Editor’s note: Life is even more complicated post-pandemic than pre-pandemic, but Alan was having trouble keeping up in 2019. Maybe he’ll update us next month on how he’s faring now.
I’m slowly losing my ability to function at even the simplest things, and I blame this on the fact that the simplest things are increasingly being complicated beyond my modest ability to keep up.
Case in Point 1: Televisions
I have been contemplating buying a new TV. I didn’t have one from about 2005 through 2011 — as a sort of detox after a lot of years working in network television. In 2011, I bought a to-me-staggeringly-cheap 27-inch computer monitor into which I could plug a laptop and thereby use it to watch downloaded movies and DVDs. I went into a big-box electronics store — I guess I can just say “Best Buy,” since I don’t believe there are any other “big-box electronics” stores left — and they were selling TVs bigger than me for the tiniest of prices. Costco has some amazing stuff, too.
I remember buying a projection screen TV the size of a refrigerator for about $2,000 in about 1998. It brought much joy, including an unexpected temporary surge of interest in video games. Next to the stuff you can buy now, though, this thing looks like a minivan parked next to a modern sports car, except the sports car cost much, much less than the minivan.
There is, you will not be surprised to learn, a catch.
The catch is that TVs have software now, and that software does not work with all forms of media. If I want one of the fancy TVs cheaply, I have to decide (I am told) which streaming platform I want to watch. Then I have to let the fancy TV connect to my smartphone.
Regular readers — all three of them — know how I feel about the smartphone. I hate the phone, I hate that increasing numbers of businesses will not interact with you without the phone, I hate the loyalties required from the producers, and to add the TV to this list of dismay is more than I can handle.
Plus, as I understand it (which I may not, but if I go that route the complaining wouldn’t be nearly as fun) Netflix and Amazon and Hulu and Chromecast and so on don’t like to talk to each other. This means that your TV, in addition to being an unintentional announcement of brand loyalty, also won’t play things you might want to watch if they aren’t on a compatible network. Comcast can suck it and DirecTV eventually found a place of not being much better, but at least they were willing to let me watch the five or 10 channels in which I was interested on a single television. I did not have to buy one TV for ESPN and Food Network, plus a bunch of adapters and pirating cables to drag in NBC and Animal Planet.
So I will remain televisionless, but at least I got half a column out of it.
Case in Point 2: Garbage
Here’s how garbage used to work: There were two big bins by the garage, and you put the stuff in them that you wanted taken away from your house, and once a week some people came by with a truck and emptied them. This was eco-unfriendly.
Then they added a green bin, which was for aluminum cans, glass bottles, and newspapers. This was fine. (Until they switched the green bin for a blue one, confusing me forever, and also these color-for-substance codes vary by municipality, and also at some point the second garbage became a recycling bin. I’m trying to do the right thing here but meet me partway maybe?)
Then bus-your-own-table places like Panera started recycling. Also fine.
Then they added another category: Recycling, composting, garbage. Then “garbage” became “landfill.” Then a second category of recyclable was added. Then they stopped listing what went in which bin with words, just icons. Then a helpful student told me that even one molecule of food on a recyclable piece of food packaging could destroy the whole batch. Then the icons got customized individually by each good-doing company, with no standardization. Now I have to pick from no fewer than three options every time I throw something away, which means I often wind up standing in front of a restaurant trash bin, paralyzed with fear that I will make a wrong decision despite my best intentions and be the doofus who contributes the final (plastic) straw that turns Earth into Planet Garbage.
I liked life better when I understood things.