Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Good News / Bad News

It was bound to happen. From my soap box speeches about conservation over the years, I’ve always preached that ‘going green’ meant saving ‘green’ too. I held up my grandparents’ generation, those that endured the Great Depression, as the model to emulate. They were pressed to save money as their lives depended on it, so nothing was ever wasted. Nothing. Time and again, I cited examples of the things they did as environmentally friendly. They were way ahead of the concepts of reduce, reuse and recycle. I suspect that they didn’t really care about the impact of their actions on the planet so much as they cared about the impact of their actions on their wallets.

Just a year or so ago, I was pleading with my audiences to think ‘green’ and act ‘green’ to improve the health of our environment, and, oh by the way, they’d save a few bucks along the way too. Do right by the planet and your wallet will be a sidebar beneficiary.

Enter the bad news: the economic downturn. Suddenly, conspicuous consumption is being seen for exactly what it is: egotistical waste. Unaffordable waste. And the number of folks who can pony up has fallen faster than the Dow Jones average. (I believe much of it could never be afforded in the first place, but that’s a blog for another day.) Conversely, saving and scrimping are now the new chic to say nothing of being compulsory for an awful lot of folks.

And there’s nothing wrong with it. Turn down the thermostat and bundle up – save money (and energy); combine all your errands into one trip – save money (and energy); turn off the lights – save money (and energy); buy Energy Star appliances – save money (and energy); buy locally – save money (and energy)… you get the picture. With the economy in tatters, I believe folks are seeing the stuff they buy as just that: stuff. Stuff that, as often as not, simply ends up in our overcrowded landfills, so why buy it in the first place? Why, indeed.

Enter the good news: doing right by our wallets has allowed the environment to become the sidebar beneficiary. The lessons our grandparents learned have come full circle. History’s repeating itself as it always does. We’re saving energy and conserving on all fronts. It’s a shame the economy had to take such a beating before the conservation light bulb went on for most of us. I only wonder now how long it will stay lit.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Ubiquitous Cell Phone

What is it about cell phones? And in seeing them put to use in every conceivable fashion as I go through my day, I can’t help but wonder, “HOW did we ever possibly survive without them?”

I’ll state for the record right now that I fully appreciate and use them for their convenience … not only as a communication device but as a calendar, calculator, alarm, stop watch (and I really have used that function on mine) and clock, to name a few. The next advance of web access and gps functions certainly lend to their value. My question and curiosity surrounds the seeming need for some folks to talk on them incessantly. I mean really, have you ever listened in on someone’s conversation only to determine in five seconds that it was so much blather? And I’ve really got to wonder if the recipient of the call is thinking the same thing.

If you’re in the grocery store and need to verify your list or check the status of an item in your pantry, go ahead and make the call. If you’re running late or will be delayed, go ahead and make the call. If you decided to order take out on your way home, go ahead and make the call. If you’re just calling to chat, I’d say make the call as long as you’re not: driving, walking in a crowded store, standing in line for any reason, within earshot of others who have absolutely no interest in your conversation, or participating in any activity that requires a modicum of your attention.

I believe I’m not the only one who gets a little annoyed when chatting cell phone users block store aisles, hold up the line, fail to look both ways as a pedestrian, mishandle a turn while driving because one hand’s on the phone, or exhibit any other rude, inattention-driven activity. It’s more annoying when it’s a disruption of solitude and concentration. There are certain places where and certain situations in which a ringing cell phone is, in my book, just this side of a cardinal sin. Church, for instance. Have we so abdicated decent manners that preachers and church bulletins have to remind us to turn cell phones off?

I was lucky enough to view the Grand Canyon from the North Rim recently. My appreciation of its grandeur and all that’s spectacular about our natural world was disrupted in less than two minutes by, you guessed it, a ringing phone… and an irritating ring tone at that. I’m happy to report that I was able to curtail my urge to grab the phone and heave it as far into the canyon as I could… what with littering and all.

I’m not comfortable using a cell phone in public, at least not within earshot of perfect strangers. Maybe I’m not that chatty. Verbose, yes; chatty, no. Besides, my personal business is just that. I was recently in the toothpaste aisle and could clearly overhear the conversation of a woman on a cell phone near me. I was stunned at the incredibly personal details she was discussing about a legal case in which she was involved. I admit: I continued staring at toothpaste and simply eavesdropped. When my significant other found me and asked what was taking so long, I nodded my head toward the woman and said, “Sssshhh. I’m listening. I think she’s about to reveal where they hid the body….”

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Long Distance… huh?

I received my phone bill yesterday, and it got me to thinking about the concept of long distance.

Since my cell service serves me in that capacity, I no longer carry a long distance connection on my land line. (Yes, I’m a bit of a dinosaur insomuch as I still even have a land line, but it’s one step at a time for me in this digital revolution.) It really wasn’t that long ago that land lines were required to have a long distance carrier. And the breakup of Ma Bell generated the advertising storm of switching services and cents per minute that fueled the broadcast media and direct mail for years. And that spawned the calling cards and the “dial 10-10…” numbers.

I remember learning to use the phone as a kid. Our exchange included letters. Maybe you remember that too. Ours was “Clifford 7” or “CL7” as I learned it. Numeric references took over by the time we moved when I was eight, and I learned my new phone number as “678” as opposed to its original “Orchard 8.”

Additionally, whenever I asked to make a call, it was always met with the query: “Do you have to dial a ‘1’ first?” Ah, the concept of dialing “1” for long distance…. It’s quickly becoming a fading memory. And the thrill of receiving a long-distance call! And running to get it. “Hurry, it’s long-distance!” The arrival of push button phones was cutting edge, and the families of the cool kids had them first. I remember wondering what the * and the # were for, and was told they’d be used for ‘something someday’ although no one could define what and when that would be over thirty-five years ago. In the meantime, they seemed to simply serve as symmetric placeholders for the dial pad.

Now we can’t live without * and # and there’s no more need to hurry for a long distance call. A minute is a minute is a minute. No longer does it cost more to call across the country than across the state, and in all likelihood, the phone is ringing right on your hip or in your pocket. And so long-distance calling quickly joins the memories of “touch tone,” dialing, party lines and switch board operators.

We proceed on through the 21st century.