Will's Coffee House

John Dryden, Dramatist, Critic, Poet Laureate, and my ancestor, frequented a coffee house called Will's almost daily, where he would hold forth on sundry subjects with great wit and aplomb. Same deal here, only without the wit or aplomb.

Location: Large Midwestern City, Midwestern State, United States

I am a stranger in a sane land...

Friday, October 15, 2004


...is what I'll be on for roughly a week, whilst I wade through a stack of grading the height of (Insert Name of Your Favorite Basketball Player Here--I don't have one, and Shaq just seems too damn obvious.)

A small piece of semi-bigotry before I go, though: Several readers of the Top Ten entry pointed out that I hadn't included what they consider to be the most loathsome of contemporary cultural phenomena--Cell Phones. To which I responded by smacking my forehead in an "Of Course!" gesture of self-castigation. Cell phones--unless you're using them for emergencies or jobs that actually require them--are indeed a blight on the world, largely because they require people to talk quite loudly, thus eliminating your ability to block out their voices by filing them mentally amidst the background noise of life. No, instead you've got to listen to what they're saying. And oh my, do you ever wish you didn't have to. Because there's no surer way of becoming a misanthrope (and I should know!) than listening to what other people "chat" about. "Hey! What's up? Nothing, how 'bout you? Uh-huh. Nah, I'm just gonna hang out. Did you talk to--what'd she say? Yeah, I thought that skirt was too short, too. Total skank. My sandals? Yeah, they're working out OK. Oh, please, you know he was totally checking you out. Yeah--I gotta go--the teacher's giving me the look. Yeah, I know he is. 'Later." Sad in itself, this one-sided conversation becomes perfectly suicide-inducing when one considers that it is a transcript of every single cell-phone conversation ever had. (By a young woman, of course. Or a gay man. Straight men have relatively similar chats, just replace "skirt was too short" with "I had a shot with her--turns out she's a bitch" and "sandals" with "new V-8.") Hear it once, and you're annoyed. Hear it twenty-seven times, and you start praying for the Apocalypse. It's not simply that this is a conversation that didn't need to happen on a cell-phone. It's a conversation that didn't need to happen ever. And yet it does. All the time. Everywhere. Libraries, movie theatres, funerals--why risk missing this incredibly trivial call from someone you'll see personally within the hour when you can offend dozens with your inanity and rudeness?

So where's the bigotry (apart from the misogyny)? Simple: Camera cell-phones. Now, I know that America is the land of the piece-of-s*** late-night infomercial Ron Popeil product. I get that. Singing basses, and what not. And that we've got a tendency to make products that attempt to 'conveniently' combine two items that really don't need such combination--"But wait! It's also a potato-peeler--now how much would you pay???"--but I've got to say this: Cell-phone cameras absolutely scream "Japanese technology." (Ah-hah! Bigotry! Racism! At last, a reason to hate me!) But I'm not bashing the people, or even their culture, really--well, I am, but only an odd, specific facet of that culture. American 'engineers' combine unrelated products because they think these two things will make the other more convenient--because they think (wrongly) that they go together. Japanese engineers combine products just because they can. I mean, how many times, really, have you said to yourself: "I can't lug around a camera and a cell phone--if only there were some way to combine the two!" That'd be "never," right? And yet there they are, out there by the millions. (Which goes to prove, however arbitrary and loony these Japanese designers may be--they exist because Japanese and especially American consumers will buy this crap. How else to explain the success of the Tamaguchi?) Japanese technology isn't about 'form follows function' or 'find a need and fill it,' it's about "Hey, we could put together this gadget and this gadget and, like, you could use both of them!" "But, one is a diabetes blood tester and the other is an electronic harmonica." "Yeah! Wouldn't that be awesome?" Well, no, it wouldn't. Yet the Japanese will create such things--out of pride in their ability to do so? Out of contempt for their ovine consumers? Out of the utterly ridiculous notion that these things need to exist? Personally, I think it's a child-like wonder at the endless possibilities of technology--remember when you were a kid and designed your 'dream house' and it had an arcade and an indoor swimming pool and a shark tank and a moat and a fireman's pole and a helicopter pad? None of those things really 'belong' together, but it was so cool to imagine a place where you could have all this neat stuff together, just because. I suspect there's something like that at work here, and it's endearing, really. It's just that, well, for God's sake, guys--if you're bright enough to build such a ridiculous thing, how about working on something a little more practical, like an electric car with a drive-radius of more than a block and a half? Come to think of it, I'm not bigoted--these people are doing rather remarkable things--I just wish they weren't doing remarkably silly things...


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