Friday, August 30, 2013

My Name is Erik, and I'm a Collector

I'm a completist. That's what my friend, Michelle, tells me. I thought she had made it up, but I checked, and this is a real word. A completist is someone who tries to collect an example of every item in a field or genre.

For example, a completist might try to collect every Star Wars figurine ever made, or a copy of every book about Sherlock Holmes.

When I was 10, I tried to collect the complete 1977 set of Topps baseball cards. I used to sit on the floor of my garage and sort them, after blowing a couple dollars for a few packs of cards.

It was hot, and I was sweaty after riding my bike back from the Village Pantry. The floor was cold and dusty, and had I ever thought about the resale value of my cards, I never would have sorted them on the floor, but who cares about resale value when you're 10?

The cold floor provided some relief against the heat, as I carefully tore open each pack, making sure not to drop the gum, but blowing it off and chewing it anyway if I did. I sorted each card by teams. Braves over here, Pirates over there, Yankees up there. If I was lucky, a beloved Cincinnati Reds card right there in front of me.

I was looking for a Johnny Bench or Pete Rose. I would try to psychically pick out the packs that might have them, but no luck. I must have spent 50 bucks that year on cards, yet only managed to find one of each.

The best days were when I had four packs or more and the sorting took a while. I took my time, eagerly anticipating the next card. The next card could always be a Bench or a Rose, and the waiting was the best part. Once the cards were sorted, I was always a little sad, because the anticipation was over. I would try to find odd jobs to do for 50 cents, so I could get another pack.

The worst of it is, after buying all those cards, I still never got all the cards for the 1977 series. There were still holes and gaps that would haunt me for years until I gave the entire collection to my brother, minus my Johnny Bench card, which I gave to my younger daughter a few years ago.

My completism has reared its head many other times, and I've been able to resist its call. Most of the time.

In 1994, it was plastic football helmets from the quarter machines at my local supermarket. Just like the baseball cards, the random element of the machine made each selection a nice surprise. And just like the cards, I tried to psychically cause the helmet for my favorite team, the Indianapolis Colts, to fall.

Unlike the cards, I managed to complete the collection after a couple months. I always ended up with extra helmets from the crappy teams I hated — the Eagles, the Raiders, the Bills — and would sometimes pitch them, because who needs three Eagles helmets? I barely wanted the one.

I collected loose quarters and made up reasons to go to the store for another helmet run. I never made change, and I never saved dimes and nickels. It had to be quarters. That was the rule.

"We're out of deviled ham," I would say, trying to keep my secret from my wife.

"We don't eat deviled ham," she said, although I was halfway to the car by then.

Actually I did, especially on a cool fall night, when I would enjoy the seclusion and quietness of our apartment. While my wife was out with her mom, I would line up the helmets by division or that week's schedule.

I would sit at our little dining room table, a football game on TV, porch door wide open to let in the fall chill, and I would think of football. Or remember my baseball cards from 17 years ago.

Of course, the collection was completely ruined a year later when the Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers joined the NFL, so I just gave up.

I rarely collect things. I recognize that I could easily become a full-blown completist, a hoarder, so I hold back. I already collect some things: books by a certain author, albums by a favorite band. Now I'm thinking about collecting a few typewriters. My current plan is to collect only the models used by three or four of my favorite authors, especially since I don't have the room for a large collection.

If they sold them in vending machines, then I'd have a problem. Because we're all out of deviled ham.

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and my other book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.


Like this post? Leave a comment or Stumble it.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Making Technology Easier. Sort Of.

Erik is out of the office this week, speaking at a writing conference. For laughs, we pulled this technology column from 2004 to see if he's gotten any better at it. (He hasn't.)

I used to be a technology whiz when I was younger. I could explain the difference between digital and analog stereo systems. I could explore the inner workings of my Macintosh computer. And I even knew how to program my VCR, which was no mean feat in 1989.

Even today, I try to stay current with the latest technological trends. After all, technology has become such an integral part of our lives. We can watch TV on our computers. We can listen to the radio on devices the size of a pen. Cell phones, PDAs, and wireless laptops make it possible to communicate across vast distances without being tied down by cables and cords.

Even this column is made possible through email. While most people are reading this online, there are a few thousand people who read it in an honest-to-God real newspaper. But even then, it gets sent to the editor via email.

So technology is inescapable, unless you're a Luddite, in which case I'll make fun of you, since it's not like you're using a computer to read this anyway.

And most people love technology, because it will bring about new ages of exploration and discovery. It will allow us to reach beyond the stars, or explore the ocean floors. Technology can mean the difference between life and death for the sick, and it can help form friendships between people who have never met. But mostly, we use it to play video poker while we're waiting at the airport.

I was not always the most technologically adept in college, but I could have intelligent discussions with engineers and computer programmers about the latest advances in their field. I even maintained my level of interest as I entered the workforce, and used computers on a daily basis.

So I was in for a bit of a shock when I started working for a software company this year.

I've always considered myself fairly accomplished: I can frame a house, I can cook a gourmet meal from memory, and I can even speak in front of large crowds. But compared to the people I work with, I am to technology what a lit match is to a welder's torch.

And while I still respect technology, I'll never fully grasp its intricacies or subtle nuances. Instead, I leave that to people who can tell you why they carry more than four pens in their pocket.

I know a guy whose idea of fun is to design and build electronic devices, whereas my idea of fun is to point a little box at a big box, and the magical people who live inside the big box put on a show for me.

Compared to my friend, I feel like the caveman who just discovered fire five minutes before some guy pulls up in a Ferrari and hands me a CD.

Working in the software industry has brought me in contact with a lot of technology experts, who I affectionately refer to as Tech Geeks (behind their backs, of course; I'm afraid they'll electrify my office chair). And I try desperately to understand what they're saying to me, but I'm afraid the glazed look in my eyes will give me away. Basically, this is what I hear:

Tech Geek: We have to interface the fleeble with the grabnitz, or else we'll spalt the diodium cathodes.

Me: Splunge.

Tech Geek: But here's the exciting part. If we schmurtz the diodes with the fleurium-cooled coprosticulators, we'll actually be able to calculatize the yodat of a quaznot. Isn't that cool?!

Me: Yarp.

The worst part is, that as I star blankly at them, I can feel them mentally pleading with me to comprehend what they're saying. And they'll even adopt the international communication method of language conveyance, speaking louder.


Me: One time, I held a potato.

Unfortunately, I only partially understand what they're saying, because I'm not even sure they're speaking English. Either that, or I had a stroke, and haven't understood a single word anyone has said to me for months.

I suppose I could spend more time learning about technology. I could delve into the mysteries of electronics, computer programming, and even computational physics. And I've been asked on several occasions why I don't spend more time doing this. I have one simple answer:


The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and my other book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.


Like this post? Leave a comment or Stumble it.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Google Is Literally Killing Literally

Google's corporate motto is "don't be evil." But they did something so awful, so heinously wrong that they may as well have just killed and eaten the last unicorn on the planet.

If you type "define literally" into your Google search bar, this is what you'll see: "Used to acknowledge that something is not literally true, but is used for emphasis to express strong feeling."

I've got my own word that expresses strong feeling, and it ain't "literally."

See, the word you're thinking of, Google, does not mean "in a literal sense." It doesn't mean it actually happened. It doesn't mean "this is how things actually are."

The word you're thinking of is "figuratively." In fact, when I type "define figuratively," Google says "in a figurative sense. Not 'literally.' Anyone who uses that word to mean 'figuratively' should literally be hung by their thumbs and beaten with a dictionary."

I may be paraphrasing a bit.

In fact, when I typed in "define figurative," I saw, "Departing from a literal use of words; metaphorical." So what you did there was literally the dumbest thing you've ever done, Google, and I tried using Google Wave.

In other words, your own dictionary even says that's literally not what "literally" means.

Even the definition itself is contradictory. It acknowledges something that is not literally true.

This word, no thanks to Google, is becoming the exact opposite of what it should mean — it's becoming an auto-antonym, or self-contradictory word — and it all happened because people what don't know no better want to use something other than "it's like, O-M-G, really, really, really."

(Yes, I just said "what don't know no better." Do you see what this is doing to me?!)

"But it's in the dictionary!" whine the defenders of this incorrect usage. "That means it's okay to use." I've found that people who say this don't even pay attention to the dictionary, let alone own one. This is not a good defense.

Besides, that's not what a dictionary does. It's not the rule book that we're supposed to use to settle language disputes. The dictionary reflects current usage of the language. It tells us what people are already doing, not what they should be doing. The F-word is in the dictionary, but that doesn't mean I should say it in church.

The word "snoutfair" is also in the dictionary — it's a person with a handsome or attractive face — but I can't ever recall using it about anyone. "Man, that Salma Hayek sure is a snoutfair! I wonder if she's anyone's wonder-wench."

I also shouldn't call anyone a wonder-wench, even though it means "sweetheart."

Can you imagine if I had asked my wife out this way when we first started dating? "My dear, you are such a snoutfair. Would you be my wonder-wench?"

My point is, just because a word is in the dictionary doesn't mean we should use it. And now that the cries of "Common usage! Common usage!" are bellowing from the using-literally-wrong crowd, I am reluctantly forced to admit that I play the common usage card on occasion. (Editor's note: Actually, he plays it most of the time. He doesn't let us correct anything.)

After all, language is a malleable, ever-changing tapestry. Words get new meanings all the time. But not this one. Not here. Not like this. You cannot claim "common usage" just because a bunch of people started using a word incorrectly. A large mob may riot in the streets just because they feel like it, but that doesn't make them right.

The proper understanding and usage of this word is what separates us from animals. They can't think in metaphor or imagery, but we can. And when we use literally to mean "figuratively," only because we need filler words, we've lost a small part of our humanity. We're no better than the baboons who fling their own poo or call into sports talk radio shows.

Sadly, Google is only following what the other dictionaries started doing at the beginning of the year — recording what the ill-informed masses are doing, not saying what is correct. That means it's up to us, the people who literally want to preserve the purity of the word "literally." We have to correct them, and remind them that the word does not mean what they think it means.

Otherwise, feel free to call them atavistic masticating flapdoodles. It's in the dictionary.

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and my other book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.


Like this post? Leave a comment or Stumble it.

Friday, August 09, 2013

A Letter To Myself From 1985

I was going through some old boxes that I finally retrieved from my dad's attic ("You're not a real adult until you don't have anything left at your parents' house," he's fond of telling me.)

I found some old keepsakes, like my high school yearbooks, some old comic books, and an almost complete set of Micronaut toys I hadn't had the heart to throw away back then. (I found that heart when I found the box, and pitched the entire broken down, dismembered collection. Now who's a real adult?)

I also found a letter addressed to me, dated June 30, 1985, written just a few days after my eighteenth birthday. I had written it to myself, to be opened when I turned 45. I was a year late, but then it's not like it was a map to buried treasure or anything. The Micronauts were my most valuable possession back then, and they're gone now.

Here's what it said.

"Dear Erik,

"Hey, there handsome! It's me, well, it's you from all the way back here in 1985. Hope you're doing awesome and are just as cool as ever. Or are at least cooler than we are right now. Seriously, man, I hope you were able to find a wife or at least a girlfriend in the next 27 years, because I am striking out worse than the Chicago Cubs during a playoff run. Hopefully they've also won a World Series or two by the time you read this too.

"I'm also hoping my plan of taking good care of myself, eating right, and exercising regularly works out too. I'm in great shape from bicycle racing, and I love how my hair blows in the wind, so I've got those going on for me. I'll bet you're still sporting that sexy part in the middle too — there's only so much you can do with all this hair, right? I'll bet you look amazing at 45.

"I'm typing this on Dad's old typewriter, because he's using his computer for work. It's about the size of a television set, but it has a couple cool games on it. I'll bet the computers are so much bigger and more powerful in the future. Our friend Mike said he thinks we'll all have to have extra rooms built onto our houses if you want to store a computer in your home.

"This September marks our freshman year at Ball State. The plan is to major in Public Relations and then go to work for some big PR agency. The other option is to go into Journalism and work for a newspaper. Man, that would be so cool! Those guys make a lot of money, and there's a stable future. We're always going to need newspapers, so that may be a place to spend the next 20 years working.

"I could also go to work for TV news, but they'll probably make me get a haircut or something. That's okay, I guess. Mom says it's important to dress professionally for work, which is probably going to mean suits and ties every day. Wouldn't it be cool if we could have a job that would let us work from home in jeans and a t-shirt? That sounds awesome. We'd probably have to drive into the office to deliver memos and have meetings though. Too bad we couldn't do something about that with our giant-assed computers.

"What about our tastes in music? I hope that didn't change too much. I've been listening to a lot of British New Wave lately. I love those synthesizers! I hope that stuff is going to be around forever. Dad is still listening to the Rolling Stones. Jeez, aren't those geezers dead yet? With the lifestyles they lead, I keep expecting to hear that Mick Jagger died or something. I think Keith Richards died years ago, but no one has had the heart to tell him yet.

"Also, the Colts moved here from Baltimore last year. They're okay, I guess. They kind of stunk up the Hoosier Dome this year. Oh well, they'll be Indiana's lovable losers. Bet you ten bucks the Cubs win a World Series before the Colts ever make it to the playoffs.

"Well, I'd better sign off. There's a new show coming out this fall called 'Misfits of Science,' and there's a special summer sneak preview tonight. I've watched the commercials, and it looks really cool. I think the show is going to be a smash hit and will lead to some amazing careers for its stars.

"Stay cool, and take good care of your hair.


The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and my other book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.


Like this post? Leave a comment or Stumble it.

Friday, August 02, 2013

The Death of Cool

No one knows exactly when it happens. You look around, look at your life choices, clothes, entertainment, music, and what you do for fun when friends come over. And suddenly, it hits you.

You're not cool anymore.

It didn't happen all at once, of course. There's no single event you can point to and say "That's the day I started acting like my mom." It's more of a slow creeping erosion, like how the tide steals a little more of the cliff each year, until your house of cool falls into the sea of mom jeans and dad shorts.

It takes longer for women. One day, you're in your mid-20s. College is behind you, you've got a job, you're up on the latest fashion, the coolest music, and the best places to drink and dance.

A year later, the car that got you through college is nearly dead, so you upgrade. You move into your own apartment so you don't have to share, and you realize your paycheck doesn't go as far as it used to. So you squeeze one more season out of your wardrobe. You go out with friends once a week, not three. And you're tired of the constant "oonce oonce oonce" of the clubs, so you try a quieter bar and sit on the patio instead.

Besides, what's wrong with staying in once in a while? Do we have to go out every weekend? I just got the new Reese Witherspoon movie. Let's eat ice cream and watch "Miss Matched Southern Belles."

Later, you're worried you haven't seen your boyfriend in a while, and you have to get ready for the wedding, because these invitations just won't mail themselves, and you're still coming, right? We'll have a good time at the bachelorette party, and kick it like we were 21 again!

Months later, you can't go out for drinks because you "have a big announcement," so your friends throw you a shower and make all those "oooooh" noises whenever you hold up anything tiny, which is pretty much every single present.

Except your single friends who just roll their eyes and mumble "lame" when one of your mommy friends tells that cute little story about what Jeremiah did during poopy time, and when you follow her outside for one of her many smoke breaks, she tells you, "you used to be cool, and now you're just one of 'them!'"

Meanwhile, guys hang onto their cool a little longer, but the loss hits us harder. Your husband has spent the last several years hanging out in sports bars, eating wings and drinking beer, because that's all guys ever really wanted to do. Unless he's one of those husbands who's deliriously happy to come to the baby shower, in which case there wasn't much cool to lose in the first place.

After the baby comes, his friends don't see him unless he bumps into them at the grocery store with the baby strapped to his chest like some poopy time bomb.

He's no longer Captain Macho, he's become Dad Man.

And it doesn't get any better for either of you. By the time your kid is six, you know the names of every Disney Princess, every Thomas the Tank Engine character, and every word to every freakin' kids song ever made. Which you hum to yourself while waiting six hours in line for tickets to Yo Gabba Gabba.

You give it all up, all of it, for your kids, to give them a loving, nurturing home that offers every developmental and educational advantage in life, until your little brats inform you that you're not cool, and you probably never were.

Here's what you can do.

When they're old enough to understand "do as I say, not as I did," you'll tell them what life was like B.C. — before children — and all the cool stuff you did when you were in your 20s.

You embellish stories about how you hung out with your favorite band for hours backstage, when really it was just a rush-through, after winning passes from the radio station.

Or you — wisely — tone down those stories, smiling quietly to yourself at the memories.

You show them the photos of all the fun times you had with your friends. You tell them how their own kids will laugh just as loudly at their teenage haircuts. You talk about how you and your spouse met, and what life was like while your family was growing.

And then the coup de grace — you'll tell them what brought you to your sad, sorry, frumpy, uncool state today. You'll gesture at yourself, at your mom jeans, at your dad shorts and dark socks, with a battle weary sense of hard-won pride.

You'll say, "All this happened because of you. I stopped being cool because I became a parent. And it will happen to you too. Welcome to your future."

And the looks on their faces will make your 20-year fall from cool totally worth it.

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and my other book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.


Like this post? Leave a comment or Stumble it.