Where were we?

There’s a new series of TV ads for the iPhone running lately, in which ordinary folks stand up in front of a piece of black seamless paper and tell stories about how much they love their you-know-whats, sometimes supported with anecdotes. One features an airline pilot, who talks about how one of his flights had been condemned to a three-hour delay because of weather. “Three hours for a flight that would take one hour and 40 minutes,” he said, knowingly. Oh, man. We’ve all been there.

So, bored, he turned on the iPhone and checked weather.com, where he discovered the weather was actually clearing at the flight’s destination. He called the tower, told them the good news, and whaddaya know, they were cleared for takeoff p.d.q. Go buy an iPhone!

I didn’t greet this news with optimism, as it evidently informs us that a U.S. airport has fewer weather-prognostication tools than the Weather Channel, proprietors of weather.com. I think if most of us realized, on a daily basis, how much all the rest of us are flying by the seat of our pants, so to speak, we’d never leave the house. And yet the world soldiers on.

But the ad was on my mind when I read a non-irritating David Brooks column today, “The Outsourced Brain.” Brooks is at his best on this sort of neutral ground, and he makes an interesting observation — that the beauty of this new information age isn’t how it adds to our store of knowledge, but subtracts from it, by freeing us of having to remember a bunch of stupid crap. After noting his increasing reliance on his car’s GPS system, he writes:

It was unnerving at first, but then a relief. Since the dawn of humanity, people have had to worry about how to get from here to there. Precious brainpower has been used storing directions, and memorizing turns. I myself have been trapped at dinner parties at which conversation was devoted exclusively to the topic of commuter routes.

My G.P.S. goddess liberated me from this drudgery. She enabled me to externalize geographic information from my own brain to a satellite brain, and you know how it felt? It felt like nirvana.

Through that experience I discovered the Sacred Order of the External Mind. I realized I could outsource those mental tasks I didn’t want to perform. Life is a math problem, and I had a calculator.

Until that moment, I had thought that the magic of the information age was that it allowed us to know more, but then I realized the magic of the information age is that it allows us to know less. It provides us with external cognitive servants — silicon memory systems, collaborative online filters, consumer preference algorithms and networked knowledge. We can burden these servants and liberate ourselves.

I suspect he’s correct. I’ve already noticed the dulling of some of my once-ninja skills in some of these areas. I never used to forget a phone number; I could probably still tell you the numbers of my best friends in junior high school. Nowadays I know my own, and that’s about it, but it’s OK, because they’re all in my phone’s memory, and I don’t need to. I worry more about the loss of geographic knowledge, as geography is more important than any of us think, and not just in the is-Maple-north-or-south-of-Twelve-Mile sense, either. People evolved to be connected to the earth, their own particular patch of it, and being able to delegate it to a GPS unit doesn’t strike me as a huge improvement. Plus, jeez people, do we really need another electronic device to get distracted by?

I keep a compass on my kitchen table’s lazy susan, to remind me which way is north. Every house I’ve lived in until now was oriented square — north out the back door, south out the front, etc. Everything in GP is at an angle. Drives. Me. Nuts.

Bloggage? I got no bloggage for you today, people. Let’s play a game — you leave the bloggage for me to be amused by. And have a great weekend.

Posted at 8:18 am in Popculch, Same ol' same ol' |

30 responses to “Where were we?”

  1. Connie said on October 26, 2007 at 8:43 am

    A woman after my own heart. After a lifetime of trusting my internal compass I moved to Elkhart County and lost the ability. All the streets around Elkhart and Goshen are screwed cockeyed. I can stand on Main Street in Goshen and while my brain knows which way is North, my body screams that way is east.

    When we looked at this house the realtor said, “now you know, this deck faces west, it’s going to be hot and sunny in the afternoon and evening.” In fact as it turns out the deck faces south/southwest. Although in the neighborhood we all call it west, I suspect to avoid confusion.

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  2. Vince said on October 26, 2007 at 8:58 am

    DIY Bloggage. Love it. Here’s some.
    How does FEMA improve itself in California vs Louisiana? By being forthright, open, answering questions from all those pesky reporters.
    Only the “reporters” were FEMA’s own staff.
    It was a sham orchestrated from the top of the organization.

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  3. brian stouder said on October 26, 2007 at 9:17 am

    Here’s another DIY link. The story is serious, but also darkly entertaining.


    First, note that the FWCS spokesperson on the hotseat is a former J-G reporter…I bet it’s days like this one that she would prefer working at 600 W Main.

    Second – (and maybe this is a question for Kirk) – was the copy editor just havein’ a little fun, allowing this sentence about a school principal retiring during a sex scandal:

    As for Gentry’s retirement, Brown said Gentry might have rubbed some administrators the wrong way when she was vocal about not wanting the district to close Elmhurst High School as part of the $500 million building project.

    And third, considering that a 20ish female secretary and the female principal both resigned during this unfolding sex scandal, this sentence struck me as humorous

    Retired district administrator Leon Youngpeter will serve as interim principal, Stockman said. “Leon’s very steady, and he’ll get us through until we formally name a permanent principal,” Corona said.

    edit – and for the record, I honestly could not tell you the first three digits of my cell phone number, if my life depended on it

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  4. Dorothy said on October 26, 2007 at 9:42 am

    My parents had the same phone number from 1947 until 1992. I was able to memorize their new number after dialing it a few times. Then they moved into assisted living in June 2005, and two months later my dad died. My mom moved out and went into a new apartment (she needs no assistance, thank goodness) and got a cell phone and a new apartment line. I can’t remember either number because they are stored in my cell phone’s memory!

    But I do remember a phone number from high school. Best friend Pam: 242-2029 (say it out loud a couple of times – it’s almost musical, it’s so easy to remember!)

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  5. Dave K. said on October 26, 2007 at 10:06 am

    When I was growing up, I could stand outside our house, hear the train whistle, and know that direction was North. The swimming pool was South. The cemetery was West and the football field and high school was East. I still find myself mentally using thse points of reference, 40 years later.

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  6. LA mary said on October 26, 2007 at 10:15 am

    When I moved from the east coast to the west coast, I was completely messed up for months. I oriented towards water being to the east, not west.

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  7. Sue said on October 26, 2007 at 10:22 am

    I know where I am in my own town, and I know where I am if I know where Lake Michigan is (always east, here in Wisconsin). Outside of those comfort zones, I am seriously directionally challenged. It’s just not there. I don’t remember what my phone number used to be, or my friends’, but going to a Catholic school in the sixties, I do remember the Pope’s phone number: et cum spiri-2-2-0. Sorry.

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  8. Connie said on October 26, 2007 at 10:45 am

    Mary and Sue, I grew up on the other side of Lake Michigan in Holland, and it is just down right wrong for the sun to rise over the water. Lakes are for sunsets.

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  9. nancy said on October 26, 2007 at 10:59 am

    Brian, I noticed Mr. Youngpeter’s name yesterday and thought of mentioning it, but erred on the side of maturity. Glad to see someone else is willing to do it for me.

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  10. brian stouder said on October 26, 2007 at 11:01 am

    At your service!

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  11. Bartleby said on October 26, 2007 at 11:30 am

    Ah, yes, the external silicon mind.

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  12. Sue said on October 26, 2007 at 11:58 am

    Hi Connie, we try to make it to a sunset at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park every summer (Pierce Stocking Road site). It is beautiful, agreed. And I can’t say anything about Lake Michigan sunrises, because it is against everything I stand for to get up early for anything but work. Still, knowing I can greet the day at the lake if I wanted to feels right to me, being an Illinois/Wisconsin girl. On a related note, do you folks on the east side of the lake have a saying similar to my dad’s: “Ehh, walk east ’til your hat floats”? (You would say west, of course.)

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  13. alex said on October 26, 2007 at 11:59 am

    He’s really an Oldpeter being called out of retirement.

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  14. WP Denver said on October 26, 2007 at 12:00 pm

    Vince – Thx for great link re FEMA’s fake press conference. It’s so good, I might just pass it along to a friend or two.

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  15. Danny said on October 26, 2007 at 12:37 pm

    Phone numbers. I used to have literally a hundred or so memorized. Then the area codes multiplied and I became lazy. But with directions, it was always a loss for me. Growing up in Maryland, it seemed impossible. Every road was as crooked as a dog’s leg in accommodation to the contours of the Chesapeake Bay and the meanderings of the numerous river and stream tributaries. Even most of the freeways were unfathomable circles of hell, otherwise known as beltways. Inner loop or outer loop? Clockwise or Counter-clockwise? Is Towson south of here? No, it’s counter-clockwise until you get to the 12 o’clock postion. Geez.

    Had I grown up in Omaha, where I did live for a spell as a young adult, I would have had no problem. Not only can one witness the curvature of the earth in Nebraska, but the roads have the familiar mid-western east-west/north-south grid etching out a pattern of reliability that cocoons the mind with placid regularity.

    Anyone interested in a map of me in relation to the fires (and other points of interest) can see it here. Note that to the north, where the fire got the closest, there is nothing but Black Mountain’s hilly surroundings filled with chaparral that has not burned in at least two decades. It’s due.

    One funny anecdote I forgot to mention. We have wine glasses from Witch Creek Winery which is the area where this fire started. Very cool glasses with an arch-backed black cat emblem. I decided to drink some shiraz out of them that Sunday night, using them as a talisman in my own little pagan passover ritual. Better than putting the wine on the door frame.

    Editorial note: if you save the jpeg to your computer, you should be able to zoom in nicely to see other details of my surroundings, including the 56 freeway where there is a bike path, partially wooded, that runs parallel, all the way to the I-5. Then a short hop on surface streets takes me to Torrey Pines state park where there is a wonderful hill for climbing that overlooks the ocean. This sorta offsets the wildfires and earthquakes.

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  16. Mindy said on October 26, 2007 at 12:58 pm

    The only phone number I know for certain is the one for my vet. It never got put on speed dial because I didn’t think it needed to be. But then all three of my Labradors endured multiple health problems so I was forever calling her office. The only bad thing about this would come in an emergency because that’s the only number I can recall instantly. And that office is no longer the 24 hr. emergency veterinary hospital. so I’d be in big trouble.

    My best bud has the same phone number as mine except for the last two digits. Mutual friends sometimes get it wrong, calling me when they want to talk to her. “Hello, Cathie?” they ask. And I answer, “No, but I’ve got a friend named Cathie.” Yes, I have to stop and think about her phone number even though it’s nearly the same as mine. I don’t call myself, which means I have to work at remembering my own number.

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  17. Mindy said on October 26, 2007 at 1:05 pm

    Oh, you requested amusing bloggage. I have no bloggage, just something amusing. Anne Taintor has altered my life. I have calendars, a day planner, postcards, and flour sack towels and an ID case that reads, ”of course it buys happiness”. Be amused.


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  18. John C said on October 26, 2007 at 1:13 pm

    I know there are a few Tribe fans out there still licking your wounds. But I hope you enjoy this bit of Red Sox bloggage. It’s all over the TV in Boston. But I live in Detroit. (a few miles southeast??? of NN.C) So I have to go find it on Youtube.

    Most atheletes celebrate championships like, well, dorks. (Witness Kevin Youkilis’ dance in this clip.) Then there is Jonathan Papelbon, the Sox’ flamethrowing closer known for his menacing glare from the mound. Watch this and try and tell me this isn’t a man who dances to his own drummer … in his underwear. Watch him start using his arms and you can almost hear the choreographer in his head saying: “Use the field Jonathan!)

    If the link doesn’t work, go to YouTube and look for “papelbon dances”.

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  19. MichaelG said on October 26, 2007 at 2:00 pm

    Are you sure about the Pope’s phone number, Sue? I always heard it was Vat 69. Maybe one’s his cell.

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  20. nancy said on October 26, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    John, you’ll like this one, too:


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  21. Dorothy said on October 26, 2007 at 2:39 pm

    Oh Mindy, I’m an Anne Taintor lover, too! Almost 4 years ago when my daughter was preparing to leave for her semester in England, she bought some Anne Taintor post cards. She showed me a few, but saved some to be surprises and she mailed them to me from the U.K. The one I keep on my refrigerator all the time says “My garden kicks ass!”

    I’ve turned on a few friends here at my office to her stuff. She’s great!

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  22. Carter said on October 26, 2007 at 2:42 pm

    I note, Nancy, that you start your article off with “Just like how..”, a grammatical choice of “like” that takes me back to the “Winston tastes good like/as..” controversy of the early 60’s. The way you assemble that first sentence has a certain aw-shucksiness to it, but wouldn’t “as” have been better as in “Just as his cars…”?
    While I’m at it, another wince-worthy usage is the one Alex used in his comment, when he says “where I’m at” instead of “where I am”.
    As to the Saarinen angle, a local school near me outside Chicago is a Saarinen design. http://www.winnetka36.org/ci/ci_brief_history.htm

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  23. Sue said on October 26, 2007 at 3:00 pm

    MichaelG, I think we’re both going to hell. Along with so many others…

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  24. Julie Robinson said on October 26, 2007 at 3:03 pm

    Mindy, I love it! I just ordered Anne Taintor goodies for my boss, who has a birthday coming up. I chose a notepad with “she had not yet decided whether to use her power for good… or for evil”, and a magnet that says “more paperwork please”. What great stuff–thank you!

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  25. Andrea said on October 26, 2007 at 3:26 pm

    Danny, the Baltimore Beltway system makes perfect sense to me, for whatever reason. As long as you know where Essex, Towson, Pikesville and Glen Burnie are, you’re all set. I find the PA “highway” and turnpike system harder to navigate, especially near Philadelphia, but I think that’s more due to poor signage on the part of PA than anything else.

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  26. Mindy said on October 26, 2007 at 7:44 pm

    “And best of all is the matching thong.”
    “Make your own damn dinner.”
    “You’ll eat it. You’ll eat it and like it.”
    “She could no longer deny he wasn’t an idiot.”
    “You say lazy like it’s a bad thing.”
    “Someone called….about something.”

    Everyone on my Christmas list gets a magnet this year!

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  27. sue said on October 26, 2007 at 9:18 pm

    Just ordered $60 worth of Anne Taintor stuff. Too perfect.

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  28. basset said on October 27, 2007 at 12:16 am

    Irony has its place, I suppose, but it’s getting hard to avoid and that’s tiresome.

    Meanwhile, bloggage: customerssuck.com

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  29. Danny said on October 27, 2007 at 5:57 pm

    You know, I really have to agree with Michael Chertoff about this one. Man, there are some stupid people on this planet. Unbelievable.

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  30. brian stouder said on October 27, 2007 at 8:08 pm

    Danny – interesting map/imagery up there. Thanks for sharing, and for giving us a first-person point of view.

    Here’s hoping for a BORING Christmas/New Years/Valentines/Easter/Memorial/Fourth!!

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