Tag Archives: some people’s kids

We’re living in the future, but a lot of people don’t get it

An magazine ad from 1968: Western Electric is crossing a telephone with a TV set.  “What you'll use is called, simply enough, a Picturephone set. Someday it will let you see who you are talking to, and let them see you.”
An magazine ad from 1968: Western Electric is crossing a telephone with a TV set.
“What you’ll use is called, simply enough, a Picturephone set. Someday it will let you see who you are talking to, and let them see you.”
Some years ago I was attending a meeting of the committee that ran one of the local science fiction conventions. I had just joined the staff, and it was my first full meeting. One of the topics debated that day was a proposal that the committee obtain an email address that several committee members could check, because people kept asking why they didn’t have an email address. The only means that were available to the public (and thus people who might want to attend the convention) for contacting the organization was to either mail a physical letter to the club’s post office box, or to leave a voice mail message via a phone number that didn’t actually ring a phone. A system that was troublesome because if you didn’t check the voice mail box often enough, it would fill up with messages and no one could leave a new message.

During the debate, one person admitted that he had voted “no” each previous time the question had come up, but he had recently realized that it was as inconvenient for him and his friends that he didn’t have an email address of his own, as it had been inconvenient for he and his family that his elderly great-aunt refused to get a telephone. He wasn’t the only member of the committee to admit that they had been resisting adopting that “new technology.”

And this was a bunch of sci fi nerds.

Admittedly, it was sci fi nerds in the 1980s. Personal computers were still complicated gadgets that cost more than a car (the first IBM PC/XT had 128kilobytes of RAM and cost $5000, that’s the equivalent of $12,000 in 2017) and often had parts you had to solder together yourself. But my point is that even people who think they are forward thinking and tech savvy often have big blind spots about technology.

Such as the current dismay I keep seeing expressed online because so many politicians on both sides of the aisle have been talking about rural broadband. “Is this really a pressing need?” As a matter of fact, yes. It is nearly impossible in the modern era to apply for a job if you don’t have access not just to email, but a robust enough internet connection to fill out the often very-poorly scripted online applications. When my husband and I were recently looking for a new place to live, not only were the only reliable places to find available properties online, but often the only way to inquire about a property was to fill out a web form. Even after that point, we had to each fill out applications for background checks via a different website and system than we’d used to contact the property manager.

(click to embiggen)
The primary means to access services such as unemployment insurance, disability benefits, and so forth, is over the web. And that means needing more than a basic internet connection, you have to have a decent amount of bandwidth, or things time out. When new medical equipment is handed out, they doctor’s offices don’t have the time to show you how to use it, they give you a web address to access videos online. That’s how I learned to properly inject myself with insulin (including how to troubleshoot the injection pin and so on): they sent me to a webpage to watch the videos and read the warnings and disclaimers myself.

Internet access, particularly high speed/high bandwidth access, is no longer a luxury. Society, both businesses and institutions, have embraced the new technologies. Just as phones ceased being a luxury decades ago, then cellphones ceased being a luxury about a decade ago, and now smart phones have also crossed that line. For a number of people, particularly poor people, their smartphone is their only reliable way of accessing the services they need to get and keep their jobs, to take care of their kids’ needs, and so on.

Douglas Adams observed in an article in 1999:

“I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”

Which is accurate, but also just a bit dated. Technology doesn’t just move forward, but the rate at which things change accelerates. Adams’s rules could use a couple of additions. For instance, we might add “Any new and exciting thing creating jobs when you’re in your 20s is a dying, obsolete industry by the time you turn 40.”

And there are the people who don’t understand how mass production and the commodification of products makes things that once were terribly expensive available for a fraction of the cost. This comes up a lot in relation to iPhones, in particular. In certain circles it is popular to hold up the ownership of an iPhone by someone who is struggling financially as proof that the person is only struggling because of bad priorities. This doesn’t take into account the many, many ways that someone can obtain slightly older versions of currently expensive gadgets extremely cheaply. We’ve already established that have a phone, specifically a mobile phone, has become a necessity in our modern society. Getting a refurbished unit of some previous year’s model or a non-refurbished unit of a model from a couple of years ago for free or close to it as part of a cell phone contract is quite common. And then there are various sales and special offers one can find.

That doesn’t even get into the hand-me-down process. Lots of people, when they upgrade a device such as a phone or tablet or laptop, rather than try to sell it somewhere, wipe their data and give the device to a friend or relative who can’t afford a new device themselves.

Luxuries aren’t what some people think they are. Sadly, the people least likely to understand this also don’t realize that being able to look with condescension on others for having or wanting nice things is a form of luxury on its own.

Stock characters exist for many reasons

Stock characters: comic, victim, braggart, pretender, fool. (
Stock characters: comic, victim, braggart, pretender, fool. (Click to embiggen)
One of the things I’ve been getting used to since the move is the new bus route. I used to ride the Rapidride D line, and now I’m on the E. My old bus commute was usually just under half an hour. The new one is usually about 45 minutes going in, but usually at least an hour coming home. Of course, when I was walking home it took more than an hour, so the time isn’t all that different.

But the crowd on the E is very different than the D. There are always interesting people on the bus, of course, but since most of the E route goes down Aurora Ave (aka Highway 99, aka the old Pacific Coast Highway), well, there are a lot more marginal people on the bus.

And everyday on at least one trip I wind up sitting near & seeing a couple (a guy and a gal who are obviously together) who dress, act, and talk like a particular movie cliche. Note: it’s seldom the same couple! I have seen one couple twice (and the female half of the couple two other times, once hanging out with a different couple who matched the trope).

What trope am I talking about? The couple who are dating/romanatically involved in some way and are also a pair of less-than-bright petty criminals who have gotten into something way over their heads which will cause no measure of awful problems for the actual protagonist in the movie. That couple.

And seriously, if I transcribed their dialogue–often a monologue because usually one of them is very talkative and the other either nods and says “uh huh” if the talkative one is the male, or sits there stone-faced and occasionly grunts or mutters something if the talkative one is the female–it would sound like comedic dialog written for a ludicrously incompetent criminal. Monday night there were three sets, though not at the same time. And one of the freaky parts was how similar the guys were.

In the first couple, the guy was wearing a Seahawks baseball cap and carrying a filterless cigarette. While the gal babbled, he kept adjusting is hat and fiddling with the cigarette. He would pack the tobacco in the cigarette a little denser crimping one end a bit more, then tamp that end on his knee or his cellphone, then crimp the other end tighter and flipping it to do some more. Meanwhile he would randomly lift his cap and reposition it on his head, sometimes seemingly exactly as before, and sometimes he would flip it so the bill was in back, then several fidgets later he’d put the bill in front again. Every now and then he’d stick the unlit cigarette in his mouth as he did something with his phone.

In the second couple, the guy was wearing a UW Huskies baseball cap and fidgeting with a filtered short cigarette (I kept hoping he’d pull out the pack and confirm my suspicion that it was a Marlboro Red, which would have nailed the stereotype further…). He would put the cigarette in one side of his mouth, then adjust his cap. Half a minute later, he’d take the cigarette out of his mouth and flip it around in his fingers a few times. Then he’d stick it in the other side of his mouth and pull off the cap, smooth his hair, then put the cap back on. And so on. He flipped his hat front to back once, then later flipped it back.

The third couple had the additional trope that both of them were burdened with backpacks and such that were, technically, each bigger than them. The guy was wearing a Mariner’s baseball cap, bill forwards, with a filterless cigarette behind one ear. As they were getting situated in their seats, he flipped the hat front to back, and moved the cigarette to the other ear. As they talked, he kept adjusting the hat–each time pulling the cigarette from behind his ear and moving it to the other side. There probably would have been some more flips, but as we approached a bus stop with several people waiting, she suddenly jumped up, very agitated, and ran to the back door. I thought that she had seen someone waiting at the stop that she didn’t want to ride the bus with, but as the bus stopped, the guy (who had gathered up his backpack, her duffle, and this rolling suitcase with two more backpacks attached and ran over behind her) started shouting for the driver to open the back door. As soon as the doors opened, she leapt out, landing in a little strip of landscaping beside the pharmacy there, and proceeded to puke her guts out. He followed with their stuff, and seemed to be offering some comfort as the bus pulled away.

Those were just one bus ride. As I said, I’ve seen couples like them at least once a day, four days a week, for seven weeks, now. The ages of the couples have varied quite a lot, as had the apparent ethnicity of each member of each couple. But there have been a lot of similarities in mannerisms, the sort of things one or the other talks about way more loudly than someone ought about cheating drug dealers and such in a public place, and so on.

The late, great author Terrie Pratchett observed on more than one occasion that there are really only a small number of people in the world, you just keep meeting some of them again and again and again in different bodies. This phenomenon (which is at least partially the result of social and economic circumstances that cross cultures and time periods) is one reason stock characters exist in fiction. But there is a difference between a stock character such as the morally impair braggart or the gullible minion and a racist/sexist/homophobic stereotype.

For storytelling purpose, you sometimes need a stock character to move the plot along or add a bit of verisimilitude to a scene. You don’t want or need to put a lot of effort into these characters’ backgrounds, but you do want to make sure you aren’t just pulling a bigoted stereotype out of the drawer when you do it. This may be helped with a sensitivity reader, beta readers in general, or an editor. But the burden shouldn’t fall solely on them.

Any character you put in a scene, no matter how minor, ask yourself a few questions.

  • Is there a reason you made the character one apparent gender rather than another? Does anything change if you change the gender?
  • If you mention race is there a reason you made them that ethnicity? If you didn’t mention it, but realize you are imagining them a specific ethnicity, why? And does it change anything if you change it?
  • If you mention any physical characteristic or their clothing, is there a reason?
  • If you mention apparent sexual orientation, again, why? If not, how are you imagining them? Why?

Having all of the characters apparently white, heterosexual, and cisgender serves an agenda, whether you mean it to or not, because the real world (yes, in every era of history and every part of the world) has characters of different races/ethnic groups, different economic classes, different sexual orientations, and different genders. If you aren’t including them in the world, you’re promoting an agenda. Is that what you want?

And if the only time certain marginalized groups are mentioned, they fall into lazy stereotypes (petty criminals are people of color, nurses are always women, doctors are always white men, et cetera), you’re also promoting that agenda. Is that what you want?

Onion arguments and thorny questions

"When you talk like that, I'm tempted to ring for Nanny and have you put to bed with no supper."
“When you talk like that, I’m tempted to ring for Nanny and have you put to bed with no supper.” (Click to embiggen)

I almost put a link to this fun post from Rachael Acks in last week’s Friday Links, but I also wanted to say some more about it, so I hung onto it. Which is silly, because I can put something in Friday Links and write about it either afterward or before, obviously. Anyway, first the link:

Reasons why I will not be replying to your argument

At the top of the post she says, “This post has been made for my own later use. Others are welcome to use it as well.” The idea being rather than argue with certain types of comments, remarks, concern-trolling, et cetera, just send a link to this post. If you want to give the person a bit more of a clue, reference one of the numbered paragraphs by number.

The last several days I’ve encountered several situations where number 2 and 2i apply:

2. Something you have said indicates to me that you lack the necessary factual grounding in order to have this argument, and I am completely uninterested in doing the background research for you.
i. If you are interested in paying me to do the research for you, for example by way of writing an annotated bibliography that you can peruse at your convenience, we can discuss my hourly rates.

Which reminded me of Foz Meadow’s excellent description of a “onion arguments” which she has referenced a few times, including in her post last year, Hugos & Puppies: Peeling The Onion:

When it comes to debating strangers with radically different perspectives, you sometimes encounter what I refer to as Onion Arguments: seemingly simple questions that can’t possibly be answered to either your satisfaction or your interlocutor’s because their ignorance of concepts vital to whatever you might say is so lacking, so fundamentally incorrect, that there’s no way to answer the first point without first explaining eight other things in detail. There are layers to what’s being misunderstood, to what’s missing from the conversation, and unless you’ve got the time and inclination to dig down to the onion-core of where your perspectives ultimately diverge, there’s precious little chance of the conversation progressing peacefully.

And it isn’t just in arguments. I had recent exchange in social media about my current bout of illness, which I had summed up by saying that I was on my third round of antibiotics, and I really hoped they worked because I was tired of all the blood tests, x-rays, et cetera. The other person said maybe I should see a doctor. Which made me reply, “Who do you think prescribed each round of antibiotics and all the blood tests?” Which they still didn’t understand why I couldn’t say exactly what I had and when I would be well. Which led me to assume that this person has had the great luck of never having an illness which wasn’t quickly diagnosed, and didn’t completely grasp how prescription drugs are sold, et cetera.

Foz also explains the reasons why this sort of situation can be so frustrating:

[Y]our interlocutor thinks they’ve asked a reasonable, easy question, your inability to answer it plainly is likely to make them think they’ve scored a point. It’s like a cocky first-year student asking a 101 question and feeling smug when their professor can’t condense the four years of study needed to understand why it’s a 101 question into a three-sentence answer. The problem is one as much of attitude as ignorance: having anticipated a quick response, your interlocutor has to be both willing and interested enough to want to hear what might, at least initially, sound like an explanation of a wholly unrelated issue – and that’s assuming you’re able to intuit the real sticking point straight off the bat.

And that’s how we get drawn into endless spirals. Which aren’t usually worth our time. Unfortunately, sometimes it happens with people we actually know and love (or at least like a great deal and would like to keep in our lives), and it can be difficult to figure out how to navigate the situation without everyone getting upset.

Particularly if when either you or the other person suggests some variant of, “Maybe we can agree to disagree on this?” but it is met with, “Thanks for invalidating my feelings!” or something similar.

When it’s a friend, unfortunately, we can’t just hand them a link to Rachael’s post referenced at the beginning of the message. The really sobering part is realizing how many times someone should probably have referred me to said post…

Weekend Update 1/16/16: Wrong on so many levels

The elderly woman sporting a dress, pink lipstick and matching earrings (left) has been identified as the local senior center's middle-aged male van driver David Robert
Screenshot from the Guardian article, pics from Latino Public Radio and Facebook. Click to embiggen.
As always, some really interesting (or hilarious or both) news always pops up after I post my Friday Links which I think shouldn’t wait until next week but this time it’s an extra special doozy: Rhode Island city official resigns after forcing a man dress up in DRAG as old woman for a photo op at a senior citizen center. I think Talking Points Memo first broke the story yesterday, but the Guardian has the most comprehensive version. Go, read it, then come back, because this is just too hilarious.

The story I linked mentions the official defending herself on Facebook by re-posting something a friend wrote. Jezebel has the full text of the defense. Here’s the best part:

It is just like Sue to protect the seniors she served. I commend her for thinking of the safety of the frail seniors. It was 26 degrees last Tuesday and slippery by the snow pile (which was a prop as there was no snow)! Knowing Sue, I’m sure she was also thinking of the possibility of putting a “real” senior in harm’s way should someone recognize that person and go to their home to take advantage of them. I commend Sue and the staffer for putting safety first!

Anyone who attends PR events knows they are staged. Political press events are often staged; ribbon cuttings; ordinance /law signing ceremonies; to name a few. In politics campaign ads are staged with the perfect demographic representation in the mix. How is this any different?

First, comparing this to a campaign ad brings in a really big difference: campaign ads are paid for by private money raised by the candidate’s election committee. The salaries of all the city employees involved in getting this event together are paid for by tax payers. That’s a big difference. Yes, press conferences and photo ops are staged, but there’s a difference between people who may hate each other’s guts smiling for the camera because they all support the program or event in question, and people pretending to be someone they aren’t.

The photo op didn’t need a senior citizen for it to work. The kids shoveling snow, even if it was staged snow, got the idea across. I’ve even seen similar press events myself where the official doing the talking said something along the line of, “We haven’t had much snow this week, so we had to gather some up to show you how it’s going to work.”

To me, it’s a combination of all the bad decisions in this:

  • pressuring or asking an employee to dress in drag
  • thinking that a middle-aged man in bad drag is the way actual older women look
  • literally putting a label on the middle-aged man in drag that says “senior home resident” – If it had actually been a resident, they wouldn’t have put a label on her! No one else in the photo op is wearing a label. Why should there be a label on her?
  • claiming this was to protect the real senior home residents from either the cold, or slipping, or harassment?

A bunch of teen-agers shoveling snow in front of a building that actually is a senior citizen home and already has a gigantic sign identifying it as such is all the photo op needed. People would have gotten the idea. This was just a lot of really dumb decisions that added up to no real benefit for anyone.

And maybe it’s because I have friends who are trans and non-binary so I spend a lot of time thinking (and being irritated) about the ways people think of drag and queer and trans and women’s issues, but this whole thing skeeves me out on that level, too. The bus driver hasn’t been identified as gay, but you can see from the pictures the Guardian come up with of him that even if he isn’t, a lot of people probably assume he is. So this turns into “ask the fag to dress up as a woman—he must know how, right?” situation.

This situation is wrong on many, many levels, not the least of which is anyone trying to cast the person who made all these decisions as the victim.

Maybe it wasn’t as funny as I thought

Rodin's 'The Thinker.' Photo by Andrew Horne at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Rodin’s ‘The Thinker.’ Photo by Andrew Horne at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Earlier in the week I read an amusing story someone was sharing on Tumblr about a parent who found out her kid had tricked her into buying video games she didn’t approve of, and what she did about it. After chuckling, I re-blogged it and got on with my day. It was just a silly story on Tumblr, right? A little later I was reading a news story about some state legislators proposing a law banning so-called reparative therapy (the new code for ex-gay quackery), and I suddenly was thinking about that story I had re-blogged.

Maybe it wasn’t as funny as I thought?

But then I reminded myself that it’s just a silly story on Tumblr, and scores of people have shared it before me, and maybe I was just over thinking it. Right?

Right… Continue reading Maybe it wasn’t as funny as I thought