Techies, Solve This Scourge Already

Last night at Vic’s Pizzeria, while I waited for The Good Wife to bus her dishes, I read a flyer announcing some kind of Trail Celebration. I was intrigued but wasn’t sure if it was a trail run or something else altogether. When I saw the event took place on November 12th, four days earlier, I gave up trying to make sense of it.

Granted, compared to electing a celebrity buffoon President, dated flyers may not inspire much outrage, but this is an underappreciated scourge. I probably feel this way because college campuses are littered with announcements about foreign films, guest lectures, job fairs, and celebrity buffoon President protests that took place yesterday, last week, or three months ago. And litter is the operative word, especially for my minimalist friends and me. You can’t look anywhere without being bombarded by yesterday’s news.

Which begs the question, in this digital age, why are we still felling trees to announce trail celebrations and foreign films? Why haven’t the techies created affordable digital bulletin boards with EXPIRATION DATES attached to each announcement. So the foreign film announcement disappears at the exact time and day at which it’s shown. Is that asking too much?

Reader Beware

From today’s inbox.

Hi Ron,

We are interested in sending over a quality and relevant article to your site (pressingpause.com) as a contribution. Is this something you might consider? If yes, please email me back and I’ll be happy to send over the article for your review asap.

Note that the copy will include a few references to our client. We’ll also pay you $100 per post through PayPal, for your time and effort. I look forward to hearing from you, Ron.

Have a good day!

[name]
Marketing Manager
[email address]
http://www.letsgetwise.com

You’re probably hip to product placement in television and film, but what about in on-line and traditional print? When reading, do you ever ask, “What am I being sold?” If not, it’s time to start.

Please help me refine my reply to Ms. Marketing Manager. Here’s what I have so far.

Dear Ms. Marketing Manager,

Hell no.

Sincerely,

Ronald S. Byrnes

The Tourism Trap

Talked to an elderly couple at church about their recent adventure in China—Beijing, Tiananmen Square, The Great Wall, Xi’an and the Terra Cotta Warriors. I checked off the same spots during my first trip to China in 1997. And today I looked at a friend’s Facebook pics about a recent trip to China—Beijing, Tiananmen Square, The Great Wall, Xi’an and the Terra Cotta Warriors.

Anyone that stays on the well worn, urban, tourist pathway of Beijing, Tiananmen Square, The Great Wall, Xi’an and the Terra Cotta Warriors, really can’t say they know much about China which is still largely rural and poor. As tourists, we lack creativity, independence, and a sense of adventure. Our collective lack of creativity, independence, and sense of adventure creates tourist traps—must see locations that make people feel like they understand a people and place far more than they really do.

Of course, in the U.S., foreign visitors have their checklists too. Here’s the Top Ten according to Forbes Traveler—1) Times Square; 2) The Las Vegas Strip; 3) D.C. and the National Mall and Monuments; 4) Faneuil Hall Marketplace; 5) Disney World; 6) Disney Land; 7) Fisherman’s Wharf/Golden Gate Bridge; 8) Niagara Falls; 9) Great Smoky Mountains; and 10) my birthplace NavyPier Chicago. If you’re an American citizen, what kind of feel would a foreign visitor get for your community if they went from one “Top Ten” site to another?

How does a sense of obligation to see standard tourist sites form, that if I’m traveling to Country A, B, or C, I have to see X, Y, and Z? Is it a fear that someone might ask upon returning, “Did you see the Great Wall? Did you see Times Square?” Are we defenseless in the midst of the iconic sites incessant, sophisticated, billion dollar marketing campaigns?

My most memorable travel experiences have been off the beaten trail. In China, a bicycle was indispensable to experiencing more of daily life. When abroad, I’ve learned the more still I sit, the more I listen and observe, the more I learn about different forms of daily life.  Lo and behold, many people live markedly differently than me and their unique ways of life work well for them. Once I learned what’s “normal” is culturally defined, I not only learned to appreciate foreign cultures, but cultural diversity in the U.S. as well.

International school visits have always been enlightening. The different architecture, curricula, teaching methods, teacher-student interactions, extracurricular activities, and feel in foreign schools always provides wonderful insights into the larger culture.

Think about a foreign tourist to the U.S. that spends a few days at the Grand Canyon and a week on the Vegas Strip. And another that spends ten days visiting private and public elementary and secondary schools in urban, suburban, and rural communities. Which would learn more about life in the United States?

What other, “off the radar” experiences—besides school visits, a farmers’ market visit, riding city busses, a homestay or two, attending religious services, a hospital visit, watching a youth sports tournament, visiting a courthouse and sitting in on a trial, attending a summer concert in a park—would you recommend to a foreign visitor who wanted to not just recreate, but learn as much as possible about life in the U.S.?

Here’s a travel challenge from Roman Krznaric, the author of the book I’m currently reading, The Wonderbox. This from a chapter titled “Empathy”:

The idea of empathy has distinct moral overtones and is often associated with ‘being good’. But experiential empathy should be really regarded as an unusual and stimulating form of travel. George Orwell would tell us to forget spending our next holiday at an exotic resort or visiting museums. It is far more interesting to expand our minds by taking journeys into other people’s lives—and allowing them to see ours. Rather than asking ourselves, ‘Where can I go next?’, the question on our lips should be, ‘Whose shoes can I stand in next?’ 

Without Commercials

Most people are far more accepting of ubiquitous advertising than me. Resistance may be futile when it comes to Madison Avenue, but I’m not going down without a fight, even if I’m the last one standing. Not sure how to explain my intense anti-commercialism, except that it relates to my dislike of mindless consumerism more generally.

What forms does my quirkiness take? I can’t believe people don’t replace or remove the dealer’s license plate frame when they buy a vehicle. Why add advertising to my field of vision and provide the dealer with free advertising? If you think that’s odd, I also wonder why I provide free advertising in terms of my car’s badging. I’d remove my car’s badging, but I’m afraid I’d scratch the paint and leave holes. I’d love to overhear someone say “What kind of car is that?” In this same some-what demented spirit, I wish I could pay more for advertising-free versions of the periodicals I subscribe to. Of course if it made economic sense to offer two versions, one with advertising, one without, publishers would do it. More evidence I’m in a distinct minority.

Related to this, check out this incredible innovation. Thank you David Pogue for bringing that to my attention and to the creators whomever you are. My nomination for the Nobel Prize for Technological Innovation.

Readability is one salvo in the war for people’s attention when on-line. These days, when I click on “Gamecast” to see a sport’s scoreboard on ESPN’s website, I have to endure a 30 second commercial before the score and statistics are visible. Apparently, my preferred computer company has applied for a patent that will give them the potential to apply that same diabolical form of advertising to future devices. I’ll be very disappointed if that turns out to be true.

In related news, believe it or not, Mr. Late Adaptor bought a new television a few months ago. [In the background right now three teens are doing homework (mostly). They’ve just been joined by a fourth on a laptop via Skype video-conferencing. Best quote, “We should probably work.”] I can’t tell you the brand of my new television otherwise I might provide them free advertising. Let’s just say it rhymes with Supersonic. The picture is unbelievable and I’ve connected it to the internet via ethernet cable.

This is where it starts to get good. The Supersonic comes with Amazon-On-Demand built in. Created an account in 30 seconds and a few minutes later downloaded nine or ten episodes of Mad Men for $2.99/per or $3.17 with taxes. We can stream movies too. Soon I’m sure they’ll add Netflix. Now L and I can watch MadMen whenever we want without commercials. I repeat, without commercials. Twelve minutes of commercials times the fifteen or so episodes. Serious time savings, not to mention improved continuity. Another fam favorite, Modern Family. That was a form of advertising wasn’t it?

I can hear the early and middle adaptors laughing. I know, welcome to the 21st Century. For me, this represents a great leap forward in television viewing. Soon my preferred computer company will charge $30 or so per month for unlimited streaming. People will stream programming of their choice to their televisions and handheld personal devices. Sometime soon we’ll tell young people about how we used to gather together on Thursday nights to watch commercials with some Cheers, Seinfield, and the Office mixed in. I suppose we’ll still gather together in real-time for some sporting events, but I’m looking forward to this bold new world of commercial free streaming.

I’m not so naive to think the MadAve army is going to raise a white flag. But for now at least, it’s advantage A, L, to the Dizzle.