Underthecurrent


A Catalogue of Winter
February 27, 2017, 10:57 pm
Filed under: popconsumption, unrelated thoughts

Chelsea Boots with wooden soles.  Impulse purchase in a store entered to escape the bad weather.  “We have an excellent exchange policy,” the clerk said, as though the boots were the wrong size, even though they were tried on, or the credit card holder looked a bit shabby.

A vegan snack box.  Vegan snacks are taste Russian Roulette, where the secret ingredient is always dates and cashews.  Unfortunately, non vegan ‘healthy’ snacks are always sneaking in weird dairy iterations.  Powdered-milk-whey-cream.

One bag is literally dried apples.  Another is basically rice and salt.  It could be worse.

Japanese pens.  The kind of ink that’s between gel and not gel, precise.  Just hard enough to get.

Summer concert tickets.  These same tickets three years ago – same venue, same artist – sold last minute because of a work thing.  The one that got away.

A fake Rails shirt.  Those drape-y plaid shirts that women in LA wear that are hand wash only and like, one million dollars.  No, it is not strange to have no idea about this.

Hawaiian Coffee.  About four years ago, when the dollar was low (or was it the commonwealth dollars were high?), Honolulu.  Honolulu is expensive even when it’s cheaper and it was a few hours until a flight with currency to burn.  This bag of coffee, not the adulterated gift shop version but the real thing roasted fresh, the stuff of fever dreams.  This most recent bag is okay but it’s not the same.

Bluetooth Headphones.  Obvious.



PSL PSA
October 7, 2015, 12:00 am
Filed under: popconsumption

Right now in front of me is a disgustingly large pumpkin spice latte, made of ‘Sumatran coconut milk‘, which I got for free because – quelle horreur! – I am a gold member.  For about two years, possibly.  Even with mixed feelings about the McDs of coffee and extremely sporadic Starbucks attendance.  It is justifiable as a cultural experience.  In a few years, maybe I’m in a place where they don’t dream of putting pie spice or referencing Cucurbitaceae to sell coffee.

One of the weirdest things about North America is the points economy.  Points on flights, points on groceries, points on coffee and department store purchases.  Tiers of points, where after so many points, the earnings accelerate.  Special offers for the special-ist consumers.  Points on points for using the right payment method.

You could stay out of the whole mess.

Pay cash.

Live like no one’s tracking.

But then I wouldn’t have the free tiny normally overpriced lip balm sitting on my desk.  It’s made of effing avocado oil and probably angel wings.

Right now it’s peak points.  Kind of embarrassing.  It can be explained, right? Really?  Part of it is due to a moderate (perhaps ironic) dislike of shopping and a strong preference to always go to the same stores.  FOOL, THIS IS A VIP CARD.  Also, to an obsessive tendency to analyze rewards programs and to always use the program once committed (HOLD ON, there is a VIP card in… HERE… SOMEWHERE).

The interesting thing about the points economy is that it exists outside of taxation.  Really, anything free because of points is worth not only the value of the item, but the taxes – consumer and income – that were usually not paid on the item.

Let’s say, for example, a $10 item in a place with 15% sales tax provided to a person with an average 20% tax rate.  The true value of the item becomes $11.50 due to the lack of sales tax and ends up grossed up to about $13.80 in terms of the taxable income that needed to be generated to have that thing.  Rewards are technically worth more to people that pay more income taxes.

Evidence of tracking appears when a vendor starts to advertise things to you that it knows you like, based on past preferences.  I wish more companies optimized it, because I want to live in a robot future where I am individually marketed to based on algorithms so I no longer have to read irrelevant advertising.

Today’s PSL, a creation of fictional digital points, collected and cashed via an app. Amazing.



Cheap, Smart and Quick
October 11, 2011, 7:00 am
Filed under: popconsumption | Tags: , , ,

Yesterday, I bought a new phone.

The two tone plastic no-mugging Nokia died a painful death this weekend where a replacement battery (and replaced charger) would simply no longer charge. After four years of international adventures, six months of unexplained sudden power failures, and a lot of Snake Xenzia in strange places, it was time to let go.

It is true that when I got it I noticed several disenfranchised people in Africa had the same model, and that the woman at the first store I went to (who was over sixty) openly mocked it when I pulled it out of my bag to explain my forced upgrade and lack of interest in features. She obviously did not appreciate that when your phone looks vaguely like it might be a child’s toy from the late 90s it means that you can abandon it at a bar overnight without risk of theft (true story), drop it on any number of floors without the tiny screen breaking, and avoid checking any important emails until a convenient time. You can talk on street corners in dodgy places with no fear that when you are mugged your call will be interrupted due to phone theft.

Initially I considered a few featureless pay-as-you-go models that seemed intended for the elderly, starting at about $35. My guess that they were meant for the very young or very old was based on suspiciously enlarged keypads. No shame in that game. However, as I stared at the glass display case I remembered that my current pay-as-you-go system includes a bunch of as yet unused data… and that the internet cafe is not open on weekends. The tech enthusiastic sales guy approached me and showed me his phone, with an ample touch screen, he said might be available at the local post office for about $200.

At the post office, no phones were on display. At the counter, I quietly inquired whether it was true, whether they had the good stuff hiding somewhere behind the counter. The woman smiled and produced three white boxes from some unseen place. Within forty five seconds I had selected one and gotten out.

And that is how I bought a $75 pay-as-you-go smart phone that looks oddly like the love child of an iPhone and Blackberry and found myself watching Jersey Shore previews from my bed at 2 pm today and reconsidering my stance on Gmail. It is shiny and unscratched and a little overly delicate. It is purple. My fingers are clumsy with the scroll and I remain hostile towards both apps and non-standard ringtones, but it appears I have begrudgingly been dragged forward into a whole new world of cellular communication.



stationary, sleepovers and pop records
August 25, 2011, 11:15 am
Filed under: nomadisms, popconsumption | Tags: , , ,

Collecting papers and pictures, about to make this work, this relocation new-passport project. The hardest part is variability in processing time, anything between six months and a year and a half. The second hardest part is figuring where, exacty, we will go.

I sort of love when the NY Times gives a go at examining “my generation”

While the study purported to put a name to the phenomenon and to describe it, it did not look at the overall incidence of stayovers or examine their trajectory over time. It’s possible that stayovers have been around for decades and that they exist beyond the confines of the young college-educated couples Ms. Jamison examined.

I’m listening to Jack Johnson with the door open, sunlight streaming in, afternoon onshore yet to start sucking on. I recently read an interview with a band I like that talked about how ‘that’ songwriter genre was dead and they didn’t want to get lumped in with the Ben Harpers and Jack Johnsons of the world. I listen to Jack Johnson and I also listen to Jimmy Buffet and in the mental album catalogue of my mind I happily house them together, drinking pina coladas and eating banana pancakes.



African Winters, Bastille Day, Patti Smith, Collage
June 28, 2011, 10:24 am
Filed under: popconsumption, runaway

Winter here is like perpetual Spring. The warm days are balmy t-shirt inducing intervals, the cold days are chilly. This Winter is one of the colder in the multi year cycles, with a lot of rain and regular freezing inland. I wear things like a light parka and leather booties and a lot of scarves. Businesses seem mostly heated, homes mostly not. I write this from under a multi-season duvet (we’re too cheap and transient for a proper Winter one), a wool blanket and a comforter. I am wearing a scarf, hat, sweatshirt, parka, jeans, leggings and socks. I have with me a secret weapon.

One of the most romantic things I have been given is a hot water bottle, which I typically keep at my feet and sometimes cuddle in my lap. The hot water bottles of my childhood seemed old school and I would not have purchased one of my own volition but I am now a re-convert.

We celebrated Bastille Day about a week ago in my new favorite neighbourhood. It has the kind of food\bars\people that appeal to the impractical part of me that wants to eat muffins in little shops with fake distressed tables and wear sundresses all day every day. For all of my dismissing of Cape Town last week, suddenly the cosy global movement had me at salut.

I love this interview with Patti Smith for so many reasons and not just because she is nostalgic in it for a kind of city that maybe doesn’t exist anymore.

“When I started playing I couldn’t sing very well and I couldn’t play any instrument. I didn’t know anything about technology. I’d never been in front of a microphone. I didn’t know shit, but I did know rock ‘n’ roll and I did believe that it was mine and I was one of the people and it was my art and I felt it was my right to get up and embrace it and to express my feelings through it and adding poetry or political energy or whatever.”



Twitter Does Not Matter (To Me)
June 20, 2011, 8:19 am
Filed under: popconsumption | Tags: ,

I was one of the first twenty people within my college network on facebook. I remember when blogging meant Diaryland or html coding and when Blogger was born. I was there at the Apple revival, when people would come up to my laptop in coffee shops and marvel at how weird it looked. Early adopter, probably not. The list of zeitgeisty stuff I missed or never got behind is just as long. There are other things I thought were interesting that never made it. But I’m nobody’s tech phobic grandmama, for the record.

But Twitter is something I can’t really get behind. I can understand why it appeals to certain demographics and what use it has in society, it’s just not something I need to participate in. Ever.

1) I Don’t Need to Know Right When A Story Breaks. The most recent twitter victory was being first to the Osama story. The thing is, stuff like the Osama story does not profoundly affect me in such a way that finding out about it three hours or even three days later is a major problem. If something does affect me directly, say some weather disaster, I will probably be busy dealing with it in real time. There have been claims about how the revolution will be tweeted but there is little analysis substantiating this.

2) I Don’t Need More To Read. People laud twitter for passing around viral articles and inspiring postings. Fair enough, but I am currently sitting in bed with the Sunday paper, even though it’s Monday. It easily tops 60 pages. My bookshelf and inbox are perpetually full. The stuff I have seen that has been made ‘famous’ via twitter has never changed my life the way other writing has. It well might someday but,

3) I am Lazy. I am too lazy to follow what’s going on and prefer that others do the dirty work of making topics trend and things famous and sifting through RTs, self adulation, mutual congratulations and new hashtags. Then, important things can find their way into a condensed mainstream source for my lazy self to review. I like journalism that gathers and analyzes for me, this is why I do not attend – say – city council meetings although I am happy to read about them in a few hundred words later.

4) I Do Not Care What Ordinary People or even Celebrities Are Doing During Mundane Moments. Or even, really, interesting moments. I, like many, enjoyed that brief period when the internet opened up to the common man and stay at home moms took to status updates in a frenzy. Then I, like many, realized that people overall are interesting en masse but boring in specific incidence and that I only really care what one person in the world has for breakfast and I can just ask him when he brings me tea in bed. Internet voyeurism is just like any other hobby.

There is a place for something that brings me exactly what I want without effort but the most difficult part is that exactly what I want is so fickle. Some days I feel like investigating the finer points of cooking various kinds of rice, other days I want hard news, the next day I want the (dilettanti) content of pop culture fashion and music blogs. This may be what makes twitter ultimately so useless for me: my everyday interests are too diffuse for the purposes of following.



I Like You On Facebook
April 5, 2011, 8:57 am
Filed under: popconsumption | Tags: ,

Sometimes I really like people as their digital selves. They write messages and postings in a tone that is utterly foreign to how they are seemingly in person. They post funny or interesting stuff that goes beyond the spam level youtube videos and G&M political articles that we all already knew about anyways (or didn’t want to know about). As a result of not seeing people for years, I forget about whatever negligible real life relationship and interaction we had.

Conversely, there are people I absolutely adore but whose absence from any digital communication leaves our relationship strangely underfed. It is the traditional feeling of ‘losing touch’ except it’s not because your address was inaccessible or someone’s phone number changed.

And reunions? Sometimes the reunions with people I like on facebook but never got along that well with in real life are so hilariously incongruent. I remember why we weren’t actually friends, the ability to manage one’s image is so apparent. But the other side is less clear – does a lack of digital contact begin to damage relationships when the channels, be it an email address or some kind of other method, are just sitting… waiting… unused?

One of my acquaintances here said: “you’ve been quiet on facebook lately.” Another friend I got in touch with to congratulate on his wedding noted I hadn’t updated my profile picture for over a year. Oddly enough, people notice, and sometimes it appears the passive silence is taken for active distance. More people have removed me as a ‘friend’ in the period since I’ve closed down most of my wall, stopped posting pictures, and removed all personal information. [Other phenomena: upon finally posting a picture of myself with a guy in an obvious relationship type photo last year, a substantial number of exes suddenly deleted]

Social media only counts for two things. The network and the impact on actual friendships. As a formal and informal networking tool, it can’t be beat. There is no easier way to Make Friends And Influence People than to casually follow their life events and comment on them when you run into the person or to send out affirming messages. Most people actually forget that you wouldn’t know this stuff in real life, and in all likelihood don’t deeply care about their new baby/house/husband/dog. For the international set, it’s a useful way to keep tabs on where your contacts actually are so you can renew them if you’re in the area and jump start a life or vacation somewhere. It is the impact on actual friendship that is more questionable.

One on side, the ability to keep up easily with the details of your real friend’s lives is important. If you’re busy, you still won’t miss major changes and can respond to them. You can organize events easily and give each other the affirmation that distance makes difficult. On the other, the temptation to participate in the networking side of social networking ends up sucking up time that should be spent actually having and building relationships. At this point, the wide blown no limits lack-of-privacy free-for-all that is popular social networking has begun to negate the positives because we don’t tell the truth about our lives on the internet anymore (if that ever happened, I think at some point it did). I can’t follow what my actual friends are dealing with in their everyday lives because it’s no longer there – among educated career minded people facebook is largely censored for any number of reasons. Mine sure is.

Sometimes I think about hitting restart and moving accounts and being honest again. Posting recent pictures, going wall to wall. Then maybe I could be someone people like on facebook! Then I could better passively maintain relationships! When this impulse hits I just reflect on the people I actually consider my friends, scattered as they are right now, and send an actual email telling them what I’m actually doing and thinking and feeling and requesting back the same.