Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Decade of the Little Guy

The man on the sidewalk, reclining in his folding chair but clearly not relaxed, held a sign in his hands detailing the dealerships many sins against him. He'd been cheated, you see, and evidently had achieved no personal satisfaction in his wranglings with the car dealership. Clearly frustrated, angry, and determined, he sat and waved his sign at passing traffic, in what was an act of near futility in the broiling sun.

"Whoa, what do you suppose they did to him?" my husband asked.

"No idea, but that is one honked off car owner." I replied, and we went on our way.

It is funny how that image stuck in my mind all these years because it's been more than ten years since I saw that truly ticked off customer, trying to exact his small act of revenge. Searching for his small portion of justice.

Oh what a change a decade has brought. There are a lot of articles, blogs and lists musing about what the first decade of this century has contained, but I think the biggest among them is that the little guy is no longer quite so little. No more is there little recourse. If an entity does us wrong, we can talk about it, at length, here on what used to be known as the Information Highway.

Today that man wouldn't take up magic markers, and poster board, risking skin cancer and dehydration, he'd jump on the internet, and he'd share his tale of woe with anyone who cared to look. A simple search using the dealership's name would turn up a long list of a people, venting their spleens.

The internet has brought us much, and it has changed customer service. Or at least it should have but some companies have been slow to catch on and are having a bit of trouble keeping up. United Airlines probably took the most famous face-plant of 2009 in terms of addressing customer concerns when they not only broke a guitar belonging to the lead singer of The Sons of Maxwell, they decided rather famously to not make restitution.

This led to this much watched video on Youtube which at the present time has over 7 million hits on it, and this is not the only posting of that video:

United Airlines no doubt ended up taking the "no publicity is bad publicity" stance but that catchy little tune went viral and was seen across the globe. Not exactly the best association for customers to have. In days gone by the singer might have had to take to a lawn chair on a public sidewalk to voice his complaints, now a world of possibility exists when someone, or some company has done us wrong.

A friend on the internet mentioned watching the 1979 movie Friendly Fire and how heart breaking it was. I remember it well, a heartbroken mother struggles to find answers about her son's death, and is stonewalled at every turn. She continues to do battle relentlessly and eventually learns the truth, but just imagine this situation today, with every electronic media service picking up the story.

It wouldn't change the tragic nature, but we no longer live in a world where things can flourish in the dark. We aren't as helpless and alone. We can be better informed about the entire world around us with just a few clicks.

In the mid-1960s, my mother, newly transplanted from Scotland, drove herself almost to distraction searching for "Corn Flour" in the wilds of Indiana as my father filled in for a friend on sabbatical from Purdue. My mother loathed Indiana and thought she was going to die of homesickness the entire time she was there. Scotland seemed a million miles away, and she couldn't even find a decent cup of tea. Corn Flour turned out to be cornstarch, by the way, but it took her years to find that out.

Today she'd be able to comparison shop for Bird's Custard rather than crying into her terrible cup of Indiana brewed tea over the scarcity of it.

I've been on the internet since the mid-1990s, back when we all spoke baud fluently and if you announced that you'd just bought a "28-8" it was considered a scorching connection, although hardly any servers could handle one so rapid.

In the last decade, insomnia ceased to be the most isolating feeling any of us can have. Can't sleep? Don't worry, someone across the world is likely up, and even if they aren't there is a bottomless supply of material at our fingertips.

I've seen so many blog posts, articles and lists pondering the decade. They're all very interesting, and I've enjoyed them greatly, but sometimes I think we've become immune to the fact that, thanks to the internet, our world is only as small as we choose to make it. The internet age really dawned in the 90s, but in the past ten years, it has become a mainstay in many a household.

Not feeling well? Type in your symptoms, and there are answers at your fingertips. We no longer need rely solely on the diagnosis of a local sawbones, we are empowered.

Much has been made of the fact that people in Iran twittered their way through an uprising, and attempts by a repressive government to silence the voice of a people failed.

The age of wonder. The age of an existence with boundaries that we define for ourselves. You can audit high level classes from a seated position in your living room these days. That is an everyday occurrence. We can be exposed to so much, some of it bad, some of it strange, but much of it highly informative.

I ran across something amusing in the journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery, one of the sets of books I read in the last ten years. Rather famously she described Anne Shirley as having Titian hair, a fact that became rather central in a lawsuit against her publishers. You see, Montgomery had only ever read the term, she had no idea what shade of red she was describing when she used it. Now, with some decent typing skills, and a handy search engine we can all know what Titian hair looks like. We need only form a question in our minds to be within seconds of finding a multitude of answers.

It's been a long ten years, and sticklers for accuracy will say that the new decade does not begin until 2011 has dawned. When I think of what happened in the past ten years, I think about how much I know about what has happened in those ten years.

Including the fact that if United breaks a Taylor guitar people across the globe can end up knowing about it.

2009 was a disappointing year in terms of what wasn't accomplished, but how much I know about that is nothing short of a technological miracle. We are only as limited now as we choose to be, in what we know.

When historians look back, I don't think they'll have any difficulty in spotting the progress we made. Perhaps we don't because we are living that advancement. Having it become our norm, taking our expansion for granted, and that is a wondrous thing.

A decade of wonder in which the little guy found a strong voice, and in some cases sang a catchy tune.


Nancy said...

Great post. The last decade changed everything in terms of knowing everything - even things we are better off not knowing. I think laptops changed it yet again, now people are not only plugged in but we're mobile! We can satisfy an intellectual itch at any place and time! Add the I-Phones and pda'sto the mix and the world is as close as your jacket pocket. Amazing.

The Bug said...

I love the United Breaks Guitars video! And they have a sequel - I enjoyed it a lot too. I keep meaning to check out their other music - glad you reminded me...

I am often quite overwhelmed at the knowledge available at my fingertips. Sure it's wonderful for filling out my crossword puzzle (I do not hesitate to cheat with wikipedia - but only on the computer versions - the one in the paper has to be completed using my little brain - it's a rule). And sure I can keep up with friends & enjoy reading blogs. But then again I can self-diagnose myself into anything from eczema to skin cancer. And read about more horrors than I wanted to know existed. And find out even more quickly about the incredibly poor judgment of some of my favorite celebrities.

But I wouldn't want it any other way. I've imagined some apocolypse wherein there is no more internet. Too horrible to contemplate!

Amy said...

Alane, Your post just elicited about an hour discussion with Jim, and you struck the nail on the head describing the most important sociological change, perhaps, in the last decade.

How do we use the internet? Let me count the ways. Just today, I looked up books related to Teddy Roosevelt on my local library site.
After checking the hours at the dept store where I went to redeem my $10 coupon that I printed from email, I researched a recipe for almond biscotti so I could utilize the almond meal that is supposed to be so healthy that I found at Trader Joe's thanks to a tip from another blogger. Then, on Nancy's post about the 60's I journeyed back to that era (soooo long ago!). Then I read your post which meant I had to look up Titian (see, I learned something!) - oh, and don't forget the Bird's Custard - you can buy it on Amazon. Then I chatted live and in person with my husband which is always a good thing. And now I'm writing this. And oh, did I mention I also paid some bills, balanced my check book and moved funds from one acct to another? One good thing we decided is that, for us, it's a good thing to take 10 steps or whatever to the pc rather than reach in our pocket (at least for now!). When we travel we do not take the notebook - I want to remember what it's like NOT taking those 10 steps.

Not to ramble on, but I was amused by your reference to mid 90's computer speak! I sat down with a small time developer in 1998 and designed a website for our retail nursery. That "cheap" website was designed for "content" - information in our business was golden and I spent much time updating my "baby." By the time we sold our biz in '06, it generated 8% of our gross sales (bareroot roses and garden tools mainly).

It's a digital world here in 2010 - Great, great post Alane!

Cabo said...

Well, you nailed that one. I concur! And between you and me... the incident with United made me weep. Literally. I wept. Me and Jesus. We now have that in common. The weeping thing.

ds said...

Nancy Drew had Titian hair, too.... Yes, you've certainly nailed the central problem of our age: what to do with this glut of information we are exposed to? It is nice to have so much information literally at your fingertips, but it's also refreshing to "unplug" sometimes. Just for a little while. Until my fingers start to twitch...

Land of shimp said...

Nancy, isn't that the truth of the matter? "Ignorance is bliss" has never actually been true, but at this point in our information history, it's also almost unattainable.

I think the thing that continually amazes me is that had someone described this to me when I was in high school it would have sounded like something from the Jetsons. "Directions to anyplace will be available as you drive, with maps, and voice prompts." "We'll be able to communicate instantly with far corners of the globe, at any hour of the day."

Like you, Bug, I eschew reading many medical sites, unless I already have a diagnosis in hand, otherwise I'll have myself convinced I have every malady in the book. Some of which wouldn't even be physically possible, seeing as I lack the necessary bits and parts ;-)

Amy, isn't that just the most fascinating thing about blogs, and the internet? The subjects we end up discussing, the thoughts and conversations that are sparked. Helps keep the brain limber.

I thought you'd likely appreciate the detail about LMM, as we were just talking about children's authors over on your blog :-)

Hehe, Cabo. Well now, if you're going to have something in common with Jesus, I recommend the weeping vs. the suffering and dying, etc. etc.

Although the water-into-wine trick would probably be a good one for parties!

It's true, ds, we sometimes suffer from sensory overload, and have seemingly forgotten what it is like to not have these readily available. I'll tell you one thing, I'd make a rotten Amish person, at this stage.

I think that I'd rather have the problem of too much information through which to shift, instead of not enough.

Thank you for the comments :-)

Vera said...

This was a great piece, and one which I totally agree with. I love being global, of feeling connected with people world-wide, of 'needing to know' and 'finding out' with the click of the mouse. And the feeling of there being an undercurrant of power held in the hands of the 'little people'. Thanks also for introducing me to The Sons of Maxwell. Am pottering off to have a look at them on YouTube now. Also needing to do an Internet search for French meat cuts, what to do about my toe nails, how to use some weird fruit donated by our French neighbour, oh and there are my friends in the blogging community to connect with, and do I need to order some more knitting wool, and oh isn't it marvelous that this can be done all in one happy hour!

Pauline said...

the flip side of course being that the more tracks we leave on the internet, the easier it is to find us...

PhilipH said...

Oh Lady Alane, sweet Countess of Shimplandshire - your creativity in weaving words of truth and meaning on the web is fan-ruddy-tastic.

You have a remarkable ability to paint word pictures with seeming ease. I never have to re-read your offerings as the words you choose flow easily from the page into my atrophying grey cells and make complete and utter sense. That, believe you me, is something I honestly appreciate.

I just love your style! It's perfect. I wonder if it's your Mother's Scottish upbringing and genes that you've inherited? The Scots have always been excellent in education.

Never having seen or heard the broken guitar clip before I have now got it on my 'favourites' list on youtube. The lead singer has a superb voice, a rich plush timbre.

I note your recent comment to the effect that you opine that I sound rather like the late Alfred Hitchcock. Well, when he was alive that is! Did I have a laugh at that comment? Did I heck! How very dare you, madam, make such a comparison.

I am going to sue you! Yes, using the free legal 'no win no fee' web facilities to which you handily refer you can expect a letter from my lawyers soon - well, as soon as I can Google him/her/it.

Normally I would not bother to sue on behalf of a deceased person, i.e. Mr. Hitchcock, but your publishing of such defamatory words do Mr. Hitchcock much ill.

Oh, perhaps it's not worth the trouble. No, I'll leave it. He will not mind being compared to a 'Sarf Lunnon' nutcase in his present circumstances.

Byee Milady. Have a great year!

DUTA said...

It's not only that we've got information, we've got real teaching by the internet. We learn to fix this or that, heal ourselves with this and that..

If we continue to use the internet in a proper way, there will be no need for any 'PROFESSONALS' any more.

Land of shimp said...

Hello and Happy New Year, Vera! I'll be stopping by your blog in a bit. In listing off what your next hour was to contain, you really encompassed one of the best things about the internet: the varied world it opens to us, at all times.

That's really one of the things that captures my imagination. I like history, and read a fair number of personal memoirs, etc. from times gone by. It's just one way to get a view into another sort of life, and one of the things that can be common to them is how people longed for that variance, but were denied it.

LMM, is an author I don't particular admire in terms of her books. I've read them, enjoy them, but they aren't great lit...they're sweet, fun, often amusing and ...a bit precious, which can be great when you're in the mood. I found her journals fascinating though because there was a woman hemmed in by the reality of her life. Surrounded by very few people she could have an equal conversation with on any given day.

The accessibility of the internet now helped end that sort of suffocating existence. Don't get me wrong, she had a lovely life, in many respects, but she sorely felt it's limitations, and her frustrations showed.

I'm going into that (at length, because I'm me) because I think you'd be able to relate to that. You write about your life in France, and the area in which you live. It's clear you love it (and I love reading about it) ...but it's it just wonderful that you get to have that -- a life that might feel stifling if other avenues were not right at your fingertips -- and this huge, vast and varied world, brought directly into your home?

It's really amazing stuff, and it is becoming globally commonplace for people to have that door to the world open to them, at all times.

I can't help but wonder if it isn't one of the first steps in helping us finally achieve our true potential as people. No longer simply defined by our geographic placement, or limitations.

Annnnnnd...that was a ramble :-) Sorry, it's clearly an area of tremendous interest to me, particularly because I have studied, not just history, but people within history. We have fewer hard limitations on much now.

That's very true, Pauline. I suppose it isn't something I worry about simply because I really am the most boring sort of rule-follower. If the government snatched up my computer tomorrow they'd likely all lull themselves into a deep sleep within ten minutes, "Good lord, why did she spend so much time reading about Czarist Russian on the 23rd? We've found her! The woman who likes the most boring things in the world!"

But what if I wasn't? What if I was working constantly to bring about political change? What if I was far closer to being a radical? That very same footprint I leave, instead of proving I'm the last person you want to get stuck sitting next to at a long, formal dinner, it could be used in the "evidence against me", couldn't it?

But we take the risks with the boons, don't we?

Land of shimp said...

Philip, you just gave me fodder for teasing my husband. "Help honey, an Englishmen is menacing me with a barrister, he is!"

His reply? "That's fully expected, isn't it?"

The love of my life finds me worthy of litigious menacing...on behalf of Alfred Hitchock, no less. Oh Tippi Hedron wept! Or possibly cheered ;-)

Now, on a less "We tease each other mercilessly" note! Thank you, very sincerely for the compliment. I fail completely at brevity, heaven knows, so it really means a tremendous amount to me that you enjoy my writing. I also truly appreciate it, given how much I admire the source (that would be you, Mr. Soundalike).

By the way, I'm not sure if it is a Scottish trait, although I'm perfectly willing to believe it is, but my mother is very bright, and has a gift with words. Both brighter and more gifted than I am. My father could be described in the same manner, and he was from Virginia. He was also brighter, something with which I'm very comfortable admitting.

Philip, I speak for the internet, we're so glad to have you back :-)

DUTA, I know what you mean. I think that nothing will actually ever replace true expertise, of course. We may understand more, and can be better informed patients, but we do need people who have dedicated their lives to fully exploring a variety of subjects.

I think it's more that we have expanded our understanding of our capabilities. That we understand now that we are more capable than we believe ourselves to be, and we are less cowed by expertise.

Let's see, how to put this....I think it used to be that people believed a huge wealth of subjects to be beyond their ken. That there were these erudite matters beyond the reach of anyone who had not dedicated their life to a full understanding.

That we were intimidated into silence by extensive knowledge. The internet has helped us expand the concept of a "layman's knowledge"...and in some ways has made us more dangerous to ourselves ("Hey, we can wire the house for electricity, I found a diagram here on the internet!") ...but in other ways, has made us less passive participants in our own lives, "Hey doc, are you sure I should take that medication? I've got a family history of heart disease."

It seems we used to associate a higher level of exposure to many matters with simply being better as people -- which is not the case, a learned man is not better than a less educated one, just better educated.

Do you know what I mean? We don't define our abilities along such hard lines any longer, because we have access to more.

Hilary said...

Brilliant post, Shimp. You're so right on the money with this. I'm still in awe of it all, and like you, I've been online since the early 90s. Despite that, the United video was new to me.

Suldog said...

Very nicely written.

I know what you mean about the wonders of this age. I'm just now realizing that the advances made between my birth (1957), and now, are probably even more amazing than those made between 1905 and my birth (a similar timespan.) Close call, what with TV and all, but...

Anyway, very nicely written.

Land of shimp said...

I'm so glad you got a chance to see the United video, Hilary. There are several folks from Canada around these parts, and I was worried that they would be sick to death of it, because The Sons of Maxwell is a Canadian band. I thought it was just wonderful, and what a creative way to vent frustrations.

Thank you for the comment :-)

Suldog, it really is astounding. I think sometimes we forget how far we have come. We don't get around in flying cars, and have yet to colonize space, but the point you raise is an excellent one.

In terms of how we live our daily lives, we have changed a tremendous amount. Just things we don't even think of as being remarkable, such as making long distance, or transatlantic calls, those have truly changed the manner in which we do things. Particularly long distance used to be prohibitively expensive, now it's free from most carriers.

In some respects that has taken its toll on the written word, we write less as a form of communication, but for all people decry the "loss of family" (and boy could I ever go off on what a bunch of hooey that is), we are now in better touch with relatives than we were in the 50s.

Thank you, by the way, I do appreciate the kind words.

L. D. Burgus said...

I really enjoyed all that was said. In the older days, my parents wouldn't shop at a certain store because once they had been short changed or they bought a bad item there. I heard recently that my father-in-law was the same way. Some very trivial reason dictated his desire to drive ten miles farther to another store rather than forgive them. Some businesses do tick me off and I just don't go their first.
Thanks for stopping by my blog. I enjoy painting and now that I blog I can share the results with people everywhere.

Land of shimp said...

Hello, L.D., you're the rock painter, aren't you? Very nice work, and it was my pleasure to view it.

Thank you for the visit in return!

Anonymous said...

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