Remembering Y2K

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I remember as a child doing the math to figure out how old I would be in the year 2000. That millennial milestone was such a far off phenomenon to my young self. But as it loomed closer, people around the world started losing their minds.

The reason for this anxiety stemmed from a so-called Y2K (i.e. Year 2000) bug in the systems of computers that it was thought would cause massive malfunctions when the year 2000 arrived. Back in the 70s when I was calculating what an old lady I would be in the Year 2K, we could scarcely dream of how many essential systems would be impacted by the computer revolution. Computers back then were giant, unwieldy machines held in university labs. My business school friends were always wandering around campus in a haze with computer programming punch cards spilling from their backpacks.

But the acceleration of technological progress meant that by the year 1999, computers were running utilities, telecommunications systems, military weaponry, and all manner of operations that affected day-to-day life. Therefore, when news of the Y2K bug appeared, people started planning for Armageddon. We stocked our basements with water, batteries, and nonperishable foods. Most people I knew made plans to stay close to home with their families rather than go to lavish New Years Eve parties out on the town. The widespread panic gave new meaning to the famous Prince lyrics, “Tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1999.”

Y2K fears proved to be largely unfounded. Other than minor glitches, most systems sailed through the New Year without a problem. People woke up on New Years Day to the dried up Christmas trees and other remnants of holiday revelry that they had on previous New Years. Life went on.

It’s important to remember in tumultuous times that there were many events in the past which caused people anxiety and worry. In some ways, our country has always been on the brink of conflict or disaster of one kind or another. Our politics have always been fraught. Our young people have always been criticized for not being exactly like us old fogeys  seasoned veterans.

As 2019 approaches, let’s remember Y2K and, as my husband likes to say, “Don’t panic. There will be plenty of time to panic later.”

Happy New Year!

 

I’ll Be There For You

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Rumors that Netflix was about to drop the iconic Nineties series Friends from its lineup put my daughter and me into a frenzy. We’d started watching reruns of the smash hit 10-season comedy the year before and were determined to make it through to the final episode, which originally aired on May 6, 2004, and was the most-watched series finale at the time.

I’d watched Friends on and off when it originally aired but never really encouraged my kids to tune in to the inevitable reruns that popped up in syndication a few years later. For one thing, there’s a lot of frank talk about sex and hooking up, a subject I didn’t really want my kids being privy to. I also thought the series might seem dated to the generation growing up on smartphones and laptops. By the time our youngest was in high school, I had relaxed my standards. After all, she was already watching shows like Gossip Girl and One Tree Hill.

So the two of us started capping off our days with a nightly viewing of a Friends episode or two. The series starts off awkwardly. The laughs seem forced, and the chemistry among the characters takes a few episodes to develop. My daughter seemed unimpressed as she sat through those first few episodes stone-faced.  After a while, though, she and I found ourselves laughing hysterically at the foibles of the six young adults living and working in New York City.

Never mind that Friends shared the unrealistic depiction of NYC that almost every movie and TV show has over the years. Despite their lack of funds or spectacular jobs, the friends live in spacious apartments in the heart of Manhattan. They spend inordinate amounts of time at a coffee shop instead of at their jobs. Ross and Rachel each have young children, but they are conveniently out of the picture for entire episodes.

But looking for realism in a sitcom is a fool’s errand, and over this past year, my daughter and I have found much to enjoy about the show. There are just so many laugh-out-loud moments, such as when Joey gets a turkey carcass stuck on his head. Recurring characters such as Janice with her donkey bray of a laugh also add to the humor. The actors who portray the six core friends are expert physical comedians. Sometimes their facial expressions alone cause hilarity.

But what truly makes Friends a special series are the many moments of true love and sacrifice that the characters make for each other throughout the series. There are serious subjects tackled in Friends, including a sexual abuse storyline that is played for laughs but also gets the point across that what happened to Joey as a child and then Chandler as an adult was inappropriate and wrong. The series also deals with infertility, adoption, excessive drinking, and the pain of divorce. And the way these six friends help each other through the bad times is a reminder of the theme song lyrics, “I’ll be there for you.”

One of the other most popular sitcoms of the Nineties was Seinfeld. It also featured a group of friends living in New York City. But the tone was more cynical and heartless. Not one of the main characters was particularly sympathetic, and they weren’t all that kind or supportive of each other. So it was easy to laugh at each of them when bad things happened to them. You kind of felt that they deserved it. Friends was an entirely different kind of comedy. Although the characters could at times be selfish and competitive, when push came to shove, they always chose their friendship over themselves.

It turns out the rumors about Netflix ditching its Friends were unfounded. The series will continue to be streamed through 2019. That gives my daughter and me a little breathing room as we head into the home stretch in season 10. But as hooked as we are on our late night bonding over the trials and tribulations of Monica, Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Joey, and Phoebe, I suspect we will have finished the series before we ring in the New Year.

 

31 Days of Kindness

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47192929_2197798976919662_2821843979337728000_oShortly before December, my niece posted a Kindness Calendar on Facebook. Being a big fan of Advent calendars and the whole countdown to Christmas, I decided to give it a try. With traditional Advent calendars, you get something (a chocolate or small toy) each day of December. The Kindness Calendar asks a person to give something every day until Christmas. I printed out the calendar and taped it to my fridge. So began a transformational month that has given so much more meaning to the Christmas season for me.

Each day I have done my best to fulfill the task set for me by the calendar. It might be something simple like purchasing an extra bag of groceries for the local food pantry. It might be nonmaterial: a kind word, a positive note, a mental or emotional adjustment. Some of the activities had disappointing results. When given the task to smile at as many people as possible one day, I was forced to notice that not only do most people not smile back, most people don’t even make eye contact with one another during the course of the day.

Yet as the month has gone by, I have found my heart to be so much more open and expansive. Giving things away, whether physical or emotional, has made me treasure this season of goodwill so much more deeply and personally. After performing my “good deed” for the day, I felt so much happier and less stressed about the many things on my To Do list. The more I recognized others’ needs, the more abundantly blessed I felt.

Christmas is almost here. I’ve got most of the gifts wrapped and the cards sent. Soon all four of my kids will be in the house causing happy mayhem. And this year, I have a peaceful, contented heart with which to receive them.

It’s not surprising to me that the Kindness Calendar was created by an organization called Action for Happiness. Trite as it may sound, using the calendar has reminded me that it really is better to give than to receive. Giving of ourselves comes back to us in double measure.

May all of us experience Christmas joy by performing little acts of kindness on our way to the manger this year.

Second to None

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jmnlnq8gmyk5u5g4p7ifThere was jubilation in the Second City this weekend as the Chicago Bears not only defeated their nemesis, the Green Bay Packers, but also clinched the NFC North title for the first time in eight years. First a World Series championship for the drought-ridden Cubs, and now a possible Super Bowl slot for our beleaguered, beloved Bears!

Lately, there has been a lot of negative media focus on the state of Illinois finances and the violence and dysfunction in the city of Chicago. In particular, police abuse of black suspects and weekend shooting sprees on the South and West sides make our fair city seem bleak and inhospitable. Particularly in the winter, when the greenery is scant and the temps dip low, it’s easy to bash the “city of big shoulders,” as Carl Sandburg described it in 1914.

Yet my hometown remains a vital, interesting, and important part of the American landscape. It may be true that thousands of Illinoisans have left the state in search of jobs and lower taxes. But a recent report showed that the exodus hasn’t had an appreciable negative effect on the economy here. (“Fitch Ratings Inc. says Illinois’ out-migration a ‘long-established’ trend that hasn’t hurt state’s economic growth,” Chicago Tribune, Dec. 3, 2018)

Chicago has a thriving cultural scene that rivals anything happening on either coast. Live theater, professional dance, architectural marvels, and a world class restaurant scene make it easy to find interesting activities any day of the week. We have museums that feature great art work, scientific marvels, and the history of both Chicago and the Earth itself.

There is certainly no evidence of a “brain drain” from our fair city either. People come to Chicago from across the country for access to some of the best medical facilities in the world. The University of Chicago boasts numerous Nobel Laureates and innovators in the sciences and economics. Northwestern University, a quick hop, skip, and jump from the city, is a preeminent institution of higher learning. Its state of the art medical campus features views of the Great Lake Michigan.

Our president and others in the public eye may like to focus on the negatives of a city that is home to 2.7 million people of all different races, ethnicities, religions, and socioeconomic statuses. I choose to see Chicago as I have always seen it: an exciting, boisterous, friendly, and down-to-earth place that I am thrilled to call home.

Baby, It’s P.C. Outside

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On a recent long drive, I heard five different versions of the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” While the 1944 Christmas classic has always been played at this time of year, I suspect the reason for its renewed popularity is that some radio stations have banned it on the grounds that it references sexual coercion.

In light of the #MeToo movement and the conviction of Bill Cosby, who drugged women and raped them, the song’s lyric, “Say, what’s in this drink?,” has taken on sinister overtones. Critics argue that the woman in the song keeps saying no and the man keeps refusing to take her “no” seriously.

But the full context of the song paints a different picture. The woman is mostly worried about appearances: “The neighbors might think,” and”There’s bound to be talk tomorrow.” It’s clear she wants to stay: “At least I’m gonna say that I tried.” And she keeps accepting “maybe just a half a drink more” and later “a cigarette more.”

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is an old song that reflects very different sexual mores. It would have been considered improper for a woman to spend the night at a man’s place. Her family would be upset, and people would gossip. There was also a double standard (which, sadly, still exists today) that men were expected to pursue women openly while women had to act demure and as if they were too virtuous to want sex.

So is the song sexist and retro? Yes! But I don’t think that is grounds for banning it from airplay. There are so many songs from the past that have sexist and downright disturbing lyrics. Take the Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb.” It’s all about how the man has asserted dominance over his woman. Isn’t anyone offended by the lyrics, “the way she talks when she’s spoken to?” And how about “Run For Your Life” by the Beatles: “I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man.” And don’t even get me started on the lyrics of a lot of current music.

I realize that part of the brouhaha over “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is that it’s supposed to be a feel good holiday song. I understand why people find it offensive. And certainly, no one should be forced to listen to it or any other song to which they object. But to ban it? I personally cannot watch the movie “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” due to the racist portrayal of an Asian character by Mickey Rooney. But I’m not interested in preventing others from watching it. Nor do I consider them racist for liking the film. The level of sensitivity to what offends us these days has gone overboard.

The irony of the “BICO” ban is that the song seems to have become more popular than ever. Obviously, people don’t want to be told what they should or should not listen to. So let’s lay off “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Frankly, I’m getting really sick of hearing it.

Phone Home?

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My son’s iPhone died recently, and it was sort of like losing a limb for him. He emailed us to inform us about it and to let us know he would be going to the Apple store to see if the phone could be saved. My husband asked him to borrow a friend’s phone and give us a call to talk about the options should the phone not be salvageable. The only wrinkle was that our son has no idea what our phone numbers are.

This is one of the casualties of the digital age. No one memorizes other people’s phone numbers. And no one keeps a paper address book so that they can retrieve the number even when their phone is on the fritz. Instead, a dead phone means the total loss of all the contacts stored within it. I pride myself on memorizing numbers easily. Just ask me to rattle off my credit card or drivers license number. But even I struggled when my other son got a new phone number through his work and I tried to memorize it. Since the number was stored in my iPhone contacts, I didn’t really need to dial (antiquated term!) the number. So it took me months and deliberate effort to commit my son’s number to memory.

This difficulty with phone numbers is not the only loss that has come with the digital age.  Our dependence on technology has affected other parts of our lives. Take, for instance, the art of writing. The vast majority of people never put pen to paper, choosing instead to send emails, type essays on the computer, or jot notes electronically in their cell phones. I can foresee a future in which pens and writing implements actually become obsolete. Yet research has shown that people retain information better when they physically write it down on paper. (Just ask any shopper who left her grocery list at home on the counter!)

Our ability to gather information has also become dependent on technology. Without the internet, most people wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to do research. We wouldn’t be able to find phone numbers and addresses of local businesses. Some of us would have a hard time getting our shopping done. My cousin went back to college in the not too distant past to get a bachelors degree in a new subject. When called upon to do a research project with a small group, my cousin went old school. She gathered a number of books on the subject, sat her group down, and had them sift through the information in the books to solve the hypothetical problem posed in the assignment. The small group of Millennials were a bit dumbfounded by this method, but most agreed that they got a lot out of searching for information in this way.

Advances in technology are beneficial to productivity and often make life easier for us. I’m grateful for all the ways technology has helped me perform household chores, kept me warm or cool depending upon the season, and made it easier to find what I’m looking for. But just as the use of calculators made people forget how to do basic arithmetic, the use of computers (including those mini ones in our pockets) has caused some of our basic mental and physical skills to atrophy. I think a balance between the old and the new would be a helpful way to get the best of both worlds.

Maybe E.T. could have phoned home more easily if he had just written down the number!

Selling Luxury

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Recently, numerous style movers and shakers were invited to the opening of a boutique featuring the work of a new Italian shoe designer, Bruno Palessi. Shoppers were impressed by the unique designs and incredible workmanship, and many paid hundreds of dollars to snag a pair of the latest hot brand.

There was only one problem. There’s no shoe designer named Bruno Palessi. The opening was an advertising stunt devised for Payless Shoes, a discount retailer that has been seeing a decline in business over the past several years and is hoping shoppers will rediscover their shoes. The shoes those unwitting shoppers paid hundreds of dollars for – and rhapsodized so eloquently about – were the same ones that retail at Payless for about $30. (The suckers shoppers got their money back and were given the shoes for free.)

Such is the role of perception in our buying decisions. Who among us has not been impressed by a fancy-sounding name or upscale look? I know I often assume that the pricier item is the better one whether I’m purchasing a sweater or a set of headphones.

And branding is another powerful motivator of buying decisions. Designer labels and brands that become instantly popular carry a lot of weight with shoppers, who are willing to pay much more for the “real thing.” Take Uggs, those delightful sheepskin imports from Australia. All things Ugg are way more pricey than their no-name counterparts. But I would contend that my “Fuggs” (fake Uggs) are just as cozy, cute and durable as the expensive name brand ones.

It’s not just apparel either. I remember when my oldest was about 9 or 10, and the Razor scooter was de rigueur for any self-respecting preteen. With my inherent cheapness, I attempted to buy a different brand of scooter but was told in no uncertain terms that it had to be a Razor and none other. And, of course, we need look no further than Apple to realize that once a brand takes hold in the public mind, other makes and models are looked upon as second-rate.

Back in high school, I wrote a research paper on the perfume industry and was unsurprised to find out that the price of cologne reflects mostly the cost of marketing and packaging, not of the aromatic liquid in the bottle. I learned that there is seldom a recession in the cosmetic industry because people are always willing to buy a little bit of luxury to make themselves feel better even in the worst of times.

This holiday season, we might consider the power of marketing and presentation when we go to the malls or shop online. We might save a bit of money – or, as in the case of the gullible Palessi shoppers, our self-respect.