Saturday, July 05, 2014

It's a phone, it's a computer, it has too many buttons

The telephone, to me, has always been a tool. You know tools. Like that woogly one you bought 10 years ago to replace the faucet in the bathroom and haven’t used since.
I’ve never like telephones. I’ve always figured anyone who wants to talk to me badly enough to call must have some sort of separation anxiety and should probably work on that in therapy instead of bothering me while I’m on the toilet.
So it really bothered me when I realized I traveled enough it would only make sense to invest in a cell phone for safety reasons. That was eight years ago. I got the cheapest I could, a stone box you probably saw on “The Flintstones.” The one with the bird inside who carved the telephone conversation into granite and flew it off to whomever Fred was trying to call.
My cell phone was marvelous. I could call people on it. Period. I couldn’t text, I couldn’t take pictures, and if I ever wondered who played the oldest Von Trapp kid* in “The Sound of Music,” I could just wait until I got home to look it up. Seriously. It wouldn’t even bother me.
That phone was the size of a deck of cards that was missing most of three suits, and hardy as a Scotsman. I dropped it into a lake in 2008 and it still worked fine.
Of course, the day came when I had to get a new one. I held on as long as possible, but it was as hard to find parts for my talk-only phone as a 1946 DeSoto. When the battery went, I knew technology had past me by.
So my wife and I went to the phone store. It wasn’t called the phone store, but it was a store that sold phones, so it should have been.
Walking around the phone store was like walking around the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise. There were more screens flashing, chirping, and warning us we were approaching the Klingon Neutral Zone than should have been possible in such a small room.
With any of these telephones, the user could text, email, IM on Facebook, Tweet, update their blog, watch “The Walking Dead,” order pizza, and maybe – just maybe – place a telephone call. I bet any one of them could solve that Von Trapp kid problem if I’d bothered to touch one.
I’m not anti-technology. I love technology. Hulu is fantastic, I’m still somewhat humbled by the microwave, I like wiping a thermometer across a forehead instead of having to, uh, you know, and I appreciate, although am somewhat terrified by, the fact that I can see the outside of my house from my computer screen without ever having to get up from the couch.
So I was more than happy when my wife and I made it out of the store with a brand new cell phone each. Ones that we can call people on.
I’m surprised a company still makes them.

*Nicholas Hammond (Friedrich von Trapp) played Peter Parker in “The Amazing Spider-Man” TV series from 1977 to 1979. I don’t really care about “The Sound of Music,” but I do care about Spider-Man.

Jason Offutt’s latest book, “Across a Corn-Swept Land: An epic beer run through the Upper Midwest,” is available at The Daily Forum.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

You’re advertising what now?

The ad was out of place
My wife and I were watching a BBC teen comedy raunch-fest about a group of mismatched first year college students forced to share a house, when we noticed something odd.
“I noticed something odd,” my wife said in an amazing display of knowing precisely what I was going to write the next morning.
“You mean the commercial?”
She nodded. “It doesn’t really fit, does it?”
No, it did not. All the previous commercials for birth control and pimple cream went along with the theme of the show. Especially the birth control disclaimers, which, if these won’t keep young people from having sex, nothing will – symptoms include blood clots, sudden high fever, vomiting, diarrhea, fainting, liver tumors, high blood pressure, headaches, depression, weight gain, acne, and I believe your gall bladder explodes.
The odd commercial was for erectile dysfunction, and it was played during a program that’s core demographic were people who still get I.D.ed buying cigarettes. Why would a company run a commercial during a young person’s program featuring people who were basically Abe Vigoda and Olivia de Havilland getting frisky? By the way, both actors are still alive, and in their 90s.
A poll I’m not making up (I actually did read it, I just don’t remember where) shows 60 percent of Americans believe advertising is out of control. With ads on things we wear, an 87,000-square-foot KFC logo in the Nevada desert that can be seen from space, and erectile dysfunction commercials during what is basically the British version of Beavis and Butthead, I’m not surprised.
Astronauts love the DoubleDown.
The same poll showed 61 percent of Americans, who must have seen the Abe Vigoda/Olivia de Havilland commercial, have a negative opinion of advertising. Every time a lapful of cologne-scented cards falls from a magazine, I get the same feeling.
Of course, we can do nothing but deal with it.
Ad space makes up 50 percent of a magazine, and 60 to 80 percent of a newspaper. Radio stations run about 28 minutes of advertising every hour, and television runs 13:52 minutes an hour. Of course, that doesn’t take into consideration the 7:59 minutes of product placements within the programs themselves. The Internet? Pfft. Every web page looks like a NASCAR driver’s uniform.
Yeah. Deal with it.
I listen to sports talk in the morning while cooking breakfast for the kids before I shove them out the door to the school bus and go back to bed. No erectile dysfunction commercials. No, not here. Just commercials for testosterone replacement therapy (the Girl hasn’t asked what that is yet. Phew), and beer.
Beer commercials? At 6:30 a.m.? Who are they trying to reach? Sure, Bud Man has been hopelessly unemployed for decades, but I’d hope he has something more constructive to do than drink beer before 7 a.m.
I’m not against advertising. Heck, it paid my salary for almost 20 years. I just want it to get out of my face. There, I’m taking a stand. I won’t spend money on obnoxious advertising.
And ... I’m wearing a Kansas City Chiefs T-shirt. Wow. I’m part of the problem.

Jason Offutt’s latest book, “Across a Corn-Swept Land: An epic beer run through the Upper Midwest,” is available at