Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Who's calling during dinner?

As you may have heard, there's an election coming. Welcome annoying political ads, welcome phone calls convincing you to vote a certain way. Even better, most of these calls are done by a machine, who can't tell it's leaving a long, rambling speech on another machine.

Last election, I was "lucky" enough to live in a swing county in a swing state, so I got the robo-calls. Lots and lots of robo-calls. Every day, there were multiple calls to sort through just in case a real person called and left a message I needed. Then all evening, they called. I suppose I felt slightly less guilty hanging up on a real person rather than a machine, but only slightly. I just wanted it to be over.

I suppose as annoying as they are, these calls have a purpose. Sure, they want you to vote for whatever candidate they are selling. (I do wonder if they accomplish their goal with these non-ending calls. By the election, I was so tired of all the candidates, I almost didn't have the energy to actually vote.) The other purpose was to get money for whatever candidate or party they were trying to push on me. "Hi, I've just completely interrupted your evening? Can you give me some money or we can afford to do this more?" I have to wonder, does this work?

I maintain they're doing it all wrong. Here's how you get me on your good side and get money from me: offer to stop calling me. You heard me: I will pay money to not get any more calls. Just imagine it. If you support a certain candidate, they'll put you on a list and not call you. No robo-calls, no interrupted dinners, no email. For more money, they could widen the net: no calls from the party associated with the candidate. Now, that's something I'd pay for: silence from a candidate. The problem is that if you could afford it, you'd probably pay for both sides. Of course, then you'd have to actually decide on a candidate based on issues rather than advertising. Wouldn't that make the election interesting?

Friday, May 25, 2012

American Idol: Make Number One More Better

Every year it sucks me in. I say that I'm only going to watch part of an episode, and I end up watching the whole season. I'm not sure why, but I think it's mostly because it's easy and predictable. You know what you're getting when you watch "American Idol." This isn't a bad thing. It's comforting, in its way.

It's still the number one show on television (ratings-wise), but the ratings are slipping. There are lots of people complaining that they get the same type of winner, year after year, but I don't think that's the problem. Sure, it's a bit boring, but winning "American Idol" guarantees nothing, so give the tweet girls what they want. However, I'd like to offer a few suggestions for improvement.

Let me start out by saying that I don't think it should change much. It's never going to be that powerhouse it once was but that's alright. Except for the random slip by Steven Tyler, it's safe, fun, family-viewing. And although I've stated otherwise, I've decided that the simple format of the person with the lowest number of votes goes home is the way to go. Other shows have tried other ways, but one of the charms of "American Idol" is that the audience really does pick the winner. "The Voice" was on its way to winning the ratings war, but they screwed up by making the judges too powerful and the system too complicated to understand. I say leave "American Idol" as it is; the one judges' save is enough.

So, if the voting should stay the same, what should be changed?

First, and most important: fire Randy. Yo, dog, I'm just not feeling it, dude. He says his ridiculous little phrases, drops a few names, but adds nothing. I don't get why they keep him, and I doubt that anyone is watching the show for his pearls of wisdom. When the contestants do a musical tribute to your lack of originality, it's time to go.

Why isn't Jimmy Iovine a judge? Wouldn't he be the perfect replacement for Randy? He actually knows music, he has a relationship with the other judges and the contestants (even if he can't get Jennifer's name right), and he always has good insights into the performances. Make this happen! Also, I miss the occasional guest judge. Guest judges add a different perspective. After a few weeks, you know what the regulars think of the various contestants. It's nice when someone new gives their opinion of what's going on in the competition.

I'd like a little more behind the scenes. I like knowing which contestants are friends, which ones compete against each other. It certainly makes the elimination shows more interesting. When Colton got voted out, watching Phillip's reaction was part of the drama. I love watching the process of picking the songs. Some contestants come in with terrible choices and Jimmy guides them to a better fit, and sometimes Jimmy doesn't agree but they show him that it is the right choice. Don't turn it into "The Real World" or anything like that, but the personalities are part of why we watch. This is why everyone loves Hollywood week.

The biggest change "American Idol" needs to make is to update the song catalog. Through these many years, "American Idol" has made roughly a gagillion dollars. Please, use a fraction of this to pay for songs that have been released during these kids' lifetimes. Other shows seem to be able to do this. Why does Idol cling to standards? Why is Hollie singing a song from 1945 in the finale? I seriously doubt that when Joshua found out he was going to get an opportunity to sing with his idol, he wanted to sing a song that was written 22 years before he was born.

At least now they allow the contestants to admit they hadn't heard of the song when it was assigned to them. But how do we get a sense of what kind of a singer they'll be if they don't get to actually pick songs they know. I don't mind having the various theme weeks, but we need more songs that these kids genuinely love. If I'm placing bets, I'm thinking that the girl voice-powerhouses would rather sing Adele than Whitney. And if they fall on their faces, at least they did it singing a song they love.

It's not much, but a little update would be nice. And, truly, get rid of Randy.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Face the face

Can we talk? Well, according to Sherry Turkle in The New York Times, we cannot. Here's the full article. There are points that are valid: there's nothing I hate more than someone checking their phone while you're talking to them (and, yes, of course, I've done that as well because we've all become that gross.) I also agree that there is something wonderful about a conversation between people. However, she showed how people can't converse by quoting a 16-year-old boy who states that he'd "like to learn how to have a conversation." When were 16-year-old boys ever able to have a conversation, especially one with a 50-something college professor?

There's something very cranky, "you kids get off my lawn!" about this article. She complains about the "young people" at work who wear headphones instead of chatting with the senior partners at work. I have to wonder if she asked any of the "young people" why they wear headphones? In my case, I work as a writer in a noisy office space (because, despite her statements about the lack of conversation in the modern workplace, there are loads of conversations happening at my work.) Because I am not a senior partner (or equivalent), I have a shared office space. I need those headphones to get my job done. This doesn't prevent me from chatting with my coworkers, but it does allow me to control hearing every social update.

I am tired of the narrow definition of communication so many people cling to. Turkle is one of the many who insists that a conversation is "sitting in the same room talking." (It's unclear what she feels about talks on the phone, but I'm guessing she's anti-that as well.) I'm not saying that conversations like this aren't a good thing, but it's terribly narrow. I communicate with people in so many ways: email, twitter, facebook, blogging, text messages, phone calls, flickr. In fact, one of the reasons I do all of this is because some people in my life are more reachable these ways. I need and want all of these ways to have the people in my life communicate with me.

This lack of acceptance of other forms of communication feels like intolerance to me. I'm not saying somone has to do all the forms I do (because, clearly, I have a problem), but if you are only reachable by one form of communication, you have cut me off, not the other way around. These other ways of communicating show different sides of a person. I have gotten to know people through facebook, their blogs, twitter; I am in a flickr group with two of my aunts, and I'm seeing their lives in a new way.

Turkle writes about "sips" of conversation as if it's a bad thing. Sometimes a sip is exactly what you would want. Sometimes chugging isn't the way to get to know a person. Some people need to ease into your life. She also makes the assumption that verbal communication is better than written. There is something wonderful about the written word that isn't captured in long, rambling conversations.

The art of conversation is changing, but it has always been changing. I am sure that when the telephone was invented, people decried the lost art of letter-writing. Perhaps instead of all the hand-wringing, we should be celebrating that we have so many ways to communicate with one another.