Monday, May 28, 2007

About Face II

Since I wrote my earlier post about Facebook, I've thought alot about it, especially in light of numerous comments suggesting that the whole thing is nothing more than a fad. Maybe it is. But there's one question that keeps coming back to me.

Is the kind of social networking that happens on Facebook the first really new thing that the internet has given us?

Think about it. Most of what we do on the internet is really just faster or bigger version of things that we had been doing all along. Email is, as the name suggests, another kind of mail. Chat is a screened version of the telephone. Porn is porn, news is news, and online shopping is just a slightly faster version of what we used to call mail order.

In fact, the hubub over You-tube and Wikipedia has obscured the fact that the former is not much more than an elaborate take on America's Funniest Home Videos, and the latter is a rapid version of collaborative reference works like the Oxford English Dictionary.

But it's hard to find an obvious predecessor for Facebook. Even the paper facebooks of American universities (for which the site is named) are not really much like the site because of Facebook's interactivity and boundless connections. Internet social networking may be changing the way we relate to each other and the way we think of our world. It may be as big a development as regular mail delivery or the daily newspaper. Or it may be a fad. You know, the way the telephone was.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


As regular readers of this space will know, it was supposed to be heavy-items-pick-up week for garbage in my neighbourhood last week. I guess they're behind, though, because my heavy items are still there. I must say I am a little annoyed with the local authorities because through their negligence I have now gone from a guy throwing out heavy items to a guy who just has a pile of junk in his front yard. But that's not my point -- they'll get it eventually. I hope.

No, what I want to tell you is that the other night I was sitting in my living room when a car pulled up in front of my house. Out jumped one of the occupants who quickly apprised my heavy items, snatched up an old VCR that I had thrown out, got back in the car, and sped away. And it wasn't just the VCR either, by the way. My old lawn mower and weed eater had disappeared from the trash heap earlier in the week. And this very morning, my old cans and bottles were spirited away before the recycling truck could get to them. Now, I seem to recall hearing at one point that your garbage was yours until picked up by the municipality and that taking someone's garbage is stealing. But that's not my point -- I didn't want that junk anyway, and if someone else can make use of it, so much the better.

I suppose it was a little annoying that the people in question didn't ask if they could take it. It is on my property, after all, and wouldn't it be civil to knock on the door and say, "Sorry, but it looks as though you're throwing that out. Would you mind if I took it?"? But that's not my point, either -- this is not a part of the world where people stand on such ceremonies and that's fine.

No, what really bothered me about the incident was that somewhere along the line, I have become part of a class of people where my very refuse is valuable enough for people to search out and take for their own. Somehow have ascended to some kind of elite realm where stuff that is not even good enough to take up space in my closet is snapped up by eager passers-by.

My trash is literally another man's treasure.

Except for the junk that's still sitting there.

Monday, May 14, 2007


A little while ago a friend of mine referred to my TV as an "idiot box." It was a joke and I didn't take offense, but later I felt as though I should have defended my TV against the insult.

My lack of fortitude was brought into focus yesterday when I had the sad duty of putting an old TV in the garbage. It's heavy-items-collection week where I live and the TV is heavy and it doesn't really work any more, and it takes up valuable space in the closet, and so it has fallen victim to spring cleaning. But that TV was special; it was the first TV I ever bought, one of the first big things I ever bought on my own, in fact, and so that TV -- my first TV in a sense -- was part of the gradual, inexorable process that one day finds us as grown ups and wondering how it happened.

But through it all, one TV or another has been there. Keeping me company when I was alone, entertaining my friends when I was not. When I was a little kid we were just about the last family in my neighbourhood to have cable, and we begged my parents to get it to no avail. Then one day I came home from school for lunch and my mother suggested I eat my lunch at the TV, which was unusual. So I went downstairs and found the TV already on and tuned to a channel that we didn't get. And yet we did. We had cable! Of course, it's not the cable that gives this story a special place in my heart (I don't have cable now), or even that my parents caved and got it for us. It's that my mom knew how happy I would be and set it all up in advance so I could have a happy surprise. Thanks, Mom. And thanks, TV.

Not counting the one on the curb, I now have three TVs at my house -- each of which has its job. One anchors my movie obsession; one serves as a workout partner; one plays music for me on surprisingly good speakers. They never judge. They never complain. And the next time someone calls my TV an "idiot box" I know what I will say.

You can't talk about my friends that way.