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A new flatscreen: a 46" LCD 1080p HD with built-in digital receiver, LAN media player, Netflix, Hulu and an assortment of other Internet-based video services. And the sound: 9.1 channel Dolby surround. How much better the viewing experience would be with such a glorious device in our own home!
Imagine the reruns of Seinfeld—to watch Kramer come through that door in such detail, the audio flawless. You’d be able to see every freckle on his face. To listen to George whine about his latest stupid scheme, how amazing would it be with the astounding digital audio. It would be a totally new show! Except, perhaps, the show wasn’t filmed in such A/V quality—so it wouldn’t really enhance it that much. Bah, utterly rubbish. To the bin with Seinfeld, there must be something that would use the grandeur of the new telly. Instead, we’ll just watch the latest luke-warm comedy, chalk full of worn-out jokes. Surely, the funniness would be be amplified by the incredible resolution and flawless articulation. No?
Well, then, let’s watch a game. American football would surely be rejuvenated by the new slab of glass. No longer would it be a vague field of green with a bulky blobs running about in numbered jerseys. No, with the flatscreen we’ll be able to see the texture of the grass. The names on the jerseys will be legible, even in the wide-angle shots. Add to that years upon years of television production technology—if you remember the game from the 70’s, it was all camera work, cuts, and the occasional slow motion replay. Time remaining was a little picture-in-picture of the scoreboard. But now: there are edits and overlays and 360º viewing, rotating the field as if it was a computer model. How the strategy of the game must have changed as the presentation technology improved. No?
Well, perhaps a story then. Spiderman! Not the 1970’s TV show, where Peter Parker is an average guy who through circumstances is endowed with inhuman powers, turning them toward crime-fighting after his uncle Ben is murdered. No, the plot of this new, HD-enabled story would be so enhanced by changes in the underlying technology that it might as well be an entirely new and different story. No?
The news then. There are wars, economic confusion, partisan politics in the United States and multiple parties with differing agendas in other countries—the visual clarity that could be brought to us via this new device would assure a greater understanding of the crazy world that we live in. Instead of the anchorman of the 70’s, reading away with occasional visual stills or a reporter-via-telephone, the news now features video of the events being discussed and statements from the poeple in charge. Most certainly it helps us better understand the nuances of the world’s events. No?
So is it possible that such improvement in technology as there is, that none of it makes us happier or better? Indeed, this is the case. Superb audio does little to enhance jokes. The excitement of a game is in the competitive spirit, not in the video quality. Our fascination from a story comes from imagination, as we place ourselves in the story and envision how the events of the story would change our lives, our world. News should provide analysis to give us understanding the world around us and why things occur, not simply that they did—which is what what the news has become: a continuous feed of press releases, a list of the latest disasters, and sound bites telling what various people think needs to be done to fix everything.
Technology is continually providing us with new devices, new tools. We should consider what benefit these advances provide in our lives—and “because it’s spiffier than that last one” is not a satisfactory answer. We must ask how is that spiffyness going to make our lives better—partly because this is the question that will make us rethink spending, but primarily because bettering our lives is what’s actually important.
Sign up and we’ll give you something. Perhaps it’s worth it, sometimes. But there’s always a catch, and more often than not it’s trouble and your time. I’ve accepted credit cards to get a $25 discount, and then they’re filling up my mailbox with junk until I cancel the card, which only takes a half-hour if I’m lucky.
Another time a bank gave me $100 for opening an account, for the trouble of opening the account, making sure I maintained a minimum balance and hit a minimum transaction volume on the account’s debit card to avoid nasty fees, and eventually closing the account. They still managed to get a few of their dollars back, and I had to pay taxes on the portion I kept. It was only worth the trouble because I didn’t have a job at the time.
Signing up for e-junkmail is no different. Perhaps someday, you’ll need or want something from a merchant. In the meantime, they’re filling your mailbox with crap. If you’re not resistant, their junk persuades you to buy stuff you don’t need or even want.
The way to win this game is to avoid playing in the first place: don’t sign up. If you do end up on a merchant’s list—perhaps you failed to uncheck the “Subscribe to newsletter” checkbox when you bought something—unsubscribe immediately, before they share your address around. (Unsubscribing to unsolicited spam may only worsen the situation, as it confirms a working address; legitimate businesses believe many of their customers find their junk “helpful” but will comply with your wish to unsubscribe so as to not anger you and lose your business.)
Avoid-the-salesman is a skill we all develop when shopping “real” stores. Build that skill in the virtual world, too.