5 Things the Movie “Fight Club” Was Right About

 

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One of my earlier blogs (5 Tethers We Need to Cut) touched on our excessive reliance on technology and the constant connectivity between us, our friends and our devices. This blog, taking inspiration from both that blog and the movie mentioned in the title, will expand a bit further into the recesses of my brain. My intent here is to share some of my favorite quotes from the movie, why I love them and what they mean to me.

Fight Club is a fantastic movie and from what I have read so far, an excellent novel as well. I would love to meet Chuck Pahlanuik and see what type of guy he really is (call me!) and how his brain works day to day and as it pertains to writing. I think many people (myself included) were introduced to the movie first and a lot of the depth gets overlooked in the first few viewings, getting lost behind the dazzle and flair of the movie and the personality of its characters. The movie is lead by two Oscar nominated actors (Edward Norton, Brad Pitt)  the latter of which is arguably my favorite male lead (call me!) and supported by an equally strong cast. It is eye candy and easy to miss subtleties from start to finish.

So my recommendation (which contradicts this entire post) is to watch the movie several times if you haven’t already. Also, I suggest really opening your mind to the concepts presented to you. I do NOT suggest becoming a violent activist or you and your friends beating the stew out of each other. Focus on the ideas and not the implementation. In fact, here is my interpretation of a few of them, with a little help from Tyler. Who may or may not condone my use of technology to create and share his message.

1. This is your life and it’s ending one minute at a time. -The Narrator

Truer words are not often spoken. These words are simple, powerful and direct. There is no room for interpretation here; the meaning is the meaning and that is that. What there is room for is application of meaning. I would wager that most people who see this movie don’t give this line the slightest consideration the day after seeing the film. I don’t understand this. When Jack said this it struck a nerve with me, got my attention and forced me to consider it.

Sure everyone knows that their life is THEIR life. Sure everyone also knows that they someday will die. But have you ever stopped to consider that from the moment you are born, you begin dying? Have you ever thought about the fact that every minute you live is a minute less remaining in your life?

Stop it Stephen, I don’t want to think about all this right now!

No.

This is exactly why you NEED to think about it. Right now. We live our lives on autopilot, taking everything for granted. From the simplest things like the smell of flowers or a beautiful sunset to the people we love (I miss you Mom. I wish you were here to see me finally start to grow up). We ignore the fact that the worst COULD happen at any given moment and everything we thought or knew could change in an instant. Or it could change one minute at a time. It is your life, live it, before it ends.

“On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.” -The Narrator

 

2. The things you own end up owning you. -Tyler Durden

One of the reasons we live so autonomously is our obsession and reliance upon the devices which guide (nay, control) our everyday lives. We have devices to help us sleep, wake us up, make our food, help us get ready for work, get to work, work, get home from work, sleep…repeat. We have devices to help our devices. I wonder, could you make it through one day without help from electronic, computer controlled equipment?

Not to mention our obsession with our things. We coordinate decorative items to complement our functional items. Our functional items are hand selected to appeal to our sense of aesthetics first and our actual needs second. When did form become more important than function to the point of owning so many items with no function what-so-ever? I am as guilty as anyone of being possessed by my possessions. If you look to Xbox or Netflix you will see where my time is spent  wasted. I could be learning another language, a martial art, cultivating relationships or any number of other useful things but instead I close the door and hypnotize myself as days at a time disappear.

” Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy sh*t we don’t need.” – Tyler Durden

4. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very p*ssed off. -Tyler Durden

This is one of the MANY problems with my generation and the ones following after it. Ironically, most people in those generations will read that quote and feel like they SHOULD be pissed off because they AREN’T millionaires, movie gods or rock stars. What they should be p*ssed off about are the mega-corporations feeding on everyone’s desire to be all of the above. Everyone wants to be the big fish in the little pond and suit-and-tie America wants to sell you the dream.

You can be the idol in the dreams of the world if you buy their product. It makes you run faster, jump higher and smile whiter. Everything you have ever wanted is at your fingertips for the mere cost of your soul. Become a slave to your belongings and you can be the center of your social circle. You can be the admiration of all if you are willing to spend every waking hour at the office, missing life, one minute at a time. This is what they don’t tell you. You have to be willing to give up your time and money and even then you will only get a postcard. You will never actually make it to stardom. You will just have the same living room suit as those who did make it, but with less money in the bank and minutes to enjoy it.

” Listen up, maggots. You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else.” -Tyler Durden

 

4. It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything. -Tyler Durden

I wouldn’t have believed this had my marriage not failed. I thought I was free. I really did. Then one day she didn’t come home (emotionally) and I was like a dog in the back yard waiting for my owner (sadly, this analogy is more accurate than I would like to admit). Sure the gate was open, but I missed her. After I while I began to miss her less and wonder what the world outside the gate was like. Gradually I began to explore further down the road while still coming back home for safety and comfort. Until one day when I realized that for quite some time my home had not provided me with any real feelings of safety or comfort. It was a shell. It was an optional illusion, I could believe it as long as I wanted to. Suddenly home wasn’t home. The fence wasn’t safety. Maybe my owner never really did love me.

Epiphanies like this can hurt down to your bones but they also provide an unbelievable sense of freedom. Knowing that things aren’t what you thought they were sucks but it allows you to quit having tunnel vision and see the world as it is. Which in turn allows you to let go of so many things you thought had a hold on you when in fact it was you holding onto them. Once you let go you can get more than an arm’s distance away. Once you are that far away you can quit looking back to make sure you still have a firm grip. It is at this moment, the one where what is behind you doesn’t matter, that the world becomes available to you, perhaps for the first time.

The key is honesty. You can’t pretend to change. You can’t tell others or yourself things are what they are not. You must take your loss and find the freedom in it. You must accept both the loss and the freedom, and grow. Only through acceptance, honesty and growth can you truly do anything. You CAN NOT fake it ’til you make it.

“Sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken.” -Tyler Durden

 

5. I am Jack’s wasted life. -The Narrator

This line means more to me than any other line in the movie. It isn’t the line you expect to hear when you hear it. It almost seems out of place, which makes it stronger, more powerful. He says it after freeing himself from his job, blackmailing his boss into full financial sponsorship of Fight Club and overall reaching a point he had been striving for up to this point. This is when you realize he wasn’t doing these things for himself. This is where you see that as he builds something for someone else he still feels like he has wasted his life up to that point. Nothing he has done was worth doing. Not for him or anyone he has done things for.

It didn’t really hit me at the moment, instead it rang true later and since. It made me question what I have done that I thought was worth doing. It made me wonder what I should be doing that would be worth the effort. Both lists were short:

Done – My daughters.

To do – Write, learn, share, grow.

I’m not great at much but that shouldn’t keep my effort from being great. I may never be a rock star or movie god but that shouldn’t make me want it any less. I just have to keep my expectations accurate. I have to know that the world will promise me stars and give me candles. That is okay, both can light my path. I have to get p*ssed off, but not because I may never be the next big thing, but because companies I give my money and loyalty to try and sell me dreams, but hope I will never achieve them. What they don’t realize is that their idea of what my dreams should be are worthless while my dreams themselves are priceless. Most people are not a beautiful or unique snowflake, but only because they choose that truth. A better truth would be that they can be as beautiful and unique as they want if they weren’t so worried about their possessions being beautiful and unique. Grow yourself not your possessions. It shouldn’t take a near-life experience to open your eyes. Think about the minutes gone by; wasted. Savor the minutes remaining. Imagine yourself as Raymond K. Hessel, running from an unknown armed assailant, only left alive on the promise that you will follow the dream you left behind so long ago.

“Tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of Raymond K. Hessel’s life. His breakfast will taste better than any meal you and I have ever tasted.” -Tyler Durden

 

In summation; don’t let this be you. Use the things you own to accentuate your life, not define it.

Closing thoughts provided by Tyler Durden:

“I see all this potential, and I see it squandered. God d*mn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables – slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy sh*t we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won’t. We’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very p*ssed off.”

 

5 Reasons I Chose a Kindle eReader Over a Tablet

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Recently I picked up a Kindle from an ad on Craigslist. I can say wholeheartedly that I recommend this device to anyone considering it. After a week-ish with my new toy I decided to share with everyone (or no one) why I chose it. There  are so many options these days for ways to read a book other than actually reading a book. Why chose a Kindle? And why an eReader when there are so many tablet options out there? Well, keep your pants on and I will tell. If you’re not wearing any, I don’t want to know.

1. Price

While it is true that there are many options to choose from, you will be hard pressed to find a better deal. Tablets can range from $170 for the entry level Kindle tablet to over $1000 for a top of the line Microsoft Surface. Most products people would consider when making the choice I made fall somewhere in between $80 for the Kindle eReader and a few hundred dollars for a mid range tablet.

I got mine from Craigslist for $30, bought a charger ($20) and a case ($15 on clearance) and will soon remove the ads ($20) which will put me at a grand total of $85 for a device that costs $79 new with no charger or case. Mine is mint, like new. I have seen more than one in this price range and am considering buying my kids one for all of the same reasons I like mine. I already had an Amazon account, which honestly I have only used for one book so far as there are TONS of literary classics for free from sites such as Project Gutenberg (look Jonathan, a link!) as well as on Amazon. I was able to find the complete works of Shakespeare as well as all of the books I should have appreciated in high school and now want to read again, for free. Hard to beat my investment so far.

2. No Apps or Games

Break out the pitchforks and torches!

Wait, before you lynch me, let me explain. While this is precisely why many people would NOT make the choice I made, it is exactly the reason it was the right choice for me and why I will make the same choice in the future for my kids. Originally I was looking at the Nook Color for the kids and I. I also considered tablets. Then I thought about my phone. Yes, my smart phone. The one with apps and games and the internet all in one place. I thought about how I have downloaded books into an ebook reading app that I never open. Why, you ask? Because every time I sit down with a chance to read and pull out the phone. I play Angry Birds. Or surf the web. Or do ANYTHING OTHER THAN READ. Which lead me to realize an ebook reader with the functions of a tablet would suffer the same fate, relegated to a toy and not a reading device. Why by another method of playing games, watching Netflix or surfing the web when I already have (Xbox360, Nintendo DS, Laptop, etc.) plenty of devices for those functions. Why not buy something actually made specifically for reading?

Which is what I did and I am happier for it. Besides, I have my phone with me at ALL times if I need any of those other media and entertainment options.

3. It is Like a Book in All of the Right Ways and Better in the Rest

Without the cover it weighs less than a paperback book. With it, probably about the same while still being easier to hold and read. The screen reads exactly like a book with glare being a non-issue as advertised. I thought this feature was exaggerated until I tried it myself. It reads so well. The coloring is excellent and easy on the eyes. I like my text a little bolder but it looks great even at the default level. Images and covers look good too.  I don’t have to keep up with my page, dog ear pages or worry with a book mark. I can even read multiple books at the same time and it keeps my place in all of them. There are other features (like highlighting text) I haven’t begun to use, but what I have used have made for a good experience.

4. It Does Not Have a Touch Screen

This one took getting used to. I still have a bad habit of trying to select items by touching them, though I have gotten used to turning pages by button. Not a lot to say about this other than it keeps the screen cleaner and easier to read. Seemed a bit more complicated when setting up collections, but once those are in place it is not a concern anymore. Browsing titles and general use do not suffer because of this. All in all, definitely a bonus since the point of the device is to read.

Is that horse dead? Oh well, I will hit it again soon.

5. The Battery Life is Excellent

The battery life for the Kindle is rated at almost twice the reading time the Kindle tablet is rated for. I don’t know how accurate that is. I honestly don’t care. I do know that I charged it initially, read on it every day and haven’t had to plug it in for over a week so far. I like it, muy much-o! I assume that the more visually intensive tablets would kill batteries much faster. Especially if you add in sound, streaming media and web browsing, but I’m just speculating. Probably accurately, but speculation none-the-less.

In any regard, the battery life is very good in large part to it being a one trick pony. But it does that one trick really well.

What would I change if I could?

Not much. I wish they offered the Kindle with the backlit screen of the paperwhite without having to go to a touchscreen device, but using a book light when needed isn’t really inconvenient in any way. In fact, it is easier to use a book light with the Kindle than with an actual book since I don’t have to turn pages. Outside of that I enjoy the device just the way it is and it is encouraging me to read more which was the reason I bought it. I truly believe that had I gotten a tablet I would be too busy playing games to read a book, and honestly, I am really enjoying reading again. It saddens me to think how long it has been since I spent time doing something I enjoy so much.

A few things I would recommend

Do your homework, make sure you get what is right for you. I did. Look at resources. I was more confident in Amazon than Barnes & Noble, which steered me away from the Nook. There are some other, unknown brands, but they were never an option in my mind. Check out the various sites to get free ebooks from, it makes a big difference to know how much content is available when you make a purchase like this. Also, download Calibre (another link!) it makes it so simple to get ebooks from various sources and get them onto your device(s). Most importantly, GO READ A BOOK. I am, which makes me awesomer that you. Yes. Awesomer.

 

 

 

5 Reasons You Should Have a Hobby (That Doesn’t Involve Staying Home)

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I was talking with a friend recently about working at or at least attending some of the events his company puts on, when I realized how long ago I had actually gone to one. A few years in fact.

Now, I could drone on about my divorce, the stress it causes and has caused, the fact that I have been lonely off and on or other personal “reasons” that you probably aren’t interested in but it wouldn’t be completely honest of me. There is some truth to the fact that the things I mentioned have drastically impacted my life and daily habits in ways I do not like (weight gain for example) but they are not the root cause. When you get down to the nitty gritty there is only one thing to blame: laziness.

I have used various things in my life as an excuse to no longer participate in any of the hobbies I once enjoyed, of which there were quite a few at one time, arguable too many. In fact, the only hobbies I continue to this day are eating too much and playing video games. In all my wasted time I can’t even say I have read a book. Well, maybe one, but that certainly doesn’t qualify reading as a hobby I am engaged in.

This got me thinking about some of the hobbies I have let fall by the wayside and the fact that I miss them. At one point in my life I regularly attended car meets and shows, worked on cars with friends, played basketball, wrote poetry, played video games, read books, drew pictures and went out with friends. That is the short list that rolled off the top of my head as I typed this. In addition to the enjoyment of the activity itself most of those hobbies have the wonderful ancillary benefit of making me interact with people. In person.

Which is a wonderful place to start this party.

1. Social Interaction

When your hobbies are not in your home, you are 282% more likely to interact with other people according to http://www.random.org, and they know, they must, I set a range of 1-500 and clicked “generate” to get that number so it must be accurate. The universe told me, or something. Point being, most people who stay home, do so out of comfort and typically do so alone (unless they are married, which I will get to soon). I anticipate that you will argue that you interact with people via xbox live or some other game service to which I say emphatically, “Psssshhhhh.”

You can’t honestly expect me to agree that grownups and kids with headsets on, describing, four letters at a time, the low standard of matriarch the other possesses could reasonably be described as social interaction. It is social to an extent. You are interacting. So I guess technically it is social interaction, but not in a mutually beneficial way.

I am not belittling this activity as it is one I have a proclivity towards and am voracious about, I am saying that it is not one that promotes personal growth in any way other than hand eye coordination. With the amount of time you spend home alone, I am certain you need no work in this area.

If you are married (or not) and this is your “escape” I get it, but that doesn’t let you off the hook. Being involved with other people not only makes you feel better, but each relationship that you are in makes each other one stronger as well. The more social you are the more social you become, an upward spiral ending with higher self esteem, improved relationships and new skills and/or knowledge. If you have a spouse, tell him or her they need a hobby as well, you will both benefit from positive and engaging time away from each other. If you don’t have a spouse, and I am describing you successfully, I wonder why?

2. A Readily Available Distraction

Having a bad day? Turning to a hobby can distract you well enough when needed, especially if it is a physical one. Nothing takes your focus off a broken heart or bad day like an adrenalin rush. Though the social interaction mentioned above is a close second, talking to people about something other than what is bothering you, is a great way to not dwell on it. I am not recommending that you bottle it up I am merely suggesting that a good, solid distraction is a healthy choice.

Had a long week? Go to that activity this weekend. Instead of sitting around complaining to your cat about what isn’t on television, go where people are. You, know, the people who also do that thing you like to do but have been putting off lately so you could watch Gossip Girl while you browse OKCupid and Plenty of Fish. I know, they are free sites so it is a cheap way to pass the time, but so are jogging, biking, going to the park, going to a museum, taking an art/cooking/acting class and a host of others things I won’t take time to list here. Besides, when is the last time you actually met someone worth meeting on those sites anyway.

3. It Makes Home That Much Better

Home is where your heart is, where you hang your hat, (insert additional clichés and quotations here ad nauseum). Choking corniness aside, we all love home. Especially our own. It warms our hearts and our butts. It shelters us from the sun, wind, rain and snow. Oh, and from people we don’t feel like talking to. You know – Jehovah’s Witnesses.

But it also shelters the world from us and isolates us. In rare instances it might be arguable that this is a good thing, but in most cases it is not. Look at people who become so obese they have to be removed from their homes. Also think of the people who have been removed from society for so long they don’t know how to go out anymore. This is the home becoming a crutch, the home killing the home-maker.

If you remove yourself from it, go on trips or outings or just a walk around the block, it gives you a chance to see the rest of the world. You can see other people’s homes. It allows your definition of home to change and grow, becoming more interesting and more comfortable at the same time. If you leave your house for more than minutes or hours at a time it gives you a chance to want to be home instead of wanting to go home. There is a big difference between the two and if you don’t understand this you probably spend too much time there.

The old adage “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is not only incredibly true, but it applies to homes as well. Coming home from work everyday is commonplace, routine and necessary. Coming home from a trip is refreshing.

4. Your Cats Are Sick of You

You have practically rubbed bald spots on their heads and bellies. I say “their” on purpose, don’t act like you only have one cat, we all know better. Their litter boxes are immaculate and they have more toys than your nieces, nephews or cousins. They can’t stretch out and lick themselves without you constantly throwing fake mice, feathers on a string or excessive affection their way. We get it, you love your cats. They get it too. And they would like a break.

Your OCD has resulted in clean dishes, a cleaner sink and a bathroom floor you could eat off of. There are no dirty clothes to be found (including cat sweaters [Really? Sweaters…FOR CATS?]) You have even dusted the books on top of your cabinets that you only use to set other things on. You have watched every episode of Buffy/Star Trek/Breaking Bad/The Wire/Family Guy that Netflix has to offer. You have memorized your favorite movies; all of them and word for word. Worst of all, yes worst of all, in the midst of this surgically clean house you are an emotionally disheveled mess of organized mental chaos. You need to get out. It will help you in every way.

It will focus your attention elsewhere so that when you are home perhaps you can actually rest a bit and enjoy being there. It will help you find new friends to talk to and visit their homes where you can find yourself making all of the medicine bottles “dress right dress” as you go through their vanity. It’s okay, they know you’re doing it. It allows you to focus on other things, which could provide personal growth and enjoyment in the long run while still ignoring the hot mess in your mental attic. And hey, if you end up making a friend, perhaps they will be a good enough friend to tell you that you have issues.

Either way, your cats will thank me.

5. Your Mind, Body and Social Skills All Need a Work Out

This point is pretty self explanatory. If you want to be in better shape, you work out. Not just physically, this applies to all three of your mind, body and social/emotional well being. I have never understood why people fail to grasp this concept. Smart people; really smart people who can do math that never made sense to me while hopping on one foot and brushing their teeth.

A hobby will not only help you mentally as either a focus, an enjoyable activity or a distraction, it can also help you better yourself by causing you to participate and interact (depending on the hobby) which can help improve your social skills as well as the skills needed for the hobby itself. Like I said earlier, the more you socialize the more social you become. You will gain confidence, friends and skills. It is a vicious cycle in all the right ways. There is literally no downside as long as you can maintain life/work/hobby balance. Your improved confidence and social skill set will continue to grow and others will notice, though not as much as you will. You will feel refreshed and renewed in ways you hadn’t considered and your relationships will improve in ways that you hadn’t anticipated all because you put down the cleaning supplies/controller/cat and got out of the house, which in the end, only made it more desirable to come back to.

I will close with a few examples of hobbies that do not fit the bill. Hopefully you can take the wisdom that I have interlaced with sarcasm (Sarcasdom?) and learn something that will benefit you in a positive way. And by you, I mean me.

Some examples of hobbies that do not exemplify my intentions with this article:

Video Games Role Playing Games
Stamp Collecting
Writing Fan Fiction
Reading Fan Fiction
Anything to do with Harry Potter other than nerdy parties with CosPlay
Building and painting civil war models
Models of any kind, except underwear models
Watching everything Joss Whedon ever touched
Comic Books
Philosophizing, even if you are a philosophizer
Knitting
Having conversations with your cats
Etc.

5 Tethers We Need To Cut (at least occasionally)

 be-free

So I was sitting at work thinking about the fact that I do not want to be sitting at work thinking about the fact that…

You get the idea.

I don’t want to be here. I’m really not sure why today among other days, I really don’t want to be here, but it got me thinking about how much I need to get away. Mentally as much as physically, I need a break. I need to unplug and let my brain decompress. Even after the holidays I still feel exhausted. Then it occurred to me, even over the holidays I didn’t really unwind.

Even when I get away, I don’t get away.

I still interact with anyone and everyone in my day to day life. I still do all the things I normally would I just don’t do them in my normal routine. Once I realized this, I started thinking of the times I really felt some degree of relief. It always seems to be associated with a distancing of myself from my normal routine and the stress that naturally accompanies it.

So I present to you, in my opinion, Five Tethers We Need To Cut (at least occasionally).

1. Cell Phone

If anything could be called the mark of the beast – this is it. You hold it in your right hand (well, ~90% of you), you hold it to your head (unless you use Bluetooth [Are you talking to me? Oh, sorry.] ). I know it is a thin argument but it can be made.

Cell phones interrupt every conversation I participate in, every dinner I share with someone and many movies I go see. While I must admit that it is nice to “Google it” and see what that thespian’s name was or what the name of the movie is that neither of us can remember, it is nicer to have a conversation with someone who isn’t constantly distracted by their digital social interaction device (I am guilty too!).

Pick a weekend. Change your voicemail to say you won’t be answering your phone and to text you “911” if it is an emergency. Then, spend the weekend ignoring your phone. Don’t talk. Don’t text. Unplug from the matrix.

You will be amazed at how liberating this can be. Especially when combined with a spontaneous, or planned, trip out of town.

2. Internet

While this does tie in with the first, it is also a category in and of itself. I admit freely that I spend hours a day surfing Reddit among other sites. The internet is where I get most of my news, the weather and watch funny videos for hours at a time. I do some of this on my phone, but most of my time spent on the World Wide Web is spent on my computer at work or my laptop at home.

I search, scour, laugh, cry, believe, argue, ignore, like, friend, invite, investigate, prove, disprove, build up, break down, flex muscles, flirt, and play games – all without ever getting out of my chair. Unless I have to pee.

It really is out of hand.

I am very aware of just how out of hand it has gotten, and sadly, on most days, I just don’t care.

I am not the only one either. As of 2011, approximately 55% of American adults use the internet on a daily basis. Those users average 60 hours per month of internet use. These numbers were confirmed through minutes of research that I verified through a minimum of at least one source. I am sure they are close enough to be semi factually accurate and have increased substantially since then. The point, which I almost forgot, and you don’t care about, is that we spend a large amount of our time, both at work and at home, surfing the web.

How much of that time could be spent in real social interaction with real people?

3. Television

Growing up I watched some television. As a grownup I watch a lot of television. The biggest difference I notice between the two scenarios is not even the sheer volume, but the purpose and quality of time spent in front of the tube.

When I was a kid, my family had certain shows on certain nights of the week, which we would sit down and watch together. If we missed it, oh well, we probably had something better to do. On the weekends, we would rent movies. We would get two or three and watch them over the course of the weekend. Together.

Notice a theme here? We used movies and T.V. shows as a family activity. We would spend time curled up on the couch watching and afterwards we would discuss what we saw over dinner or another activity. The important thing to us was that we watched them together. We would pause movies if someone had to use the bathroom. We got each other snacks during commercials. It brought us together.

As an adult I spend so much more time in front of my T.V. than I ever thought I would. I watch seasons at a time of shows. I watch movie after movie, to the point of digging through movies I have never heard of to find something new to watch. I have Netflix, Hulu, DVR, cable, Blu-Ray and guides to let me know what to find and when and where. I have the ability to download all of the above to portable media players and computers. I am not knocking the services these companies and devices provide, I use them and love them, I am merely stating that it gives me the ability to watch so much more, at times convenient for me. And usually I find myself watching them alone. I saw a feature advertised where a device would allow me to invite you to watch the same movie in your house that I am watching at my house, so that we could watch the same thing together, yet both still be alone.

Take the time to go outside, see a sunset. Talk to friends. If you must watch something, go to a theater. After all, there is still something to be said for movie theaters, it allows you to enjoy a cinematic adventure with someone else.

4. Video Games

This one really hits home for me.

I do, and always have, loved video games. From the single button and joystick of my first Atari, to the many buttons and dual control sticks of my Xbox360, I have only come to enjoy them more. I have also come to love games that require a much larger time investment than the ones of my youth.

Growing up, my gaming palette was simple. It consisted of mostly sports and fighting games with some action adventure thrown in on occasion for good measure. I loved beating games but more than that, I loved beating opponents. Real, live opponents. I loved video games almost as much as I loved playing basketball and for the same reasons. Friends would come over and we would play outside until dark, watch a movie or T.V. show with my family and then play games until we went to bed. It was also great for rainy days. Just like television and cinema, video games were intended to bring people together.

These days everyone I know who plays video games hides behind a headset and a code name, screaming profanities at each other from half a world away. The last time I got together with a group of people intent on playing video games together, was years ago.

These days we even play video games on our phones. In the bathroom.

I recommend turning it all off. No T.V., no video games and no music. Play board games with a group of people. Have nothing to watch but each other’s expressions, no sound but laughter and voices. If you don’t like board games, play miniature golf or laser tag with friends.

5. Electricity

How big is the snarling look of disbelief on your face right now? You are thinking that I must be joking. Ha! The joke is on you, I am completely serious.

A bad night turned good is what inspired this article in the first place.

Money had been tight and after putting it off as long as I could, I had forgotten to pay my electric bill. I had picked up my kids from their mother’s house and headed home. Once I opened the door it hit me. What should I do? I certainly wasn’t going to take them back to her, so I told the kids the truth and called the power company to made the payment. They told me it would be back on within a few hours.

A few hours? Great. What were we going to do? It was a school night so we weren’t going to get out, but no one wants to sit and watch the paint peel either. Board games were out since the light was low. What would we do?

We got out some toys. Non-electric, non-digital old-fashioned toys. We pulled out the dolls and dollhouses with their clothes and furniture. We lit candles. We sat in the floor and played. Before we knew it the power was back on and the kids actually asked me if we could turn all the lights back off and keep playing by candle light. I had to make dinner, so we could not, but them asking me that, is not something I took lightly. Or forgot. My children, who have game systems (portable and non), Furbys, T.V.s, DVDs, remote control things, etc., wanted to shut it all off and sit in the floor. It was eye opening. Heartbreaking even, but in a good way.

It made me realize how much time our electronics babysit us. Not just our children, all of us. We spend so many of our days hypnotized by blinking lights, watching digital lives while neglecting our own.

I suggest we all spend a little time without knowing what someone’s status is at every moment, what they just had for lunch or where they are and who they are there with. That way, the next time you see them, you might just be interested enough to find out all of those things from them.

Technology is convenient, but it is also a crutch. Like a crutch that has been used past its need, it weakens us. We don’t know how to behave without constantly being plugged in. We no longer know how to interact socially unless we can hide behind the veil of a gamertag or anonymous account name. The digital era has been amazing for knowledge and accessibility, but has crippled us in many other ways.

Unplug, be free, even if only for a weekend. Or an evening. Or an hour.

5 Keys To Better Tech Support

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As a technician for a large I.S.P., I have helped a large number of customers with an even larger number of problems. Though I know that I should always be on my best behavior, I must honestly say that the level of support I have given has ranged from top of the heap to bottom of the barrel. I know that my attitude at any given moment can drastically affect the direction a call takes. But I also know that a customer’s demeanor at any given moment can drastically affect my attitude. Knowing this, I recently decided that I wanted to examine my interactions with assorted types of customers and see if I could determine what factors could have given a new direction to a call that went south. I have already stated that my job during the call is to try to remain upbeat and positive. But let’s talk about what my job isn’t. My job is not to be talked to like a child. My job is not to be used to relieve stress by saying all the things to me that you did not have the balls to say to your boss. My job is not to feel sorry for the situation that you find yourself in because you didn’t prepare yourself better for hard times (though in many cases I do, it’s not my job). My job is not to be a crash test dummy for all the curse-word combinations and nasty phrases you read in Hustler while you were on the john. And lastly, my job is not to educate customers who can’t remember their phone number, address or how to spell their own name about the intricate workings of a computer. Unfortunately for me, the average angry customer thinks that those are my primary duties. And this belief is what makes it hardest for me to try to remain upbeat and positive.So what I would like to do here is to give customers a guideline that they can follow when calling in for tech support. I have thought long and hard about the things that make it hardest for me to remain patient when trying to fix a customer’s problem, and included the most pertinent. If you use the following keys before and during any call for tech support, I will guarantee you a much better experience. Not only will your call go much better that expected, the caller after you will start off with a much happier tech.

1. Have some general knowledge about yourself and your equipment (or admit openly and up front if you don’t).

I would not presume to ask the average Joe or Joan to be an expert (if he or she were then he or she wouldn’t have to call me and I like having a job), but I do find myself often disappointed when they don’t know the slightest detail about their equipment. Many customers don’t know the brand, any one component from another and in some cases have to be given explicit directions to find the space bar. This is ludicrous.

The first step to an easy call for tech support is to have at least enough general knowledge to be able to perform common tasks without me having to teach a remedial computer class over the phone. But if that knowledge is not present, beginning the call by saying so is not only acceptable, it is preferred.

2. Choose which challenge you want to present.

Though techs come in all shapes and sizes, by nature techs across the board will generally share several personality traits of both a good and a not so good nature. I won’t drone on about it but I will list a few that are pertinent to my point here.

Techs generally have an above average ability for logical reasoning. Techs also generally have a below average tolerance for those who lack that ability. The last trait I will mention is the most important to this discussion; techs have a passion for solving problems. We like to climb the mountain, slay the dragon, etcetera. Basically, we like to rise to and overcome challenges.

This is a very important piece of information to anyone who is calling for technical support and wants the call to be pleasant and productive. I say this because within the first few seconds of any call it will take one of two directions based on how the tech is approached by the customer. Unknowingly every tech and customer comes to a “fork in the road” if you will, and whether you realize it or not you will challenge us in one of two ways: you will either challenge us to fix your problem, or you will challenge us to prove you wrong.

Allow me to elaborate on this. You could call up and begin the interaction by saying, “I can’t seem to get this to work and I’ve tried everything I know to do, do you know what the problem might be.” then you have challenged me to fix your problem. Simply put, you told me there was a problem, that you couldn’t fix it and asked me to help. Now I will help you climb the mountain.

Or you could call up and say to me “I can’t get this to work and I have tested everything on my side and I know it’s a problem with your company’s service or equipment. It’s definitely not on my end, you guys suck.” Now you have challenged me to prove that you are wrong. You have swiftly put me on the defensive (a natural human reaction) and stated matter-of-factly that not only is my employer less than acceptable, but I, the individual, am directly at fault here as well. Not only will I now tell you that you cannot climb the mountain because you have poorly configured your inferior equipment, I will also be happy to inform you that not only do I not have the time or inclination to educate you, but our company doesn’t support any of a host of problems that I could name that are currently on your end which consequently make them not our fault or responsibility. And then as a courtesy, I will apologize for any inconvenience you may have experienced due to this “outage” of service.

3. Only give information as it is requested.

Really there isn’t a whole lot to elaborate on here. Many customers want to call in and tell me step by step everything from how/when they bought their computer, what kind it is, the name of the guy who sold it to them, what steps they have taken trying to fix the problem up to and including extremely important facts like what wallpaper/screensaver they have and why they don’t like Swiss cheese as much as cheddar. I do hope at this point the picture is clear on this. Out of all the information customers volunteer to me, I would say maybe 10 % is actually useful and that’s only because I happen to be in a good mood and feel generous as I’m writing this.

The basic point here is that I will most definitely ask for any information I need and odds are I probably have a better understanding of what information is actually helpful to me than you do. I do not mean this to sound condescending, but most of the problems I see are fairly repetitive. I can usually get on the right track to isolating which of the standard problems you specifically have fairly quickly if I am given the opportunity. However, if I have to sit for 20 minutes while you ramble on, that’s 20 minutes that I had to waste drawing a picture I won’t like and will throw away before lunch break, while occasionally saying “uh-huh,” “uh-uh,” and “oh really?” But had you asked for help and then let me do what you asked me to, we could’ve been done in less time than you wasted telling me about how pissed off you are because it always takes us so long to fix your problem when you call in for tech support.

4. Let the tech guide the troubleshooting.

This portion will be brief. It’s very simple. You called me for help, so as I am guiding you through the various steps of troubleshooting don’t be click happy and act like you know how to fix the problem you called in to get help fixing. It is very frustrating when you are trying to help someone and he or she either tries to finish your sentences for you, or every time you ask them to click on something they will say something to the effect of “already there,” or “done,” as if they know how to fix it and were just calling to keep me sharp.

I usually at some point during these types of calls will just have the customer navigate randomly through various unrelated steps to give me various unrelated information. I do this not only because I think it’s extremely funny, but because at that point in the day I probably need the good laugh it provides. I also do this to remind the customer that if he or she knew as much as he or she is pretending to, he or she wouldn’t have had to call in the first place.

5. Remember, the tech didn’t call you.

Pay special attention to this last section. I saved the most important information for last. Now one would think that the things I am about to say would be common sense, common courtesy, common knowledge and commonplace. Unfortunately for me the things I will discuss now are my leading source of aggravation.

I do not understand why customers feel that if they call and begin to perform their best impersonation of the Hindenburg, I will cower in fear and become immediately subservient and vastly more helpful. But alas, more oft than not that is exactly the case. Has no one ever heard the old cliché “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”? I fail to see how this is a logical approach. Let me show you this same scenario, but in a different setting.

In this scene Bill needs help. He’s a little short on cash and needs 5 bucks. Ted is a great guy in a great mood, which loves to help people and happens to have 5 bucks. (For those who don’t get it…Bill represents the customer who needs help, while Ted represents the tech support person who is personable and has the tools to help Bill)

Here’s the setting: Ted is in the break room peeling a dollar bill off his bank roll for a root beer and some Twinkies. Bill comes in to ask for help.

Take 1, representing the average customer interaction-

Ted: “Hey Bill, you doing all right today?”

Bill: “No. Your bank sucks and you are a shit head. And if it wasn’t for you and your stupid bank I wouldn’t need 5 bucks to pay this bill. Now give me 5 bucks you worthless S.O.B..”

Wow. I know if I were Ted I would definitely want to help this guy out.

Take 2, same setting, polar opposite approach-

Ted: “Hey Bill, you doing all right today?”

Bill: “Not really, but thanks for asking. I made a miscalculation and now I’m 5 bucks short on a bill. If you could help me out I would really appreciate it.”

In my opinion this approach would never work. I mean, why would Ted help out….Bill didn’t curse or threaten him in any way. And we all know that no one is willing to be helpful without feeling threatened.

Many people who read this may feel it sounds like I am reaching, out in left field even, when actually I am right on target. I used this particular example because I feel it will demonstrate more effectively how ridiculous this type of interaction is. I want people to see that the way they act directly influences the type of service they receive. Technicians don’t need to know where you work, what degrees you hold or how much money you do or do not have. As a general rule, we want to help. It’s just that in many cases we either aren’t given the opportunity, or we are treated in such a manner that our desire to help simply ceases to be.

In the end it boils down to a simple choice that you as a customer need to make. Would you rather hang up the phone having enjoyed a pleasant interaction during which your problem either got solved or the appropriate steps were taken to do so? Or would you rather hang up the phone thinking “I showed him,” but your problem isn’t fixed and no one really tried to do so. In the latter you may have “won”, but is a Pyrrhic victory really a victory at all?