Get Off My Lawn! (Late June ‘12)

It’s a new edition of G.O.M.L.!, a recurring feature where I age 40 years, take the Rascal scooter out on my front porch, and sip from the bitter lemonade of truth. (Fun fact: unsweetened lemonade was the “haterade” of the 1890s!) Topics in this edition include tech blogs, banks, on-air tics, and - oooh - technology. Ready to shake your walking stick? Let’s go!

Tech blogs. Original fact and original opinion are the only two things that should ever constitute a “story” on a tech site that takes itself seriously. Repurposed fact (“we’re publishing a story about how they published a story about it!”), rumor (“uh, it’s a fact that people are saying it could be true!”), hashed-together slideshows (“What? We took a bunch of pictures of people milling around at a conference, and each one deserves its own page!”) and headline click-bait (“18 Ways Microsoft is Making Your Co-workers Sexier”, “Is Apple Building a Time Machine for Cats?” ) are cynical journalism. (Click-bait recipe: start with either a leading question, or the promise of a list. Then, name-drop a divisive tech topic. End with a reference to sex, celebrities or pets. Make sure “article” leaves reader feeling slightly empty and sad for having clicked.)

Publishing worthless web content is especially pathetic, since it takes only a few moments and somebody with a shred of insight to put a unique spin on a topic that’s out there already. But if you’re too lazy or too greedy to do that, there’s a simple, honorable solution. Just put a little sidebar on your site, title it “Links you should check out!”, and link to stuff. You won’t make much money off of it, but people will respect you more, and you can wallow in whatever topic you want without getting your own hands mucked up in the process. I guess that’s really the key here, blog publishers - respect your own standards - and everybody’s time - just a tiny bit more.

Also, publishing blurry pictures of some hunk of plastic on an assembly line is for bottom-feeders. Publishing reasonable, articulate reviews of finished products upon release is for reputable sites. Better to be the latter, but better still not to be both at once.

Final aside to The Verge, who does primarily excellent work: learn what “breaking news” is. Hint: it’s not the fact that you’ll be recording a new podcast tomorrow. If I get used to ignoring the inanity in your “breaking news” banner, I won’t notice when you really do have a huge scoop, like somebody leaving an unreleased Apple television set in a Cupertino bar.  

Moving on…

Ever-replicating bank branches. I’m not the right guy to single out big banks for their role in screwing over society by way of the global economy. But I feel empowered enough to deliver this more finely tailored message: Banks, stop building bank branches. Stop taking over existing businesses. Stop squatting on civic spaces that could be used for stores with something to offer the general public. Stop filling up every last vacant city parcel with your dry-walled, carpeted, bright uselessness. It’s a G.O.M.L. fact; bank branches are the city’s least useful storefront. Oh, joyous day! A new TD Bank branch just opened! I don’t bank with them, and even if I did, between ATMs and online banking, I’d have a need to go in there about once every eight months - but sweet! At least that weird bookstore is gone! In the city, stores have windows that face the street. They often advertise interesting, attractive goods and services in those windows to entice pedestrians to stop in. I might notice a kick-ass book jacket, or a kick-ass person jacket, or a sign advertising delicious fresh produce. Then, I’d enter the store, shop there - supporting merchants with my commerce - and leave pleased with my purchase, and happy that I lived in an environment where little, spontaneous transactions on the border between public and private life enrich my day. That’s part of the joy of living in an activated urban place.

Banks break street life. They offer deadened storefronts - either fully deactivated, or lamely hawking products and services nobody window-shops for - to pedestrians who may or may not even use that particular institution. What’s a Sovereign Bank branch to a Bank of America customer? A blank wall. Even to their own customers, bank branches ofter ATM bays and… a bunch of cubicles full of people you’ll need to talk to maybe once or twice a year. Banks offer nothing to benefit average pedestrians or civic street life. Yes, banks that fill vacant storefronts contribute to the tax roll, and usually discourage blight. But the trade-off is such a neutered, grey pasty excuse for a storefront, I’d rather many places stay vacant, waiting for a better option to come around. Better still, charge artists or craftsmen a small fee to place their work in empty windows - or even to open temporary galleries, or green markets - in empty stores. Local chambers of commerce have to be more creative, and have to do better than bank branches. Bank branches are helping to ruin great places.

Also, banks: When you do inevitably build more tepid branches, try to use grown-up colors and materials. Banks used to be marble and granite. Now they look like fast food restaurants.

We’re heating up now - time for the lightning round…

“The Official G.O.M.L. rocker. Now get away from it, son!”

Voice systems. Your options didn’t just change, and you’re not experiencing higher volume than normal every time I call. Smart companies get a human on the line as fast as possible, and people give them tons of credit for it. (I know this is an easy one, but I’ve been victimized too often of late.) In fact, I will give all of my business to the next big, bureaucratic place I call that answers in the following manner: ”Hi, this is Jenny Goldsmith with Soulless Ameribank - if you’d like to speak with an automated system, just let me know. Otherwise, how may I help you?”

Sports radio guys saying “your”. The stadium announcer, as he introduces the team? Maybe, sure. A dorky radio bobblehead reading a sports flash? ”The Blue Jays take on your Boston Red Sox tonight at Fenway!” Ugh. I need to listen to more music.

Tech podcast guys who earnestly try every pronunciation of a word. Most of you podcasters already have enough problems trying to make an hour of your life sound interesting each week. But here’s one little thing you can do to make it easier on the rest of us: Stop trying to pronounce everything perfectly. Just take a guess and read the emailer’s last name, or the weird software title, or whatever. Here’s an email from Mike Jones, or maybe Jo-nezz? Jo-nay? Don’t get mad at us, Mike!  Question here about MySQL… Now, is it MySequel? I’ve heard My-S-Q-L. Mice-quell? Maybe the Q is silent… Blech. You don’t need to waste five minutes of every podcast hemming and hawing with your guest about every possible permutation of a guy’s name. 5by5 Network, this one’s for you. As Flor from Spanglish says, “yust, try it on.” Don’t worry, you podcast 90-plus minutes every week… you just might have a moment to read a correction, if it’s ever necessary.

I urgently need to listen to more music.

Clickable regions all over YouTube videos. What the hell is this in the past three months? Subscribe to your channel? Get out of here! I don’t care about your freaking channel - give me the 45 seconds of weirdness I was promised, and if you’re lucky I might send the link to somebody who will be as skeptical as I was when I got it in my email. But it has nothing to do with you, DubstepDude84. Get your low-rent ads off my screen so we never have to acknowledge each other again.

The “Stop” Button. IE, Chrome, Safari, Firefox - this is a universal browser complaint. When I press the “stop” button, I mean “stop” and keep me where I am. Not, continue to load the next page and then show a white screen. Just, stop. Freeze. Pretend I never did the last thing, and stop doing stuff. My human brain has obviously made some kind of irrational reversal of judgement that does not sit well with your unfeeling codebase. Sorry; just accommodate it.

TV Show opening credits. Try ending before there’s five minutes left in the show. I know it’s probably an ego trip for the producer, but seeing his name flashed at minute 20 (after two commercial breaks) is just annoying. It’s now at the point where, if there’s already a murder suspect before you see “Produced by” flash on the screen, you know the guy is innocent. Just another reason to mourn the death of the the opening credits’ best friend, the theme song. Hill Street Blues, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

Checking my notes… no… nope, not that one…

Deep, labored breath… and, exhale. That’s it for now, folks! We’ll open the front porch back up again soon. Until then, remember: save up every little thing that bugs you until you have a bunch of ‘em, and then write about it on the internet!