Saturday, December 21, 2013

Are you ready for Christmas?


Jerk: Noun. Slang. a contemptibly naive, fatuous, foolish, or inconsequential person.

I have to admit, I can be a jerk.  Sometimes we all do things mistakenly that come across as arrogant or conceited, but doing them mistakenly is sometimes allowed, as we are all human.  Being a “jerk” however, is when we do things that are not mistaken, but rather on purpose.  One could say that doing something on purpose to intentionally harm one another is grounds for psychiatric evaluation.  In that regard, the past few weeks.. I have been a self proclaimed “jerk”.

I’ve had this little social experiment going on recently.  Christmas is a busy time of year. Professionally, we have the end of the year goals that we are all concerned about, if it’s finishing projects, cleaning things up, raising cash to meet goals, we all have pressures that turn into pumpkins Dec 31 at midnight.  Personally, we fill the little free time we have left with shopping, list-making, cleaning, etc.  Once our shopping is done, we have to make preparation with the gifts we buy and package them neatly.  Many of us host family and friends during this time, so we need to ensure food is cooked and served.  And of course, we tend to travel as well, so normally we all arrive on location somewhere and bring said gifts, and possibly said food, and run around.  Sound familiar?  I’m sure it does..

So, my social experiment.. every person I’ve had a chance to chat with.. checkout lady at the market, friends at work, barista filling my coffee order, the woman cutting my hair.. if I was making small talk, I asked one question, “are you ready for Christmas?”  The “jerk” part of me prompted me to ask this because my family shopping has been done for weeks now.  It feels good to not have to stress about last minute gifts, or visit a Toys R’ Us that is conveniently open 24 hours a day for those who still have stockings to stuff.  The social experimental part of me wanted to see what people have said.

pillar-burning-honey-candles  I got a variety of looks and responses as I did this.  The more frenzied looks and responses came, obviously, as the date got closer and closer to the number “24”.  Most responses were “oh I haven’t even started yet”.  A few involved something along the lines of “I need to bake, so hopefully I get that done soon”.  But one gentleman I spoke to said “I’m done.. I don’t shop”.  Obviously, he was the most peaceful of all respondents.

As indicated on Wikipedia, Christmas is Old English for “Christ’s Mass”, and serves as the annual celebration for the birth of Jesus Christ.  It’s expected that this annual feast has been celebrated as early as 354 AD, and has had a range of activities from raucous drunkenness in the dark ages, to a more recent “family friendliness” approach.  It was once common to give a gift of a “Yule Log”, which was a very hard piece of wood that would provide warmth and light during the 12 days of Christmas celebration, but more recently, the “Yule Log” designation has been the gift of a fruit cake… how classy.

Roman mythology has celebrated and recognized many gods and goddesses, most of which are now well known thanks to the popularity of the “god of war” video game series (it’s amazing how some of us get our history knowledge). One of the gods they celebrated was Saturn, and they celebrated it with the Saturnalia festival by allowing gambling, partying and private gift giving.  This festival took place on December 23rd, 2 days within the “Christ’s Mass feast”.

The gentleman who told me he doesn’t shop went on to tell me that none in his family shop for the holidays.  Their family is large, and their parents have more than enough money that it’s unnecessary for anyone to shop for them, as anything they want they can easily purchase for themselves.  I asked “what are your plans for the holidays?”, and he told me they’ll still get together, spend time with one another and enjoy the day, but gift giving is not on the list. 

I stated earlier.. I shopped.  I spent money, and probably spent more than I should.  Quite frankly, I’m alright with that, as I also believe in the spirit of giving, and am very excited to give my daughter, wife, parents, brother, in-laws, and extended family their gifts.  I know in turn they will all give me presents, most of the things I’ll be surprised with, some I won’t.  But shortly after the gift giving, we’ll spend time, talk, drink, laugh, celebrate, drink, sleep, and do it all over again over the next few days (we’re not hardened alcoholics, we just have a large family and all tend to host lunch\dinner during the Christmas-New Years time period).

Christmas is a celebration, and is intended to dedicate a day to the idea that the savior of the world has been born, in humbling circumstances, to some day redeem us all.  Some of us believe this, some of us don’t, but regardless it is a wonderful story that gives us all hope.  This celebration was never intended to give retail stores a gross annual profit, give employees a chance to make “time and a half”, and keep employees separated from their families because people need to shop at Toys R’ Us 24 hours a day.  I’m not challenging anyone to do anything I don’t do, but for those of you who feel like you’re shopping to shop, stop shopping.  For those of you who are running around and looking to make the pile under the tree larger, stop.  If you want a gift, give the gift of time.  Spend time with one another, reach out to those who you haven’t spoken to, and invite those into your home who you have.  Want a novel idea?  Take a collection from all family members and use the money to give a donation to a food bank, or to St. Judes, or to a family member in need, or to anything that you can all agree on. 

For those of you who have shopped, I don’t intend to demean you (I’m one of you, remember?)  But hopefully this post offers a little guidance and insight on how we have gone from “He is born!” to “24 hours of super saving on all blue light items!”  What we all need is time, and what we all spend is the time we don’t have worrying about the things that aren’t important. Starting in 2014, take some time to focus on what is important instead.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Are “Apps” Dumbing Us Down?

I had some sort of epiphany, if you will,  recently.  My wife and I bought our daughter a small bookshelf for her room… that we preceded to put together and store toys on it.

WP_20131212_002 I wish I took a picture of all of the pieces before we assembled this thing.  It looks pretty in pictures, but individually, the box of “stuff” weighed 75 lbs. and contained about 20 individual blocks of wood.  Then there was the mess of screws, nails and cam bolts required as well, all packaged in one plastic bag that had to be separated manually.  I didn’t take a picture before I assembled the shelving, because I didn’t have my aforementioned epiphany until as I was assembling the unit.

Where I work, our CEO loves apps.  I mean, he is absolutely enamored with them.  I can’t limit that statement to apps either, it’s really Apple he is crazy about as well, and he lights up like a kid on Christmas whenever there’s a new phone or tablet being announced.  Before they even announce the features.. he wants it.  He almost doesn’t care about what the features will be… he believes ahead of time they’ll be distinctive, smart and critical to the success of the latest implementation of the device.

Here’s why he really loves Apple though.. he loves the simplicity.  And I can understand that.  Being a software developer, Apple is a pain in my rear-end. Why?  They upped the ante when it comes to user experience and design.  I’m not a designer, I can make my way through those needs when developing applications,  but before Apple, textboxes and pictures were “good enough”.  Now, a simple checkbox isn’t good enough, it must “toggle”.  Animation isn’t a nice touch, it’s now necessary.  Simple “alert” windows are ugly, modal windows are the way to go. 

With Apple, everything is just “a click”, “a tap”, or now just “a command” in that it’s easy to just speak to Siri what you want.  This is like.. Jetson’s stuff, man!  But this brings me to the title of this post.. is this dumbing us down?  What does this simplicity due to our psyche?  Not just from a technology standpoint, but from how we approach problem solving as well?  Furthermore, what about our usage of the Internet, and Google?  It’s *amazing* that we can Google (verb tense) “How do I ask a girl out?” and get tips! 

Apple used to use the phrase “Think Differently”, but are we really thinking anymore?  Or are we just zombified by all of this technology?  I don’t have an answer to the questions in this blog post, more or less I’m trying to remain cognizant of the potential downfalls of simplicity, and I hope you do as well.  I don’t want to live in a society that is so used to simplicity that, over time, it’s considered a unique skill to have problem solving skills.  At this rate, are we only 1.. maybe 2.. generations away from having people not assemble shelving because there are too many pieces?  Or who knows, maybe they do it, only because there are step by step video’s on their phones.  Handy?  Sure.. sounds it.. but it sounds like it’s devolving us somewhat too.. doesn’t it? 

So the next time you’re faced with a problem scenario, challenge yourself to not just Google it, or call over a friend, or launch an app.  Think about it.. and I stress the term Think here.  Churning and using some brain power can do all of us some good…