Acquiescing in Today’s “Connected” World

An image from the Slippery Brick blog. Click on the image to go to the article.Look. I don’t believe I am the only one who thinks that all this new communications technology, particularly cell phones, are necessarily a good thing. I embrace technology, and I think mankind should embrace it generally. However, I think humans ought to be able to choose what they embrace. One man’s convenient communications tool is another man’s anchor and millstone. Cell phones are the latter to me.

Let’s see. I ride to work and it is unsafe to drive and use a cell phone. I am at my teaching job where cell phones are considered a rude intrusion to one’s learning experience and disruptive to everyone else, especially when I am giving a lesson. I don’t need it at home, since there are land lines there anyway; why bother? If I am out at a nice restaurant with my wife, I hate the intrusion, and people can leave a message on my answering machine at home. I don’t see a problem, and I don’t see why I ought to waste money on a technology that seems to be a nest of contracts that differ with every provider. I have owned cell phones that are also useless while being recharged.

There was a time when owning two cell phones for my wife and I, plus a land line set us back about $200 per month or more. Am I the only one who considers this an obscene money grab on the part of the telecoms? I am not saying they’re corrupt. What I am saying is that perhaps their marketing worked too well, and they were allowed to do too much by the CRTC. I noticed for example that concomitant with the cell phones’ emergence was that outdoor payphones occurred less and less in actual phone booths, and more and more often on these outdoor posts, open to both the elements and eavesdroppers. They even disappeared altogether in some places. It definitely makes using payphones unattractive, and in comparison cell phones seem more attractive. I once read one of those “You know it’s the modern age when –” articles, which had, among its many signs:

  • you have a list of 15 phone numbers to reach your family of three
    • Sad but true for many families, although realistically it might not be that high. But it’s still sad. When I was young, we had one telephone number, and nobody died, nobody got neglected, nobody how old do you have to be to buy viagra joined a gang or got kidnapped. I know that’s hard to believe, but a normal, comfortable life was possible with one phone number. If your kid was in a friend’s house, you called his friend! Problem is nowadays, I looked at my phone bill recently and little did I know that my land line now has three phone numbers on it. I didn’t ask for the other two, and when I asked them, Bell Canada said: enjoy it! It’s on us!
  • you pull up in your own driveway and use your cell phone to see if anyone is home to help you carry in the groceries
    • There once was a secret us older folks had to get around this limitation with only one phone number and no cell phone. It was known as “walking inside the house to see if anyone was inside to help out with the groceries.” It darn near killed us. Oh, the hardships we faced! But we must have been a clever bunch, since people don’t think of that these days.
  • leaving home without your cell phone is now a cause for panic
    • You need to think positive. What you call a time for panic, I call a time for freedom! Panic is the wrong thing to feel. But it’s a symptom of having too much riding on your cell phone number. Unless the company you work for is paying for your cell phone, I would resist the urge to use my cell phone number for work-related reasons. After all, they’re not paying for your airtime. Once you start on the slippery slope of using your own private cell phone for work, I can see why people stress themselves out.

What annoys me the most about these quotations is that they are all premised on the idea that cell phones are some kind of necessity. Their importance is way overblown. Most of us will just get back to the caller sooner or later. The immediacy of most calls is almost never a life-and-death matter, and an immediate response is usually never necessary. Personally, I much prefer talking to people face-to-face.

Oh, yeah. I guess you may be wondering about the image I used for the phone. It is a Nokia prototype back in 2008. Doesn’t look like Nokia will be around much anymore, so why not spread the humor? Click on the image to get to the originating blog.

Brothers In Arms: A belated review of the versions

Not really having heard the original Dire Straits version of “Brothers in Arms” when it came out (it was one of these things I was planning on “getting around to”), my first experience with the song was through protest singer Joan Baez in 1988, with a radio-only compilation back when I was a university DJ. I feel that it was at least her best since “Love Song To a Stranger”, another song that grabs my emotions in a similar way.

Brothers in Arms is about a quintessential Baez theme: anti-war. It is hard to listen to lyrics like “There’s  a million different worlds/and a million different suns/we have just one world/and live in different ones” and not get choked up.

I have heard some remarks in recent blogs regarding the appropriateness of a woman singing this song. Well, I think that war is not just a “man’s issue”. It is an issue for all mankind. I feel no conflict with Baez singing this song. Women have sons, brothers, and husbands that are lost in war, too.  And when you hear Baez sing, believe me, any questions of appropriateness quickly fly out the window. She definitely makes this song her own.

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She does a better job of the vocals than anyone I have heard, including Mark Knopfler, the writer of the tune. But there is an element missing.The music in the background serves as a vehicle for her voice. It is maudlin, and its mediocrity doesn’t become obvious until the song’s ending where the musicians no longer have the power of Baez’s voice to carry the ending.

Finally, after all these years, I sat down and had an un-interrupted, quiet, sustained listen to Dire Straits doing the original song.

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Its strength is its weakness: Knopfler’s Gibson guitar. When most people talk to me about Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms being a “good song”, they are referring to the guitar work. The words of the song, which Knopfler nearly mumbles his way through, takes a back seat to the the guitar playing. In a real sense, the problem is the reverse of the Baez problem: while the voice is just “kind of there”, it is just a vehicle for the guitar. And as Baez shows us in no uncertain terms, the lyrics of the song have their own power in the hands of the right vocalist, making the most of what are powerful, poetic lyrics.

If only we had Knopfler’s guitar, and Baez’s voice doing that tune … we can only dream.