Remember the future

obsoleteNo one needs to be reminded of the transitory nature of this life. Today is a memory before we have a chance to make sense of it. Those times we breathlessly look forward to become vague memories while they are still echoing in our minds.

I’ve written on this topic before, which gives you some idea of how close to my heart it is. The speed at which the highly anticipated future becomes the distant path can be downright frightening. How desperately we want to hold onto those moments in a more tangible form than an elusive and fleeting memory.

Even the title of this blog, “Scribbling in the Sand” speaks to the futility of trying to extend ourselves beyond ourselves. Those scribbles are washed away with the next tide, in whatever form its breakers take.

Look no further than the mundane articles of our daily lives to demonstrate this concept in the most concrete manner possible. Every day, some of our most wonderful innovations are relegated to the scrap heap of history (which is shipped to China to be recycled into future scrap heap candidates).

Here is just a tiny percentage of those once-precious items that have disappeared in my years:

  • Slide rules – Remember those? They were indispensable before they were obsoleted by calculators. Oops! Remember those?
  • Encyclopedias – Not the democratic virtual kind. I’m talking about the honkin’ multi-volume, sold-door-to-door beasts that still sit in the basements of people who can’t imagine tossing such storehouses of knowledge, regardless of how useless and outdated they might be.
  • Dial and corded phones – First we had the hefty black monstrosities that could double as weapons that – in many a noir film – would be used to knock the bad guy into the middle of next week. Can you imagine doing that with your iPhone? Goodbye “Princess” phone, knots in the cord, “Dial M for Murder”, and yanking phones off tables as we reached for a pen to write down the number of the person calling. (Another unnecessary action due to caller ID.)
  • Station wagons – Before the minivan and the (God help us) SUV, extended families cruised the country in comfort in these beauties.
  • Phone booths – What’s a Superman to do? The empty chrysalises of countless phones now unbound can be seen across the land.
  • Civility in public discourse – This is a whole ‘nother story. Let’s hope it isn’t a permanent scrap heap dweller, though I harbor little hope for that in my lifetime.

pocketNo small amount of technology has come and gone over the same period: acoustic modems (I’m old enough to remember when 9600 baud was screamin’ fast), 8-tracks, cassettes, and videotapes all had their brief flicker of utility. In fact, all “tape” is gone – except that of the duct, masking, and Scotch varieties – but the name lives on as we talk about taping TV shows, with no tape is involved.

A few things out there are barely hanging on or have been relegated to the role of novelty. Vinyl records refuse to give up, but they’re only a niche. Virtually all media except various forms of computer memory (increasingly of the solid-state species, though all bets are off if “the cloud” has its way) have no real raison d’etre anymore.

The same can be said of watches, books, newspapers, and writing in cursive. A day may come when the only people who see such relics do so as they scratch their heads walking by museum exhibits.

drive-inAlthough most of them have become land for low income housing, strip malls, and office parks, here’s hoping that a remnant of drive-ins survive into the future. They’d be missed at least as much as any extinct species.

In the “we hardly knew ye” category, you’ll find flash-in-the-pan technologies such as laser discs, Betamax, HD-DVD, and PDA’s.

It’s hard to say goodbye to some things. The GPS, itself now a dispensable technology in its standalone form, eliminated the need to give directions. I say “need” not so much for the recipient of those directions as for the giver. We all know folks who live to provide detailed directions of the best possible route(s) to our destination. When I recognize that craving, I generally allow the speaker the opportunity to give vent to his passion. Then I return to Google Maps or a GPS and find the best route for myself. No endless discussion of the best shortcut, most scenic route, or least traffic.

While I don’t miss LP’s so much, I do mourn the loss of album packaging. Some of that album art was suitable for mounting and hanging on your wall. (I have just two words for you: Roger Dean.) A few releases contained enough junk to overflow a fan’s scrapbook, e.g. The Who, “Live at Leeds” or “Chicago at Carnegie Hall”. Sure they were extravagant and pompous, but so was the music and we loved it.

CD’s never offered such wit and variety. And downloads? Fuhgeddaboudit.

I don’t wish to live in the past, but it would be nice if some of the past still lived here.

[By the way, if you’re paying attention, you’ll notice that the smartphone (beginning with the iPhone) is the perpetrator of many in these untimely demises. Not that it’s wrong, just saying is all.]

Random late summer thoughts

random3My favorite writer, Mark Helprin, once adjured an audience, of which I had the privilege of being a part, to pay attention to the world around us. This is critical for writers. The topic was touched on with respect to dialog in a previous post.

Paying even a modicum of attention to what’s happening in your family, town, or on the news will supply fodder for countless stories. Market Basket, a lowly supermarket chain, has in recent weeks given us enough storylines, characters, and sub-plots to fill several books, a few movies, and at least one mini-series. Just watch; they’re coming.

What to do? asks the humble scribe of blog posts. With so much to comment on, there isn’t time to do justice to every one. My solution to the problem is to do an occasional dump of thoughts rattling around in this mostly empty skull. This is the first in this blog, although it tends to be a regular ploy in my other blog, Limping in the Light, e.g. here.

Here are a few things backed up in my mental septic system:

Here’s a fun question for you literati: When you go to a bookstore, what section do you go to first? Your answers should lead to a lot of fascinating follow-up discussion.

I recently read a best-selling novel with a couple of egregious problems. This wasn’t mass market pop lit such as “Twilight” or some transcribed TV-show passing itself off as literature. This was a highly regarded, serious novel. Two things stood out to me. One was the author’s obsession with using the word “impossibly” to modify an adjective (e.g. “impossibly large”). I have no problem with that in principle. The aforementioned Helprin will use it occasionally. But this author used it five times in the one book! (Don’t ask me how I noticed this. It’s a curse.)

Another sentence read: “…each <whatever> was more perfect than last.” Some things can be more perfect than others? How does that work?

Although the book received mixed reviews, it won awards and was on the NY Times best-seller list for several weeks. Yet I can’t get anyone to even read my book. It must not be as perfect as that one. ((sigh))

parking-lot1Off the book topic: What’s with people endlessly circling parking lots looking for the closest space? In spite of sky-high gas prices and rampant obesity and the supposed busy-ness of everyone, they waste what’s in scarcity – time and fuel – to avoid what they desperately need: exercise. Just park the stinkin’ car!

Have you noticed that owning chickens is hot?

100_0403CVSIn CVS (a firm already infamous for its extravagant waste of receipt paper, q.v. photo) yesterday, I bought one item that came in a bag. The clerk at the counter put it in one of their plastic CVS bags. I asked her why I needed a bag to put the bag in. She had no answer, perhaps because there is none. Punch in folks, it’s time to bag the bags. We don’t need a bag to carry one item… unless you’re hiding something.

I usually ask for no bag, but the checkout people, who must be on the payroll of the bag manufacturer, sometimes beat me to it. When I ask them (kindly) to keep their bag, more often than not, they stuff it in the trash. Someone’s missing the point.

Living on a busy street, my front lawn serves as de facto trash dump for passing cars. We can learn a lot about the kind of person who has no regard for other people’s property or the cleanliness of the town they live in or drive through. The following items make up 90% of the trash strewn across my lawn:trash

  • losing lottery tickets
  • beer cans
  • fast food containers
  • cigarettes

Who are the slobs who trash our neighborhoods? The list speaks for itself. It makes me think of the old Disney cartoon. It’s cute, but painful.

bob&rayA word to the wise: Today’s phones, whether cell or landline, have the annoying trait of inserting a brief delay between the time the phone is answered and when it will register your voice. Thus, you call someone and they generally respond, “…lo!” My advice: answer the call and count to 2-1000 before speaking.

Reminds me of the old Bob and Ray routine with the fictional reporter Wally Ballou starting his on-the-spot reports by saying, “…ly Ballou here.”

When I was a kid and when my kids were kids, punishment usually meant being sent to your room. A more appropriate form of discipline today would be, “That’s it, I’ve had it with you. Come out of your room and stay out all afternoon!” Much more effective.

 That was an impossibly easy post…