28 April 2008

People who need people

I prefer face time. In general, I believe it is more effective and more efficient. Within social spheres, face time is a lot more satisfying.

My dad's most frequent "what's wrong with your generation" tirades have to do with this subject. He's critical of the increasing reliance on technology. Mike enjoys a good, long rant, so I'll save you the blow by blow and provide a few bullet points for his argument. First, he is wary of the expectation of instant gratification. He is also cautious about the disposable consumerism of new technologies, particularly as it relates to "if it's broke, replace it" mentality and the quest for the latest, greatest new thing. But Dad's main complaint stems from how he believes that human interaction is devalued by the increasing dependence on technology.

Part of me wants to react to this criticism with a loud and proud "p-p-people try to put us down!" or some similarly righteous streak of loyalty to my generation. But most of me believes that he's right. And he thinks I don't listen to him. Oh Dad, poor Dad...

I went on a multi-destination trip last October. My travels were snafu free until (quite literally) the last minute. I tried to use web check-in for my home-bound flight only to find out that I had booked a one-way flight from Portland to San Jose instead of the other way around. I'd looked at those tickets at least once a day for two months, and I never noticed the problem.

It was going to cost a boatload of money to change my ticket online or over the phone. To make matters worse, every flight appeared to be full within the next 24 hours. I went down to the airport to talk to a ticketing agent. Not only did I receive a free flight change, I also was given a priority spot on the standby list for the first fight out in the morning. Nice!

This morning, I registered a complaint about an advertisement on a social networking site. Within minutes, I received a prompt, scripted reply from a robot telling me that I could soup up my profile with basic html. This wasn't even remotely consistent with my complaint.

I ordinarily wouldn't be bothered to complain about such things. After all, free speech is a right to be had by all, including multinational corporations. But it just so happens that the ad encroached upon a subject that makes the finger perched over the red "Objection!" button a little trigger happy. Ah yes, this ad has ruffled my feathers by treating women like property.

Even the rhetorical value of the name of the company supplying the ad raised my eyebrows. It suggests that by putting your very own slogan across the ass end of a pair of underpants, this company can provide you with a custom tailored girl to do with and to dispose of as you please. The sample slogans suggest that the tuches in these chones is marked territory.

You know, I usually like offensive humor. It appeals to my evil streak. I'll gladly own up to the fact that I often see the line, willingly cross it and then jump up and down on it like a giddy child. But as a connoisseur of potentially objectionable content, I think it's my responsibility to know the difference between slightly naughty to socially corrupt.

I also believe that we, as consumers, have a right to filter what we consume. In earlier media, we had the option to turn the page, change the channel, or at least turn down the volume when we disagreed with the content. I think the same should be true on the Internet. Yes, we can typically navigate away from a web page if we choose. But as we rely more frequently on the Internet for keeping in contact with people, it becomes increasingly difficult to self-censor.

When we deal with people face to face, there are different rules in effect. We can appeal to someone's compassion; we can read a situation at face value. The digital world is, by nature, binary. Things are black or white, on or off. In the human spectrum, there's a whole range of colors, tones, shades. I never want to lose sight of this.

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