Tuesday, May 17, 2011

In which I succumb to the lure of shiny technology (and other small acts of terrorism against the print industry).

It was a bit like fate, except in the form of a surprisingly pricey gift card. I went to the company holiday party for the free lunch and the promise of time away from my computer, and although I knew they were doing a raffle, I hadn't expected to actually win something. Yet they'd called my name, and there I stood with an American Express gift card in hand.

There were other prizes, too, and next to me a friend murmured "Too bad you didn't win that iPad." I didn't bother telling her I was shocked enough to have won the gift card: I'd never won a raffle before in my life, and I'd entered enough to know the odds were stacked high against me.

In any case, the prize was well received, even if it wasn't an iPad, and I already knew what I wanted to do with it. A dear friend of mine had purchased an eReader several months before and then convinced another mutual friend to buy one, too, so I'd been hearing about the glories of the eReader for months. As it happened, the gift card was enough that I could buy an eReader of my own and still have some funds leftover to splurge on a few cheap accessories.

Still, I agonized over it.

"Maybe I should treat my coworkers to a lunch or a happy hour or something," I mused over the phone to my mother. "I mean, they worked just as hard as I did this year."

My mother waited a bit before she answered. "It was a raffle."

"Yeah, but they deserved to win stuff just as much as me..."

"It was a raffle," she stressed. "It has nothing to do with whether or not you deserve it. It's just luck, and you were lucky."

"Well, yeah, but --"

Clearly she could tell this argument was going nowhere; she gave up. "Do what you want with the gift card," she said. "No one is going to care."

She was right, of course. When I casually brought up the idea of using the gift card for a happy hour to my coworkers, they shook their heads at me. "Use it for something fun," they said. "Go on a shopping spree. Go wild!"

Even though they'd more or less made the decision for me, the gift card sat in my wallet, unused, for several months. I've never been the kind of person who goes on huge spending sprees or buys something without thinking it over first, and even though I'd mostly made up my mind that I did want this eReader, I couldn't bring myself to go to the store and actually purchase it. Instead I spent untold hours researching it online and doing side-by-side comparisons against its main competitor. I read reviews on about a billion tech-oriented sites until I understood the ins and outs of the device. I convinced my friend, the one who had been raving about the reader since buying it in early October, to let me fiddle with it while I was at her house so that I could get a feel for the device. I tried desperately to find someone who owned the competitor so I could play with that as well, but wasn't too devastated when that didn't pan out.

My mother didn't quite understand my fascination with the eReader.

"You could just buy the book," she argued.

I put the phone to my other ear. "I could, except I don't have anywhere to put it. My bookshelves are all full, and if I add anything else to that pile on top of my dresser, it's going to fall over and probably give one of my cats a concussion. They have enough problems."

"So why not just get a library card?"

"I have a library card."


"My library isn't very good." This was only partially true. My library had an extensive inter-library loan system, but my actual branch rarely had the books I wanted and, quite frankly, I didn't have the patience to wait for them. "Besides, there's a great eBook library. So after I get the reader, I don't even have to buy all the books. I can just get them loaned out to me."

"I guess," she said, though her voice was riddled with doubt. "But I'd rather just have the book in my hands. I like the feel of paper."

"Yeah," I agreed. "I do, too."

Working in the publishing industry, I was sensitive to the plight of the print book. I was also more than a little in love with the look, feel, and smell of paper. But as I'd told my mother, I had no space for books, and with an eReader... Well, at least it took up less space, and killed a few less trees.

In mid-February, almost three months after winning the gift card and nearly half a year after I first found myself coveting my friend's eReader, I headed to the store. I made sure Amanda was with me, in case I needed to be talked out of the purchase, but when I made my way to the counter, it was an easy decision. The sales person was honest about the perks and drawbacks to the device. He explained the battery life and memory to me, and when I spouted off some of what I'd learned about the features in my months of research, he confirmed what I'd read and showed me more or less how to use them.

"I own one of these myself," he said. "But it's for reading, definitely, not for web-browsing. So as long as that's what you want..."

"That's what I want," I confirmed. "I have a laptop for browsing."

He laughed. "Yeah," he said. "That's what people get the iPad for."

As he went into the back to grab an unopened eReader for me, Amanda and I perused the selection of covers and accessories. Having already spent hours upon hours on the store's website, I knew exactly what I wanted and found it quickly. I gushed over the leather working on the case, and, when the sales person brought me the eReader, I clutched it to my chest with glee. He laughed and walked away to do his job; Amanda shook her head at me.

"That guy almost talked me into buying one," she said. "You'll have to let me play with yours."

The eReader mania was clearly infectious, and the more I played with mine and discovered new features, the more I fell in love with it. When I found out that the eReader offered up a discount on electronic newspaper subscriptions, well... That was an easy decision, what with my failed attempt at meeting my "Keep Current!" goal with the physical newspaper. I quickly purchased a subscription and went on with my life.

The local paper, however, clearly didn't get the message. About a month and a half after I canceled the paper subscription and shortly after I bought my eReader, I received a card in the mail telling me that I had a "99-cent balance" on my account and that they would be continuing my service in order to use that balance... unless I called them and refused the service, in which case I could instead receive a check for the ninety-nine cents. Of course, the last day I would be able to call to refuse the service was the day before I received the card, and I really didn't want a check for ninety-nine cents anyway.

The paper had learned to be sneaky.

After pacing back and forth in my kitchen for a while, I called the paper and, after a twenty minute argument as to whether or not I should get the paper, I finally convinced the person on the phone that really, I didn't want the paper. No, really. The words "your paper is useless" apparently did nothing, but when I pulled out my eReader and asked 'Well, why didn't your paper cover such-and-such story this week?', my question was met with silence.

"Yeah," I said. "That's the kind of news I want. Not the stories about sports."

"Well, we have two very in-depth sections devoted to local and international news..."

"No," I said, flipping through those sections. "You have one page covering international news and you have about half a section devoted to local news. The rest is all about sports."

The paper representative was very, very quiet.

"Thank you," I said. "I don't want the check. Just please take me out of your database. All right?"

They sighed. "All right," they conceded, and hung up.

Confident that I'd won that argument, I did a victory lap around my kitchen while my cats stared at me like I'd gone crazy.Victory lap aside, this wasn't entirely unusual.

When I received a letter from the local paper two days later offering me a so-called deal of a lifetime if I'd only just sign back up for a physical newspaper subscription, I shred it with no small amount of glee and went back to reading the New York Times on my eReader. I still get the letters periodically -- about once every few days -- but since they make good cat toys when crumpled up, I'm not quite ready to call the paper and complain (again).

Besides, I'm waiting for them to offer me a pony. Or at least something with buttons, a rechargeable battery, and an e-ink screen. And it would help if I could also use it to read books and subscribe to newspapers that actually write about things that aren't sports.

Waaaiiiiit a minute.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

That's why this lady is a tramp

There's a story that's been going around lately about how I've become the office tramp.  Now, it's not what you might think.  A few weeks ago I was allowed to go down to D.C. to represent our company at a conference.  I decided I needed a nice professional outfit to make a good impression, so Catherine helped me shop for one.  I got a two piece skirt and bustier matching set with a nicely fitted black suit jacket.  It looks pretty sharp, if I do say so myself.  And the bustier is very high and doesn't even look much like a bustier.  Anyway, I told my mother excitedly about my new clothes and how great it was all going to be, to which she replied from her end of the phone, "that sounds completely inappropriate for a business function."  The disgust in her voice (probably from hearing the word "bustier") was apparent and my self-esteem took a bit of a blow.  However, when I told Catherine about it, she burst out laughing that my mother thought I was a tramp for wearing what was by all means a conservative outfit.

Now I'm not one to flaunt what I've got or even wear anything remotely suggestive.  At least, I wasn't until a few months ago when I started getting more confident about how I look and act.  Wearing better fitting (and sometimes even a bit sexy!) clothes does wonders for how you feel about your body.  When you feel good about how you look, it shows.  I've had some issues with body image, but nothing too major.  Anyway, I feel like learning to dance has helped me find a lot of confidence.  I find I'm taking chances and by going out to salsa clubs, I'm meeting people and putting myself out there.

Which brings me to a completed goal (finally!) - goal number 22: Put Myself Out There.  Something about social dancing used to make me very anxious and uncomfortable.  If you've ever seen the film Marty, I was definitely Clara - all alone on the sidelines of the dance hall getting passed over by guys and not having enough guts to take the initiative.  I never even went to my senior prom.  But this new challenge to try a dance class helped me to get over that shyness.  Imagine my surprise when all the guys in my class were also nervous and couldn't dance!  I'm still a bit shy when I go to the salsa club, but even that's starting to change.  And there's a lot to be said about pretending to be confident - about two months ago I met a guy there I really liked and with a lot of encouragement from my wing woman (Catherine), I got up the nerve to give him my email address.  We have since started to hang out with other salsa folks and very recently have been on a few dates.  I'm not about to spill my whole story here on a public forum, but what I really want to say is that at long last I feel good about myself.  I have no idea if anything serious will happen or not, but that's not the point.  The point is that I'm taking a chance again.         

Another plausible title for this blog post would be "I Wish I Were in Love Again."  I've always chuckled at the lyrics to that song, which talk about all the awful aspects of being in love, yet the singer nevertheless wishes to be in that place again.  Here are some of the best lines: "The broken dates, the endless waits /The lovely loving and the hateful hates/The conversations with the flying plates - I Wish I Were in Love Again."  During a phone call with a college friend of mine who is now in San Francisco, I told her about this conundrum.  Taking a chance on love (ha! another Sinatra song title!) is really just opening up your heart to a whirl of emotions, like going from a merry-go-round to a roller coaster.  But when it comes right down to it, I'd rather be on the roller coaster, plummeting blows and all.  Because even when you go through all those endless waits and broken dates, it's the experience that makes it all worthwhile.  I don't know now if it's been the salsa or the new clothes or even just meeting the right people at the right time, but that confidence I've been faking since January is finally starting to feel more genuine.  I promise to keep getting out there taking all kinds of chances on life and on love, and for you, dear readers, I promise to report back.  :-)