Why I Gave Up Holidays and Birthdays

Each year, I find more and more people are following this trend for many of the same reasons, and each year I meet new people who want to know why I choose not to celebrate holidays or birthdays. This has been posted before, but it is worth re-iterating for the curious…

 

I understand why people like me are perceived as cold and insensitive for having strong moral fortitude. It is not always easy for me. However, it is, I think, the burden of becoming Human—of seeing something which others choose to ignore because it is less difficult to live a dictated life than a consciously chosen one.

***

HAPPY(?) BIRTHDAYS

Birthdays are an obviously ubiquitous ritual most everyone accepts (or even demands) conformity to, but I rarely meet people over 30 who authentically look forward to birthdays and growing older.

We complain about the stress of gift-giving (for birthdays, weddings, Christmas, bar-mitzvahs, etc.) while at the same time we are told holidays are joyful, merry, and happy. I know I am not alone in saying it is often difficult—maddening—to find a gift for your parents, in-laws, or spouse. There is fear of judgment, criticism, or suspicion of false platitudes. Will they really love the gift? Is it the right size? The right brand? Are they going to think you are cheap? If you have not spent “enough”, will they worry you are in financial trouble or think you are ungrateful for all they have done for you? If you spend too much, will they feel bad about their (cheaper) gifts to you? Will they return the gift or tuck it in a drawer never to be seen again, or will they feel obligated to display the gift in case you visit? Do they already have this gift, or did you buy them the same thing last year? Did somebody else already think of this gift and beat you to the punch?

Children and young adults aside, I think most people are not particular to holidays. I have often secretly resented having to stretch my budget for gift-giving to friends, the children of friends, my family, in-laws, co-workers, bosses, etc… It can be made worse when several holidays or birthdays occur in the same week or month (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s is a quadruple whammy to the budget for many families). I have dreaded my own birthdays for the stress I know they have afflicted on others (budgetary and otherwise), and knowing my gratitude can not match their sacrifice. Let’s face it. If I was that excited about a gift, or if it was that important to me, then I probably would have bought it already.

 

OFFICE PARTY

Consider the office workers who either barely know, or barely like, their boss but are inclined to pander compliments on birthday cards filled with generic non-substantive prose (“Have a great one!”; “Happy B-day!”…even though the card already implies that…, or my favorite—the simple, nondescript signature of someone whose face will not be remembered when the card is dug out of a box ten years later). I know some people will protest, but I firmly believe the boss does not really care about the office gift, the office party, or getting older as the life he dreamed of disappears into the career void he probably accepted over following his dreams. The employees, mostly, do not really care either. Employees are pressured to share their money for a collective gift that will likely be unappreciated, except in false graciousness by the boss—“Thank you everybody; I have always wanted a…one of these… things. That’s exactly why… I… never bought one.”

It seems trite to point out the money the employees pitched in was earned by sacrificing time out of their lives to pander to the whims of the boss and his peers. That is not gift enough?!? Are we bosses so vain we require a material token of worship on top of taking their very lives from them? I do not accept that or want it over my head. I do not want gifts from my employees. I employ them to make money for me in exchange for helping them make money for themselves. It is insane that I should then expect them to spend their money on me.

I am sure many employees who are genuinely friends with their bosses do give thoughtful gifts. The same is true of family and friends, but it is, to me, shameful this sort of obligatory worship is required on top of whatever we do to express gratitude, camaraderie, or kinship every day. Setting aside that holidays like birthdays should be deeply personal and private affairs, why should anyone else know (or care) on what day I was born? It is really only a matter between me and my parents–and frankly, I am not that interested to be reminded each year of how I came to be born.

I say by conforming to the ideology of birthdays and holidays, we let a very large and out-of-control media machine dictate how we live our lives.

 

Celebrating birthdays and holidays obligates me to allocate time for Love and Family the same way I make time for tasks such as laundry and buying groceries. Should I let Hallmark and Walmart mandate when and how I show affection or appreciation for others? Should I let a national jewelry chain declare how much money sufficiently shows my love for my companion—is it 3 months salary? If I only spend 1 month’s salary, does that mean I only love my mate one-third as much as I should?

This system of blind tradition diminishes precious time to being no more than mandatory social proceedings. I resent being told when and how to love others, and how much is an acceptable amount of my hard-earned money to spend on someone. I resent being told how much time I am expected to spend proving my love in worship of other people. Why should I celebrate a birthday instead of a birthmonth or a birthyearMaybe I can decide how much time I wish to spend celebrating somebody’s life, on my own, and why on earth would it only be one day, once per year?

 

In short, I resent assumed control of my life. Everyone should.

Because I care for my family and friends, I wish them to be successful. I wish to see them enjoy the rewards of their hard work by spending their precious money and time on themselves, as they see fit.

 

A MARKETING MEDIA MACHINE

Holidays and birthdays in this context are a sham to fleece pockets and swindle people of what they have legitimately earned. Businesses and marketing media push holidays and birthdays to promote their profitability. They have no interest in protecting yours.  However, if I save up and buy for myself what I want when I can afford it, and if I do not obligate others to buy things to please me, then everyone’s  profitability is protected. I get what I want (because I have more of my money to spend on myself instead of buying gifts for others). Others get what they want (because they have more of their own money to spend on things that are most important to them without having to buy me and everyone else gifts). Businesses get what they want (the money keeps coming in, and even better, businesses can focus on creating and marketing things people really want instead of the hordes of plastic junk tchotchkes that fill stores every season–who really needs, and is hoping somebody buys them, an electric tie rack?).

When your time and money belong to you, and my time and money belongs to me, nothing more is expected or required of anyone… as it should be.

 

BESIDES, WHAT ARE WE REALLY CELEBRATING?

Most people and businesses do not know the origin of  the holidays they are celebrating or promoting (or, let’s be honest, pushing). The public is willingly conned through inducement of guilt and status discrimination in the name of altruism, for the profit of one party—whoever is pushing the event.

Personally, I would rather not spend time with friends or family who insist on “caring” for me by making me share in a cult dictated by something they never sought to understand. Think about this… if you really cared for someone, would you expect to trade trinkets whenever Target runs a bunch of commercials, or would you instead plead with the person you care about to keep the pay she earned rather than spend it frivolously on gifts you probably do not want or need? I wish my friends and family preferred to spend their hard-earned money on themselves and would allow me to enjoy watching them relish in the fruits of their own success, rather than giving their pay to me. What could make me happier than watching my loved ones enjoy their own success? I will take that over the electric tie-rack, another bottle of cologne, or a pair of plaid socks and matching underwear any day.

It is rare to meet people who understand the actual origin or meaning behind a given holiday. It is rare because people who learn the history of holidays often choose not to celebrate a holiday once they realize what they are actually endorsing.

 

Birthdays, for example, are supposed to be a celebration of the day a person is born. Of course, people are born long before they exit the womb of their mother. Forgiving that, at best a birthday is celebrating a random day when someone’s would-be parents probably had casual sex. Our parents had no intention of producing, specifically, the child or children they have (if they were hoping to produce a child at all).

To expect others to celebrate my birthday is essentially asking them to celebrate my parents’ young, and possibly stupid, act of casual sex.

Any other reason I can think to celebrate my birthday is narcissistic. Should anyone have to celebrate the fact I somehow managed to bumble my way this far through life without getting killed? Should I think I am so great, for no reason other than I have not stepped in front of a bus by accident, that everyone I have graced with my presence should be subjected to idol worship of me for at least one full day, every year?

I do not impose the expectation on anyone to celebrate my love of myself. I do not need them to validate my love for me. It saddens me, though, that we are taught it is wrong to love ourselves, and we are bullied into worshiping everyone else.

 

IF YOU CAN’T BEAT THEM… THEY’LL BEAT YOU.

Nonetheless, many friends, family, and acquaintances will insist on wishing me well on my birthday and other holidays. Often, there will be some trickery to have me acknowledge a holiday against my will, dismissing that it is MY WILL (“Just come for the family dinner—no one will mention it’s Thanksgiving to you, we promise…”; “I know you don’t celebrate Christmas, but… Merry Christmas!”; “Here is a hug–not because it’s your birthday or anything…it is just a random hug that happened to occur on the same day as your birthday, tee-hee…”).

I understand the sentiment and the desire to share affection for me, but I nonetheless consider this behavior bullying. I understand what people intend when they wish me Happy Birthday or Merry Christmas. Of course, they believe their intentions are loving, or even pious. However, forcing me to acknowledge birthdays and holidays is not an act of love. It disrespects my conscious value choices and dismisses my intelligence altogether. The intent may not be to insult me, but I am insulted.

 

No one likes to feel bullied.

I certainly understand why people like me are sometimes perceived as cold and insensitive for having strong moral fortitude. It is not always easy for me, either. However, it is, I think, the burden of becoming human—of seeing something which others choose to ignore because it is less difficult to live a dictated life than a consciously chosen one.

 

THE BURDEN OF BECOMING HUMAN

When I first chose my moral stance around holidays, I celebrated the birthdays and holidays of others, but dismissed my own. Celebrating holidays only for others, I thought, did not impose my values on them but still let them have their birthday cake and eat it too. I thought this was respectful to both their value system and mine. I learned there is a critical difference between our value systems, however. Unlike mine, the values of most people in this regard are not consciously selected. Their values are handed-down and accepted without investigation.

I think if a person can not logically defend his or her moral character, then it is not disrespectful if I, having deliberately chosen my moral code, do not acknowledge their lack of one. Clearly, there is no real Easter Bunny. I should not have to pretend there is but I also do not have to point out the logical fallacies of a child who believes in the bunny.

Still, I came to realize that for me to celebrate the birthdays and holidays of others (but not my own) ultimately violates the values of  both  systems.

I am not concerned about violating a fake value system. If I choose to accept the values of my acquaintances and family, though (meaning I celebrate their birthdays but do not allow them to celebrate mine), then it leads to inducement of guilt and unfairness for them. I find people feel it is not fair when you buy them gifts but do not allow them to buy you gifts. Thus, it violates their social premise (everybody gives to everybody). Quickly, the door to a creeping acceptance of their system is forced open. They feel compelled to provide, somehow, gifts or favors in return for my gifts.

The problem is the bullying never stops in this system. It can not stop because we are well-trained to feel guilty about receiving without giving in return.

A violation occurs on my side, as well, because I accept the bullying (I still do, sometimes, because it is simply too taxing to fight it on all fronts, all the time). It is so ubiquitous I must eventually allow small tokens of appreciation, if for no reason other than to relieve family and friends of their sense of debt. This means indirect submission to the bullying on my part, and again, opens the door to creeping acceptance.

There is another difference regarding trying to uphold my values while not violating theirs. The difference is I do not bully others to accept my values. I do not insist people stop celebrating their birthdays and holidays if I do not celebrate mine. I do not push my philosophy onto others; in fact, I am typically reluctant to explain my choices, except in brief quips to move a conversation forward, or in essays like this. Most people are not that interested (it is too much effort to stand against a tsunami of tradition).

It is interesting to me, however, that in the broadly accepted system of piousness, it is okay to bully me into following the whims of others, but in the deliberately chosen values of my philosophy, I do not demand the religious or altruistic to check their belief in holidays or God (Allah, Vishnu, Jehovah, whomever) at the door when they visit me. I do not demand or expect a token gift of worship if they happen to visit on the day I was born, however many years ago that may have been and whether they were actually at my birth. There is an irony to the preaching of togetherness, kinship, and tolerance by those doing the most bullying.

Of course, I recognize the challenge clear and logical thinking poses. To be fair, I took more than 30 years to come to these very basic conclusions and guidelines I now use to remind me (how) to live. That said, birthdays, holidays, ritualistic and religious traditions deserve to be tested and judged.

 

It is up to each man to bear the burden of becoming human or walk blindly into tradition and circumstance.

 

Happy (_____)day to me.

 

 

Share

Follow the Red Brick Road… Or Not.

Open letter to a good business making a dumb decision… and a Marketing strategy any business can use to win!

***

Since many of this blog’s subscribers seem to live outside of Michigan, I try not to focus too much on local businesses around me but sometimes I like to call out especially great businesses. I almost never identify businesses that have mis-stepped with their customer promise, though. I understand when dealing with the public, you will never be able to make everyone happy. I’m making an exception, today, though, to call out the first local business I visited when I moved to Grand Rapids and one of my favorites until recently.

Brick Road Pizza’s FaceBook page. offers amazing vegan food (they have non-vegan food, too, making them a great place to visit with a group of finicky eaters) but they have been building an equally amazingly bad reputation for poor customer service. Unbeknownst to them, I have defended them on multiple occasions, but I am swaying the other direction now, particularly when it comes to their terrible use of social media. I chastised them on FaceBook for being unresponsive to questions and comments from current and potential customers. The response was:

I don’t have time check facebook. I may miss a few things. If you really want to speak to someone here the phone number is 616-719-2409. We will be more than happy to address your questions or needs.  

Irked, not so much by the brazen ambivalence and complete miss at winning a customer over but more so by knowing one of my favorite restaurants was probably jeopardizing business from other customers with their lackadaisical attitude, I offered a blunt, but honest (and slightly snarky), rebuttal:

Thanks. I would challenge you to make time for your fans, or let some of your staff admin the page if you struggle with time management, or just turn comments off. Social media is a powerful tool in both directions. Not letting people have a say is less damaging than not responding to fans and potential customers but giving them the ability to interact, and then ignoring them (but thanks for not ignoring my comment). Just “food” for thought…

I must have hit a nerve. A few weeks later, I got this response:

Thanks for the education on social media!

I suppose they might have been serious but I am guessing the response was the polite equivalent of telling me what I could do with my food for thought. I resisted responding for a day but a couple vegan friends were chiming in from the sidelines, mostly praising me for saying something, but also I suppose, enjoying the back and forth. Here is where Brick Road Pizza’s website is missing the ball:

Thank you for the education on customer service.

They had a solid opportunity to win a fan or customer for life but instead alienated several. Of course, when I choose not to eat at Brick Road, neither does Nicole. Neither do her work friends when she picks where they go to lunch. Neither do my vegan friends who are watching them implode on FaceBook. Neither do the friends they share this story with. Neither do the fence-sitters who have already had a bad experience there and were just waiting for further confirmation they were not alone in their experience.

Only five years ago, Brick Road was one of only a handful of vegan options available. While they have been sleeping, though, competition has been sprouting up all around them, especially for a niche crowd like vegans (who talk to each other often). Now, I can choose to eat at The Mitten, Cvlt Pizza, Harmony Brewing, Rezervoir, Nantucket, DiPiazzas… and these are just places that offer vegan pizza, off the top of my head. The list for other vegan restaurants in the area is amazing! I could go out to lunch or dinner once a week for every week through next year and never have to visit the same place twice, and never have to include Brick Road.

When you are no longer the big dog in town, it is in your best interest to take every opportunity to win a customer, especially when it is such low-hanging fruit. It would not have cost Brick Road a penny to have crafted a good response. But it has cost them hundreds of dollars already, from my business alone, to be jerks. When it costs them enough to be painful, it may be too late, and that would be a shame. Their food is really good, even though there was a dead cricket in my salad one time, which I never complained to anyone about until now (the waitress can validate the story, though). That is the kind of mistake I can forgive and forget. Assuming your customers are a waste of your time is not.

 

Today’s Lesson: Social Media is powerful (and by the way, Brick Road, so is a well-read blog; you never know which customer you think you are taking to task–a better option might be to assume every customer can reach a wide audience quickly–for good or bad). Take the easy opportunities to create, or win back, fans. If you are not good at managing your social media, hire someone who is, or choose not to use it. And remember, in a global, 24/7 economy, waiting 24 hours to craft a thoughtful, compassionate response, is like waiting 24 years… which might be how long a post like this could be around.  

 

Share

The Difference Between Hearing and Listening

 

“You will hear the bird no matter what but you will only catch the melody if you listen.”

Do you have a friend or team member that seems to never know when to stop speaking? You like him but he rambles, repeats, goes off on tangents, shares too many details, or does not pick up on social cues that normally alert others when we are talking too much.

There is one sure way I know of to stop someone who will not stop talking:

listen.

Over-talkers speak so much, I think, because they never feel listened to, so they keep talking to make their point (because what else can they do?). The irony is they are right. Many of us hear but rarely listen. Hearing is a passive action–you can not stop yourself from hearing the world around you, including people speaking to you. You can not will yourself not to hear the clerk at the cash register or the car with the bad muffler across the street or the bird outside your window.

Listening, however, is active. It requires intention. You will hear the bird no matter what but you will only catch the melody if you listen.

Listening is like meditation. To do it properly, you must stop the chatter in your mind and focus only on the present and the sound (or person in front of you). Most people do not listen to what is being said…they listen for their turn to speak.

I know sometimes I find myself so focused on spitting out my witty response to something that I miss the 10 sentences after the one I wanted to comment on. As passive listeners, we tend to wait for a break so we can say what is important to us instead of listening to what is important to the person we are speaking with.

Here is the best tip I can offer to encourage active listening:

Listen without interrupting and listen with the intention of listening–the way you pause to listen to your favorite song, taking in every sound, appreciating it, and letting it fill your mind. It is okay if you are not able to share every clever remark that enters your mind; it is more important you listen to your friend or team-mate in the moment.

The reason some people talk too much is simple: they want to feel listened to. They believe (whether consciously or sub-consciously) no one listens to them. If they realize you are listening intently to every word they say, then I assure you they will suddenly not have as much to say, and you will be able to move on to the next conversation quickly.

Today’s lesson… do not only hear what people say. Listen intently and intentionally and wait patiently without worrying what you will say when they pause. Let them finish. You will be surprised at how much more you will learn and how much time listening saves over hearing.

 

Share

Are Your Messages High Priority?

Many company leaders set the default on their email to mark every message they send as “High Priority” (a red-flagged message when received). They inherently believe their position has made them so important that any thought shared must be the most important thought ever shared.

The problem is this: when everything is High Priority, then nothing is high priority. If all messages are marked “high-priority”, then their status becomes average priority or no priority by definition.  When the owner of a company takes the time to send an email, the priority is already inferred by his title. Setting the default to make all his messages “high priority” leaves him no way to convey a message that actually needs a critically urgent response.

Marking a message as “High Priority” is like shouting, “Fire!”. If someone yells “Fire!” all the time, and there is almost never a fire, then no one will hurry for the exits when the building is really burning down.

Turn your High Priority default setting off. Accept that every word that tumbles out of your mouth (or onto your screen) is just not that important.

Instead, use “high priority” sparingly and you will find it is very effective when needed.

 

Share

Does Your Team Glow?

After a sales training presentation, one of my peers said to me, “Man, I love working with your managers. The energy they bring is just amazing. It’s like, they just glow… I wish I saw that same thing on my team right now.”

I said, with a wink, “Well, that glow is just arrogance. We can be a little vain…”.

He smiled, but answered seriously. “No. It’s competence. Your team glows with competence.”

I remembered something my friend and mentor, Phillip Ford told me when I was a new manager, and I shared it with my peer. “One of the secrets to being a successful leader is to find and hire people who are smarter than you think you are.”

He looked at me quizzically.

I continued, “If you are the smartest person on your team, that is a problem because then the entire team can only rise to your level of competence. If you hire good people who are brighter than you, then you will learn and grow together. Your talents feed off each other and it is not just you contributing to the team. Everyone is chipping in, helping each other avoid pitfalls, challenging stale ideas, and creating new ways to succeed. You are benefiting from their brains and they are benefiting from your leadership and experience. Life becomes much easier then. The little stuff goes on auto-pilot because they can handle small details in their sleep. This frees everyone to focus on really interesting stuff instead.”

His eyes lit up. Maybe it was a trick of the light, but I think just then, the young peer started glowing.

 

Share

What Is The Real Value of Spending?

If you have had to ask for money from your boss for you or your team to host an event, attend a seminar, be in a parade, or otherwise spend company money, then you are probably familiar with the term “Return On Investment” (ROI). Before you spend company money, the company wants to know (as it should) how your spending is going to eventually add to the bottom line instead of take away from profits.

The problem is, sometimes there is no direct link to return-on-investment. The obvious cause does not always lead to the obvious effect.

I have had marketing requests turned away because someone could not see the value in a particular event or idea. Sometimes the value is not in the event itself. Sometimes, what is ultimately driving the ROI is the benefit of having a team learn to work together by attending the event or implementing the idea they are excited about.

For example, your team might want to spend money going to a holiday parade and handing out flyers or setting up a booth to showcase your products. You have seen things like this before; you know holiday parades do not translate into short-term revenue growth, they never seem to work, etc., so you choose not to support the event and deny the request rather than waste time and budget on (another) unsuccessful marketing event.

What revenue are you focused on, though?

What is the value of having a team work together, developing a leader you put in charge of the event, or spending time with your team working somewhere away from the workplace? Does your accounting department measure ROI on that? How much money does a better-functioning, higher-performing team with greater morale generate?

Note to company leaders: be sure you know where the money actually comes from as well as you think you know where it goes.

Capital is one way to measure ROI, and though measuring money directly gained might be the most popular way, it might not always be the best way.

 

As usual, this applies well beyond the office. When you spend money on anything, you should know what you actually are receiving in return for your investment. Is that new television going to provide a better, more comfortable life… or rob you of health and time that can be spent enjoying family and friends on a fantastic vacation? 20 years from now, you probably will not even remember what television you spent $2500 on two decades ago, but the memories from that crazy vacation will bring stories of adventure and laughter for the rest of your life. Which is truly the better return on investment?

No one likes to spend money and have nothing to show for it. The trick is to be sure you are looking in the right place to find the value.

 

 

Share

The Heroic Leader

I think of Leadership in terms of heroes and villains.

Villains are free to do whatever they want and pretty much get away with it, until a hero steps in. Villains can slack off, cheat, be dishonest, act recklessly, and never consider consequences for their actions.

Heroes must win while playing by the rules, doing the right thing the right way, and considering actions before taking them.

The burden of leadership is that leaders must be heroes–role models for others to look up to. We do not get to take the easy way out; we must live and act according to our own values (which is the very reason people are willing to follow us). We must understand the people we are leading may not have the same fortitude or character they expect a leader to always exhibit.

It can be frustrating when you feel the weight of leadership bearing down on you while others seem to get away with everything… but nobody promised being a leader would be easy or that every day would be rewarding.

The key is to remember who you are and why you choose to step up and stand for something more than the workday or the status quo.  We have the choice to be average at any time, just as heroes always have the choice to put away the cape and mask. The number one performer in a company can always choose to be the number 15 performer–skating just under the radar, doing enough to stay out of trouble but never taking on the burden of moving forward.

For better or worse, that is just not who we are as leaders. It is not within us to stand back and hide our greatness in times of crisis, despair, or a competition of values. It is not within us to allow people on our team to hide their greatness either. We take on the burden of being coaches, mentors, counselors, teachers, friends, and drill sergeants as needed.

The funny thing is, heroes never give up on villains; they always hope to bring them back to the light, to help them back to the path of being heroic or standing for something (more). Villains, on the other hand, may or may not be conflicted, may or may not be willing to change, may or may not be willing to be something more than they are.

The difference between heroes and villains, between leaders and stragglers, is that villains never remember what they stand for or why they should want to be something greater… and heroes never forget.

 

Share

The Illusion of Choice

 

It's totally cool if you don't agree as long as you agree.

 

When the only option is “Agree” or “Agree”… it is not really an option.

One of the worst offenses in Marketing, to me, is the illusion of choice. When the fake choice is “you must agree to our ludicrous terms and conditions written in legal-ese and longer than some books you’ve read… or you can’t get past this page to even see if you WANT to agree to use our product”, then it’s not really a choice. It’s an ultimatum. When the option is “Agree” or “Agree”, my fake answer to your fake question is “Yes” but I always really mean “No”. Just FYI.

 

 

Share

Will Netflix Control Your Life?

 

I will never watch “The Debt” on DVD. I’m sure it was a good movie and certainly the people that worked on it would like me to see the results of their labor and passion. I am unwilling, though, to be forced to watch commercials when I pay Netflix for the option not to.

I rented the movie from Netflix and as usual, the DVD started with a slew of commercials and previews for other movies–a lot of them, at least 5 minutes worth. Normally, I skip through the ones of no interest to me (the stock Blu-Ray commercial or previews for movies I have seen already).

Some discs disable the “next track” button so I can not skip the ad–pretty annoying, but I can still fast forward through the fodder to get to the movie I paid to see. I can also skip the previews altogether, by pressing “Menu” on the remote control. On “The Debt”, however, I experienced a new level of forced viewing–I could not skip, fast forward or tap the “Menu” button to bypass anything. On that disc, I am forced to watch all the commercials and previews to get to the main menu. Worse, when I stopped the movie and tried to pick up where I left off the next day, I had to go through it all again.

If I wanted to be forced to watch advertisements, I would just go back to cable.

I was even more frustrated when I tried to write Netflix to let them know how I felt about this. Turns out, you can’t. They have no email address or chat feature on their website. You can call their customer service line, but after about 15 seconds of phone trees, you will want to hang up or claw your eyes out (just hang up, though).

Maybe the most frustrating part is I know my ire should not be directed at Netflix. They simply provide the disc. The problem, as with the music industry, is not with the artists or distributors. The problem is with the studios–and if you think Netflix is hard to get hold of, try contacting Miramax pictures and finding someone who cares what the customer experience looks like.

It is hard for me to think of something I dislike more than assumed control over my life, and unfortunately this example is just a pebble tossed into the ocean. There are many, many, many instances where someone (usually an advertiser or the government) takes over for you under the assumption you are a mindless lemming willing to jump off whatever cliff they throw in front of you.

Hopefully, other people have experienced this and are irritated enough to complain (loudly) as well. Forced Marketing is a total fail and I hope this new tact by the studios goes no further than The Debt. I would rather not watch any movie or television than be forced to watch garbage I choose not to see.

We do not have to accept assumed control over our lives, even over little things. It’s fitting that the movie I rented was called “The Debt”, and serves as a good reminder to Netflix and the studios that the debt owed for their existence is to us–the consumers–not from us to them.

 

What is the most frustrating way that someone has assumed control over your life or decisions?

 

 

 

 

Share

Is the Magic Gone?

 

When I was young, my family owned 1 camera. It cost about $200 and the kids weren’t allowed to touch it. It was about the size and weight of a paperback dictionary, and it used film that could not be exposed to light. The film cartridge needed to be replaced after 24 exposures. It had a flash bulb about the size of pool cue that could only be used 6 times before it had to be replaced. If you wanted a zoom lens, it cost another $200 and weighed more than the camera. The camera and lens had to be handled carefully, kept in their own carrying case which you strapped around your shoulder and neck and carried around like luggage. When you finished a roll of film, you had to pay to send it away to a photo-lab and in about a week or two, you would find out how bad a photographer you were.

That camera is now magically in my smartphone, except my smartphone uses never-ending digital film, has unlimited uses of its flash, offers zoom, panorama, red-eye remover, enhanced lighting, color, and effects settings; my smartphone camera allows me to see my pictures instantly, can upload all my shots immediately to my social media or online storage, and a whole lot more. Oh, and it fits in my pocket.

My family used to have a video recorder, too. It cost about $300 and could record for an hour or two depending on the types of tape you bought. You had to heft it up on your shoulder (which you could only do for about a half hour before your shoulder and elbow went numb) and peer through a 1-inch square black and white viewfinder to see what you thought you were recording (which was often not quite the case). You had to bring a stack of blank videotapes and spare batteries with you to get through any family event because they only recorded a couple hours worth of footage. The tapes were about the size and thickness of three 7-inch tablet PC’s stacked atop each other. The camera or video recorder almost invariably ate the tape and ruined the recording anyway. The recorder could last somewhere between an hour or two with its weighty battery. You paid for the tapes, for extra batteries, for cleaning equipment, and it was a pain to make and distribute copies.

That video recorder is now in my smartphone, except better. My phone has a nearly 5-inch full color digital screen, can record 32 hours of footage (but why on Earth would I need to?), share my recording right away with my friends around the world, post it on YouTube, or play it on my TV, and of course, it’s all digital–no tapes, cleaners, or shoulder massage needed. I can play, convert, share, and edit on the fly and at no additional cost.

My family owned a set of encyclopedias. I think Mom and Dad are still paying for them. A good encyclopedia collection was a lifetime investment–$39 per month for… ever, I think. Of course, the encyclopedia was always at home, but that’s rarely where you needed the information, and it took you longer to find what you were looking for than it did to come up with the problem in the first place. If your encyclopedia was out of date, by the way, you had to go to the library or just never find the answer.

Guess what? The whole library is on my phone now, not just the set of encyclopedias. In fact, almost every library is. I can Google anything and have a thousand answers within a seconds… if I’m taking my time. I carry the internet with me and all that comes with it–games, resources, social media, pictures, information, and pretty much any kind of data I can think of.

I bought my first GPS device–a Garmin–for $350. I had to pay $100 every year to update the maps. It was a cool device but (you may see a pattern developing here) it’s on my Android phone now, for free (thanks again, Google!), except better. The maps are always updated, it knows if it is day or night and adjusts the screen brightness accordingly, and even routes me around traffic jams.

Don’t get me started on games… my Nintendo was $100 when it came out and every game cost between $20-$30 (and I probably had 50 games). Yep–on my phone now.

You get the idea. Here’s my point: we have lost our sense of wonder for the magic of smartphones (and probably technology in general). I can think of no other product that provides as much value for your money as even a clunky entry-level smartphone. I am astounded (and sometimes dumb-struck) when people balk at paying $2-300 for a new smartphone, or cringe at a $1 a day for data. When someone winces at shelling out $30 a month for data to have one of the most advanced devices on the planet, I have to wonder how much they spent the last time they went to the movies and how much value they got for that ticket price. Not to mention, I use my smartphone to save more money than I spend on it–it keeps all of my bonus cards off my key ring, it tracks coupons, compares prices, and lets me look for better deals as I am shopping!

We  forget we are holding one of the most advanced and magical products on the planet. The overall cost of a smartphone, even at its full retail price of $6-700 should absolutely wow us. For $600, you can buy outright a mediocre laptop computer–OR… you can buy outright an advanced laptop computer that fits in the palm of your hand, has 2 cameras, plus a video camera, a GPS device, access to almost anything you can dream up (if you can imagine it, there’s probably an app for it), voice control, and a fully interactive touch screen.

We shouldn’t be asking why smartphones cost so much. We should be wondering how they can possibly cost so little.

Oh. And did I mention my smartphone also is a phone? It replaced that bulky shoe-box sized thing that used to be attached to a wall in my kitchen with a rotary dial and a cord that couldn’t stretch beyond the length of my arm… and now I can take it anywhere and call anyone for pennies on what it used to cost just to call another area code.

Don’t lose the magic. If you want a truly phenomenal experience that will offer more rewards and excitement than a trip to an amusement park (which will cost you about the same) and will keep returning your investment for at least a couple years… buy a smartphone and then add up the price and former inconvenience of everything it replaces.

Most of all, though, just appreciate what you are holding and be amazed.

 

Share