Thursday, December 10, 2009

My Five Favorites Things About the New Millennium

So I've been thinking a lot about how the computers are going to take over the world by the year 2025. Esquire says so, so it must be true. (The Techno-Prophet)

If you check the date on that article (December 2002), you'll realize that I've not only been thinking about it a lot, but for a really long time. For someone with horrible ADHD to still vividly remember an article he read seven years ago, that must have been some scary memorable shit. In some ways I'm looking forward to it (the computers taking over, that is). I'll be about 60 by then, but with computers in charge I figure I'll probably have my 30-year-old body again. And so long as they aren't rightwing gay-bashing computers, I'll almost certainly be in better shape politically than I am now.

Why am I babbling about this, right? Because the reason I think so often about that article (and the prophesy) is because I'm struck dumb at the number of things in my life that I feel like I can't live without today that I had virtually zero knowledge of ten years ago. In 1999, I had a video tape collection that started at A and ended somewhere in triple-letter codes (i.e. ZZZ). And that doesn't include pre-made, store-bought videos. Do you have any idea how unwieldy a hundred or so VCR tapes are?

I haven't owned a VCR for virtually this entire decade. Almost literally overnight, it was not only unnecessary but unthinkable. And that's just the beginning. The aughts have been technologically astounding. So with that in mind, let's look at my favorite new millennium discoveries. I'm being a bit liberal in that I'm including things that I didn't have before 2000, even if they may have existed at the end of the last century.

Rather than rating them and trying to compare apples and bedroom furniture (apples and oranges are both fruit -- you can totally compare them. Which do you like better, apples or oranges? It's not such an absurd question. But if someone asked, which do you prefer -- pears or armoires? you'd probably think them odd), I'll list them more or less chronologically.

1. TIVO Having had to live with the pathetic imitation (cable company dvr) for the past two years, the last three days I have been downright giddy playing with my new HD TIVO. I originally got TIVO in February of 2002. My brother Paul had been home at Christmas going on and on about it and I couldn't get the idea of pausing live TV out of my head. I had to have it. Little did I know the love affair that would ignite almost from the very first boop-boop.

To tell you the truth, I have very little occasion to ever pause live TV these days. Since TIVO came into my life, I virtually never watch anything live. I always get that "I'm not from this planet" look on my face when people start talking about their favorite commercials. I can't remember the last time I watched a commercial.

But here's the real beauty of TIVO. I have never had a friend, boyfriend, family member, or anyone for that matter that has known me better than my TIVO knows me. I've only had this one three days. There are already episodes of Law & Order, Bones and Psych in my suggestions. Did any of YOU know I love those shows (well, maybe Marc did)? And TIVO's search features make the cable company dvr's look like the Dewey Decimal System. All you have to know is that there is some show you saw on some channel late at night one weekend when you came home drunk at 2 am and boop-boop. TIVO found it. For the past two years I've been watching the same shows over and over because I could never figure out what was on when on what channel with that friggin' piece of crap cablevision dvr. Already TIVO has a veritable cornucopia of shows for me to watch. Things I'd forgotten were even on. It's the reason this blog post is a day later than it should be.

2. American Idol Actually, I have TIVO (and a friend from Philly) to thank for American Idol. It was the summer of 2002 and I was still (as I am now) raving to anyone that would listen about my TIVO. Back then, almost every night was spent on the sofa smoking pot with the Duchess. It must have been a Tuesday night. All of a sudden he started freaking out because he forgot that American Idol was on. Honestly, I couldn't believe it. That certainly didn't seem like a show he would watch. Of course, then I remembered that he didn't have cable or a VCR so he was pretty much at the mercy of whatever was on one of the four channels that you could at least make out what was happening on it. After he calmed down (read: rolled another joint), he said all he really cared about was seeing "his girl" Tamyra Gray.

Fortunately, the TV had already been tuned in to Fox; so because of TIVO’s 30-minute buffer, I was able to rewind (which, in 2002, was about on par with turning water into wine) until the Duchess started to hyperventilate, at which point I figured we had found his girl. It so happens that was the night that Tamyra sang "A House is Not a Home". She completely blew me away. Then I completely blew the Duchess away by repeatedly rewinding and playing it over. The very next week Tamyra was eliminated and I was back to thinking AI was lame. But the seed had been sown. By the time Hollywood week in season two rolled around, I was obsessed.

I’ve babbled endlessly about this before, but I had all but given up on pop music before American Idol. It wasn’t fun. Kurt Cobain sucked the life out of it before he sucked the life out of himself. Once teenagers decided their lives were black gaping holes of despair and that their music should mirror that, pop music got really dour.

American Idol helped changed that by putting pop music in the hands of grade-school kids, who didn’t know their lives sucked yet, and their parents. Plus, they have created this dynamic where we get invested in our favorites before they’ve even released their first album. The idea was pure genius. I think even more genius than they realized when they conceived of it.

Now, I’ve not explained at all why AI belongs on a list that is mostly about technological advances. Here’s my take. The reason why all the ancestors of American Idol (Star Search, etc.) never caught fire like AI did has a lot to do with technology. Not only can we watch our favorites every week, we can immediately go and download their songs. Instant gratification. It even took the producers of Idol a few seasons to catch up with their viewers. I was downloading contestant performances from Yahoo groups long before iTunes started offering them. Because I could listen to them over and over (like any other pop song), I got attached. The more invested I got, the more I couldn’t wait for the next performance. Without fan sites, iTunes and Youtube, AI is probably still a popular show but no way is it the phenomenon it’s become.

3. iPod I’m screwing a little bit with the chronology here because I probably had the next thing on the list before my iPod, but it seemed appropriate to talk about the iPod after discussing AI and iTunes.

A little over five years ago, I was walking around NYC with a backpack full of CDs for my Discman, which was really cumbersome to carry. In 2004, my then-boyfriend got me my first iPod for my birthday (actually a couple months after, but why split hairs). At first, I was excited simply because I like getting things – especially things that everyone is already raving about. I don’t think I really grasped how my musical life was going to change.

As I stated in the first paragraph, I carried close to a dozen CDs with me at all times. But I usually left the same CD in the Discman for weeks. The whole decision-making process was too exhausting. I’d try to figure out what I was in the mood for, only to discover three songs in that I really only wanted to hear one song on that CD. When I finally would get a disc in there that I could play all the way through, I was very reluctant to change it.

Plus, new music was out of the question. I couldn’t take the chance that I’d be wasting space in my backpack on an album I wasn’t going to like. So in March 2004 (I seriously remember this distinctly) I had been listening to Belinda Carlisle’s A Woman and a Man for about three months. Now I love Belinda, don’t get me wrong. But the same ten songs over and over and over. I’m surprised my ears weren’t bleeding.

Enter iPod. It took about two weeks, but all of a sudden I had my entire music library in the palm of my hand. Every freakin’ song. Do you have any idea how many different Belinda Carlisle songs that is (especially if you count the Go-Go’s)?

Five years later I am every bit as enthralled by my iPod as I was then. Maybe more so. It’s never a risk to download new music because it doesn’t take up any discernible space. If I don’t like it, I rarely even bother to delete it. I may come back to it six months from now and have a completely different experience. Whatever mood I’m in, I have the music for it right here – wherever here is.

For someone like me, who is always stuck in my head overthinking every action and what happened yesterday and what’s going to happen tomorrow, the best thing about iPod is that I can actually construct a soundtrack to my life. And don’t even bother mocking me. You know you’ve always wanted a theme song and a soundtrack for your life. iPod rocks.

4. Texting Here’s one that took me way longer than it should have to get on board with. I didn’t really get it at first. I have this tiny little phone, with this even tinier little number pad. You want me to type on it?! Get the hell out of here. That will never catch on.

But anyone who knows me knows that texting was tailor-made for me. I hate talking on the phone. I especially hate when I want a simple answer to a simple question and I’ve got to make small talk and ask how you are and tell you how I am and what’s new and have you talked to your sister this week and when are you coming for dinner and what’s going on this weekend and why don’t we see each other more and we’re going to Mexico next week and I DON’T CARE!! I just wanted to know how to spell your goddamned name! But I still don’t because I got so frustrated trying to get off the phone that I never even asked.

So, now I can get the answers to my questions and you can’t hold me hostage. HA!

But honestly, there is so much more to my love of texting than my hatred of humankind. Here’s something everyone in the world already knows about me – I never listen. Ever. Tell me your address on the phone. I’ll call you from a block away. Give me directions to a party. I’ll call you from the other side of town completely clueless as to why I’m there. Just text it to me. Please. At least then I have a fighting chance. It’s still a somewhat dicey because I’m a little trigger-happy with the delete button, but at least I have a 50 percent chance of finding you.

Also, texting revolutionized the process of finding your friends in a club when you’re drunk or high (as long as it’s not a substance that renders you unable to read or write). And of passing notes to classmates or colleagues during a particularly boring class or meeting.

But the main reason texting has become indispensable as a form of communication is because of its unreliability. As communication technology got more and more advanced, our excuses for avoiding people started to evaporate before our eyes. Instead of claiming we didn’t know you called, we had to try to say our answering machines broke – and how many times can you trot that one out. Then voicemail made even that obsolete. In our most desperate hour, texting (and in the same vein, email) rescued us. “No, I didn’t get your text. That happens all the time. I’m really sorry. A lot of times I get the text like 12 hours after it was sent. It’s crazy.” Balance of power restored.

5. Facebook I was actually reluctant to put this on the list because I’ve only been using it for about a year and a half. It could seriously still be a fad. There’s no way to know yet. Of course, if it is a fad I’m going to have several hours a day to fill when it passes.

While all the items on this list are things I love, Facebook is just a bit different, maybe extra-special. One thing that I was always pretty good at throughout my life was keeping up with my friends. I might not talk to them all the time, and because of the moving around I've done in my life they have always been scattered across the country. But I always knew where they all were and, for the most part, how they were doing. Until crystal meth entered the picture.

Before I knew it, I'd cut almost everyone out. It wasn't even intentional. I stayed connected to my family, so it wasn't really a conscious decision to isolate myself from all my friends. However, it's really hard to pull off anything resembling normal when you're body is vibrating and your mind is racing and you break into a Whitney-Houston-type sweat as soon as the temperature in the room hits 64.

Even phone conversations were difficult. So many times friends that called wanted to know why I was talking so fast. Umm. Too much coffee I guess. Anyway, the end result was that I lost contact with just about everyone.

When I finally got sober, I didn't even know how to begin reconnecting with people. Hell, I hardly even knew where to find some of them. Then a new friend was going on and on about Facebook. All these people looking him up from high school and he's got 95 friends already. Blah. Blah. Blah. So, what the hell. I figured I'd give it a shot. Literally, less then ten minutes after I signed on one of my best friends from high school sent me a message. Hadn't talked to her in probably five years. Then I started looking for people. Dear friends from college, from the different cities I've lived in. One by one I started to rebuild my friendships. It was wonderful.

Of all the things I've gotten back over the past two years, nothing has been as gratifying to me as having so many of my old friends back in my life. I've gotten so much more love and support than I could have hoped for considering where I've been. And it seriously would not have happened without Facebook.

What about you? What can't you live without that you never heard of until the new millennium? Let's hear it.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. You and I had long ago established that we have very different taste in music. While Nirvana is not my forte, I would disagree that they were the death of pop (or put pop in a coma for that reason._ Hell, I would argue that 1995 was filled with awesome music "pop" music (ace of bace can still be found on my i-pod.) 

I'm considerably younger than you so my take on this will be a bit different. I remember walking with my cd case in my left hand and my discman in my right hand. Oh, I thought my cd-burner was the coolest thing ever because I could take those songs I wanted to hear and make awesome mixes (mixtapes died for a bit but were revitalized with cd-burners and now playlists.) I second your IPOD point; it has changed my life. 

Ten years ago I was just getting on the Internet. Now I spend at least fourteen hours a day on it. I wake up and the first thing I do is check whatever site pops into mind. Some people need their coffee. I need my Internet. 

I find that as better cellphones come out, I cannot go back to older models. I got a blackberry because I was going to Europe and it was the only worldphone on VZW at the time and tried to switch back to a regular phone when I got back and after two months had the blackberry reactivated. I have a droid now and cannot imagine giving it up. 

Finally, and this is in the last few years, torrent sites. Not only can I download my favourite tv show from my prepubescent days (you know, last week,) but I can get all the porn in the world and with my laptop, I can watch porn anywhere! Facebook is up there, too. It's pretty much always open in the background and I know the world needs/wants to know what I'm thinking about at every moment of every day. 

Life is good. 

Thanks for the post! I often joke how my life revolves around rechargeable batteries and looking for a power outlet.

    Sorry for the delete; I decided I should edit my response.

  3. Ah, Petr...I am still a Luddite. While I love my ipod and thoroughly enjoyed the first 3 or 4 seasons of AI and am not a huge fan of humankind, I think there is too much technology.
    People don't know how to stop texting, tivoing (is that even a word?) and (present company excepted) too many people don't even know how to spell a simple word like 'thanks'-they actually think its 'thnx'. Disturbing.
    There is a reason for the phrase 'everything in moderation'...but I love reading your posts. I really do!

  4. I agree with you ab/ the extra specialness of facebook. when I redo my ninth step amends... facebook will enable me to actually contact most of the people I conveniently could not track down before :-)

  5. If computers DO take over the world, it probably won't be pretty. (I'd tell you to take a look at James Cameron's TERMINATOR, but I already tried to shove it down your throat and you weren't having it.) Stephen Hawking's writings have touched on this topic, with his conclusion being that it wouldn't be pretty. (He has also come to the conclusion that any alien civilization that makes itself know to us will, without question, choose to annihilate us. How judgmental!)

    As for your iPod, I bought it a few months after your birthday because it wasn't really for your birthday. I had been acting much like the self-involved 20-something who, at the time, I very much was. Seeing as I felt that the only way I could appeal to your forgiving nature was through material things, an iPod was a no-brainer. I only said that the iPod was for your birthday because I couldn't admit to you that I knew I was acting like an ass.