Foursquare: The Stalker’s Delight

Growing up in Southeastern United States, it may not (or it may) be a surprise to hear one of the most often vocalized concerns from neighbors, friends, and what not was the government intruding on its citizens’ privacy. This concern, of course, was inflamed with the terrorist scare and the passing of the Patriot Act, and has since caused near hysteria in many alarmed civilians.

But let’s not go there. The issue I wish to address today is one of severe irony in light of the aforementioned worries. Despite Americans’ (and probably citizens living in other developed countries) outrage at the government’s intrusion on their rights, they continue to utilize tools that render the government’s job of tracking them laughably easy, social media and cell phones being two of the best examples. Yet there is one example that trumps them all.

Foursquare.

For the uninitiated, Foursquare is an app available on Android and iOS that enables users to quickly find the best places around town, be it restaurants, stores for shopping, or virtually anything else. It is a handy tool to make the user’s life easier. Oh, and it gathers information on the best spots to visit by having its users check in to locations when they arrive.

So let’s examine this. Man complains his privacy is being invaded, saying the government has no business knowing where he is and what he is doing all day. Man keeps his cell phone on him, a device with GPS tracking that, let’s face it, can be used by the government to pinpoint your location. As if that’s not bad enough, man goes to the bar and, as he sits down to order his favorite brew, pulls out that phone, opens up the Foursquare app, and broadcasts to the social media world, “Hey, this is where I’m at! Come stalk me please!”

Now, I’m not criticizing. If you don’t care that people know when you’re home, have at it. You can even give your domicile a clever title for your friends’ amusement. (My brother-in-law dubbed his domicile “The Bat Cave.”) And it’s all in good fun, right? I suppose, like people who do you Foursquare, I am a hypocrite, as well, since I use social media and have a cell phone on my person at all times.

Still, there’s something unsettling to me about alerting all my friends each time I step foot in my home or work. For my part, I’ll stick with occasional social media posts and use the Facebook check-in on the rarest of circumstances, like going to a really awesome concert. If you choose otherwise, well, we live in a (sort of) free country. And that means you can get a restraining order when you start attracting stalkers.

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Social Media Activism: An Epidemic

The world is moving. Communication is stronger than ever, with smartphones, social media, and the Internet. It’s a wonderful thing, to be sure, but as always, with the good comes the bad. Many would say wasting time on the Internet surfing Youtube for funny trending videos and clicking through countless hysterical memes are a waste of time and technology. After all, we should use technology for the greater good of mankind, right?

These are the same people whose Facebook timelines are cluttered with posts supporting every little environmental, political, and animal rights cause (to name a few) they come across.

These are the people who I refuse to allow to pollute my newsfeed.

Now, before you call me a bitter sociopath—even if I am one—I’m not saying I’m against people supporting good causes. I love seeing my friends dedicating time and (virtual) space to the things they are passionate about. I just also know some of my friends well enough to look at something they’ve posted and think, “Who are you trying to kid?”

Anyone else already sick of seeing this as everyone’s profile picture?

The foremost problem, in my mind, of supporting too many causes on social media is the lack of doing anything else about it. So, you want better treatment for animals on farms? Let’s just post this informative video up showing the horrific conditions farm animals are subjected to. After that: McDonald’s!

If you feel strongly enough about something to share it with everyone you know (and probably hundreds you’ve never met), make sure you’re not stopping at useless Facebook posts. Remember Kony 2012? How many people posted about it? How many did anything beyond infecting Facebook like a plague with impotent posts? For probably 99% of those, the answer is, “Nothing,” and the entire campaign was dead as quick as it started.

One thing we can all agree on? This was the most ineffective Internet campaign ever…even if it was well-intentioned.

Another problem is that posting for every little cause results in the most ridiculous posts ever. The other day one of my friends on Facebook shared a post of a picture that said something along the lines of, “I’m against child abuse. Repost if you are.” Dude, EVERYONE’S against child abuse! That’s like saying, “Share if you live on planet Earth.” What’s the point? It’s just pointless noise on the Internet; it’s not comical, informative, or unique, and it makes absolutely no difference to anything in the world. Period.

So that I don’t end this alienating the masses with my cynicism, I will say that if there’s a cause you are passionate about, post all you want—just don’t stop there. Donate money or time, and if you have neither, at least encourage others to do what they can, and maybe pray (if you do that; if not, send out happy thoughts?). And for goodness sake, realize you don’t have time to support every little cause out there. Devote your energy toward a handful of causes you can give a lot for rather than innocuous posts about every little cause you come across. Except PETA. Never, ever support PETA.

Time Management Tips—The Ultimate Time Mismanagement

As some of you may know, I am an aspiring writer. Now, I won’t sit here and detail my creative writing process (or lack thereof), but I will share some oddities real quick. I started novelizing in high school, which is remarkably weird considering I hated reading until after I graduated. The results, needless to say, were abysmal.

But I continued pouring my ideas out on paper (or rather, a word processing program, i.e. Microsoft Word) because that was the way I knew to release them. It wasn’t even until I finished my first serious (as-of-yet unsolicited) novel that I started paying attention to the “how-to” articles and the “5 Things You Need to Know to be a Great Writer!!!” essays. Even today, I take these with a grain of salt because I have a process that works for me and other writers’ suggestions are just what works for them.

But one article in particular has always struck me as odd and, frankly, hypocritical: the “time-waster” articles.

I don’t mean articles you read that eat up your time. I mean every third article you read on writing advice that drives home the point that if you want to be a serious writer, you have to manage your time, meaning stop wasting time on the Internet when you should be writing.

You could read this. Or you could spend the time you would reading this writing instead.

It wasn’t until earlier today as I was trying to finish up a chapter that I realized the irony. There I was, type-type-typing away, and then I see a new email from BookBaby. The top featured article was titled “5 Time Management Tips for Writers Who Work From Home.”

Okay, let’s stop there for a second. If you truly are a writer who works from home, you either already possess excellent time management skills or you’re living on a diet of Ramen Noodles and tap water. That is to say the article was poorly targeted. Should it have been titled, “5 Time Management Tips for Writers Who Want to Work From Home” or “5 Time Management Tips for Aspiring At-Home Writers,” it would have been more forgivable.

All right, back to the premise. The first “tip” is to minimize interruptions; the proceeding paragraph went on to talk about screwing around on the Internet. And that’s about where I stopped and solidified the nascent thought in my mind: This is a time-waster! Not that it’s not good advice—because it is—but it has been said a hundred times over and, worse yet, anyone pursuing a stay-at-home career in writing should have already conceived this. It is one of the most basic, common sense concepts for writers. And pretty much everyone else.

Alas, the plague of writers who crave advice and help from the Internet is a ridiculous array of articles listing the “X Number of Tips to be a Successful Writer,” 95% of which overlap in common sense, largely unhelpful tips, unless you’re literally just starting out and haven’t given a thought to what that career might entail.

My advice? Again, what thousands of others have said before: do what works for you; and, what none of the authors of these articles say, stop reading generic “X Number of Tips” articles and get your ass to work! Which is what I’m going to do now.

The Wonderful World of Google (And Modern Technology)

You know those questions you’re asked by your friends that you really don’t know the answer to? Inquiries such as, “What time does Zaxby’s close?”* or, “What is an off-lease computer?”** I have one answer to these types of questions.

“I don’t know. Google it.”

You, see, my entire life I’ve been so thankful to live in a technology-driven age. During the Industrial Revolution, that might have not been such a wonderful thing if you weren’t an aristocrat, what with being forced to endure the most appalling work conditions known to man. But today, with updated labor laws (at least in the US) and the choice to enter other industries than manufacturing, I can say I feel blessed to have the benefit of technology.

I know everyone wants to pull the “technology is evil” cliche, but the way I see, technology is like everything—yes, everything—mankind places its adulterated hands on. It can be used for good and evil. I choose to look at the good.

One of my biggest pet peeves? That most people don’t.

I’m not saying I’m surrounded by gloomy, morbid pessimists who spout technology’s evils like a religious nut, but most people I know live in oblivion toward technology’s bravura. I’m talking about the everyday, seemingly insignificant conveniences we’re afforded, like finding answers to those pesky questions our friends inexplicably believe we can answer.

Just the other day, I was speaking to a friend at work about renewing her car tags, since I just went through that annual experience about a month ago. She asked, “So what time did you wake up to get to the tag place?” It took me a moment to answer, not because I was shocked or didn’t understand her. I was confused.

The tag place? I understood what she meant—the horrible office, located who-knows-where, that handles tag renewals. I just didn’t understand why she presumed I would ever step foot in that dreadful government edifice. Why? BECAUSE WE HAVE THE FREAKING INTERNET!

When I got over my initial obfuscation, I just said with all the insouciance I could muster, “I did mine online.”

“Oh,” she replied, perplexed. “You can do that online?”

I wanted to smash a brick into my forehead. I know we’re talking about the government, but seriously, it’s 2013! Why wouldn’t you be able to do some menial, otherwise time-consuming task online? If these roles were reversed, my first question would be, “What?! Why can’t you just do that online?” It’s practical, quick, and you don’t even have to shower and dress, or, better yet, see all those people you don’t want to deal with.

Almost any question, routine task, or fleeting curiosity can be completed, answered, and laid to rest via the Internet, and with smartphones enabling a world of knowledge in our palms, it’s never been quicker or easier! Just like the time my brother-in-law John and I were trying to figure out how to remove an alloy tire from my far-too-complicated German automobile. Our first idea: look it up on our phones. We had the answer in about a minute.

In the same vein (and discussed in part two blog posts back), I am perplexed at why we have to make phone calls. Text messaging is quicker and, typically, more convenient. And printing things—oh my word! It seems in the professional/business realm, printing every stinking page you produce electronically is a necessity. I was so relieved during my internship my Senior year when my boss, Alison Lebovitz, turned out to be as tech-aware as myself. I still remember the Tennessee Aquarium Board meeting I attended with her when upwards of three handouts were passed around the table.

“Can we get all this in an email?” my boss asked, iPad on the table in front of her while the handouts were shoved aside—right in front of me, as if  to say, “Type this out in an email and send it to me if you have to. I DON’T WANT IT!”

Now, I understand some people are old-fashioned, and to each his own. Just don’t expect the world to slow down while you flip through your hardback dictionary instead of using a convenient app. Now if you’ll excuse me, dinner’s calling, and I need to Google the nearest sit-down burger restaurant.

*Zaxby’s typically closes at 10:00 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11:00 p.m. on Saturday, and 9:00 p.m. Sunday.
**An off-lease computer means a company leased a computer to a company, it was returned, and now they are selling the computer.

Just a Text Message Away

Like some (but not most) people, there is a certain bit of technology I abhor. I mean, really abhor. This bit of 20th century advancement forces you to engage in colloquy with extremely painful—and superfluous—preamble. It is prosaic, mind-numbing, and, to be frank, time-draining.

Yes, I’m talking about the telephone.

Some love it, some hate it. I plummet far off the cliff of the latter side. Even in my youth, I couldn’t bring my hand to press the receiver against my ear to listen to the monotonous droning of whoever was on the other end. It was like torture, except I wasn’t even allowed to cry out in agony lest I be subject to chastisement and labeled a basket case. (I was at least able to eschew the former.)

Then, lo and behold: the text message! Like many in SMS’s early days, I was initially averse toward the technology. I found it obnoxious and impersonal.

And then I used it. At once I was introduced to the convenience of quick, short snippets of conversation, so tactfully carving away the excess, horrid fat of the exchange to reach the luscious, juicy, delectable center. It was brilliant! Never again would I be forced to endure a platitudinous dialogue consisting of the most irrelevant bits of information until reaching the heart of what needed to be said. Like a prayer answered, the art of conversation changed before my very eyes.

You see, I never had an appreciation for the “proper” way to do things. I am one of those annoying buggers that has an incessant proclivity to question why. Why should I wait behind a red light at 2 a.m. on the most inactive street in the city? Why should I care about the opinions of people I see in passing down the street and will never meet again? Why should I go through the motions in a phone conversation that nobody wants to go through before I ask for the favor I want?

Now, I understand the need to go through motions in a business setting (though I’ll confess my desire to see some change there, too). But seriously, if I have a question I know my uncle would have the answer to (hypothetical situation here), why do I need to ask him how he’s been, what his kids are up to, and what kind of car he’s driving now? He knows I’m not that curious, and let’s be honest, he hasn’t called me in the last seven years to see how my life’s going!

With the text message, you just throw out the question and wait for the answer. No wasting time, just what you need. (Yes, that should be a slogan.)

This also happens to come in handy in social situations. Remember when you had to play phone tag when you were trying to make plans with your friends? No longer. With text messaging, you pull up your friend’s number, shoot them a quick one-liner (“Wanna do something?” I find to be perfectly acceptable), and await the response. And you know there’s no chance you’ll miss it, and you won’t have to inconvenience yourself by waiting for a phone call.

Now, who wouldn’t prefer text to phone calls? Quicker, less painful. This guy’s only regret is that such technology hadn’t been realized sooner. His greatest hope is to hear the “I’ll call you” adage permanently replaced with the much more saccharine, blissful words: “I’ll text you.”

The Church of Apple

The Latin on the left translates as, “New Order Ages.” Don’t ask me…

Growing up in the Southeast, it shouldn’t be surprising that I have a background rife with religion. My roots dig deep in the home-schooled, American Catholic demographic, and through that I learned all about the tenants of Catholicism. Later, when I entered a (predominantly Presbyterian) private school, I was educated on the foundations of Protestantism, Martin Luther’s infamous 95 Theses, and the development of modern Christianity. What I didn’t learn about was perhaps the most convicted religious institution of all.

Apple.

Okay, so by this point some of you are laughing (maybe), others of you are shouting obscenities at your computer (let me remind you: I can’t hear them), and yet more probably already closed this window and are busy surfing the web for the next-gen iPad. For those of you still around (and indignant), allow me to explain my position.

As a business student, I am almost required to be an admirer of Apple, and I am…to a certain extent. The late Steve Jobs was a genius and a visionary. No doubt about it! After some years of lagging behind competitor Microsoft, Apple has proven its dominance in the tech industry and advanced to one of the largest companies in the world, barreling past some impressive  milestones, from cash-on-hand to stock prices.

But then you have the fanatics. Oh, the mere thought makes me shudder! I’m not talking about your average Apple user or even the ones who devote themselves solely to Apple products (and are no doubt anxiously awaiting the iCar, Apple’s answers to Google’s self-driving automobile). I’m referring to the Apple pushers: the ones who corner you in bathrooms and berate you for pulling out your Android-based smartphone.

These are the fans that have led me to come to describe Apple as its own religion of sorts. If you think about it, the company really is coming to that (admittedly through no fault of their own). Its loyal fans practically swear off all other tech companies, they carry their iPads tucked safely under their arms, they always have that one item representative of their company that they carry around in their pockets/purses, and they condemn those who would blaspheme the sacred silicon-based hardware by venerating a competing brand.

Any of these sound like traits of religious groups? Yeah, it scares me, too, and I’m always nervous to go into a MacAuthority—the proverbial sanctuary of Apple users—lest I hear Jobs’s disciples reciting the chilling iCreed:

We believe in one Jobs, the Father of Innovation, creator of iPhone and Mac…

Well, you get the picture.

I’ve had a few run-ins with these people, the most recent being with my father, who politely commented on my shared wall post of the Amazon Kindle Fire HD (a shameless entry to win a free tablet, of course) by reminding me how the iPad is superior. There was also that time a classmate questioned my intelligence for using PCs…and that was before tablets or smartphones! Then there are the not-so-inconspicuous colloquies between Apple fanboys, “quietly” bashing non-believers in the dead center of the room. And, as I’ve learned to do with religion and politics, I just sigh and walk away, because there’s no pacifying them.

Now, I’m not saying people shouldn’t exercise brand loyalty. I just think people should respect others’ choices, and in the words of Steve Jobs, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

…Wait, that wasn’t Steve Jobs.

Ancient Twenty-Four

As I stand at the cusp of my twenty-fourth year of life, I am very much baffled by the concerns that have permeated my conscious. Bills, the Presidential election, finding a job before college graduation (see next point), the unemployment rate (see previous point), and ludicrous gas prices all have their ways  of perturbing my zen. In light of all these issues, I still found it surprising when I first voiced my dissastisfaction for the placement of a row of impractically tall bushes right beside an intersection near the interstate.

If you just thought, “Wow, this guy sounds old,” join the freakin’ club. Scarier even then my griping about it like a sixty-year-old man was my negligence toward the fact that I sound old every time I silently chastise the city for its refusal to have these abominations cut down.

I mean, seriously, a row of bushes?! You’d think my youthful mind would be preoccupied about where my co-workers are hanging out after work this weekend or when my favorite bands are coming anywhere near here so I can see them live. (Okay, I think about that last one quite a bit.) But no, I’m complaining about the bushes that obstruct my view of oncoming traffic. (For reference of these obnoxious beasties, I have included a photograph—in color, too!)

I mean…you can’t even see ANYTHING behind that behemoth!

This leads me to one horrifying yet undeniable fact: I’m a geezer at heart. If I can take solace in one single embrace, it’s that I’m not the only one. My brother-in-law and best friend since Middle School (that’s right, he was my friend before he ever dated my sister), John Rollan, has been married since the ripe age of eighteen and at (barely) twenty-four has two daughters. More importantly, though, he shares my concern for impractical landscaping and ugly scenery.

Toward the tail end of the summer he and I were on a typical drive hunting scoping out restaurants for dinner when we passed by an apartment complex. Now, being the aged men we are in mind and spirit, we just had to remark on the features of the complex from its convenient location to the hypothetical flood of traffic it’d be a pain to get through every morning on the way to work. And in front of the complex (which is situated atop a hill that slopes down toward the road), a whole crap ton of construction yields an aesthetically displeasing sight, which of course ruins the appeal of the complex as a livable community.

“They really need to fix that ugly hill,” John says as we pass by, leaving our fantasies of high-end apartment-living behind. And in that moment, it hit me again: We are old. I couldn’t help but laugh as I informed him of how ridiculous he sounded…and then I mentioned the row of bushes I have grown to so abhor and comforted him with the knowledge that I sound just as geriatric.

But enough about that. My Wall Street Journal subscription ends next month and I need to catch up on the newspaper headlines.

Intro / Pathos, Pathos

That’s supposed to represent the inception of this blog or whatever…

Welcome, dear, dear readers to my first official blog (Facebook Notes and similar social media aside). If you don’t know me, that’s okay; you’ll have ample opportunity to learn through this digital intermediary. Since this is an “introduction” of sorts, I won’t jump right into the unabashed life revelations just yet, and in lieu will begin by answering some questions.

I. Why I’m Blogging and Why You Should Give a Crap

Plain and simple: presence. Having spent nearly the twelve or so years of my web-surfing life remaining under the radar (Google searches for my name don’t lead searchers to me but other imposters, such as the Jewish Brit author), I am stepping out of the womb of oblivion into the light of the Internet. I don’t know why you should give a crap, but an aspiring writer apparently needs a blog, so here you go.

II. What Can You Expect

Nothing terribly important, I’ll be honest. I’m a bit self-deprecating, but in a sardonic, Conan O’Brien-type way…but I don’t possess his comedic genius. Honestly, you can expect an amalgam of my various masquerades: humor, candid opinion, reflections, dorkiness, blah, blah, blarggg. I’ll attempt to limit the volume of self-assertion I seem to have a proclivity toward, but I learned long ago not to make promises I can’t keep (har har).

III. Why the Verbose Headline?

Popped into my head one day, put it down. Anyone who knows me can tell you I suffer from mild social retardation, or constipation, or whatever term fits your fancy. I won’t complain, but I’ll take liberal use of candor. It’s the way I live my life! (The headline’s changeable anyway. Thanks, WordPress!)

Yep, that’s pretty much the short and skinny, as someone said probably two hundred years ago. Check back later for a real post. Or don’t. It’s a free world (in some places).

Much cyber love,
Stephen

P.S. The title of this entry is the first track off Kishi Bashi’s debut album, 151a.