This morning, I decided that I am going to cancel my cable Internet service and again be largely without home Web access for a while. On my way to work tomorrow, I'll drop off the modem and accessories to Time Warner. As has occurred in the past, I just find myself getting too addicted and worry about the affect using the Internet at length every day has on my state of mind.
Random aside: I've just had the epiphany that I hate e-mail for personal use and that it reminds me of everything that's wrong with my life. I'm entertaining the thought of having no non-work e-mail or instant messaging accounts--which would be a quite a disruption, I guess both due to the difficulty of ordering up dodgy downloads and because of the anxiety caused by wondering what I'm missing. The real problem, as I see it, is the anxiety caused by what I'm getting.
I keep close watch on the Internet trying to catch wind of dire news for Starbucks, but I'm sure prevailing winds in our society will only end up being at the coffee company's back. It's down to how well the mermaid fits into a world dominated by Dancing with the Stars: in our unmanagable personal lives, we need big, bold concepts and blockbuster products like the Pumpkin Spice Lattes to unite us.
I was watching the Emmys this evening with my parents and I have to say that, other than Kat Dennings*, it truly was the most negative and depressing three hours of television I have ever seen. The pitch of pop culture is at an all-time low, it seems. In an interesting and otherwise possibly encouraging trend, it's now dominated by women--but if we include the commercials (and why wouldn't we) it's a crass, cynical view of women, with chocolate-induced orgasms and sex-crazed fat ladies. Where 25 or 30 years ago, TV brought us professionals with heart and idealism among the hedonism, we now have the cold and calculating world of The Good Wife.
*In possibly the most Freudian slip ever, I mistyped her name as Kat Demmings in the orginal version of this post.
Before I get into too much of an uproar, it's important to remember some of the surrounding conditions. Television is now all too conscious of its uneasy alliance with the Internet. It must offer big, bold spectacles that can be fodder for the viewer to take back to the water cooler or the digital tribe. What fills that bill is a heaping helping of the outrageous and insulting. Even a show like Desperate Housewives was allowed to die, perhaps because it drew the viewer too much into the lives of its characters. Though it definitely tapped in to what I consider to be today's megatrend par excellence--women who are hot moms and girlfriends--it also offered a fair amount of sincere human appeal. It would seem that little space remains for that on today's airwaves.
More to the point, Hollywood fancies itself the dream machine, but in reality it's a mercantile machine. It's selling commodities that are known sellers and keeping a close eye on the till. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that pursuit. But as a model for the entertainment industry, it is such a relic--of the day when a movie was an actual reel of film that had to be transported to the theater to be viewed by relatively unsophisticated Milwaukeeans (or whoever). Hollywood had better hope that it has the best and brightest minds on board in the coming decade or two, as its old models become less effective. It's already had to shift from the star system to the franchise system, and other changes are sure to come.
There's nothing morally wrong with Alterra tweeting from abroad, but there's an argument to be made that it goes against the spirit of social media. Surely, those who appreciate the hipster ethos of specialty coffee and tweeting want to believe that it's something more than a cheap veneer on good ol' fashioned Wal-Mart style wealth transfer. Even more surely, we want to believe that such interactions aren't just another corporate function to be offshored.
It seems odd that Alterra would think people who enjoy the distinction between pourover and conventional drip-brewed coffee wouldn't mind Twitter as Paul Harvey 2.0--a bland little diversion with lots of commercials. I don't expect some emo barista to be tweeting Ani DeFranco lyrics, but I would expect Alterra's Internet presence to provide immediately visible information about the changing daily offering of food and drink served in the cafes, for instance.
I won't hear of any talk about how Alterra is more righteous than Starbucks. Starbucks, for one, has a business plan that will likely sustain it beyond the end of Baby Boomer spending; they seem to be (shrewdly) positioning themselves as a female fast food alternative. They evidently invest in the R&D, as it were, that will give them a product every few years to tickle that demographic's fancy. The current one is a non-alcoholic mojito. Brilliant--and tasty! The wealth customers transfer to Starbucks goes to Howard Schultz, for sure, but also is used to build a business strategy that will provide jobs long into the future.
The U.S. specialty coffee industry displays astounding stamina. Hell, it is the *coffee* industry, after all. Seriously, I'd love to see a European-style cafe open up here, something like Julius Meinl. But I drank enough overpriced, overextracted cups of truly unremarkable coffee in Europe to know that the core product is sound and sure to experience continued growth.
Many American business figures have a good bit of P.T. Barnum (himself a subject of fascination for me) in them, and Steve Jobs was no exception. I'm intrigued by Jobs' hatred of Flash and its seeming irrationality, at least to my tech-uneducated mind. I've always been frustrated with the apparent inability of the tech gods to understand how most people want to use technology: get on, do your thing, get out. If that sounds a lot like "wham, bam, thank you ma'am", it should. It's frustrating that businesses no longer want to fill a relatively small, defined niche in our lives. Even Barnum presumably knew that the audience doesn't want to spend its entire life under the tent. Nowadays, it's all about being "sticky."
What is my Flash? I ask myself what my irrational hatred-slash-phobia is. Then there's the question of whether or not having it is, in itself, necessarily a bad thing. Too easy is not interesting, and Jobs understood like no other the need for mindshare--and how to gain and maintain it.
Incidentally, I'd argue that lighter-roasted coffee was Starbucks' Flash. It remains to be seen if Starbucks' concession will be akin to Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepherd doing it on Moonlighting. On big and small screen alike--and in the coffeehouse--the box office knows that too easy is not interesting.
I've often thought that for the coffeehouse concept to survive, it should be piggybacked onto some other type of retail. My personal wish would be for it to be piggybacked onto an Apple Store or Windows Store-type concept. Just imagine the emotional home run this could be. A constant source of frustration for me is my inability to engage with technology in a time-effective manner in my free time. Imagine the sales proposition of being able to offer the technical facilities to enable the customer to get a *shitload* done in 15 or 30 minutes while drinking that latte. My current stereotype of coffeehouse patrons is the unmoving twentysomething couple on laptops, camped out for hours on end and filling the cafe area, while the only drinks or money that change hands do so out the drive-thru. I realize that overemployment isn't exactly an epidemic right here, right now--but those in that position would likely be exceedingly grateful for a superfast Internet connection and a consistently "very good" or better drink.
In keeping with the frugalist theme, my 1999 Toyota Corolla has no CD or MP3 player, but only a cassette player. When I went to Shawano on Labor Day weekend, I went to Goodwill to pick up some new tapes. Since almost no one has a cassette player anymore, the only non-country title was Celine Dion's Falling Into You. Kind of the soundtrack of the white middle-class experience. I've actually kind of taken a perverse liking to it. In one song, "I Don't Know," Dion sings "Brutal machines machines machines" and it never fails to crack a smile. It's my favorite kind of fun: low-tech and campy.
In the fifteen years since the album's release, the white middle-class experience--along with that of the rest of the industrialized world--has been increasingly mediated by electronic communications. To my mind, what distinguishes the white middle-class adoption of these communications is the vociferousness with which we make them all-important. Heck, I'm sure one reason--whether conscious or subconscious--for my starting this blog was to address feelings of awkwardness I had over many years of coffeehouse transactions. I remember that in 1995--as I recall, the year I also sent my first e-mail--a serious girlfriend showed me a printed e-mail from an e-argument she was having with a friend, who also happened to be a work colleague and ex-roommate.
As a 38-year-old, I find the pace of online change occasionally maddening. My e-mail interface refuses to be the same two days in a row, it seems. Opportunities for intentional or accidental disclosure abound. How do they make me feel? I think I'm making a choice about how I will feel about it: I'm not going to worry about it. The amount of of self-disclosure on my blogs and other public online activities might be excessive, but I also think it makes a powerful statement: I am a normal and acceptable person and I have nothing to hide. Even if, you know, my every naughty online venture causes lolcats to pop up on my parents' computer screen saying "Meow meow ur son downloadz teh pr0n meow meow," that doesn't need to fill me with a feeling of dread. That doesn't need to be on my mind at all.
Today, I resolved to take greater control of my life by scrambling the Department of Overwhelm Management to unleash a can of whoop-ass on my Facebook, Twitter and e-mail. Wish me luck. These "communication" tools seem to demonstrate the 80/20 principle: 80% of the material comes from the people I am only 20% interested in hearing from. Secretly, I'm waiting for the first animated GIF of people humping on hump day (get it? It's hump day, so they're humping) to give me an excuse to plonk Facebook altogether.
This week, Stone Creek Coffee launched its new website, which, in my opinion, is just about the best I could imagine. It's decidedly generous in terms of well-written descriptions and decidedly lacking in das Blinkenlights and useless gewgaws.