Post-Christmas comments

Just a few comments that probably don’t fit in anywhere else…

Fayetteville Towne Center. I know I am always beating up on Ye Olde Towne Center but it’s so easy. Big boxes, not all of them connected, surrounding a truly gigantic sea of parking (with restaurants as distant islands). Seen in the early morning, the huge central lot is an almost cathedral-like space devoted to the sanctity of the automobile; a Tienanmen Square that has never seen a single revolutionary speech. If you should choose to walk from store to store, prepare to feel constant confusion as you approach each establishment’s door — there are no signs on the doors indicating what stores they are. (You’ll need to peer inside.) The store signs are all on the outside of the facade, facing the central parking plain, designed to be viewed by people in their cars. In other words, people are expressly intended to approach these stores only by car. You’re not supposed to be approaching these stores via the sidewalk. I don’t see good things in store for this plaza if an economic downturn continues to take shape. All malls will suffer, but this one perhaps more than others.

(Just out of curiosity… why are they the Shoppes at Towne Center, and not the Shoppes at Towne Centre? Would Centre have been too pretentious?)

Did anyone watch the WSYR Yule Log? I think that was a gas fireplace. Not very romantic. Either that, or someone dumped kerosene on the log and used the first 30 seconds as a loop. I prefer the original WPIX Yule Log. However, I am shocked at how well a fake fireplace on your TV facilitates warm holiday conversation.

I confess: I bought electronic gadgets for my loved ones this Christmas. (hangs head in shame) They were not asking for them. It was a surprise.

9 thoughts on “Post-Christmas comments

  1. Mrs. Mecomber

    Over here in New Hartford, we suffer from the same plague: asphalt fatigue.

    I made the mistake of grocery shopping at WalMart yesterday (real grocery shopping, not gift returns or discount-hunting). It was… crazy. Why oh why do developers plan such monstronsities? At least the cashier was pleasant.

    Didn’t see the Yule Log. How long has that tradition being going on? I think I remember something like that (WHEN-TV?) decades ago. Am I just getting old and senile?

  2. sean


    hey, i did the same thing with electronic gadgets. my kids have spent the week lost in instant messaging and madden 2007 and toting around portable dvd players. the challenge of this time, i think, at the risk of sounding like an old fogey, is that the technological change is eating into the muscle of informed thinking in a way that happened only, historically, with the introduction of television. there was no great change, except in convenience, from albums to casette to cd, for instance, or even from typewriters to word processing (what an awful term, a chicken slaughterhouse term, for writing). this new wave of ‘stuff’ gives all of us incredible ways of spending lots and lots time essentially to no end … yet none of it in any way can compensate for the single most important aspect of any democracy, which is reading and literacy. (i was thinking they ought to have a class in school where kids are allowed to instant message for 45 minutes – maybe with kids from some other part of the country – but are forced to do it correctly and grammatically, the pleasure and the payback, so to speak).

    actually, allow me to add an addendum to one point above. remember all the promises about how a cd would be such an incredible, unbreakable successor to the album? sound quality aside, i find them to be far MORE fragile and shorter lived than vinyl; the one good alternative is being able to use them in the car.


  3. Ellen Post author

    Mrs. M: The WSYR yule log is a new “tradition” but originally it was a longrunning feature on NYC’s WPIX. See here. I don’t think WHEN ever had anything like that but I could be wrong. Turns out I am wrong; my mother has informed me that WHEN did indeed have one of those.

    Sean: CDs are also more stealable too. When was the last time you heard anyone (even in the old days) lamenting that someone broke into their car, or even their house, and stole 50 of their LP’s?

    I think there was a car manufacturer (Buick?) that came up with a “car LP audio system” back in the ’50s. Really. You could play your records in the car (or specially made smaller ones).

    I waste so much time on the computer, not conversing with others or websurfing really (I have gotten good at being selective about that sort of online time), but just fooling around with various kinds of “creative” programs for my own amusement. None of this amusement really leads anywhere, though. It’s terrifying how much time you can waste twiddling and tweaking things.

    This is one reason why I decided to make my annual “toy” purchase (I generally buy just one major gadget for myself a year) a high quality digital camera; one that uses real lenses and has real options for light metering, shutter speed, aperture. Not quite as pro as a film camera, but it still requires me to learn some real-world photography skills. I had a point-and-shoot camera and software that would enable me to twiddle subpar shots and make them look good… the trouble was, I was spending hours and hours playing with the images via the software, a total time waster. Now I spend that time just culling good shots and bad shots taken by a superior camera, maybe cropping a little. I am learning to take better shots.

    High quality gadgets can be great things. It’s the lower-tier, cheaper ones that (to me) are the subtle time-wasters.

  4. Gear Of Zanzibar

    :::i think, at the risk of sounding like an old fogey, is that the technological change is eating into the muscle of informed thinking in a way that happened only, historically, with the introduction of television.:::

    At the risk of sounding like a pedant, you really need to take a closer look at history. The rigorous pursuit of critical thought may be our noblest calling, but the vast majority of people have *always* preferred to spend most of their time enjoying entertainment and frivolous chit-chat over “informed thinking”. This is not, in and of itself, a bad thing, since the foundation of any culture is how it spends it’s leisure time.

    As an example, look at Cicero. If you were only to read his letters you would find the historical equivalent of a teenager’s text messages, filled with gossip, lies, half-truths, snarky criticism of friends and enemies alike, and endless self-centered drama. *That* is what he spent most of his time doing.

    In comparison to that motherlode of frivolity his “serious” work, some of the greatest speeches on philosophy, law, and political thought in human history, is a drop in the bucket.

  5. sean

    i suppose the other point to be made is that popular education is a relatively new phenomenon, not much newer than television, really … if the span of a century or two is only a page in history. and that means the argument over whether a child of the working class ought to be reading, instead of texting, is an argument that wasn’t even on the table in the days before folks like horace mann.

    but i would still argue that even if it is the nature of human history to bath in a shower of cultural crap, we have created far more inventive, entertaining and hypnotic reasons for staying in the shower for a long, long time.


  6. Gear Of Zanzibar

    I think you’re falling into “The Trap of the Now”, the tendency for each generation to view itself as gloriously unique and wonderful, facing off against threats, within and without, that humanity has never before encountered.

    Rarely, if ever, is the Now truly unique.

    Adults have been decrying the frivolity of youth and the emptiness of “their” culture since written records began. Technology might change the details of the battle, but ultimately it’s the same generational struggle that we’ve been experiencing since we started walking upright.

    I’m genuinely interested in how the latest round works out, since I think there’s an exponential growth in the possibiities of each new communication technology, but I think you’re, perhaps, taking it a bit too seriously. Ease of communication is a *good* thing- each new iteration provides incredible benefits that far outweigh any negatives.

    Do people use them for “frivolous” purposes? Of course they do, but that’s the very essence of human nature. Look at the history of any major communications medium, be it the post, newspapers, telegrams, the telegraph, or radio, and you’ll find people issuing the same kind of dire warnings of impending disaster and soul-sapping frivolity. The historical track record of their accuracy is, to put it mildly, weak.

    For a great discussion of how nothing is really new, and why our hang-wringing over the dangers of the internet is particularly amusing, pick up a copy of “The Victorian Internet” by Tom Standage. If you’re up for a real slog take a look at the history of the postal service and the development of the telegraph network, both the optical and electrical versions. History repeats itself so perfectly each time that you would swear it was fiction written by a gleefully mad author.

  7. Mrs. Mecomber

    Thank you, Ellen’s mother, for proving that I am not senile! (just old).

    Sean, of course popular education is not new. And neither is social engineering. That doesn’t make Horace Mann right.

    Good points, Gear. Some wise guy way back when once said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” I quote it frequently. The older I get, the more I quote it. I have strong suspicion that the gleefully mad author is man himself. But just because frivolity is “natural” doesn’t make it right.

    “Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are here to overcome.”

  8. Ellen

    I don’t think history repeats, but as the saying goes, it does rhyme.

    I was once mildly crushed to learn that a woman with my exact name (including middle name, although it was spelled differently – and my middle name is not common) lived during the mid-19th century. I thought I was so unique.

  9. sean

    points understood. but i hear concerns about reading from close friends who teach, men and women who work on the front lines of literacy, people who deal closely with children every day. and there is also the evidence of my eyes, from simply watching the habits of my children.

    readers, in my experience, rarely build their skills – or their literary passion – upon melville or faulkner. as a kid, i read comic books and sports illustrated; you could certainly describe that as ‘frivilous chitchat,’ but it was also a way of developing muscles. i am glad when i see my daughter curled up with ‘people,’ rather than watching another vh1 reality show. was it phil or nyco who put it beautifully, that reading can be the first real subversive act?

    what has happened in the last 10 or 15 years is incomparable, as each communications revolution in history is incomparable. i make judgements based on what i observe, and what i hear from people who work with children. what they say, what studies show, is that people aren’t reading, certainly not as they once did.

    is there some alternative, some remedy?

    i hope so, but i worry. that’s my job. i’m a dad.


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