a novel by JOHN GRABOWSKI

Posts tagged “Internet

I did something kinky today…

No, I didn’t see Fifty Shades of Grey.

I went into a bookstore and browsed for half an hour. Aimlessly. From shelf to shelf. Without an agenda, or an intention to buy anything.

The woman behind the counter asked if she could help me. When I told her I was just browsing, she seemed pleased, and just left me alone.

Sadly, I was the only person in the store.

Granted, it was a Monday, it was in the middle of the afternoon and it wasn’t at a high foot traffic area like a mall. Still, I couldn’t help notice that the phone center store on the same block was mobbed with people—mostly Millennials—swiping and caressing little plastic monoliths, their heads bowed in secular prayer.

I roamed among titles old and new. I was surprised that an author who hadn’t written anything since the 80s had a new book out, and that another favorite, Richard Ford, had added a fourth volume to his Frank Bascombe saga, though after the slightly disappointing third book I’m not sure if this is necessarily a good thing.

Alice MunroI flipped through the books. Flipped through them. Something you can’t do online. Not just every third page or the first five. And in a store, one can also assess the quality of the paper, the print, the binding, and so on.

Just six or so years ago, doing what I did today was not the slightest bit unusual. Recently I was talking to someone at a family gathering and he was extolling the virtues of Amazon to me, “I love ’em,” he laughed. “They had these earbuds for three dollars and I got them delivered to my door the next day! I buy everything from Amazon. I hope they drive everyone out of business.” He thinks he’ll still get things for three dollars the next day after Amazon becomes a monolith. It’s amazing how some people do not understand how the world works.

I had just gone into that store to browse, but I bought a book. And was very pleased I supposed the local economy instead of ordering online, even though, yes, I could have gotten the title forty percent cheaper if a robot had filled the order from a mega-warehouse.

It was honestly the most fun I’d had in a long time. Doing something I used to do all the time and never think twice about…

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Replay: The day things changed so fast…

Rite of passage, gone forever.

Rite of passage, gone forever.

Today is not only Black Friday. It’s also Record Store Day in the U.S. Bet you didn’t know that, did you?

In an effort to buck the trend of everything being bits on a screen, there’s been a push lately back to vinyl, that flat bendable material containing etchings of your favorite music that you can hold in your hand.

Last year’s acclaimed movie American Hustle, which takes place in the 1970s, is seeing its soundtrack released on vinyl on this day, including some songs that were not put on the original digital release. It seems a fitting gesture for a movie that takes place back when home computers looked like this and most computers still looked like this. (For a little bit of bragger’s rights, my dad helped design that machine. I still remember the drawings he did. He, on the other hand, used to laugh at people buying these new “toys” that the hobby shops were selling. “What will anyone do with one?” he’d say.)

So I thought it would be appropriate to rerun this post I did a while back about how things have changed—in particular in just the last couple of years, and how more and more people are sort of wishing some of it would change back. at least some.

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The story of Entertaining Welsey Shaw starts somewhere in 2008 and ends up in the present day. That’s not a very long span of time. Yet the social changes that happen between the beginning and the end are seismic.

In 2008 people still primarily watched movies either in the theater or on their home TVs. Fairly big screens, in other words. In 2008 people still went shopping by going shopping. In 2008 people read newspapers and magazines—those things made of paper and print.

In 2008 Virgin Megastores still lined streets of major cities. Okay, Tower was already defunct, but it had been gone less than a year, as much a product of stagnant and complacent management as the changing times. Their size and selection were the only things that made them relevant to me even when they were flying high, and Amazon did them in easily. (I used to know a cashier at a Tower Records, and she told me once that management felt they had a product that sold itself and they’d never have to do anything beyond make sure the doors opened at 10am every day. How wrong.)

Borders and Barnes & Noble were still considered big conglomerates. Today, with Amazon dominating, Borders is gone and B&N is viewed  by many as a small player in the “bookseller wars.”

In 2008, you could go into a bookstore and browse. Today many of those retail space are phone stores, where you can look at shiny rectangle after shiny rectangle—well, actually even that’s not true anymore. With Nokia and BlackBerry—Welsey’s phone of choice—disappearing, you can mostly look at two rectangles, the Samsung and the Apple.

I remember a scene in the Woody Allen movie Hannah and Her Sisters: Michael Caine bumps into Barbara Hershey and suggests they go somewhere romantic to pass the time—a bookstore. She says, “You can browse here all day.” How quaint. I imagine future generations, not born when Hannah came out in 1985, wondering what that experience of browsing for books or magazines or records was like. Maybe some future Disney “Main Street U.S.A.” theme land will show a book or record shop or video store, complete with facsimiles of these strange items people used to line up to buy.

contemporary-record-store-2

A short time ago (in this very galaxy)…

I really wonder how people can enjoy burying their heads in an electronic device instead of going out and socializing. You certainly have more control of your environment—a recent commercial makes a joke out of how doing everything with our phones has made us all control freaks, but I see this as no joke. A certain randomness, a chance for coincidence, has been eliminated. I don’t think it’s necessarily a good idea. I don’t know if this makes me an old foagie but I do wonder where kids go after school these days. Probably to their rooms and their phones and pads, if they’re not on overdrive studying accelerated coursework to get into that super-duper college to the tune of $50,000 a year.

At the end of Entertaining Welsey Shaw, the story’s narrator notes all the things that aren’t there anymore. One of them, though he doesn’t exactly say it, is different options for what to do. If you want music today there’s pretty much one way. If you want books you have to settle for Amazon’s preview-one-page option. You can watch entertainment any time you want pretty much, but the screen is tiny, and hasn’t the point of movies or TV shows always been the shared experience? Roger Ebert once observed that watching TV alone was a depressing experience; he said he never laughed at comedies, because he found laughing alone to be depressing.

Of course these new developments have advantages too, and I come off sounding gloomier than I am. It’s amazing to have access to whole treasure-troves of information at the click of a mouse or the tap of s screen, although when I look at most people in public places they’re texting and posting selfies on Facebook, not changing the world by writing symphonies and poems, as the Apple ads would have you believe.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot about a nostalgia for the early-mid 90s. While there’s a wistful feeling for every era about 15-20 years later, I have to note that during this time-frame the Internet was around, but it hadn’t yet taken over our lives. We ruled it. It didn’t rule us. You could “surf” online, to use the then-popular term, but you could go to a bookstore or shop in a large choice of well-stocked department stores, or see a variety of movies beyond the current IMAX blockbusters. And you could pick up the phone and talk to a person when you needed assistance. You couldn’t have a virtual friendship with someone on the other side of the world as easily. But you could have a real one with the person at the next table in the coffee shop. Everything was a little bit harder. But it was also a little bit more real.

Funny thing is at the time, we didn’t think this was anything special…

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Hack work

Jennifer Lawrence on phone

Jennifer Lawrence: “@#&$*?^!!”

Celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence have gotten another unpleasant reminder—as if they needed it—of just how public their private lives are.

Seems someone hacked into about one hundred celebrity Apple accounts (aka, the “cloud”) and seized nude photos, with the intent apparently of selling them online and making a pile of money.

My first thought was why would you keep a picture of yourself in your “cloud”? Then I found out these pics were stored on the cloud when these people sent these photos to whomever. Also apparently many of them didn’t know copies were stored on the cloud even after they had deleted the pics from their own phones.

Ouch.

I’m sure this latest event makes some of them long for the era of Polaroids, if they’re old enough to remember Polaroids. Seems like the definition of privacy is rapidly disappearing. Investigators say the hacker got into their accounts by sending very realistic-looking mail purported to be from Apple asking for security information. They complied and the hackers were able to figure out their password based on that. For example, sites like these often ask you to enter promps such as, “What was the name of the town where you were born?” or, “What was the name of your first pet?” When it comes to the likes of JLaw, Selena Gomez and Kirsten Dunst this sort of info is available all over the web. It’s hard for people like them to enter any sort of private prompt because almost everything about them is known. Some privacy experts have suggested making up fake answers to these questions, which is a reasonable idea. But then you have to remember these fake entries, when the reason you’re entering them in the first place is because you forgot your password.

In Entertaining Welsey Shaw, which is about to go in search of an agent, by the way, Daniel Ferreira, the character who tells the story, steals Welsey’s phone itself. Well, not exactly steals. Or maybe so. Depends on how you look at it. She accidentally drops it. He notices but doesn’t tell her. She leaves. He keeps it. And has access to her whole world.

And yes, he finds some nudies. But he doesn’t sell them and isn’t primarily interested in her phone for that. He wants to know more about her, what makes her tick. Compared to this week’s hack, it’s relatively innocent, though still an inexcusable breach of privacy. But being a celebrity fan will sometimes make one do inexcusable things.

That’s why stars such as Welsey Shaw have to be wary even of their biggest fans. Not to mention people like the hacker here, who is now on the run and who has reportedly been disappointed he hasn’t gotten the big financial score he was hoping for with the revelation that he had pictures of stars in their birthday suits. And he may just be the tip of the iceberg. There are reports of a whole underground of this sort of thing, with others who trade in these photos angry at the prime leaker for bringing above-ground attention to their perverted enterprise.

A few of the victims were philosophical. Reality “star” Joanna Krupa, who has posed for a number of skin magazines, says she doesn’t care if her personal pictures get distributed. Another celeb can legally get hers quashed because she was underage when they were taken.

But if things weren’t bad enough for Lawrence and the others who are not happy, now an artist (and I have the strong urge to put the word in quotes even though I have not seen any of his work) is going to display them at his next exhibit at an Florida art gallery.

The exhibit, called “No Delete,” is all about how this very lack of privacy thanks to all this digital media and the Internet. So what better way to illustrate it than to further invade these folks’ privacy, eh? Displaying these nude pictures isn’t exploitational, no—there’s a higher purpose of informing the public and encouraging discussion.

And if you believe that, I have some swampland to sell you.

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The best things in life aren’t free

amazon-boxesI was reminded of this when I went over my credit card statements recently.

Mind you, I always knew I had a big Amazon habit. (“Hi, I’m John, and I have a BIG Amazon habit!” “Hiiii, Johnnn!“) Sometimes I think I built one of the wings, and maybe the pool, on Jeff Bezos’ mansion. He could at least invite me over once in a while.

But there’s something about staring all those credit card charges in the face, about actually seeing how rich I made the founder of Amazon last month. This is why I procrastinate when it comes to going over my credit card statements, something that baffles my wife, an accountant, who actually enjoys looking at columns of numbers. Lots of them. *Shudder!*

I do sell items on Amazon as well and so get some of that money back, but not as much as I spend. I collect classical CDs, but more have passed through my collection than have remained. Over the years I’ve bought about three times as many compact discs as I have currently. I’m still searching for really great performance for a lot of pieces. Anyone who can get me to “grok” the Schumann concertos—any of them—gets a special shout-out on my blog.

And yes, I’m aware so much my patronage of Amazon hurts the cute, cozy little bookstores, the kind that always seem to have creaky floors and cats sleeping in the front window. That’s why I make sure I drop money with them too.

And I’ve been upgrading my DVDs to Blu-ray, at least when there are Blu-ray versions available. (It’s amazing the great films that are still not on Blu-ray.) That explains a lot of transactions over the past year or so. You have not lived till you’ve seen Casablanca on Blu-ray.

Still, nothing prepared me for some of my credit card statements. They almost had to be delivered flat. Pages and pages of charges, many from the Big A in Seattle. “Surely this is a mistake,” I think before checking them on my computer.

No mistake. Damn.

So I looked around my house and counted all the books I haven’t yet read. No, I’m not going to tell you the number, because my wife reads this blog.

I’m reminded of the guy who owns a terrific indie video store, Bill. Bill told me he stopped buying DVDs a long while ago and put the rest of his personal inventory in the store because he realized he wouldn’t be alive long enough to watch everything he hadn’t gotten to yet.

Sigh.

So why do I do it? Well, actually I do have at least one very good reason. There have been times I’ve passed on something, only to see it become unavailable or offered second-hand by someone who has jacked the price to the moon. This my wife discovered when she went looking for a Blu-ray copy of her favorite movie, The Third Man. And I’m sure glad I got those CDs of Ernst Levy, a fabulously-underrated Swiss pianist, when they were available.

And some of the credit card charges were gifts to other people. I am a rabid fanatic of Deborah Eisenberg, and will use any excuses to talk about her, and then ship, without being asked, a volume of her collected stories to the person if they appear to show even the slightest interest, meaning they scratched their nose or blinked at some time during the conversation. Deborah Eisenberg should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Still, as I surveyed my living room I realized my shelves are tight enough.

(Once a friend, seeing the shelves for the first time, exclaimed, “They’re sagging!” In college I used to flip through my record collection and remark, “I forgot I had this” to her husband. I think eventually he thought I was doing it just to annoy him, but I really did and do forget. I once ordered the exact same recording three times in a month.)

I have more short story anthologies than I’ve read.

I shouldn’t get another biography of a Revolutionary War hero until I’ve read the seven or eight I still haven’t touched.

I have enough coffeetable art books, thank you. They never capture the experience of looking at the real thing anyway.

—Ditto Beethoven CD cycles.  I don’t need any more recordings of the symphonies. Or piano concertos. (The sonatas and string quartets are a different story; you can never have enough of those.) All conductors and soloists today are too reverential anyway. And forget Brahms. There isn’t one great Brahms interpreter alive.

I’m not getting volume two of David Hare’s plays until I’d read (and reread) everything in the first volume.

That book on chess endgames was a bad idea. I never read books on chess endgames. Nobody does.

I don’t need the complete works of Plato. Okay, yes I do. Bad example.

But I don’t think I’ll be ordering volume 9 of Marston’s Josef Hofmann series. I really don’t get his reputation based on what I have heard, with a few exceptions scattered here and there. (To his credit, though, he did invent the windshield wiper. Every time I’m driving and it rains I think, “I should order more Hofmann.” I wonder if that was the idea.)

The projected new Ernst Levy set, however, is mandatory when it comes out. Mandatory!

And the day Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s BRD Trilogy appears on a Criterion Blu-ray, well, I’ll be dancing a jig. Ditto The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

Still, overall I’m going to be cutting back. Tightening my belt. At least till I make my way through everything I have.

I’m John, and I’m a recovering Amazon addict.

See you at the next meeting.

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“Putting my head in the toilet…would be a more cleansing experience.” —Emma Thompson

"Don't you dare 'like' me!"

“Don’t you dare ‘like’ me!”

Wow, tell us what you really think, Emma… Don’t be so Brit-polite!

The star of such literary fare as Much Ado About Nothing and Sense and Sensibility says she hates hates HATES social media, thank you.

Also, she HATES social media.

…And did we mention she HATES social media???

Though she’s publicly forgiven fellow thespian Helena Bonham Carter for having an affair with former hubby Kenneth Branagh, if she never met Mark Zuckerberg in an elevator something tells me she’d strangle him dead.

And then kick him in the jewelbag just for fun.

Asked in a recent Vanity Fair interview about joining Twitter, Thompson said:

I’d rather have root canal treatment FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE than join Twitter. That’s not my scene at all. I can’t bear the thought of being connected all the time. God knows what it’s all doing to us. I hope that everyone does realize that we are all just one giant human experiment at the moment. We are just a great big bunch of little gerbils on wheels.

But it didn’t stop there. The two-time Oscar winner thinks these recent seismic changes in how we live are dangerous to our mental well-being, and she’s serious—we are in danger of our whole civilization going down the tubes:

In about 25 years time, maybe, a sudden generation will just drop dead. Everyone will just die on the same day. And I’ll say, “Oh, what do these people have in common? Hang on.” They were connected every day 24/7, you know! And no one knew what it was going to do to them. No one knew! Because we didn’t bother to find out. Because we’re stupid! We invent stuff, we just fling it out there, we let anyone use it. A three-year-old could fucking be on Twitter. A three-year-old! And then they go on and on and on about everything that there is. And get reviewed every day by Facebook. And then we will wonder why, at the age of 60, an entire generation chucks itself off a cliff like a bunch of lemmings. 

When asked if she ever Googled herself, she replied, “Putting my head in the toilet and flushing it repeatedly would be a more cleansing experience.”

Yikes.

She goes on about how today’s Americans are too monied and as a consequence have nothing to do but dream about owning the latest gadget. She said she doesn’t know what to talk to these people about. It reminded me of a famous Tocqueville quote that in democratic societies each citizen is habitually busy with the contemplation of a very petty object, which is himself. Emma must be a handful—and I love her for it.

The day after her comments emerged in that Vanity Fair interview, an article in a San Francisco Bay Area newspaper pointed out  how app developers more and more are targeting young children—very young, as in one or two.

The Oakland Tribune story talked about developers who want to put smart phone gizmos in the hands of children who don’t really understand concepts like data mining or opting out, or even privacy. Some parents defend these apps—one family says their third-grader is reading at the level of an eighth grader, something I find hard to believe simply because to read at such a high level requires more than just early exposure to technology. It necessitates life experiences, not just being able to process larger batches of words than your peers, and these can’t be rushed along; they have to happen. How was it ascertained he was reading at an eighth-grade level? Who tested him and how? Is “reading at an eighth grade level” defined as just assuring his parents he “knows what the words mean”?

Besides, every parent believes their little puddin does things so much better than all the other tots. Remember, at Lake Woebegone, all the children are above average.

Read more about Emma’s rant here.

…And about the trend of apps for tots, which interestingly had its headline changed from an originally critical one to this more positive one, here.

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