Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Those two four-letter words

Your mother doesn't read this post . . . so it's safe to come clean. I'm betting that some time, in the past couple of months in particular, you've said these two four-letter words, back-to-back.
#staywarm ?

Someone, possibly a total stranger, probably also said them to you. And when they did, you gave a wry little smile and probably muttered, "You, too."  And maybe you felt a little better, but didn't really know why. Those two words?

"Stay warm."  There- now I've said them, too.

Over the past few months, during this winter of wonder, we've all heard it said lots. At the coffee shop or the reception desk, on the phone with a client or my aunt, or in an email or voice mail sign-off, "stay warm" has become a seasonal replacement for "have a nice day." Of course you can't have a nice day - the wind chill is umpteen degrees below zero and you're performing yet another reverse winter striptease (boots, coat, gloves, scarf, hat - bada bing!). Scrape your windshield for the third time today, get out the parking lot, gravity-defying snow hurtles sideways, and a trip that should take 15 minutes takes 45.

It all adds up - and it all takes a little bit away, too. While preoccupied with tasks necessary to just go about your business, it's hard to "have a nice day."

But you can work to keep warm - for most of us, it's not as if we're on the street, fighting to survive (but for those who are out there, the sentiment - and the danger - is very real).

Mostly, though, our intent seems to wish that others fare well in making it through the day and the rest of the winter. To "stay warm" is to stay healthy, to "take care" to not slip and fall (and "crack your head open") and to not become involved in a multi-car accident on the Shoreway.

As with the many of our routine greetings, the connection has been broken between the words and the genuine sentiment behind them. When we say "Gesundheit," "hello,"  "goodbye," and "farewell," it's a rote exercise instilled in us by culture and family members.

So if you strangely feel a little more connected when someone tells you those two little words, you may just have your mom to thank. She's likely the one that bundled you up with scarves and mittens and genuine concern for your daily welfare.

And she's the one who most sincerely wished for you to, "Stay warm."

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The three minute AT&T invoice

The transition of media has always evoked equal parts fear, loathing, and excitement. The evolution of long narrative oral and lyric forms to the novel was considered vulgar to many ("Prose? Simply barbaric.") Silent movies, talkies, jazz, radio, television, violent video games, the web, rap and so on  – media and art forms spontaneously form, mutate, blend together, and fade to the background in a process that has accelerated to dizzy rates.
The latest twist? An email, with a detailed explanation from AT&T of an invoice for voice, internet and TV services . . . through a link to a personalized video.

In other words, a video invoice.
While video delivered via the internet is well over 15 years old, it really was made broadly accessible by the birth of YouTube on Valentine’s Day, 2005.  At first, web video was all about skateboard tricks, cute kittens, and a 4 minute lesson on the evolution of dance.

Telling stories, explaining concepts, getting elected, entertainment. Got it.

However, this detailed cinematic explanation of my father-in-law's monthly $100+ AT&T bill was the first I've seen. The video is just under three minutes, the traditional length of popular songs — coincidence? "Hey, play me that direct payment again, will ya?"

So is all this useful? Necessary? Don’t know.

A bit odd?


Would have liked to be in the meeting when some brave soul suggested committing corporate resources and reputation to this media. But I’m not dismissing the effort – it may be wildly popular with AT&T customers and imitated by competitors.

Who knows? Maybe as media, technology and art forms evolve and mash-up, the result could be stories such as these :     

  • “LED searchlights draw spectators who 'crowdcontrol' color selection via smartphones”
  • “Drones selected by Ohio to administer capital punishment”
  • “Robots now primary creators of social media content.”
That is, if the robot writer's guild isn't above a little self-promotion.