Saturday, November 27, 2010

Me, My Blackberry, And The Reasons Of Love

I got a Blackberry about a week ago.  It's a Blackberry Bold 9650, and it looks like this, except instead of this cool city photo I have the stupid Verizon logo on my home screen:

It's a little funny that I got a Blackberry, because I'm the ultimate Mac fan-girl.  I'm the sort of person who, when forced to use a Windows machine, is constantly complaining about how I can't figure out how to do simple things like "save as pdf" from the print screen, or whatever, and who gets all mad at the stupid inelegance of the system.

So the relationship between BB and me was sort of an arranged marriage.  It's not that we were so fond of one another; it's more that things like "the great Verizon data plan for North America plans" tipped the balance away from the iPhone.

So it was with some trepidation that I brought BB home.  And honestly, in the beginning, it wasn't looking so good.  Things that seemed to me completely basic just aren't available on the Blackberry, like the option to make an email account temporarily inactive.  I do this on my iPod touch every night before I go to bed, because I don't want to wake up, see the little "email icon," be tempted to look at my mail, and have my rest disturbed.  That is, I want things like "browser, ON" and "email, OFF" at the same time. Is that so much to ask?

I googled and googled, and finally found a page where my question was raised.  The answer?  "BB isn't really set up for that." Hmmm.

Actually, the main source of tension in the house wasn't between BB and me so much as between BB and Mac.  They don't like each other, and they don't want to interact.  I downloaded the "Desktop Manager for Mac" from Research In Motion and it's useless -- it doesn't seem to do anything.

In a way I understand:  they represent two different philosophies of life, two totally different styles.  So how could they want to cooperate?   In a way though, it's a little outrageous.  You're telling me Research in Motion can't figure out how to set up basic sync of contacts and so on with Mac OS?  How hard can it be?

I solved the problem, in the end, by bringing in an intermediary, a go-between, a peacemaker.  Goes by the name of Google.  Google, turns out, can talk to BB, and talk to Mac, even if they won't talk to each other.  So I set up my Google contacts and calendar to sync with both, and even though it has the aspect of a giant pointless game of telephone, in practice it is working well.

So you can see why, in those first few days, I'm thinking, Dude, you are so going to back to the Verizon store, because this is just not working out.  Goodbye Verizon.  I'm sucking it up, moving to AT&T, getting an iPhone.

But over the following week, something surprising happened:  I changed my expectations.  I started appreciating all the things unique to BB, like the excellent keyboard design, the no-nonsense fonts and style, and the physical object itself, which is beautifully designed.  You can hold it in one hand, and type with your thumb, while your other hand is holding your purse or opening a door or whatever.  Can't do that on an iPhone.  Or, at least, I can't.

After I started appreciating BB's good qualities, rather than focusing on its limitations, I started to have that proper feeling one has for a gadget that is important in one's life:  the feeling of love.  You're going to deal with this object a zillion times a day, you gotta have some love.  Otherwise it's just an endless struggle.  This is why I'm always amused when people express their indignation with Mac.  Look, I love my Mac.  You don't have to love it, and thus you don't have to buy one. But don't act like it's somehow a character deficiency in me if I do.  We're out of the realm of rational thought here.

And that's true for love of people, too.  Sometimes you hear people talking about love as if they could respond to a person's qualities, and thus find "the right person for them."  "Oh, I'd like a non-smoker, someone with a good sense of humor, someone with the right kind of career.  Must like bird-watching, white-water rafting, the movies of Werner Herzog. . ."

Sure, you can hope for certain qualities, which will surely have something to do with long term living together.  But they're not the main thing in love.  The main thing in love isn't the qualities the person has, it's seeing the person's qualities in the right sort of way.  The love itself, it's not based on reasons.

BB and me, I think it's going to work out.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Branding Canada: The "Amity" Solution

I'm an American living in Canada.  I've been here long enough to start to feel attached to my new home.  But now that I'm "turning Canadian," I'm hyper-aware of all the ways in which Canada just doesn't get the respect it deserves.  It's a great country, but what do people associate with Canada?  Hockey, Tim Hortons, the occasional moose.  For most of us, it's not the kind of list that stirs the imagination.

I think what Canada has is a branding problem.  You know, we American's are always up on the latest bullshit, and the latest bullshit is branding.  OK -- so it's kind of 1990s bullshit -- but still, this just shows how bad things have gotten, because you gotta admit that branding-wise, Canada is behind the 8-ball.

You know they know something's wrong because they put the name "Canada" everywhere.  On bridges, on posters, on anything that is national, you'll see the Canada symbol with the little maple leaf.  You don't see that in the US.  The US doesn't need to say "US" every five seconds, because everyone knows the US is one of the big dogs.  People bring it out to make points about stuff but it's not on bridges and signs, that's for sure.

So in spite of trying, that "Canada" everywhere has always seemed to me a sign of -- well, of insecurity.

What we need up here, it seems to me, are more of those kind of idealistic, overblown, self-image things that move the heart before the mind has a chance to get too analytical.  Like, you know, when Americans say "freedom" -- it gets us all wound up before we get bogged down thinking about our various lack of freedoms and our coercive practices on other nations and all those ... you know ... ugly details.

And since you've read the title of this piece, you know where I'm going with this.  The place to start is with the motto, and I propose amity.  You know how the French are all, "liberté, egalité, fraternité"?  Well, we're gonna be all "amitié, dude."

Here's what amity as a motto has going for it:

First and most importantly, it's accurate.  Canada is friendly.

Of course, Canada known for the friendliness of its people.  The recent Times story about immigration cited actual immigrants to Manitoba saying things like, "everyone said the people are really friendly, and it's actually true."  How many places can you say that of?

More importantly, though, Canada adopts friendliness in its relations with other nations.  It's a peace-keeping nation, a nation that builds relationships, a nation that tries to be nice and not to throw its weight around.  "But, Afghanistan!" you'll say.  Meh.  Details, details.  These kinds of symbols can't be undone by pesky little facts.  If there's one thing you learn about branding from the US, it's that only the big picture makes any difference.

Also, "amity" is the kind of motto that could actually go up against some other mottos and win.  It's no weakling.  I mean, pit it against "freedom," and the results are really non-obvious.  I mean, it's nice to be free, but if everyone's against you and you got no friends?  Not so great, after all.

Plus, friendship is such a twenty-first century concept.  Sure freedom was nice when everyone had eight million square miles of their own.  But now we're living on top of each other, polluting one another's air and water, driving the planet to ruin -- time for some fucking friendship!

The final reason "amity" makes such a nice motto for Canada is that it has elegant, and similar, expressions in both French and English.  Hell, it's even a word derived from French.

So really, I can't see any problems.  I don't have the mental energy to turn this into any sort of movement, but if you happen to be reading and you have the ear of the prime minister, let him know about my idea, OK?  I will thank you, and Canada will thank you, I assure you.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Women's Sexuality Makes People Believe Peculiar Things

Stephen Fry
Maybe you followed the kerfuffle prompted by Stephen's Fry's saying recently that women don't like sex.  Excerpt from the Guardian story:
"I feel sorry for straight men. The only reason women will have sex with them is that sex is the price they are willing to pay for a relationship with a man, which is what they want," he said. "Of course, a lot of women will deny this and say, 'Oh no, but I love sex, I love it!' But do they go around having it the way that gay men do?"
I try to ignore stuff like this because it's stupid, and because it's annoying, and because if you think long enough about what set of mental attitudes prompt people to say it, you just get annoyed and depressed.

Keith Richards

But I was amusingly reminded of his saying that when I read the recent discussion of Keith Richard's memoir in The New Yorker. Keith, discussing girls at his show:
"They nearly killed me.  I was never more in fear for my life than I was from teenage girls.  The ones that choked me, tore me to shreds, if you got caught in a frenzied crowd of them -- it's hard to express how frightening they could be.  You'd rather be in a trench fighting the enemy than be faced with this unstoppable, killer wave of lust and desire, or whatever it is -- it's unknown even to them."
Keith also claims he's never "put the make on a girl" in his life.  They just come to him.  Not just girls but women in general.

Certainly Fry's view is not so idiosyncratic.  Lots of people think women don't want or like sex.

On the other hand, I hope we can all agree on one thing:  no one, of any age, is seeking out sex with Keith Richards because they're hoping for happily ever after.  Actually, you could write a whole blog post just on the issue of why, exactly, Keith Richards is attractive -- cause obviously he is, but the reasons are somewhat mysterious.  It seem evident no evolutionary biology explanation is going to be forthcoming.  But let's leave that aside for another day.  As I say, the point here is just, if you're throwing yourself at Keith Richards you're not hoping for When Harry Met Sally.  You're looking to have sex with Keith Richards.  And evidently, wanting that can make you crazy.

So which is it, kids?  Are women sexless or oversexed?  Bored or out of their minds with lust? 

Probable there's a respectable and intelligent conclusion to draw about this, like women-are-different and you-can't-overgeneralize -- obviously true.  And yet, I feel a more interesting and more disturbing explanation lurks in here somewhere.

The disturbing explanation is that what women are interested in isn't always what the guys in their lives have to offer; what they are interested in is something more along the lines of ... well ... Keith.  Or Mick -- Mick would surely do just as well. 

Then the image of women as not-really-wanting-or-enjoying-sex would then be the sort of thing people come to believe not because it's true, but because what women want isn't always what every guy is offering, and people just draw the wrong conclusions from that.  I remember reading Simone de Beauvoir a couple of years ago, and how she said that one thing about sexism is the way men have constructed an idea of women that is what they want women to be.  I thought it was interesting and apt.

Indeed, part of what's so annoying about the whole evolutionary biology thing is how often the "explanations" it comes up with fit the image of women that's just what would suit men best: oh, gee, women are naturally sort of monogomous! men are naturally really not! hm, interesting!

Anyway, as I've probably mentioned in this space before, Richard Russo pretty much gave the final answer about women in Straight Man.  What do women want?  "Everything," just like men do.   The interesting thing is what they'll settle for.