very often. I have other things that show up there automatically, but I typically use it to simply keep in contact with friends and colleagues with whom I would have otherwise lost touch. All of those functions could, I think, be better served on other networks, but Facebook seems to be the lowest common denominator where everyone has a profile of some sort.

Tonight, I ran a quick errand to the neighborhood grocery store for a couple of essentials that we found conspicuously absent from our refrigerator. Upon leaving the store, I passed a woman that a quick memory search revealed that I know. Sort of. We did some theatre together briefly. We exchanged a quick “hello” in passing, and went about our way. That was the extent of the conversation that I’ve with this woman for about two years.

However, we’re “friends” on Facebook. With a few clicks she could see more details about my life than I care to consider, and I about hers. Odd, isn’t it, how we consider digital friendships? In theory, they are extensions of our “real” friendships, except they’re more generic than that. In truth, I would call this woman an acquaintance. On Facebook, however, I only have the option of “friend.” No option for colleague, no option for family member. Only friend. Even if you’re only sort-of-not-really friends.

That’s what gives me pause. At first blush, it makes me wish that people used more networks, because the spaces for different sorts of connections can be more customized that way. At a deeper level, though, it makes me want to re-consider how we connect in the digital realm.

Photo Attribution: Kr. B.

Whispers of Flexibility

The thought occurred to me today that sometimes I climb up onto this soapbox about how the English language is dying, languishing in neglect at the whim of a popular new SMS-speak, until finally it will expire from malnutrition and few will remember it, and be laughed at for doing so. I climb onto this soapbox with the best of intentions: like kitsch over-taking good art, I cringe when I hear careless slang based upon intentional misuse of the language or text-language spelling intruding into situations that call for formal English (such as ending a sentence with “lol” in a term paper).

In fact, I think ending any sentence in “lol” should be a legally punishable offense. Before I digeress, however…

I briefly grabbed this thought as it flew by me today that one of the reasons I’m so hard on these alterations to our language is because I’m a writer. As a musician relies on notes, a photographer on images and light, a painter on line and form, I rely on words to tell the story that I’m attempting to convey. I believe words should be handled lovingly, manipulated with care. I suspect that there are times in which they manipulate us. I don’t think language…any language…should be mis-handled carelessly, or with crass intention.

What occurs to me, though, is that handling language carefully isn’t confined to the written word. Written communication post-dates language, after all. Language, in all of its beauty, existed before it was recorded in written form. And, of course, oral tradition and the spoken word are rapidly and regularly evolving, proof that language is dynamic and alive, not merely static and existing, just as we are. As such, perhaps I should expect the easy evolution of the written form of our language, and perhaps I should condone this as a natural part of its life. We can’t, after all, stop a child from growing into their own person, even if we strongly dislike the person that they are becoming.

Still, though, there is a part of me that wants to discourage this, to wonder if the growth is occurring without proper supervision. I think that evolution can easily slide into devolution, and that words have power. When we treat them with respect and care, they can heal. When we toss them about casually and without due consideration, they cause anger and lead to war. This potential exists even more in the spoken form, as we tend to not think through what we are saying as carefully before we say it, as we would if we were to write it, instead.

Of course, when I get to that point in my thought, I’m thinking that I’m not being too hard on the way our language is used, after all.

What do you think? Is language suffering for the sake of expediency and due to a lack of respect? Am I being too cranky about this? The comment chain awaits…