Tuesday, April 20, 2010

It's The End Of The World As We Know It

My youngest son, as did my two older children before him, is learning to play the recorder as a school project.  He wanders around the house piping out "Ode to Joy" and other recorder mega-hits, but we don't mind.  Maybe he is the next Zamfir.  He also is learning to play the guitar, in the process becoming the first actual musician in our household.   
I never learned to play a musical instrument and have always regretted it. Later in her life, my oldest sister learned the piano and now is a beautiful player who can master the most difficult compositions. However, we were not a musical family. As a third child with much older siblings, I instead was left to fend for myself. I experimented with high voltage electricity, played with matches, fell out of trees, trespassed, and did all the things that overlooked third children do to entertain themselves.  Music was not part of the program.  Who knows, I might have been a natural, but no one bothered to find out.   So, thinking that now was the time to see if I had some sort of heretofore undiscovered savantism, last Christmas I bought myself an electric guitar.  I am learning to play, but my hoped-for hidden talent apparently lies elsewhere.   There will be no shortcuts for me. If, as Malcolm Gladwell hypothesizes, it takes 10,000 hours of applied effort to become proficient at any endeavor, I am looking at a 27-year learning curve if I practice one hour a night five times a week.  Looks like I waited a little too long to get busy with this.
Something else musically interesting is happening in our home.  My wife, who spends more time in the car with the kids than I do, has adopted the FM radio tastes of my soon-to-be-teenaged daughter-Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber.  I have no idea who these people are. Well, maybe Lady Gaga, and not because of her music but because she goes around wearing a fruit basket on her head.  I admit to being a bit of a music snob, so my future wife amazed me in 1987 when I learned that she preferred R.E.M. and Bruce Springsteen to Earth, Wind, and Fire and the Gap Band.  Clearly, she was an exception to the funk-loving women of her generation and was thus exceptional. Alas, no more.

But while my wife's musical tastes are evolving (I guess), mine seem to be regressing. I can appreciate a fine funky groove, but I like my music two ways: loud and hard. This, however, is a recent development. The bands that were too loud and had too much hair for me in the 1970s are now on the first-team.  Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, AC/DC, ZZ Top, even Jethro Tull.  Tull is an exception to my guitar preference but I respect that he was able to make the flute a hard rock instrument.  He must have watched alot of H.R. Pufnstuf or something.
Last year I bought a Sonos music system for our house.  It is the best thing ever. It allows me to stream music from my computer to any Sonos-enabled room in the house. There's just one problem. No one in my house likes my music.  When I want to "get the Led out" I have to do it when no one is at home.  I'm Peter Brady, having the party that no one attends.  Even the dog runs outside.  What is happening? Am I turning into a midlife burnout? My wife thinks so. She has become Fergie and I am Jeff Spicoli.  Somehow we are making it work.

"Aloha, Mr. Hand!"

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Too Much Information (Not Enough Truth)

The internet, for all its myriad and wonderful benefits, has a dark side.  It gives everyone a forum and, unfortunately, not everyone deserves one.  This is symptomatic of the always-on, always- connected culture that the internet has fostered.  Put a person in front of a microphone and chances are that they will feel compelled to say something.  Give a person an internet connection and the same thing happens.  Everyone wants a say, even if no one else wants to hear it.  Negative feedback doesn't sting nearly as much as boos and catcalls, so there is little downside to broadcasting your opinion. As a result we now are awash and liable to be swamped by the (dis)information of the Information Age. There is way too much information and too little veracity out there.  

I got an email last month warning me that the passage of the healthcare bill would mean medical coverage for illegal aliens.  How many emails do you get each day containing some purported fact like this that makes you say, "Huh?"  I mean, really.  Since illegal aliens cannot vote, why would any legislator champion such legislation that he/she knew would be universally derided by those who CAN vote?  Exactly. Since this made no sense to me, I decided to confirm it on the websites snopes.com and factcheck.org. In about forty seconds I was able to verify that this claim had no factual basis.  Of course.

It goes on and on. Interestingly, given that Republicans are without much of a voice on Capitol Hill at the moment, they seem to have found a forum on the internet.  The majority of these alarmist emails I receive seem to have a right-wing bent to them, although I am certain that both parties are equally adept at fear mongering. When the Republicans retake the Hill, the Democrats will crank up their own disinformation program.  The party out of power and its disenfranchised adherents must operate on the fringes, content to fight a guerilla war of words and obfuscation while waiting their turn.  Why is the national mood so divisive these days? I daresay that the proliferation of these hardline views and the ease of access to them contributes more than a little to our collective funk.  People naturally seem more willing to accept as true something outrageous when it squares with their own beliefs or casts a negative light on the opposing side. However, when everyone talks and no one listens, the net result is shouting, not progress.

So, for the good of the country, I am taking a stand.  Send me your politically-tainted emails if you must, but do so with the knowledge that I am-even at the risk of bringing bad luck down on myself or of not receiving a $500 Best Buy gift card for sending this along to ten friends-not going to attempt to influence my friends by passing along to them stories that they most likely will not attempt to verify. Everyone can thank me later.