As I was sitting at my desk this morning going through the usual early Saturday routine of paying bills and administering the other minutia that goes along with running the household, the power cut out briefly. Looking out the window towards the woods, annoyed, I counted the seconds – fifteen of them before the genny cranked over and sent it’s homemade electricity surging down the wire and taking life from the 19th century to the 21st in a matter of no more than 30 seconds. From time to time I regret purchasing a big ticket item that isn’t strictly a need, but I can tell you true that I’ll always consider the cash sunk into that generator money well spent.
It’s probably a good day when the most annoying part of a power failure is having to turn the coffee maker back on and wait for the cable modem to reset. Momentary inconveniences though they are, I suspect I’ll be spending some time this weekend looking at battery backup options for some of those “key systems.” Because once you’ve eliminated the big inconveniences, the small ones somehow become even more obnoxious.
With of the ludicrous cost of cable television I’ve toyed off and on for about a year with cutting the cord and trying to cobble together a collection of streaming services that would get the job done. After some exhaustive research, the real problem became the fact that to get all of my non-negotiable programming I was going to end up needing essentially all the streaming services.
I’m grudgingly forced to admit that cost not withstanding, cable is just the most convenient way of getting what I want. Getting those 40 channels means I end up paying for 300. As much as I hate writing that monthly check, I’m resigned to the fact that I’m just going to go ahead and keep paying for the convenience of having it all piped in through the same service.
For the better part of a decade I’d been living with my old 40-inch 780p plasma screen in the living room. Its picture quality didn’t justifying the full HD experience and I’d always resisted handing over the extra $10 a month for HD channels. The 58-inch monstrosity now residing in my living room, though, made standard signals look like absolute rubbish. So I gave in and took a Saturday side trip to my “local” Comcast storefront.
I have to confess the swap out to HD boxes all around was quick and easy. The truth is, I’m tremendously impressed with the picture quality that’s getting sent over the wire. I’m impressed enough at least to keep paying the bill until a real industry disruptor comes along.
I set out last weekend to make my life cheaper and easier and was forced into a choice between the two. Under those circumstances I’m going to pick easier just about every time.
1. People who can’t end a meeting on time. I’m perfectly fine admitting that in consideration for your money, I am perfectly willing to sell you eight hours of my time. It’s a done deal. However, I feel an increasing need to make it clear that level of payment does not include any extras. I know that everyone is busy – and that we’re forced to live within an artificially constrained manpower allowance. All that means is there’s likely to be more work than people available to do it in the time you have purchased from us. As this is not a circumstance I created, it’s therefore important to know that if you want more of my time over and above that agreed to in the basic service package, well, the meter is going to have to start running. Or you can just start ending meetings on time. Either way.
2. People who use my desk as a phone booth. I don’t have any earthly care if someone needs to take a personal call at the office. Life happens and often it happens during weekdays. Please, go take that call if you need to, but for the love of Christ the Almighty Redeemer, can you please take it back to your own desk, or out in the hallway, or anywhere other than hovering three feet away from me while you’re doing it? I know these calls are very important, but I don’t have any need or desire to listen in on one half of the discussion about your latest trip to the doctor, what a shit day your significant other is having, or the baby’s last bowel movement. As it turns out, the concept of privacy doesn’t just protect you, but it also protects me from thinking you’re an enormous asshat.
3. Seeing the cashier. Generally when I pull up to the gas pump it’s because I want to top off the tank and be back on the road in as expeditious a manner as possible. What I don’t want to experience is card #1 being rejected, card #2 being rejected, and then hearing a tinny voice over the intercom letting me know that I need to come inside to pay. No, I don’t. That’s especially true because we’re not living in 1985. If the 20 credit card readers you have outside aren’t working, what on earth would make me think one of the two you have inside would be up and running? Walking inside and then standing in a line fifteen people deep to find “we’re only taking cash” would pretty much just add insult to already wasted time. So no, if you’re not going to make it easy for me to give you my money, I’ll happily drive next door and give it to your competition.
I don’t generally spend a lot of time perusing through Salon, but an article ended up in my news feed today that caught my attention. The rise and fall and rise and fall cycle of the American downtown is something I find endlessly fascinating – particularly why some communities can make their stretch of Main Street thrive while others never manage to clear the tumbleweeds.
Today’s article, like so many, place the blame on our friendly neighborhood “big box” retailers. I don’t doubt that they create a business environment where it’s awfully hard for the average corner store to compete. Volume pricing and favorable tax incentives to bring jobs to a community are hard to overcome. The piece that no one ever seems to discuss in detail is the shopping habits of the average American.
Of course I would never consider myself average, but if I use my own experience by way of example I find that the time I want to allocate to shopping for weekly essentials is pretty damned limited. If I go to the magic big box, I can find ample parking and pick up everything from spark plugs to underwear to fresh fruit and be on my way home in well under an hour. If I’d shop for the things on my average weekend list at small local businesses it would take three times that long because I’d have to make at least six separate stops, look for four or five parking spaces, wait to check out six times, and then go somewhere else when one of those retailers doesn’t have a specific item or brand I want. That’s not a slam against small business. It’s just the reality I’ve experienced.
I don’t hate small businesses by any stretch of the imagination, but if they want my business they need to deliver something I can’t find at the big box – there’s a shop here locally that sells fresh roasted coffee of fifty or more separate types and styles. They get my business because I’m willing to suffer a little inconvenience for a superior coffee experience. As for the anything else on my list, it’s not a matter of looking for the best, but rather simply a matter of time. The virtue of the big box is that even if it doesn’t always save me money, it saves me time and that counts for a lot.
Time is the most limited resources any of us have and the less of it I have to spend shopping – whether for bread and eggs or for a new car – the happier I’ll be with the entire process.
I’ve said it before but it seems to bear repeating: If you call my desk five minutes before the end of the day there’s a good chance I’m not going to answer – a) Because there’s absolutely nothing I’m working on that can be discussed in less than five minutes and b) Because it’s just rude to delay someone who’s already put in a full day for anything less than a full blown (and legitimate) emergency. I hold the same line on email too – if the building isn’t burning down and it requires more than a yes or no answer, you’re going to wait until there’s time on the clock to provide a complete and well-reasoned response.
In case you think this is just about managing expectations at the office it really isn’t. I have no problem at all letting the phone ring at home if it’s not a convenient time to have a conversation. My Gmail box will occasionally go untended for a day or two. Hard as it is to believe sometimes Facebook posts even go unliked and messages even go unreturned if I don’t have anything of substance to add to the conversation or the time with which to attend them.
All this technology surrounding us is supposed to be a convenience, you see. It’s supposed to let us engaged on our own schedule and in our own way. Instead of using these tools to manage our schedules and actions, many seem perfectly willing to let their scheduled be managed by the tools. As much as I love my iPhone, make no mistake that it is the servant and I the master. It’s the only reasonable way I’ve ever found to even attempt keeping things in their proper perspective.
All of that’s probably just a longer than necessary way of saying don’t call or email expecting great and wonderful operational insights at 3:55 PM. You’re going to be disappointed. Along the same lines, you probably shouldn’t bother trying to reach me between the hours of 10PM and 5AM for anything, really. My ringer is off because even if there is an emergency there probably isn’t a damned thing I can do about it before the sun comes up. Even if it is an actual emergency, it’s probably best for everyone if I’m allowed to face it after a few hours of sleep anyway.
Priorities people, priorities.
I’ve used carbon paper, but it had its last gasp as an office staple while I earning a diploma. I caught the tail end of using overhead projectors to show written documents to large audiences. I can even vaguely remember using a typewriter to fill in some forms carrying the dreaded “must be typed” instructions.
Looking back on those items, they weren’t particularly convenient. Using them was time consuming and far from automated. Even so, I have to grudgingly admit that they worked and were all successful at conveying some quantity of information from here to there. What they lacked in convenience and time saving, they more than made up for in reliability. Unless the bulb burnt out, that old heat throwing overhead projector would keep trucking along essentially forever. That’s one of the many beauties of systems with so few moving parts.
By contrast, most of my morning today was taken up by what felt like an endless do-loop of software updates and enforced restarts that made my computer at the office effectively unusable. It made me briefly long for a return to dry erase markers and acetate sheets and when ideas were communicated at the speed of fax. I’m sure that kind of throwback would make me miserable in its own unique way, but in the moment, anything seemed better than spending another moment staring blankly at the startup screen while the machine drug itself through the motions.
By lunchtime whatever gremlins were afflicting my laptop seem to have satisfied themselves with the damage done. I gave getting on with the day the old college try. I really did, but the damage was indeed done. Oh sure, I spent a few hours after that mashing away at the keyboard, but as for how much really got accomplished, well, I won’t be the one to incriminate myself on that front.
Last night I learned that my little corner of the world is incredibly dark and quiet when the magic of electricity fails in the middle of the night. We’re talking can’t see you hand in front of your face kind of dark… and wake you up out of a dead sleep because you’re not hearing all the running HVAC equipment and other background noises that electricity brings kind of quiet.
It was downright eerie… for about 40 seconds until one by one I could hear the neighbors backup generators springing to life to power life as normal in the 21st century. The power here only stayed out for about ten minutes, but it’s safe to say I now have one more home improvement on the list – if only because I’d be hugely ill tempered to find myself the lone person in the neighborhood sitting in the dark during a longer term outage.
Now if I can just count on nature to play nicely until after next tax season, that would be fantastic because I’m fairly sure the kind of genset I want isn’t going to be one funded out of petty cash. After that, dark and quiet will be someone else’s problem. I mean, sure, you can live without the modern conveniences, but why the hell would you want to?