March 29, 2011

Where's the off-ramp for the info superhighway?

At this point, I would settle for a rest stop -- a la Bob's Big Boy on the New Jersey Turnpike. Don't care how long I would have to wait in line for the ladies' room, or to purchase an overpriced cup of coffee that resembles dishwater.

So long as no phones were beeping, ringing or otherwise making sound effects and the place sounded neither like a day-care center or a bar, I'm good. I also prefer no screaming children.

Discipline, parents: use it or lose it. Once it's lost and you've set bad precedent for kids' behavior, you don't have your children anymore; they have you, by the short-hairs. Once upon a time, "children should be seen and not heard" was not considered a form of tap-dancing on your child's developmental self-expression.

Also, note to parents and anyone else who avails themselves of the rest stop. Have you counted the 16-wheeler rigs in the parking lot? Added up how much they pollute the atmosphere, vs. how much I have done in my 5-minute cigarette break? Think about it. Do the math: that is, if lack of nicotine hasn't destroyed your logical and cognitive abilities.

Two weeks back from Mexico, and I would like nothing better than to return to the land where my biggest decisions were a) is it time to swim now? and b)what should we have for dinner. A blessed two weeks sans phone calls, cell rings, and, what could have been sans Internet.

The only reason I used any part of my 30 minutes a day allotment for computer access was to empty out my e-mail box, so I wouldn't come home to 500+ messages that didn't need to be delivered, seeing how quickly the delete key jumped on them. And to show off my knowledge of how to create an @ symbol on a Spanish keyboard. Alt 6-4 -- that's my contribution to the global village.

As for you, the lady with the stroller behind me waiting for the rest-stop ladies' room: no one wants to hear about your errant son or your mother-in-law's latest insult, or the status of your physical/emotional personal life. If you can't use your inside voice well enough, then don't use any voice at all.

Otherwise, your conversations are fair game to all within hearing range. If you won't turn yourself down, vocally, anyone who wants to is free to join your part of the call. Thus is my belated conclusion after overhearing one "my Pap smear was clean" too many on the cross-town bus.

I have also listened too many times to various imbeciles who can't wait to exit the plane before announcing to his/her spouse, "honey, the plane landed." Planes take off; they fly; they touch down. This used to be considered common knowledge. (Granted, the airlines used to be a lot more reliable than thy are now.) Plus, I doubt you'd be able to place a call to say, "honey, the plane crashed."

If the plane has gone down, chances are good so will you. And the cell reception won't be at its strongest in the middle of, say, the Atlantic, or flying over/into the Rocky Mountains.

Just a thought on my part, one I have returned to face in the so-called real world, that vacuous space of TMI. Another note to business execs: if your quarterly numbers are going to suck, do you really want the whole world to know? Should we passers-by be told what company you work for, is it public, and do these numbers mean your stock price will tank?

This is potentially useful info. Perhaps it's also known as insider trading, but that's a slippery slope. If Exec A phones Exec B so that you can overhear him at the departure gate, that little piece of knowledge has lost all its pretenses to confidentiality.

Cell phones and privacy don't mix: hello GPS? Whether you like it or not, it's easier to reach out and track someone than to call someone, or touch someone. Cell tower connections are only one of several devices known to keep track of one's whereabouts.

In the old days, it was ankle monitors for house-arrest prisoners. These days, you don't need to be fingerprinted to have your whereabouts available to any government body that has authorized itself to subpoena your cell number or your bank statements.

That large withdrawal in Brazil will set off bells at your bank. Or, should you require Facebook while abroad, it will ask you a series of questions to ascertain that you have indeed left your laptop at home.

Until last year, my bank never needed to know in advance that I might be taking out money in a foreign country: now, without giving advance warning, I get one swipe and stash of cash from my bank card, and then, if they don't know I'm in, say, even Mexico or Canada, my bank card is dead.

Whatever happened to the notion that ATMs were supposed to make it easier to access money in different countries? My bank, in particular, likes to slap me with currency-exchange fees, not to mention a $3 or higher levy if I use a machine other than one with their logo branded on it, or the fact I never see the currency exchange measurement in use.

Moral of these anecdotes: Bite your tongue. Spare me your life story. Consider that while, artificial intelligence has come a long way, it is still, in the end, artificial.

Meaning, some computer algorithm, minus human input, decided to make you validate your travels to MasterCard and American Express -- what happened to serendipity?

Spontaneous travel works only for those with enough cash not to need to register with the plastic-card people. At this point, it may not work at all should you desire an airplane ticket. No, those people want your name, gender, birthday, and, insult of insult, they want you to type your passport number into their computer.

Really? Big institutions lose track of their data all the time. There is nothing so charming as knowing some Large Company/Organization Inc. has lost your social security number and, oh, we're so sorry to inconvenience you, but you'll have to keep track of any credit fuck-ups we've helped create, much less identity theft.

Why is it that the people responsible for holding on to personal information can't manage to keep track of it, then turn around and ask us to clean up after them?

That is clear evidence of the death of privacy in this century. That's where I try to draw the line, with a heavy ironic note that my scribbles in cyberspace could be considered a breach of privacy for everyone I have written about.

Here, on my blog, I control what you see and how the people in my life are described -- most have pseudonyms, and I am a character in some of these entries. And you know me as Alice, she who lives in Wonderland, aka New York City.

It's my choice to add to information overload; yours is whether to consider whether it is of sufficient interest for you to hang out here, perhaps comment in a way that will move me to write another post, or at least let me know these words are not written all in vain.

Consider what content farms pay for writing -- $25 for 500 words? You've got to be kidding. I may write here for free, but it's on my terms. 500 words on the topic of someone else's choice? Not at those prices. I'm not sure that the minimum wage even matches how little writers are paid.

Or how little they are appreciated: my friends who write books are hustling all over the country to promote them, not necessarily on the publisher's dime; another has learned she's good at Skype book clubs, complete with her own glass of wine.

Anyone who wants someone to read their latest article puts a link to the story on Facebook, hoping some of her 200+ friends will be moved to read it, "share" it, and make it go as viral as a written article can in the video age.

Given the global economy concept and Google's omnipresent search engine waiting its turn in the background, your article could go anywhere -- and probably a machine has translated it into other languages, regardless of nuances lost.

Since the info superhighway grows exponentially, it is almost impossible to find a place on the planet without it. What I need is a driver to find a way for me not to have TMI meltdown.

Difficult, however, for once the Internet has been unleashed, it is hard to stuff it back into a jar.

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