Is This the Party to Whom I Am Speaking?

Stop callin', stop callin'...
Stop callin’, stop callin’…

One thing I lament for “today’s youth” is that the beauty of the simple prank phone call is no more. Now, I know there are ways around it, and that there’s plenty of mayhem occurring in today’s Caller ID world, but it’s not the same. While you can block your number from appearing on Caller ID…do you answer those calls? Yeah, me neither. So the opportunity for calling a neighbor to have a few innocent yet mischievous giggles just isn’t the same as it was when I was a kid.

My best friend Jen was my main partner in crime. Like most pranksters, we aimed low at the beginning but quickly graduated from the level of “Is your refrigerator running?” (yawn) and “Do you have Prince Albert in a can?” (we weren’t even sure who this Prince Albert was, so we didn’t find it all that funny) to more clever—at least to us—calls.

Since we had our own “radio show” (i.e. we had a sketch comedy show that we recorded on cassette tape…man, we were cutting edge), we liked to think that we had a wide array of voices and characters at our disposal. I’m not sure how we, as 11-year-old girls, pulled off convincing men’s voices, but based on the success of our pranks, we must have been somewhat believable.

[Side note/disclaimer: if anything in these stories can be found to be illegal, then these stories are absolutely not true. Completely fictitious. If not, then never mind this disclaimer.]

One bit that we loved doing was acting as though we were from the fire department. During sleepovers, we would be up at 2am and just call someone we knew and say, “Mrs. So-and-So (that’s not really her name—because that would be an awesome last name to have, but it’s not—it’s just because Jen and I still need to maintain our cloak of anonymity even after all these years. I’d hate to have to relocate.) Anyway, we would say, “Mrs. So-and-So, this is the Mayberry (no, not really Mayberry…come on) Fire Department. Forgive me for waking you up, but fires can strike a house at 2am, and if one did, would you have an escape route planned?” Of course, Mrs. So-and-So wouldn’t know which end was up. On the one hand, she’d just been awoken by a call, but on the other hand…that call was trying to save her life. How could you get mad at that? Remarkably, she could. After a few minutes of back and forth conversation, where the “fire department” was expressing concern for her home safety plan, Mrs. So-and-So finally told me to go to hell. Jen’s convulsive giggling in the background probably wasn’t keeping a tight lid on our ruse, but…that was what it was all about.

Another fire department call that we had fun making was when our neighbors were having a big party. We called the partying neighbors and told them I was the fire chief and that we had heard they were having a big party. Did they have a permit for that party?? Jen and I almost wet ourselves laughing as we could hear the man switch phones to go to a quieter room where he could better answer “the chief’s” questions, as he worriedly told his wife. “Mr. So-and-So (no, he was not married to Mrs. So-and-So…please, quit being so literal), can you please tell me the number of people in attendance at your party?” Again, Jen and I had all we could do to keep it together while we overheard him count off bunches of people and then finally come in with a guess of “around 40.” “Well, based on the size of your house, you are just under the number where a permit would be required. Carry on.” And the very relieved man thanked me and went back to his party.

We also loved calling up people and freaking them out just a teensy bit. We had a neighborhood phone book that listed the names of the children and their ages as a way for neighbors to get to know one another (my, how times have changed in that regard, no?) We would call up strangers and act like we were related to them. “Uncle John? This is your niece Susie. How ARE you??” To which John would reply, “Uh, I don’t have a niece named Susie, you must have the wrong number…” And I would jump in with, “But Uncle John, I can’t believe you don’t remember me! Can you put Aunt Linda on the phone? Or how about one of my cousins? Alan must be around, what? 11?…” to which John would, well…freak out a bit. “Listen, I don’t know who the hell this is, but…” and then he would rage on and threaten us…you know, fun stuff.

Okay, maybe it’s better that there is Caller ID. Nah, I take that back—it was a lot of fun that was mostly harmless. Well, now that I’m all grown up (technically), I wouldn’t want my kid doing it, but, as a memory it’s harmless. And who knows, maybe Mrs. So-and-So decided to create an escape route in her house after all? Maybe these calls of ours were actually helpful. In fact, I’d like to think they made the world a slightly better place.

P.S. Bonus points if you get the reference in the title.

I Have a Google Goggles Headache

information2“We are drowning in information, but starved for knowledge” was written by John Naisbitt…in 1982…and I can’t find a more apt commentary about the status of my own overwhelmed brain. 16 years after that statement was made, Google was founded, and since then, countless other technologies exist that enable us to access information like never before.

But my brain hurts. It feels like when Tom from Tom and Jerry gets shot at and then takes a drink of water. As he drinks it down, it just goes right out all the holes he now has. My head is kind of like an old colander these days—I can hold the water of information for a little bit before it just seeps right through.

Listen, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a Google Girl. Ask anyone who knows me well, and they’ll roll their eyes and comment on how I whip out my Droid like a six-shooter and dial up information faster than a speeding bullet. It’s awesome…”Who starred in My Favorite Martian”? Done. “What is the lifespan of a dragonfly?” You got it. “What’s the record number of points scored in a football game?” Dude, I’m all over it.

But I have come to recognize that while a ginormous amount of information is at my fingertips, my retention of it, well…totally blows…as in blows through one ear, takes a brief stop at my addled brain, and then goes right out the other ear.

And it’s not just Google or other search engines. It’s all the opportunities we have to store information that we know we can access later…but will we? And if we do, will we truly digest it, remember it, and learn from it? Like Naisbitt states, we aren’t necessarily using it for the growth of knowledge. Today you can Evernote it, Pin it, Facebook it, Drop Box it, stick it in an email folder, on your phone—you name it. Entire companies are exploding with ways for us to store, store, store. My head is truly in The Cloud.

And the sad reality is that what is stored in my brain is ridiculous stuff that entered in years ago when it had a fighting chance to hang around. Oh, if only I could make room for data that actually matters by hitting the delete key on all of the Brady Bunch tidbits stuck inside my brain. And I don’t have to look far—these little bits of useless minutiae bubble up with no problem.

The name of the kid they brought in when Cindy and Bobby were getting too old to be “cute” anymore? Cousin Oliver. Who played Aunt Jenny, Jan’s lookalike? Imogene Coca. What was the name of Alice’s identical cousin (a popular yet disturbing TV phenomenon)? Emma. What world record do Bobby and Cindy try to break to garner some attention? Teeter-tottering. You get the idea.

I need to defrag my brain.

And as if all of our ability to catalog and store info wasn’t enough, we have things like YouTube now offering recommendations for videos to watch—because apparently they don’t trust me to waste enough of my time on their site without their stellar suggestions! “Hey, if you like that puppy video, we’re sure you’ll enjoy THIS one…” Uh, thanks, YouTube, but I will figure out what videos I want to distract myself with…oh, wait…that one does look awfully cute…

It must be a conspiracy. Information is out to get me! I am getting pummeled with factoids and folklore. What to do?! Where can all this information overload possibly lead?!

Guess I’ll Google it to find out.

How Did Our Parents Do It?

While the refrain, “When I was your age…” makes for eye rolls in kids, I must admit I am guilty of uttering it numerous times to my son. Yes, the rose-colored glasses of reflection make for softer edges around what once was, but…times are indeed different. And on the flip side of what was different when I was a kid for kids themselves, I think about what was different for the parents. After nights where my husband and I are finally done with our Have Tos around 10pm (to then finally sit and check email), we ask ourselves…how did our parents do it?

I don’t know about you, but I never remember my mom or dad consumed with ToDos like I am. Let me adjust my rose-colored glasses for a moment, but here’s what I recall of an average night when I was a kid: My dad came home and read the paper a bit while my mom finished getting dinner ready. We ate a leisurely dinner at the kitchen table. My sister and I took care of the kitchen while my mom and dad went to the family room…maybe they worked crossword puzzles, maybe they finished reading the paper, and—of course—there was the TV to enjoy. End of scene.

Yes, the nights where I had a softball or basketball game meant the leisurely dinner didn’t happen, so we did indeed juggle that in some way. And my kid isn’t old enough to do the dishes yet (and have them actually be clean), so there’s that to look forward to. And my mom was a stay-at-home mom, so I’m sure that helped, too. One thing I recall, though, is that we kids weren’t in several activities at once…it was almost always one thing at a time, until I was in high school. Today it seems like parents need a flow chart to route their kids to their next activities accordingly. So…I ask…what are we doing to ourselves? Is our push to give our kids “everything” really in their best interest? In ours?

And then I think of all the things that have since been created to make things happen “faster” or “better.” My mom never needed to bother with email, and she certainly didn’t feel the need to clear her Google Reader. My dad came home from work at 5pm. And he was HOME. He didn’t get work emails or texts. While work may have been on his mind, it wasn’t gobbling up his home time. The lines of distinction were much clearer. Now…everything is a blur. Thanks to technology, we may be freer to be more mobile, but we are also expected to be “available” at all hours. And I am guilty of feeding right into it all…getting screen sucked from one thing to another. I fear it is a black hole of “progress.”

There is no turning back, I know. But my desire to better balance life’s tugs is ongoing. I’m not ready to throw in the towel. And even if I did, I’d just get a late-night Google Calendar reminder that it was time to do the laundry anyway.