Texas Road Etiquette

For Texans, there’s a set of unwritten, yet fully understood rules of etiquette that apply when driving on highways.   If you’re the slower-moving vehicle on one of the hundreds (thousands?) of two-lane highways that weave throughout the state and a faster one approaches behind, it’s simply expected that you’ll ease over onto the shoulder and let the faster driver pass without having to occupy the oncoming lane.   And accordingly, if you’re the faster driver who’s just been afforded this courtesy, it’s expected that you’ll give a little wave as you pass and/or after that slower car has moved back into the lane after you’ve gone by.

If you’ve never been a part of this graceful driver’s version of the Texas Two-Step, it may sound a little complicated, but it’s not — it happens so frequently throughout any trip within the Lone Star State, it’s instinctual.

trucks passing on a Texas two-lane highway

Over the Easter holiday, we found ourselves on many of these two-lane roads and noticed how this Texas road courtesy is becoming a thing of the past.   Out of about 6 hours of driving on two-lane roads on that trip, there were very few drivers who would move over and allow us to pass.   Also, I noticed that when I pulled over to let people pass me, not a single person on this trip gave me the customary “wave” to say thank you.

All of this really bothers me a lot.   I’m saddened that people aren’t teaching their children the common driving courtesies that my parent’s did.   It seems that it’s mostly my generation that has done this.   What happened?   Have we become so impatient & self-absorbed that we’ve completely done away with common courtesy?
 

Generation Z – The Natives Are Restless

I’m sure you’ve heard of the demographic groups "Generation X" and "Generation Y" — and there’s a good chance that you fall into one of those two — but did you know there’s also a category for our kids: "Generation Z."   While there’s some contention about the exact start & end years, this generation generally consists of children born after 1995 and will cut off at 2021.   (Some insist that this group begins in 2001 and accordingly, label it the "9-11 Generation.")

However you define it, today’s kids will be the most connected generation ever in terms of technology and on a worldwide scale.

  They will have never known a world without the Internet, notebook PCs, digital cameras, iPods, DVDs, & cellular phones.   They will have never known life without MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and a vast sea of other social media stuff that many of us are only just now tentatively dipping a toe into.   Generation Z children are, in other words, digital natives.   Or to put it another way…

Your child is a digital native but you’ll forever be a digital immigrant.


I recently ran across those terms from and the concept really stuck with me.   It’s been such a pervasive notion that it’s prompted lots of introspection & raised some very interesting questions.

I’m amazed by how appropriate the concept is, especially thinking in terms of literal immigrants who come to America, with the barriers for entry and the subsequent difficulties that they face once here.   As I’ve mulled this over, I keep remembering movies & TV shows where immigrants and/or their children were central to the stories.   Thinking the similarities between the concepts of national and digital immigrants, I’m forced to wonder:

  • Is my thick immigrant accent coming through when I rail against cell phone text messaging?   (A phone, after all, is for talking to someone else!)
  • Is refusing to add a DVD player in my car a bit like clinging to archaic Old World values that’re out of place in today’s society?
  • By not embracing MySpace, satellite radio, or streaming movies, am I like an aggravatingly stubborn immigrant who struggles with (or simply chooses to remain mostly ignorant of) English language?
  • Do my arguments that technology is making us impatient and short-sighted seem like quaint, cranky ramblings about how things were back in the "Old Country?"

What about you — what do you think of the concept of digital natives vs. immigrants?   Do you see how it applies to you?
 

Ward Cleaver Strikes Back

fiftiess Dad iconRemember the vintage advertisements of the ’50s that featured the Dad sitting in his easy chair, enjoying a cup of coffee while reading the newspaper and usually wearing a suit & tie or at least a smoking jacket & house slippers? For the past several weekends, I’ve had that image lodged in my head. I certainly don’t bear any resemblance to that Norman Rockwell-ish depiction, but lately, I sure am feeling it…

Y’see, I always brew up a fresh pot of coffee in the mornings. And back around the first of the year, we started subscribing to the newspaper. Then you add in the other new tradition we’ve sorta eased into, "Pancake Saturdays," (courtesy of Dede!) and you have the makings for quite a cozy start to the weekend.

So there I was early this morning, having padded out to the end of the driveway in my robe & big fluffy houseshoes to get the Sunday paper, retreating to my big brown leather easy chair with a cup of coffee in hand. Y’know, a few routines of fatherhood were a bit tough to get accustomed to, but then there are some that are just downright comfy to settle into.

Welcome back to the ’50s — just call me “Mr. Cleaver.”

Monopoly Madness

Rich Uncle Milburn Pennybags a.k.a. Mr. MonopolyIt seems that the drive for immediate gratification has corrupted yet another element of my childhood. Maybe I’m just a nostalgic atavist, but when I learned (from Dede) that the newest versions of Monopoly use plastic instead of paper money, I was crushed.

Yup, rather than shipping with traditional compliment of $15,140 in cash, Monopoly’s colorful paper currency has now been replaced with 5 shiny debit cards that you swipe in a digital reader when purchasing properties, paying rent, or making other transactions. That’s just disturbing.

Ok sure, it’s just a board game, but it always had an educational aspect as well. Monopoly was the first exposure most of us had to handling cash, investing in property, saving for improvements, negotiating power deals, entering into financial partnerships, and planning for future expenses—like making sure you’ve got enough money to weather the fiscal devastation should you fail to successfully hopscotch through your brother’s “Hotel Row” via Community Chest, Luxury Tax, or one of those blasted railroads.

So, do you feel that debit cards ruin the classic game or does the electronic angle give a tired old game a compelling new twist? Post a comment and let us know what your take is on this!

Related Trivia: Extra bonus points to whoever can correctly give the formal name of Monopoly’s mustached mascot. (No fair Googling the answer!)

Update: Discover the answer to the Monopoly trivia question!

Patience Needed – Now!

Windows Vista dialog box

In these Bluetooth-enabled, bullet-pointed, increasingly-digital times, I’m worried that we’re losing something truly vital — patience. It appears that we’ve all but lost the ability to delay gratification and recognize that some things really are worth waiting for. Our society is so focused on the now that we’ve forgotten about the value of later.

What’s especially scary about that loss is scientists now believe there’s a link between delayed gratification and intelligence. At the very minimum, it’s a given that tolerance & patience are key indicators of emotional & social maturity—and we’re presently in very short supply of those much-needed qualities.

Gimme Credit!

So I happened to be thinking about layaways recently. For those not old enough to recall, this used to be a way to purchase an item when you didn’t have enough money to buy it outright. You’d take your merchandise to the “Layaway Counter” at the store, where the clerk would set your item back and take a down-payment. Then you’d go back from time to time to make additional payments until you had the item paid off. Only then did you get to take your new prized possession home.

But now just about anyone with a pulse can get a credit card, regardless of their ability to repay the lent money. So, people find some goodie at the store, swipe their plastic, and away they go with the new prized possession—with little or no thought about whether they can actually afford (or need) the item.   Sure, we all like the immediacy of getting some great new thing right now, but at the same time, maybe something’s lost when we succumb to those impulses. (We’ve certainly seen the mess that credit can cause with the recent financial crises.)

But my point isn’t whether people should have credit or not—it’s about self-moderation and the value of delaying gratification. Deferring a purchase can give you a chance to evaluate “want” versus “need” and once you’ve distanced yourself a bit, often you’ll find that the need just isn’t there. Back when credit cards weren’t so prevalent, anticipation made the end result all the more rewarding.

Picture This!

And do you remember when you used to have to snap a roll of photos, drop off the film canister for development, then wait days to get the prints? The immediacy of digital cameras—click the button and take a dozen shots, then just toss the ones that don’t make the cut right into the bit bucket. Take the best of the lot, tweak &; crop the image, and blast your masterpiece to the nearby printer. But here again, maybe there’s something lost in the instantaneousness of it all.

I’m not ready to forgo my digital camera and revert back to film, but I do believe that the expectancy made the experience all the more rewarding when you finally pulled those prints out of the little envelope and saw your handiwork for the first time, days (or even weeks) after the shot. Certainly, we were much more judicious about snapping photos then, knowing that even the crummy ones would cost.

Listen Here!

Have you noticed that as music has become easier to acquire, it’s also become far more disposable? Count the number of truly great albums you’ve heard in the last year and compare that to maybe 5 years ago. With the immediacy of digital music, it seems consumers are at the same time more demanding, yet less discriminating. That is, why bother buying an entire crappy album when you can just cherry-pick the 2 individual tracks that are good? Many artists are feeding into this mindset by focusing on quantity rather than quality, a kind of scattershot approach.

And while a new album used to be something special—you anticipated the release for weeks, eager for the day when you could finally go to the store and plunk down your cash for the new record or CD—I wonder if we’ve lost some of the significance now that music is just a quick click away on the Internet. Music used to have a tangible quality as well, with the album cover and liner notes adding to the overall experience. I thoroughly enjoy listening to my iPod & MP3s, but at the same time, music downloads just seem somehow less substantial, slightly less meaningful than their old physical predecessors.

Hold Up!

Increasingly, there’s a startling lack of patience and everyone’s clamoring for instant gratification with very few people noticing the consequences, It’s a nasty Catch-22 loop—we want something right now, but the meaning or significance is often lost because of the immediacy and we just end up wanting more all the sooner. Or upon following that “get it now” impulse, we discover that it really wasn’t all that desirable or special after all.

Each successive generation seems to be coming down the pike expecting more & more immediate gratification. I don’t necessarily think technology is to blame, but the one-click immediacy of the digital world is certainly an unbelievably fertile breeding ground for the “gotta have it now!” mentality that’s pervading society.

What do you think? Anyone else noticed how impatient people are becoming? Is our society experiencing a massive breakdown of self-control or am I just having a massive case of nostalgia?

Credit Where It Is Due

thumbs up graphicComplaining about consumer experiences comes easy and it seems like there’s plenty of poor customer service to go around these days.   What’s less easy is to remember to sing praises when someone has gone above & beyond for you.   So I’d like to take a moment to do just that…

Watch Out

Several years ago, Dede bought me an awesome Skagen titanium watch while we were at Macy’s in San Diego’s Horton Plaza.   This is the only watch I’ve ever owned that doesn’t interact badly with the oils in my skin and corrode.   I took it to a local jeweler to have the battery replaced recently, only to discover that I had unknowingly sheared off the stem & crown — y’know, the little knob on the side.   The jeweler tried to find a replacement part but finally gave up after several weeks of hunting.   In desperation, I called the Skagen customer service number.   A mere $8 (for shipping) later, and not only did the manufacturer repair the broken stem, but also replaced the battery and polished the crystal.

For $8 bucks!   Gotta give those Danes some props for an excellent product and outstanding service behind it.

Looking Up

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that Liam had done some real carnage on the temple tips (y’know, the rubbery plastic coatings that cover the ends of the temples over the ears) of his fairly-new glasses.   So Dede sent some email to the customer service folks at Zenni Optical to see if they offered replacement tips.   We were thrilled to hear back from them quickly and that they could send us free replacements.   What we didn’t expect is that they’d send a whole new pair of glasses — with lenses!

Next time you’re shopping for glasses, you’ve gotta give these folks a shot!   We were impressed with them even before this because of their prices, selection, and speedy shipping.   But now…   They’re incredible!

What about you?   Any great customer service stories to share?
 

Motivated Marketing

Gasoline has now peaked $4 per gallon and you’re stuck driving a hulking behemoth that gets 12 M.P.G. — if you’ve got a tailwind.   How the heck did this happen?

Marketing.

It’s not easy to admit, but most of us are willing victims of marketing.   Very, very clever people are paid lavish salaries to coax, convince, or otherwise cajole our ideals and opinions about everything from cars to shoes to pizza to trashbags.   Yup, these are the guys whose job it is to bend our wills — and they’re very, very good at it.   In particular, U.S. automakers & their marketing wizards have a magical hold on us.   They’ve been hand-crafting the public’s perceived need for the kind of vehicles they want us to buy for decades now.   Not sure what I mean?   Don’t think you can be manipulated?   Need proof?

     "That thing got a Hemi?"

Pure genius.   I didn’t even know what the heck a Hemi was when that Dodge advertising campaign launched, but I sure was checking the contents of my shorts, feeling so inadequate over not having a big honkin’ truck equipped with a Hemi engine.   Think that doesn’t sell vehicles?   Think again!   Take note of how many big hinkin’, 8-cylinder, 4-wheel drive, quad-cab trucks and lumbering, oversized SUVs are on the road serving as nothing more than single-occupancy commuter vehicles.

Yup, American automakers haven’t needed to be concerned with fuel efficiency or catering to the small car market because they’ve had most of us securely under their spell for so long.   They’ve snookered us into believing that bigger & more cylinders are better and that we need the horsepower to do zero-to-60 in 6.5 seconds or else we’re pansies.   If you’re driving a small, inexpensive car with a fuel-efficient 4-cylinder engine, you must either be destitute (because affluent people drive big cars with beefy engines), or some kind of treehugging, rice-eating, commie-lovin’, hippie.

By golly, if you’re not driving a big-ass, rubber-burnin’, God Bless America, gas-guzzling GM truck, well, Bob Seger & John Mellencamp are going to come over to your house, beat ya up, drink up all your beer, and prolly take your girlfriend!

And women aren’t immune to the crafty marketing pressures either.   A decade or so ago, U.S. automakers began targeting that segment by hoodwinking safety-conscious moms with the false perception that SUVs are safer.

Even now, they’re feverishly trying to hustle the more environmentally-aware among us with SUV hybrids.   These are nothing more than a sad, misguided, & utterly greedy attempt on the behalf of automakers to seem "green" yet continue to cater to outdated, redneck attitudes.   The whole idea of the improved fuel efficiency of a hybrid is almost completely negated by the added weight & poor aerodynamics of SUVs.   (Not to mention that they’re still not nearly as safe as they’d have you believe.)

So how the heck are we supposed to feel good about buying a small car from these hucksters now?

Marketing.

After more than 50 years of profiting handsomely (to put it mildly) from skillfully shaping our desires & subsequent purchasing habits by building false perceptions and stroking our redneck egos about how horsepower equals manhood, the automotive industry & their marketing geniuses have a social responsibility to apply that same moneygrubbing fervor towards making Americans feel OK about buying smaller, less resource-wasteful cars.

Advertising shapes public opinion so automakers need to get busy selling a new idea!
 

Paris Hilton Shall NOT Be In Attendance

Baking For the Birthday Boy

Dede's homemade cupcakesLiam is turning the big "2" tomorrow so in preparation for the occasion, Dede got all domesticated today and baked not only a coupla dozen cupcakes for his daycare class, but also a big cake, complete with artful writing & sprinkles, for a little family gathering that we had today.

Yes, that’s right Brad D. & Glenda, we’re not total sticks in the mud — we do let Liam have sweets from time to time.   And even though he’ll be turning 2 years old tomorrow, this’ll be the first time he’s ever had a birthday party, so this certainly qualifies as a sweets-worthy occasion!

Watch our Russian Adoption Journal blog for highlights & photos of the big event!

Have Birthdays Jumped the Shark?

And on the topic of birthdays, Dede & I have been noticing that there’s a definite trend towards increasingly extravagant children’s birthday parties.   Renting a traveling petting zoo, reserving private time at a water park, a block party complete with a DJ spinning kids’ music…   These soirees costing hundreds of dollars or more are arranged by ordinary, otherwise well-meaning, mere mortals like us or you — not whackadoo celebrities in LA-LA-Land for whom money is no object.

University of Minnesota social science professor William Doherty has founded an online campaign called Birthdays Without Pressure to shed a little light on the excesses that seem to have overtaken today’s birthday parties & offer resources to help combat the intense pressure that some parents say they’re under to ramp up for these behemoth birthday bashes for their kids.   The website offers some great ideas for low-key, low-cost, low-stress birthdays that’re still fun for all involved.

Do you think childrens’ birthday parties are beginning to become excessive?   Have you encountered a birthday bash that seemed over-the-top?
 

Talking Toys

Learning toyAs Christmas approaches, Dede & I have been talking quite a bit about toys for our new tot.   And I was further prompted to ponder on this by a blog post by Bob over at every, every minute.   A few main topics surfaced as we reflected back on our childhood toys…

Maybe Less Is More

Both of our families were of meager incomes when we were kids, so birthday & Christmas gifts were sparse.   And yet, we’ve decided that because we weren’t showered with dozens of toys the way kids are now, the toys we did receive were more meaningful, more special, and certainly more treasured…   I’d be very interested to hear your views on this — does anyone else think that, in an an unconscious effort to show our love for our kids, we shower them with far too many gifts & toys?

Favorite Toys

So maybe it’s precisely because we had a limited number of toys that some of those really stand out for us even today.   For me, these were:

  • My first bicycle — It took awhile, but once I learned to ride a bike, it was more than transport, it was sweet freedom on swift wheels!   (Thank you Thomas Latham, wherever you are!)
  • Legos — One of those odd skills that I possess is a keen knack for spatial relationships. I can often rearrange the furniture in a room mentally and know whether it’s going to fit before ever lifting a thing.   And I’m a packing guru — Dede just sets out what she wants packed & stands back.   A great deal of this, I attribute to Legos & other "building" toys.
  • G.I. Joes — the classic 12" dudes, with Kung-Fu grip, of course!

For Dede, the standout toys included:

  • Easy Bake Oven — Those little cakes were so awesome, but I always got so frustrated waiting on them to finish cooking (and cooling) so the door would unlock!
  • Bicycle — the ultimate Christmas gift, so huge it wouldn’t even fit under the tree, and it magically appeared in the middle of the night.
  • Baby First Step — she graciously volunteered to be the guinea pig for (and put a quick end to) my dreams of becoming a hairdresser.

Tots Don’t Need Tech

A subject I revisit frequently is how much technology should we introduce to young children.   As a parent-to-be, I fully identify with those who want their kids to have the educational advantages of computers & techie stuff, but I’m .   I’ve yet to see any real proof that today’s teched-out kids are any better-equipped for their future than kids were 10 years ago when there wasn’t all of this pressure to teach computers to little children.   Now, I’m not suggesting we should deprive our little ones the chance to build computer-use skills — only that we resist the temptation to make that a primary educational focus.   I’m convinced that tactile toys are still far more mind-expanding than technological ones.
 

Jumbo Shrimp and SUV Safety

“Jumbo shrimp.”   “Smart bomb.”   “Freezer burn.”

Oxymorons. We’re all familiar with these. Oxymorons are the bringing together of two opposites or contradictory terms. With that in mind, maybe it’s high time we added another phrase to the long list of oxmora:

“SUV safety”

Almost daily, I hear people defaulting to—and defending—the choice of a SUV when the option of buying a new car comes up. In almost every case, the primary reason listed is safety. And who can blame them? We spend an increasing amount of time behind the wheel and people want their families & children to be safe & secure on the road. The perception is that bigger is better, more steel equals stronger, and taller means superior. Add it all up, SUVs just seem like the safest choice, right?

SUV Safety SignFor most SUVs, nothing could be further from the truth…

A string of largely-ignored tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety over recent years has thoroughly documented the fact that many cars are far safer than SUVs. Yet in spite of the known hazards—such as SUVs being prone to rollovers and having weak roofs & comparably poor crash protection—consumer continue to snatch up these hulking behemoths in record numbers. People are, in effect, willfully overlooking vehicle safety concerns because of reasoning that’s known to be untrue.

I urge you to check out Malcolm Gladwell’s very compelling article Big & Bad: How the SUV Ran Over Automotive Safety for a closer look at the pyschology & rationale behind chosing SUVs for safety.

In choosing SUVs, drivers aren’t only placing themselves at greater risk. No, as I mentioned in my Risky Business post back in January, the combination of highly-touted safety innovations (4-wheel drive, ABS brakes, side-curtain airbags, etc.) and the more risk-tolerant attitudes & driving habits of SUV-owners, makes them a greater threat to other drivers as well. Little if any thought seems to go into the issue of SUVs being much more harmful to the other vehicle in a collision but in fact, the more SUVs bought in the interest of safety, the less safe the roads actually are. Popular assumption is that because of the larger size, stiffer frame, and heavier weight of SUVs, they’ll naturally be safer but the taller stance poses a considerably greater rollover risk, the stiffer frame is very inefficient at dissipating collision forces, and the added mass makes for far less break responsiveness & maneuverability.

Be sure to read Physics Today’s very interesting Vehicle Design and the Physics of Safety article for more insight on the impact (pun intended!) of SUVs & pickups on American roadways.

This is all worth considering before plunking down your hard-earned cash on your next vehicle… Will your next ride still be a SUV?