Wednesday, June 21, 2017

What's in store for the future?

Amazon just bought Whole Foods, and business analysts are slamming at their keyboards to tell us what this means for future of grocery stores, and for retail in general. Many are saying — some of them somewhat gleefully — that this could spell the end of brick-and-mortar grocery stores as we know them.

As someone who embraces technology myself … I hope the hell not.

Online grocery shopping is a boon for people whose circumstances preclude them from easy, physical shopping. I get that, and would never suggest it shouldn’t exist for them or for anyone who simply finds it convenient. But I hope we never get to the point where that’s the only option.

I enjoy my ritual of going to the store every week (or more often when needed). I like the selections, I like interacting with people, I like finding something new that I might never have seen otherwise and — most of all, perhaps — I like having the items right away. For me, shopping is one of the few times I get to mix with so many different people. I’ve even made lasting friends here and there.

Society is getting increasingly segregated and divested, and the trend toward online everything (and possibly fear of mass attacks) is only making that worse.

It’s not just about socializing, either: Being among a crowd reminds you that people exist, whether or not you talk to anybody. It can make you feel better if you’re lonely and depressed. When you see different races and cultures going about their business around you, it’s harder to believe hateful caricatures about them. As we already see every day, we need more interaction, not less.

So, yeah, online shopping might be my only route for the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia DVD sets I can’t find on any shelves (assuming technology hasn’t completely phased DVDs out as well). But I hope our technostopia finds a middle ground between the virtual and the physical. It’s good to leave the house — and your navel — once in a while.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Advice for the Class of 2017

Congratulations, Class of 2017! You did it!

And now for the fun part — someone older than you telling you what to do. Chances are you’re getting an onslaught of that right now — most of it typical you’re-on-the-threshold stuff with a heaping helping of 2017-era snowflake snark thrown in. “Don’t expect the world to hand anything to you simply for having tangible educational accomplishments and a strong desire to work hard and make a difference.” The world’s gotten weird like that.

Well, I’m not one for that crap. I’m 37 and I’ve got a master’s degree, and (in defiance of what most of my elders assured me) I’ve managed to not renounce the idealism of my youth once I started earning paychecks. I have kept my healthy skepticism of authority and the status quo. So you should unblinkingly heed everything I say.

Just kidding. Question the hell out of it. It’ll hold up.

Whether you’re finishing high school or commencementing from college (my English master’s at work, tip your server), here’s what you really need to know.

That was preseason. Ignore what your teachers might have said about school days being the best of your life. They’re not. Life is way better when you don’t need to fret about ramen or need a hall pass to piss.

You belong in a museum. Your personal exhibit should include any of the following: Yearbooks; letterman’s jackets; class rings; cap and gown; any senior mementoes; your reputation; and any cares you had about said reputation. All of that goes under glass. They’re memories in need of climate control while you head off to make new ones.

Your diploma will soon be a trivia question. You might be surprised how quickly this happens. When I earned my master’s degree in 2005, everybody was like, “Ooh, you have a master’s degree! Sexy!” I bring it up now and people say, “Still with the damn master’s degree? Just let me buy Clearasil for the kid I birthed during your ceremony in peace.” Your credentials will always matter in the LinkedIn sense, but they’ll quickly fade from everyday thought as life happens. Soon enough, people will go back to gauging you by what kind of person you are, so keep working on that instead of resting on your ’laureate.

Diplomas don’t define intelligence. You’re not automatically better than a person without a degree. Intelligence comes in as many forms as circumstance. Again, character counts. Act accordingly.

You are not you yet. Years from now, you will look back at this time and realize how radically different you used to be. If you've done life right, you will not want to be this incomplete version of you again. This is the time when you start becoming you, armed with all the knowledge and critical thinking you’ve (hopefully) picked up. Do something good with it.

Fumigate your social media. If you’re still retweeting offensive it’s-just-jokes-you-guyz from the handle @hotsexfiend, now is the time to stop doing all of that. While you’re at it, exterminate what’s already there. I regret much of what I posted as an alleged adult from 24 to 31, and I was somewhat smart then; yours is almost certainly way worse, so act accordingly. No one says you have to be a politician, but it reflects better upon you if a Google search of your name doesn’t necessitate a vaccine.

Don’t hate yourself if everything doesn’t fall right in place. It’s tough out there and it has been for years (and the lack of understanding by generations with an easier ride can make it feel worse). After graduating with my master’s degree in 2005, I suffered through more than a year of unemployment, followed by four months of minimum-wage underemployment. During that tough time, I was ashamed to even show my face around town. Turns out, no one cared that I wasn’t yet achieving my dreams or anything at all; that deadness in my eyes (as one friend delicately put it) was entirely a product of self-loathing. Don’t fall into that trap. Keep being you and know we aren’t judging — and never give up.

You’re not the worst generation ever. Elders have been saying this since the beginning of time (or at least since the second generation got old enough to disappoint the first generation). And at least the past 12 generations have blamed various technological advancements for molding the new generation into helpless idiots. (Everything that was once said about smartphones was said about newspapers and presumably flush toilets too.) This isn’t because people are actually getting dumber, but because people inevitably romanticize the past and see the present as lesser in comparison. To a 40-year-old, every 18-year-old seems like an idiot. They’re probably judging against their own 18-year-old selves, an age when they were too idiotic to realize they were idiots. Point is, no generation has the lock on greatness or buffoonery. Indeed, your all-digital generation has a uniquely incredible potential to make the world a better place than what’s being handed to you by the self-proclaimed “better” generations. And for the love of trees don’t put your own generation down. So many millennials do this. What has this world become?!!

Ignore the participation-trophy screeds. Apparently there was a meeting in about 1995 or so where all parents agreed to apply a mindset suitable to the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl to raising their kids. “Ice cream is for WINNERS! And DON’T TOUCH THE PARTICIPATION TROPHY OH MY GOD YOU’RE GOTH ALREADY.”

None of you asked for participation trophies, and I’m guessing even fewer of you rested on that laurel. Anyway, it’s not like they’re a new trend; I received my first one for playing tee-ball in 1986, and they weren’t new then either. What is new is their status as a scapegoat for all that is wrong with kids these days. Seems to me that no one with any ambition is going to stop at a participation trophy, or even care whether they get a trophy or any other celebratory bauble. In fact, the anti-participation trophy fervor is a symptom of a society where we’ve made brutal competitiveness a primary virtue. And that’s your elders’ bad, not yours. Think about this: Your degree is a participation trophy. After all, you got it for showing up every day, not because you beat everyone else. Does that diminish your accomplishment? Hardly. I doubt it’ll temper your future drive, either.

You probably won’t be the next Mark Zuckerberg. In this dog-eat-dog dystopia, there’s a diseased idea that everyone can be the next founder of Facebook or Microsoft or Tesla or whatever — and if you’re aren’t, then you’re a failure. This is insane. We forget that the Zuckerbergs and Bill Gateses and Elon Musks of the world are memorable precisely because they’re outliers. Most of us are not in that echelon, and that’s OK. If you have an entrepreneurial spirit, fantastic — but it’s perfectly fine as well to want steady employment to finance the rest of your life. That isn’t something to be scorned. Being a once-in-a-lifetime pioneer is something that finds you; if it does, awesome. But it’s not the sole metric of success, and society shouldn’t treat it as such.

Anyway, why would you ever want to be the next anyone? Be the first you, however you define that.

Go easy on the fast food and alcohol. Every person over 30 knows what I’m talking about, so mind it now while you’re invincible.

Don’t do anything simply because it’s expected of you. If your sole motivation for doing something is to make other people happy, you are costing yourself happiness. Marriage, buying a home, settling, etc., are all huge decisions with far-reaching consequences. You should make these decisions because you want to, and not if you don’t. Anyone who judges you for going your own way isn’t worth the spent brain cells.

Always have something on the side. Whether it’s a hobby, side business, weekly ritual or whatever, regularly do something for the sole purpose of the satisfaction you get from it. Something that’s uniquely yours. For example, I write, hike, bike draw and make videos. But even if you lack the spare time I have (like most people), there’s something within you that deserves an outlet and that is worth fitting into your schedule. A lot of the emptiness people feel is related to not developing this. Develop it!

“Special” and “entitled” are different things. Older people are fond of telling you, “You’re not special.” By that they mean, entitled. (And by that, some of your more misguided elders mean, “desiring appropriate opportunities.”) Entitlement is a wretched personality trait no matter where you are in life, so don’t be entitled. But don’t misunderstand that to mean you don’t have special gifts that you should cultivate at every opportunity. In that sense, you are special.

You have yet to meet someone who will matter immensely to you. Some of the most meaningful people I’ve ever met came into my life at ages 25, 29 and 35, and they will continue to do so for years to come. These people will mold you into a different person as surely as the next few years will reshape you.

Learn the difference between respect and formality. People are complex and not as given to easy definition as many would have you believe. Some of the nicest and smartest people out there are covered in scars and tattoos and some of the most vile people on the planet are impeccably dressed. True respect shines through in behavior and character. Learn to suss it out wherever it lies (and nowhere it doesn’t).

•  Everyone, not just you, is trying to figure it out. One of the hallmarks of early adulthood is realizing that your parents, teachers and other authority figures are every bit as human as you are. Once you’re up there with them, you’ll realize you don’t have as much figured out as you imagine they do. Truth is, everyone feels like an impostor at times. In fact, I wouldn’t trust anyone who doesn’t.

Cause and effect will fail you sometimes. The big myth in America is that success equals hard work and hard work equals success. As many of you have already figured out, this is not always true. It’s an ideal, but sometimes bad things happen to good people and vice versa. Some talented people never get their due, while many begin on third base through dumb luck. Just do the best you can and hope for the best possible outcome. And maybe not judge someone whose struggles are not entirely clear to you.

Someone will not like you. Anyone who does anything of consequence will be hated by someone. In fact, this is a stellar indicator for knowing if you’re on the right track.

Don’t stop learning and growing. Ever. Don’t be one of those people who brags about not having touched a book since school. That’s sad. Reading is awesome and makes you a sexier person. If you’re stuck at where to start, begin with some of the assigned reading you hated so much. You’ll be surprised how much better they are now that the pressure’s off.

Be better. If you heed only one point here, make it this one. Just a head-up, it’s also the hardest one to heed. It’s something 99 percent of people never even try, and of the 1 percent who do, 99 percent fail at it often. Including me. Especially me.

Being better means never stooping to the level of people who wrong you. It’s hard to be better because it’s so much more immediately satisfying to stick it to the offender.

Being better is declining your turn at douchebaggery even though someone is being a douche to you. It’s not passing on the worst behavior of your parents to your own children. It’s not abandoning your principles just because you’re momentarily angry. It’s being so true to yourself in all situations that those who wrong you look all the more petty.

It’s likely you won’t get credit for doing this. Do it anyway. If nothing else, your conscience will remain intact.

Basically, make sure that if anyone has a problem with you, it’s their issue, not yours.

You are not delicate. Know what you’re worth and go after it. You got this. I believe in you.

TLDR: It’s your life. Live it up, read books and love everybody.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

But being rude is DOA

Quartz: It’s okay to be too busy

This is No. 99,357 in a series of internet articles that make an agreeable point in an awful way. Collect them all!

The Quartz article is in response to a Wall Street Journal article titled, “You’re not busy, you’re just rude.” And in rebutting how it’s not rude to schedule people when you deign to do so, the author is, well, rude.

I’m sure she sincerely thinks she isn’t rude. And by DC standards, she probably isn’t. But anyone who schedules hangout time as rigorously as she does for someone she “really want(s) to see” (as shown in her text message) surely comes off that way.

If someone would do this to me, I wouldn’t think they were fitting me into their busy schedule — I would assume they were actively weaseling out of our hangout time. Especially if said person is aware of my schedule and makes no effort to find a time that’s beneficial to both of us. (And I will further assume that the overscheduler will flake out of their future commitment at the last minute. Probably by citing all-new busyness that just came up.)

Again, it’s not as if I don’t understand. Like her, I am discretionary with my time. Whenever I visit my hometown, for example, I don’t tell everyone I’m going. Back when I used to announce it, I’d get several dozen invitations to hang out — and I’d feel crappy about each one I rejected. These days, I’m more covert about my travels, because I’m lucky to make time for three people outside of my immediate family. Even when I’m operating from my home base, I have to choose my company carefully. Without sufficient charging time, I’ll likely doze off even if I’m mid-dance. So as far as making time for yourself in a busy world, I’m down with that.

What mars her otherwise fine point is that, in the attempt to keep everyone else from controlling her life, she pulls a 180 and takes no one else’s needs and feelings into account at all. That’s where the rudeness comes in — the assumption that she, and she alone, is busy.

Friendship is a two-way street. It’s important to pay attention to both lanes.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Growing into a compliment

Yesterday, I got a haircut. The stylist said:

"What are you, almost 30?"

How sweet.

Though I used to be mistaken for 18 in my mid-20s, and 25 a few years ago, so that compliment is still a reminder that I'm getting old. But at least people think it's slower than reality, so that's good.

Anyway, better to hear this now than 15 years ago, right?