Friday, March 11, 2011

Click until something happens: No shame in semi-literacy

As a 22-year-old, it's easy to get a little delusional about my computer experience. My peers and I grew up smack-dab in the middle of the Great Internet Transition, meaning we hit puberty right when technology did, and learned it all while our brains were still squishy and malleable.

To over-simplify with no real evidence, I'll divide us into two groups: The Literate, and the Semi-literate. The literate (*cough* NERDS) were excited by the technology, read about it, dissected it, experimented with it, collected it, and basically lived for it, and still do. The semi-literate like me were also excited about the technology, but in a very self-centered and frivolous way. We only learned what we needed, and were easily distracted by gimmicks (I spent WAY too many hours in 1999 just watching screen-savers like they were virtual lava lamps and I was high on pixels). I explored a little bit, but in the nonchalant style of a pleasure-hiker rather than a botanist.

In this new age where literally EVERYONE is in contact with technology, we are now divided into four groups:

The Super-literate: The highly evolved literates, scary tech-savvy toddlers, and geniuses. If they aren't unnecessarily rich yet, they will be.

The Literate: Most smart adolescents and non-professional tech-loving 20-somethings (that's a lot of hyphens). These people don't need any help, but love to argue and squabble about the benefits of various features. While these are the people who assist me when I'm stuck, my best guess is that this is also the camp that most trolls belong to.

The Semi-literate: Refusing to follow trends and educate ourselves, we survive on what we've casually absorbed over the years. We are comfortable with technology but dangerously overconfident in our ability to control it, to the chagrin of our nerdy friends (damn you Stephenie Meyer for ruining the word "chagrin").

The Illiterate: This group is fun. The adorable subjects of this article series, illiterates are parents, grandparents, older co-workers and professors. They make hilarious assumptions about "using up the internet," fall prey to scams, don't understand what a browser is, and are pretty bemused and abused by our current culture. We laugh as they attempt to navigate Facebook without knowing the unspoken etiquette, intricate grammar, and mysterious tones of the web-speech. They are frustrating to deal with in professional or academic situations as they can slow everyone down, but if you have enough patience you might be able to teach them the basics of how to function safely.

As with all categorical people-parceling, this list is flexible. Semi-literate illiterates exist.

Now, I'm going to be narcissistic and assume that most people online are in my category: semi-literate. I use technology 70% of my waking hours (and about 10% of my non-waking hours, thanks to the Sleep feature on Mariel the iPod Nano). I have a list of 50ish websites that I consume regularly: typically social networking, webcomics, comedy blogs, streaming video, music download, etc. I rarely stray outside of this routine unless I get bored, as there is plenty to occupy me.

I run into trouble when I start acting like I know what I'm doing. Sure, to my mom I'm a genius because I can fill out an Excel spreadsheet and defrag files, but I'm really only going through the motions. I have a very vague idea of how virus protection works, which isn't much to brag about considering I've gone through three hard-drives.

Here's a riddle: How can you make your nerdy friends wince in pain? Answer: balance hot coffee on your keyboard, name your user login "Admin" even though it's the only one you have, use McAfee and AVG at the same time, use Chrome with no add-ons, download Winamp to replace iTunes and then don't use it because "it's different," or admit that you have no idea what Flash actually means. Why do these people still hang out with me?

I've "fixed" my computer myself a few times when it was acting funny, usually just by clicking, deleting, refreshing, rebooting, scanning, and updating until something blinks and it tells me it's better. Daftpunk would approve of me - I cover their whole list.

People, I'm a proud semi-literate, and I'm here to stand up for my brethren (and sistren). Gather around, casual users, and unite against the snobbish prejudice of tech culture. You are entitled to your opinion that PCs are better than Macs because "Safari sucks and the x-out is on the left, wtf is up with that." You have a right to set Facebook as your homepage. You can make your own vocabulary (most tech-speak is coined anyway. What the hell is a widget...).You can make your own rules! One of mine is that anything I write gets emailed in text, saved as a doc, and saved as an rtf. Sure, it's overkill and irrational, but do you want to take a guess as to how many files I've mysteriously lost in the oblivion of ones and zeros? I treat technology with irreverent mistrust; if my laptop can function cryptically then so can I.

A perfect example: My browser just froze while writing the previous sentence, so when Chrome finished farting I highlighted all the text in this box and copied it. I know my draft saves every time I pause, but my paranoia from past traumatic events dictates how I react.

How We Solve Problems: You are having trouble locating a recently downloaded file. What do you do?

Super-literate: Calmly adjust the lever on my ergonomic chair, crack knuckles, disable auto-scan, enter "about:config" in address and "" in filter, select false value, and smile smugly to myself when it obediently pops up.*

Literate: Methodically and swiftly check the most obvious location according to what I downloaded, check Temporary Internet Files, or type the file name into the Search option - because of course I memorized it...

Semi-literate: Sigh in frustration, click the download until it downloads five times into the same unknown location, open My Computer and look through recently added, which is always suspiciously empty, check to make sure it didn't ninja it's way onto my desktop where it's been cheekily mocking me from behind my windows, download it again but this time right-click and save it somewhere obnoxiously obvious with a name like "AAA HERE I AM HELLO AAA!!!" Rinse and repeat until the 28 ticked-off copies of my file are found.

Illiterate: Why did that window pop up? I'm just trying to see that nice lady's photographs. Where did they go? Oh dear...Bradley? Bradley are you there? Honey, the page disappeared, I don't know where the internet went. Hang on, let me check that Microsoft Word document where I keep all my pictures...

Aahaha...I kid. Anyway, the internet is a growing community, folks. We don't all need to be geniuses, after all they need someone to teach. It's totally possible to function at any level of literacy, whether you spend your time editing and re-ordering audio clips of War and Peace until it reads Twilight with a Spanish accent, or making desktop backgrounds of baby hedgehogs in MS Paint.

Happy clicking!
Le Manuel

*I totally Googled that. No idea if it's right. That's kinda been my point...

Friday, March 4, 2011

"Dorm Life" hits the proverbial frat boy on the proverbial visor

You missed something. It's called Dorm Life, and it's a mockumentary web series on Hulu. Season 1 (2008) and Season 2 (2009) are both still available there, and each episode is only 5-10 minutes long. So, go watch it, and then come back and read the rest of this blog. 

I know, right? Pretty fucking awesome. You don't even have to be in college to enjoy this show. Now, I know what you're gonna say: "But Le Manuel, if YOU are in college how do you know that a non-college person would like Dorm Life? Did you take an official poll? Did you do extensive web research?" Well, no, even better: I used my thinking place to figure out why I like the show, and then thought about how I'm always right, so my opinion should apply to the rest of the world. I'll demonstrate: 

Dorm life is awesome because:

- It uses the mockumentary style to its advantage, not ignoring the fact of the cameras (I'm looking at you, Dunder Mifflin), and creatively using webcam diaries as talking heads. There's even an episode called "The Screening" in which the characters watch everything that we've seen so far. It's meta, it's cheeky, it satisfies every frustration I've ever had with the mockumentary format. 

- The plot is original, and the quick 5-minute running time cuts out any fluff. There are the expected romantic, rivalry, makeover, and argument story-lines, but they play off as fresh as Summer's Eve(tm). But there are also story arcs that I guarantee you've never seen before (World's Largest Beaver, all I'm gonna say). 

 - Each character is played by a highly comedic and well-timed actor, forming what we in the cliche business like to call an "ensemble cast." While the characters themselves are stereotypes/caricatures/imitations of typical college students, they aren't only funny because of their familiarity. They stand on their own as interesting people. But I believe college kids would especially like the portrayal of people that we all know: the sororiskank, the lovable frat-bros, the uptight Mama's boy, the overenthusiastic activity girl, the asshole RA, the weird artistic kid, etc. No matter how obnoxiously annoying these kids are in real life, in the show they bond and have fun on their hall floor and it's a perfect blend of "fucking hilarious" and "awwwww."

- Now I know you might not all agree with me, but a big reason I believe I enjoyed Dorm Life so much is because it ended. Cruel, right? Well I think that having an end makes a story worth something. How many high quality, respected, original soap operas have you seen lately? There's an unfair sentimental value to the Show that Never Ends, we get emotionally attached to the characters and tend to ignore things like plot, character development, and pacing all for the sake of watching those specific people. This is why when long-running shows finally do end (Lost, That 70s Show, Buffy), many fans feel that the show already "jumped the shark" at a much earlier point. Some very good shows - like Veronica Mars, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, or Firefly - only had a few seasons and are practically worshiped as immortal examples of perfect television. 

Now, ignore that last paragraph, because I want a Season 3 of Dorm Life! Not that it should go on forever, but I want to at least find out how their sophomore year goes. 

Take it from me, my minions, this one you should see! 

Le Manuel

Thursday, March 3, 2011

How To Not Be Gross In College

Okay, guys (not that I'm targeting guys, ahem ahem*), it's time to come clean. You're disgusting. You've been away from home far too long, and you desperately need someone to take the place of your mother or father or cat or whoever reminded you to maintain good personal hygiene when you were still in high school.

I'm here to be that voice. This is not aimed at anyone I know, just four years of mildly nauseated observing.  Whether you are about to be a freshman and want to avoid turning into That Slime Monster Down the Hall, or you're a graduating senior who just needs to be reminded of the basics, please take these words to heart, as this is an important life lesson.

Here are some general guidelines to being a tolerable person:

Shower regularly. No, seriously. Shower regularly. Like, every day if you have to. Err on the side of clean: If you can't tell if you need a shower, take a shower. Use soap. I apologize if this seems condescending, but it needs to be said. Wash all your bits. And your crannies.

Wash your hair. I have no problem with long hair on guys, as long as you know how to take care of it. Don't be a pussy about shampoo, get the kind with the fucking flowers on it if it's better for your hair, no one gives a shit. Don't just buy the stuff because it looks manly, actually pay attention to what it does to your hair. Is your scalp falling off? Is grease dripping down your neck after only a few hours? Adjust accordingly. Use conditioner if you have to.

Take care of your skin. Those white flaky places on your face that look like dried mayo? Yeah, that's not mayo. It's your skin yelling at you for being a negligent asshole to it. Wash, ex-foliate, and moisturize. Why do you even have that huge bottle of lotion by your bed if you're not going to use it on your face?

Cut your goddamn nails. They look like claws. Every two weeks is a good start. I prefer seeing the fingernails of people who compulsively bite them off than nails that are too long. You know why? Because every time you don't wash your hands after doing something disgusting, the icky tiny bits of SCIENCE get stuck under your fingernails, wait for you to violently scratch yourself, and then LODGE themselves under your skin to make a giant fucking colony of nasty slimy science babies inside you. Is that pleasant? No.

Wear deodorant. Actually, let's rephrase that: Apply deodorant. Every day. Under your armpits. NOTE: THIS IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR SHOWERING. We'll talk later about how Febreze is not a substitute for laundry detergent.

Wash your fucking clothes. I'll make it simple:

1-use items: Underwear, socks, workout wear, and anything you've sweat in or dropped food on. Because of MATH, this should be the category of clothes of which you own the most.
2-use items: Shirts if you're careful and clean, sweatpants likewise. Don't ever put a dirty body into clean clothes, that's just a waste. See above: Shower.
3-5 use items: Jeans, heavy pants, sweaters, hoodies (or any shirt protected from the nastiness of you by another shirt), and bath towels
Two-week items: bedsheets and pillowcases (OMG those need to be washed??? Yes. You disgusting creature)
Oh yeah, and Febreze is not a substitute for laundry detergent. Along those same lines, room spray is not a substitute for taking out the trash, mints/gum are not substitutes for toothpaste, saran wrap is not a substitute for condoms, etc. etc.

Here's another list (yay lists!). This one describes bodily fluid maintenance acts that you may already be doing (good for you), just not in the appropriate setting.

Ear wax should be evacuated, examined, and disposed of. On a q-tip, not your finger.
Boogers should be rocketed, picked, or swiped out. In a tissue, not your finger. 
Phlegm should be coughed out. And then spit into a toilet or tissue when you are alone, not swallowed during lecture. Ew.
And for the drinkers: Piss, Shit, Puke, and other enthusiastic excretions (ahem) belong in the TOILET (or, ahem). It is not huhlarious to spread your monkey-dung everywhere, nor is it huhlarious to vom in people's shoes like an aging house-cat. Get your shit together, man. Literally.

All of the above tips will benefit you as you attempt to:

Avoid getting grossly sick. I'm not going to say "awww, poor baby" if you come up to me all inconsiderately dripping with fluids and phlegms and sulfuric acid. I'm going to say "Gee, maybe you should eat something besides pizza, or drink something besides Pepsi and Jaeger, or get more than five hours of sleep fitfully dreaming about not showering...etc." Sickness is for the weak, undisciplined, and uninformed.

Make friends and influence lovers. It's not shallow to prefer that someone bathe before they come near you. We are not horrible people for avoiding your room during Mildew Month. I firmly believe that cooties are real, and if you disobey every rule above you probably have them.

Now, I'm not an unreasonable hygiene Nazi. As in all facets of life, your Disgusting Factor is flexible. Generally, if you disobey 1 - 1.75 of the rules in this post, you are a perfectly acceptable person. Are you generally clean and healthy-looking but your hair is a little greasy? Not a problem. Do you have gorgeously flowing locks and pristine clothing but your skin is a little dry? Perfectly acceptable. But as Shakespeare said, "In the multiplying of conditions lives the stinky stinky poo."**  If you don't shower, don't wash your clothes, don't trim your claws, don't care at all what you look/smell/feel/sound/taste like, then you are officially That Slime Monster Down the Hall. Therefore - and I mean this in the kindest, most respectful way - it is everyone's dearest wish to turn a fucking fire hose on you.

Thank you

* I am. But that's okay, because the rules apply to girls too. Yay equality!
**Shakespeare never said that.