Moments: On a Blu-ray player and future frustrations

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Dad 2.0 worked as a printer for a bank. About 20 years ago, his office started using computers for the printing process. This was a big change for Dad 2.0. He worked most of his career in the darkroom.

The company was going to use Macs. I was editor of the student newspaper in college. I borrowed one of our computers for the summer. Dad 2.0 checked some books out from the library to learn the new system.

He didn’t like it. I tried to teach him, but the lessons worked poorly. I went too fast. I took for granted that everyone knew how to use a mouse.

Dad 2.0 was the kind of person who read the instructions first. He was, wisely I add, of the “measure twice, cut once” philosophy.

I grew up with computers and video games. I only went to the instruction book when I couldn’t figure out the buttons necessary to decapitate an enemy with a kung-fu move in “Mortal Combat.”

I teased Dad 2.0 for being old. But Mom 2.0 scolded me. She admonished that one day I wouldn’t want to learn every new thing, especially after I had done it one way for a long time.

I scoffed. I had always enjoyed gadgets. I found it impossible to imagine a time when I would want anything less than the newest, sleekest and best gear.

As usual, Mom 2.0 was right. Wisdom comes with age and experience. It’s tough to recognize that when you’re 20 years old.

My first clue that technology was passing me by came in the world of TV. I bought a nice, big TV back in 1998. It looked great. It sounded great. So what if it weighed as much as a Volkswagen Beetle?

I put it on a stand in the middle of the room and watched TV shows on the square tube screen. I used it more than any other appliance. I failed to see the need to replace it with one of these skinny, rectangular models that hang on the wall and are filled with plasma or LCD or LED.

When my Grandma Rogers died late last year, I inherited her small flat-screen TV. I could definitely see the improvement. The picture was pretty and rich. I hauled the big tube TV into the bedroom, where I watch videos of old cartoons from my childhood and pretend it’s a Saturday in 1981.

But the truth of Mom 2.0’s words sunk in last week. My DVD player, the one I had bought when I got the then-fancy new TV back in 1998, died. People don’t repair things anymore. The shop I went to said it would cost me $50 just for them to look at it. I could get a new one for less than that.

So I did. I bought a Blu-ray player. The technology community might mock me for needing a hard media player at all. Everything, they say, will be streaming soon. Still, I have a lot of movies on DVD. Without a DVD player, they’re simply taking up space on the wall that could be used for vintage Lynda Carter posters.

I brought the new player home along with a Blu-ray copy of my favorite movie, “The Big Lebowski.” I quickly learned that I needed a cable that wasn’t included in the box. So I went back to the store.

I got the device hooked up. The first thing the device wanted to do was connect to the Internet. I couldn’t fathom why this was necessary. But I entered my network passcode.

Then the Blu-ray player wanted more passwords. Some were for entertainment networks that I had never heard of. Others were for Netflix, to which I don’t subscribe.

Finally, the Blu-ray player wanted to connect with Facebook. This was it for me. I use Facebook for my job as a paragraph stacker. Somehow this network where people share pictures of the meal they are about to eat, the minor achievements of their children and complaints about movies has become essential to reporting and writing the news.

I once enjoyed Facebook. It put me back in touch with a lot of people with whom I’ve lost contact over the years. But after looking at their Facebook feeds for several years, I’ve learned there was a reason why I lost contact with them.

I couldn’t imagine a good reason for the device by which I watch movies to connect to Facebook. So I didn’t do it. But my frustration grew.

I began to want for the simple days of VCRs. Insert movie. Press play. Now, it seems, there is a desire to connect to the outside world even when you’re just trying to watch a movie at home alone.

I finally got the player setup. I put in my movie. I thought bliss was on the way. “The Big Lebowski” always mellows me out.

But no. There was more.

The Blu-ray wanted to educate me on all the special features it had. There was one that would count the swear words on screen. Another one would tell me what song was playing.

This all sounded neat, but they took up a third of the screen. And even then I couldn’t read the print from my chair across the room. It took me a full 5 minutes of button pushing just to get to the movie.

Finally, I pushed one of the green buttons. The TV and the Blu-ray turned off. That was enough of a sign for me.

I went into the bedroom and picked up a book. I don’t remember which book it was, but I know this much: No network or Facebook connection was required.

- 30 -

Moments: On losing friends

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Every now and then, I lose a friend. It happens. People are complicated creatures and relationships of any kind between them can be tricky.

I’m talking about friends on social media. Those don’t count.

Social media, especially Facebook, has diluted the word friend. (I prefer Twitter, which uses the term “followers,” which is more accurate and less personal.)

I have 2,441 Facebook “friends.” I don’t really have that many friends. I don’t even know that many people. Most of the people who are connected to me on Facebook are people who follow my work as a paragraph stacker.

I consider people on Facebook to be audience for my work. The connection doesn’t go much deeper than that. A small number of the connections are people with whom I attended various schools or current and former co-workers. A smaller number of connections are family. The smallest number is actual friends.

I almost always agree to friend requests unless its obviously a spammer or a stripper. No, I don’t really believe I will receive a free iPad if I fill out one or two of those amazing offers.

I don’t have a problem with strippers. It’s your body. You get to make up the rules. But this fad of strippers wanting to be Facebook friends with people is bizarre to me. I don’t need Facebook friends’ help finding naked women on the Internet.

I’m also not talking about women whom I asked out who “just wanted to be friends.” They didn’t really want to be friends and that’s OK. It’s just something nice people say when they’re rejecting someone.

The lost friends I’m talking about are people I actually loved and cared about. They’re people I trusted them enough to let my guard down and speak freely and hoped they did the same to me. They were people I could call on my worst day and hoped that they called me on theirs.

Sometimes friendships fade. People move in different directions. They lose contact. No terrible event causes the friendship to end. It just happens.

But once in a while, something awful happens and a friendship is just finished. A few years ago, a friend of mine for a decade declared he never wanted to speak to me again. I made a joke on Facebook. He thought the joke implied I thought he was an alcoholic. I didn’t.

He took my bad joke to mean I was trying to get him fired or “come at him” through his daughter, with whom I also connected via Facebook. He thought this was creepy. I thought she was just another audience member.

I tried to mend things. He would have none of it. Except for a few futile efforts to reach out, we’ve not spoken since. I regret that a lot. It was a dumb thing to say. I’m not sure it was worth ending a friendship over, but it was to him.

I think about that former friend a lot. I’d like to talk to him, but there’s no point. He doesn’t want to talk and I already talk to myself enough.

Recently, I was corresponding with a former teacher. She was struggling with her second go with breast cancer. She had moved away and was feeling lonely. We exchanged a few letters. They were honest and open conversations.

This weekend, I got a very mean letter from her that eviscerated nearly every aspect of my life. The preamble was a long, strange and completely incorrect theory on my parents.

The rest was a bulleted memo of things she thinks I ought to be doing differently with my life, including getting rid of my comic books and popular culture collection because, in her estimation, I had lived my life in a fantasy world.

The letter ended with her saying it would be her last correspondence. I was really hurt. This teacher could be harsh and judgmental. We all can no matter how hard we pledge not to be. I know I am. But this got very personal and very mean. It really played on my anxieties about myself.

I sought solace of other friends and my therapist. My therapist assured me my grip on reality was fine. Other friends suggested the teacher might be struggling with her cancer treatment, either medication making her loopy or dealing with her own mental health issues.

Still, I mourn the passing of the friendship. I’m not that easy of a person to get along with. I’m grouchy and not optimistic. I complain a lot. And I can be judgmental and unkind, even though I don’t like people who are judgmental and unkind. That, of course, makes me a hypocrite.

It also makes me human. And, as I said, relationships of any kind are difficult. They’re a lot of hard work.

I’m heartened by the fact that in recent years I’ve reunited with friends long after the relationship ended badly. There is forgiveness and redemption in the world and by and large I make friends far more often than I lose them.

I’m not keeping score, of course, but if I were, that’s one place I’d definitely want to be ahead.

- 30 -

On Facebook

Facebook is like a part-time job. I’m constantly blocking users whose political and religious views I don’t want to read. And people keep inviting me to “like” pages or attend events. Do these people even know me? I hate events and gatherings. If I want to buy products or services you sell, I’ll come to your store. This is a hassle. Is there anything like an anti-social network?

Morning 5: Five things you’ve been missing on Facebook

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A friend took a month off from Facebook. She said she didn’t miss it. I filled her in on what’s been going on.

  1. People had birthdays. A fuss was made even for the people who are over age 11.
  2. Tragic things happened in the world. People sent their thoughts and prayers so everyone would know how upset they were by events that did not directly affect them.
  3. The antics of cats and dogs made people laugh out loud and ponder whether the animals actually thought they were humans.
  4. People emphasized the correctness of their political and religious views and sports team preferences by typing in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS.
  5. People posted pictures of their children and talked about how fast they were growing up. Others wrote how hard they are jogging or riding a bicycle in preparation for some race in which they would soon participate and how great they felt as a result. Some took pictures of their food before they ate it. Still more drank beer in public places and updated us every time they went to a new bar, which was actually kind of a public service because you could avoid the places they were at because if this is the shit they are going to talk about, you’d just as soon drink alone.

Almost nothing about the #Spurs vs. #OKC #NBA playoff game

  1. newsmanone
    Hello, everyone. @PaperWadofGod and I will be tweeting during tonight’s #NBA playoff game. Hardly any of it will be about the game.
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 19:06:37
  2. PaperWadofGod
    @newsmanone there are some English soccer tabloid tweets about…also OU Women softball might be going on tonight? big day in the Sooner st.
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 20:56:06
  3. newsmanone
    @PaperWadofGod Is the OU softball team playing in the Premier League now? #NBA
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 21:05:27
  4. PaperWadofGod
    @newsmanone Euro 2012 fever has embraced this arena
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 21:03:03
  5. newsmanone
    @PaperWadofGod Did they call Tony Parker’s shot the teardrop before he got divorced from Eva Longoria? #Spurs
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 21:09:53
  6. PaperWadofGod
    @newsmanone many more “That’s My Boy” previews and i will have teardrops
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 21:12:18
  7. newsmanone
    @PaperWadofGod Who keeps giving Adam Sandler money for movies?
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 21:11:52
  8. PaperWadofGod
    Westbrook reminds me of Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson @newsmanone #TecmoBowlBoJackson
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 21:13:37
  9. newsmanone
    @PaperWadofGod I tuned into an #NBA playoff game and an episode of #TheKilling broke out.
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 21:36:38
  10. newsmanone
    @PaperWadofGod The audience dies, Paul. The audience dies. #TheKilling
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 21:46:48
  11. PaperWadofGod
    if Tony Parker was always used this effective, he would still be married to Eva @newsmanone
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 21:51:52
  12. newsmanone
    @PaperWadofGod The way this #NBA is going, #nascar is looking pretty good.
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 21:51:59
  13. PaperWadofGod
    @newsmanone stephen jackson going 4-4 from 3 feels unsustainable, like Tony’s marriage to Eva
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 21:53:21
  14. newsmanone
    @PaperWadofGod I introduced the Eva Longoria take. Now I’m being punished.
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 21:54:18
  15. PaperWadofGod
    im hoping with enough insensitive tweets about Tony, his game will suffer in the 2nd half @newsmanone
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 21:54:54
  16. newsmanone
    @PaperWadofGod Why do they call 3-pointers ‘from downtown?’ The basket is the suburbs? Is the free throw line midtown? Metapor fail.
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 21:57:42
  17. PaperWadofGod
    @newsmanone how about “from mainstreet…to wall street”?
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 21:58:39
  18. newsmanone
    @PaperWadofGod Careful. I don’t want the #occupy crowd in here. There’s no camping in the lane. 3-second rule.
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 21:59:47
  19. PaperWadofGod
    @newsmanone the way this game is going i think id rather watvh the killing
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 22:02:21
  20. newsmanone
    @PaperWadofGod Don’t say that. Don’t ever say that. Practice NHL 95 instead.
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 22:03:18
  21. newsmanone
    I think @PaperWadofGod is out with a shoulder injury. My eyelids are also injured. They can’t stay open for the #Spurs beat down of #OKC.
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 22:26:24
  22. PaperWadofGod
    @newsmanone well the game is close and a halftime of crap commercials is behind us
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 22:38:09
  23. newsmanone
    @PaperWadofGod The #OKCThunder is trying to make a comeback. Perhaps your insensitive Tony Parker tweets worked.
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 22:44:45
  24. PaperWadofGod
    @newsmanone yeah, the teardrops have dried up…like Tony not getting to see Eva’s teardrop be-hind
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 22:46:52
  25. PaperWadofGod
    tony needs to develop a teardrop free throw @newsmanone
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 22:50:46
  26. newsmanone
    @PaperWadofGod Tony Parker missed a free throw. You’re in his kitchen with these Eva tweets. #Spurs are cracking up.
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 22:50:31
  27. PaperWadofGod
    i don’t know who had a worse quarter, the spurs or facebook @newsmanone
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 22:52:42
  28. newsmanone
    @PaperWadofGod Somewhere Mark Zuckerberg is alone in a room unfriending you. #TheSocialNetwork
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 22:57:49
  29. PaperWadofGod
    oklahoma, when the wind come sweeping down the plains! @newsmanone
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 23:00:18
  30. newsmanone
    @PaperWadofGod Oklahoma! The Musical will soon be surpassed by The Wire the Musical. http://is.gd/P0vWqb
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 23:08:32
  31. “The Wire” Cast Returns for “The Wire! The Musical!” on Funny Or Die
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 13:49:17
  32. PaperWadofGod
    this okc performance is the best thing to hit oklahoma since horizantal drilling @newsmanone
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 23:07:32
  33. newsmanone
    @PaperWadofGod What is with all the slipping on the floor at #OKC? I didn’t think there was that much moisture in Oklahoma?
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 23:13:37
  34. PaperWadofGod
    horizontal drilling has caused a couple on court slips tonight @newsmanone
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 23:13:12
  35. newsmanone
    @PaperWadofGod The #Spurs aren’t that old. It was The Admiral who was in WWII. Tim Duncan was in ‘Nam.
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 23:18:17
  36. newsmanone
    @PaperWadofGod A beautiful dunk to seal the deal for #OKCThunder!
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 23:29:06
  37. newsmanone
    @PaperWadofGod #OKCThunder is good enough to come from 18 behind to beat the #Spurs, they’re a match for either the #Celtics or #Heat.
    Wed, Jun 06 2012 23:33:10

On the Feed

Originally published in The Des Moines Register, Saturday, February 25, 2012

A few years ago, I read a book called “Feed” by M.T. Anderson. It’s a science fiction story about a future in which most people have implants that let them surf the Web in their brains.

The thought terrified me. How would the brain cope with all the noise? I would never allow such a thing in my head.

I read the book in 2005. That was before Twitter. Facebook was still just for college kids. My cell phone sent and received phone calls and nothing else.

Nearly seven years later, I am very much connected to the Feed. I email, blog, surf, tweet, text, game, stream and surf. I do it on laptops, tablets and my nifty “smartphone.”

My mom, a retired east Des Moines hairdresser, does not like the term smartphone. She thinks they make people dumb, or at least rude. A while back she got sick of watching me fiddle with my phone and scolded me. She scolded me one day over Sunday dinner. She said I was addicted to my phone.

I protested I was just like everybody else. The average person sends and receives about 40 text messages a day. Twitter processes 2,200 140-character posts from users per second. There ares blogs to follow, funny photos of cats to post and …

Well, this argument went the way it usually goes with my mother. I admitted she was right. I was addicted to the Feed. I seldom let more than a minute or two pass without checking for a new message, tweet, post, text, video and whatnot.

The truth was, all this stuff was mostly junk. It was junk I invited into my life without thinking about how much time it took or how much clutter it crammed into my head. I felt a little overwhelmed by something that ought to be mostly an amusement and occasionally a tool. I need to wean off the Feed.

Last summer, I visited my friend Dave, an artist in Omaha. He told me he turns off his phone every night at 10:30. His family and friends are on notice. He doesn’t take calls between 10:30 p.m. and 7 a.m. Whatever it is, Dave said, it can wait until morning.

I liked the idea so much I stole it. I created a house rule in my home: No “screens” after 11 p.m. Screens include TV, computers, cell phones, tablets and other gadgets that might connect me to the Feed. I don’t even listen to music.

The first few nights, I thought I might go nuts. I was sure I was missing something. What if my New York Yankees made a big trade? What were the day’s page views on my TV and movie review blog? How would I get along without all those funny cat videos?

Now, though, the no-screens time zone is my favorite time of the day. I prop myself up on a stack of pillows, turn the pages of a good book and let the stresses of the day ease. By the time I put out the bedside light, I’m relaxed.

The practice reminds me of my favorite part of church when I was a boy and attending services at Winterset First United Methodist Church. The pastors always set aside a few minutes for silent prayer and reflection. It quieted and focused me. External worries faded. I could be where I was with my mind on what I was doing.

I’m not cured. I’m still plugged into the Feed during most of my waking hours — except during visits with a certain retired east Des Moines hairdresser.

Then the phone stays in the car.

5 things that need to stop

Erica Durance played Lois Lane on the now defunct Superman origin TV show "Smallville." That didn't need to stop, at least the regular dose of Erica portion. Here are things that do need to stop.

5. Memorial stickers for dead people on rear windows of cars. What, exactly, is the memorial — the defroster?

4. Dumb changes to Facebook. I know how to set my Web browser homepage. I will set it to Facebook if I so choose. Stop offering to do it every time I log in.

3. Dumb changes to Facebook Vol. 2. Software engineers made the messaging application on the page worse. Congratulations.

2. Holiday displays months before the actual holiday. Halloween is in October. Thanksgiving is in November. Christmas is in December. Let’s keep them there.

1. British guys playing American heroes. Christian Bale is English and he played Batman. Limey Henry Cavill is going to be Superman. Andrew Garfield is half Brit and he’s playing Spider-Man. Until there’s an American 007 or Doctor Who, let’s have at least a little national pride.