On Technology​, Social Media, and First World Problems

I enjoy reading Susan Orlean’s New Yorker Blog, Free Range.  She is an insightful and intelligent writer who discusses a variety of high-minded topics – not surprising, it’s The New Yorker after all – in an approachable and casual manner.

On June 30, she posted an entry on the blog titled simply, “Problems.”  In it, she lamented that after tweeting a complaint that she “didn’t mind travelling for work but hated having to organize and file my expenses,” her words were mocked by other Twitter users as a #firstworldproblem.  This, Orlean argued, was “peevish; it implied that complaining about filing expenses was an outrageous indulgence since it was evidence that…I lived in a first-world country where there are employed people with solvent employers.”

I agree with Orlean’s response to the mockery: it was indeed peevish and made exactly the implication she stated.  It was also hilarious and spot-on accurate, but that’s not my point.  Instead, her response got me thinking about my use (or lack thereof) of social media as well as the implications said media and technology has on my blogging.

A good friend (and dedicated reader) told me recently that my post titled, “Just Because You Can…” sounded rather whiny, bitter, and crotchety.  It didn’t sound like you, he told me over a few beers the other night; it sounded like someone else was writing.  I took another look at the post the next morning and had to agree – I did sound a bit whiny, bitter, and crotchety.  I also had to concede another point he made: technology wasn’t completely to blame; the Irish software developer “used technology to assist him in solving a riddle. He didn’t Google his way out, he used his brain power to write a program/algorithm.”

So perhaps my continued hand-wringing over technology destroying bar culture is a bit much.  I’ll accept that fact.  But I still believe there’s some benefit to minimizing the role of technology in our daily lives.  Now, I understand the irony of this previous sentence: I am using technology to advocate using less technology (at least while drinking).  My wife enjoys highlighting this on a regular basis and never misses an opportunity to poke fun.

However, several friends have nonetheless encouraged me to connect Twitter to this blog so as to inform my readers on topics such as what I’m drinking on any given evening or where to purchase a particularly tasty or rare bottle.  While I do appreciate these suggestions and certainly don’t discount their usefulness, it’s not my style or purpose.  I prefer (and encourage) instead an atmosphere of leisurely enjoyment and deliberate contemplation while drinking; short and quick isn’t my style.  So I’ve never wanted to integrate a Twitter feed.  Rather, I intend for this blog to be like a favorite periodical: casually read with a cocktail, when your feet are up; carefree and light in substance, but still informative; and hopefully always fun.

Technology, bar culture, social media, blogging: does any of it really matter?  Aren’t these words, just like Susan Orlean’s work expenses, just one gigantic First World Problem?  They are indeed.  Yet for this blog, my own little corner of the internet, they are matters of great importance, matters over which I have spent far too long pondering, debating, and writing.  Writing.  Fully articulating, in clear punctuated sentences; reasoning through my ideas to form rational, logical, and complete thoughts.  Not limited by length, space, or time.  Not abbreviated, off the cuff, or from the hip.

If you’ve made it this far, you likely enjoy your cocktails as you do your writing: carefully and completely prepared, presented neatly with no unnecessary distractions, and enjoyed slowly for full appreciation.  I will continue to strive to make this a destination for celebrating the culture of drink, a luxurious First World Problem, and a place to ruminate over problems affecting only us, drinkers who truly appreciate drink.

Published in: on July 18, 2011 at 9:55 am  Comments (1)  
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Just Because You Can…

Man of Dublin James Joyce

I’ve made no secret of my hatred – hatred! – of technology’s impact on drinking.  I continuously search for bars without televisions and fellow drinkers who leave their digital devices stowed away.  Yet I discovered an article last week that makes me feel I’m on the wrong side of history: technology will inevitably and completely ruin drinking sooner or later.

My latest evidence – a short blurb appearing on the New Yorker’s Book Bench Blog: “‘Good puzzle would be cross Dublin without passing a pub,’ wrote [James] Joyce in ‘Ulysses.’  A software developer has solved the puzzle. But why would you want to?”

I re-read the two short sentences a few times, filled with a mixture of sadness and disdain; the last sentence sat in my mouth like sour milk – why would you want to?  The Book Bench had linked the words “has solved the puzzle.”  Clicking the link loaded a Belfast Telegraph article describing the work of one Rory McCann, a software developer, who “worked out an algorithm – a computer equation – which found how to criss-cross the capital, from north to south and east to west, away from the temptation of any pub.”  In other words, McCann’s computer was able to determine the worst way to see Dublin.

Like most other bar trivia and drinking riddles, McCann began his effort by doing things the old fashioned way: “I started thinking about how you would go about it, the pen and paper route which many people have tried, and which gets very tiring very fast, then I decided to try it on the computer.” 

I was still stewing long after finishing the article, but why?  There was no reason to be this upset over some guy solving Joyce’s puzzle, still my feelings remained.  The New Yorker’s words replayed inside my brain: why would you want to?  Why would you want to?  I couldn’t answer the question.

Perhaps my anger towards young Mr. McCann is unfairly placed.  Rather, maybe I should widen the aperture of my criticism to all youngsters, based on a piece of recent news that was best stated by The Wall Street Journal: “U.S. schoolchildren have made little progress since 2006 in their understanding of key historical themes, including the basic principles of democracy and America’s role in the world.”  To me, these stories were somehow linked: they were two examples of history’s disrespect and an over-reliance on technology.  Is the younger generation predisposed to “googling” their way out of memorization or employing computer power, not brain power, to solve challenges?

It’s an understandable stretch to argue one Irishman and American elementary students writ large are ruining my ability to enjoy a quiet cocktail.  But might it signal a larger trend, especially with those in their younger twenties: the slow demise of a dying breed, we traditional, technological Luddites who prefer winning arguments with anecdotal evidence and proof presented on cocktail napkins.

So I will remain the stalwart dinosaur, not accepting technology’s predetermined destruction of bar culture.  I will not allow drunken quarrels over trivia be a distant memory, killed by the absence of knowledge and ubiquitous internet connections.  And I hope Mr. McCann learns an important fact: that some questions are best left unanswered.  Because why would you want to ruin the fun for the rest of us?

Published in: on June 27, 2011 at 9:37 am  Comments (1)  
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The Happy Hour Paradox

Happy Hour:  the working man’s reward for a hard day’s work, where you, your colleagues, or friends gathered to enjoy discounted beverages and unwind before heading home.  For young professionals and recent university graduates with limited budgets, happy hour’s discount is welcomed.  It provides a relaxed setting to socialize and network; a place where new drinkers can partake of simple cocktails and beer, and discover their own drinking preferences.

However, I’ve realized that for those of us established in our careers, with comfortable salaries and discerning, articulable tastes, happy hour is largely irrelevant.  I don’t mean to imply that drinking and socializing after work it isn’t fun; on the contrary, boozing with officemates may be the best way to build a cohesive  group – especially when friends engage in potentially compromising misbehavior.  No, happy hour – specifically the “specials” on selected beverages – is irrelevant to some for one fundamental reason: quality is more important than cost.

Happy hour specials – usually a dollar or two off rail or well drinks and domestic beers – are indeed enticing.  In some bars and restaurants – I’m thinking of microbreweries here – any discount on any beer (especially fresh brewed) is appreciated.  Yet in most cases, unfortunately, happy hour discounts only apply to cheap beer and cocktails made with bottom shelf liquor.  This is where my Quality Over Cost reasoning applies.

There is no exact date or event that pinpoints when I began valuing the quality of a drink over its cost.  But as I’ve grown older and earn a salary closer to what I’m worth, I no longer enjoy cocktails made with rail liquor.  Granted, even in my early days as a working professional, I only begrudgingly ordered discounted Budweiser or Miller Lite when out; I usually managed to find a decent microbrew or ordered my cocktails with medium grade spirits.  After all, what’s the point of a discount if you have to order rubbish?  The phrase “you get what you pay for” makes this point especially well.

Quality over cost is even more applicable when considering a more philosophical point: one’s purpose for drinking.  Happy hour is most certainly convenient and economical for those looking for a weeknight buzz or more.  But that’s not why I drink; while the hazy, blurry feelings are, of course, a nice diversion, they are neither required nor necessary.

Instead, it is the beverage’s flavor I seek.  And for flavor, one must often look to the top shelf or beer engine.  That is not to say one can never request anything other than high end liquor or cask ale.  However, my rationale is: if you’re out on a weeknight for a few relaxing pours, why not enjoy the best?  Is saving a few dollars really worth mediocrity or worse?  No, in my opinion; I’d much rather order what I want – based on my mood and taste, not my wallet.  So I’ll continue favoring quality over cost when I’m out, regardless of time, day, or drink.

And to those who have recent entered the workforce and still thrive on the happy hour discount, I say: enjoy yourself and your beverage, value the savings, and start learning what you like.  Because in a few years, you’ll be able to order what you like, when you like.  And you’ll fondly remember (and never again wish for) those former days when you pinched pennies for a finely crafted cocktail.

Published in: on June 24, 2011 at 10:22 am  Comments (2)  
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Coffee Shops: The Anti-Bar

The Atlantic published an article today entitled Working Best at Coffee Shops, which postulated that white collar professionals – especially telecommuters – can be “most efficient in noisy public places with lots of distractions.”  To support this proposition, the article quoted two notable authors – novelist Ernest Hemingway and modern social scientist Malcolm Gladwell – who stated they too were highly productive when writing in restaurants and cafes.

This got me thinking: if working remotely in coffee shops via wireless internet connections, smart phones, and laptops is becoming commonplace, does that mean bars will become the opposite?  In other words, will people seek out bars, pubs, and taverns as places of refuge from working life, professional obligations, and especially, technology?  Might bars finally become the one place where we disconnect from our social networks and virtual relationships?

Historically speaking, the coffee house and the public house have always held opposite roles in social life.  Coffee houses were places of rationality, where innovation, speculation, and debate thrived among the clear-headed thinkers, scientists, and academics.  Tom Standage, in his book A History of the World in 6 Glasses, makes this point early in his text.  “Coffee house discussions led to the establishment of scientific societies, the founding of newspapers, the establishment of financial institutions, and provided fertile ground for revolutionary thought, especially in France.  Such is clearly not the case for bars, taverns, or pubs – at least not in my experience.  In fact, such activities – rational thought, innovation, and reasoned debate – are precisely what are absent when a glass of beer, wine, or liquor is poured.  Instead, joyous and noisy revelry is commonplace; disagreements, which are oftentimes completely senseless, are settled with irrationality, physical violence, or more simply, another round.

Yet bars’ lack of productivity is nothing other than absolute fun.  Perhaps coffee shops will become more and more like remote office spaces: cubicles lacking walls but not the tethers of technology.  So maybe when seeking a drink to end the workday – regardless of where you work – we will stow our electronic devices and focus more on those around us and the drink before us.  And rather than “liking” that snarky online comment while at the bar, we’ll choose instead to simply “like” another drink.

Published in: on April 19, 2011 at 10:26 pm  Comments (1)  
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