html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: When the Cat's Away . . .

Thursday, July 20, 2006

When the Cat's Away . . .

Dear Readers,

Meg has abandoned you all for the weekend, but don't despair - there's no reason we can't have a little fun here without her.

So, who the hell am I and how did I sneak past the gatekeepers of the blog? The details aren't important; all that matters is that I'm a good friend - and entitled to take certain liberties.

Even the avid readers among you likely don't know many details of Meg's life - I don't mean the deep, dark secrets that she would, no doubt, gladly share with you Imaginary Folk anyways - but the subtleties of her day-to-day existence that she might not bother to mention. For example:
  1. Her home computer runs Windows 98, which is only worth mentioning because she can't install iTunes. The poor girl goes door-to-door begging for new music like a sugar-starved kid on Halloween night,
  2. She refuses to use a microwave, even though (to the best of my knowledge) there's no sound environmental reason to avoid them, and, most relevant at the moment,
  3. She doesn't own a cell phone. Or Blackberry. Or two-way pager. Relevant, I say, because my flight to Philly is running late and I have no easy way of letting her know that she should go to dinner without me.

I'm sure I'm not alone here - we've all got plenty of technology laggards in our lives. [My parents, for example, still have trouble with the 3 TV remotes, but I forced a cell phone on them and they've been grateful ever since.]

My question for you, good folks: do I simply tolerate this backward-ness with her? Or is it my duty, as a friend, to leave her stranded at PHL, at the mercy of the Hare Krishnas, until she realizes the error in her ways?

[Update - I'm still in Atlanta; Meg just called me from a payphone. She got lucky this time: I gave her everything - the restaurant location, her friend's phone numbers, my expected arrival time - and not one moment of preaching from me . . . I'm such a softie . . .]


Anonymous nuclearpoet said...

Having trouble with 3 TV remotes is quite understandable, I myself find myself pushing the danged power button on the TV rather than gathering a search-and-rescue mission for the remote that controls the TV (for all they say about the accuracy of dogs' sense of smell, the three dogs here are not of much help in finding any chunks of plastic around here, unless it's something for them to chew on).


Windows 98???????????

4:53 PM  
Blogger grant said...

I'm so in love.

6:11 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

With Anand? He's awesome.

I have a microwave that I almost never use. Food preparation should take time, in accordance with its importance in our lives.

In addition to not having a cell phone, I also don't have a:

Television/VCR/DVD player
Air conditioner
Watch/Clocks (well, one in my bedroom)

I've stopped using my clothes dryer in favor of my clothesline. I wasn't kidding when I said I live in the 1930's. Of all the appliances I don't have, the only one I ever miss is a kitchen mixer.

8:54 PM  
Blogger Ennis said...

I understand the rest, but how do you mete out justice without a scale?

9:01 PM  
Anonymous mitch said...

I find this kind of technology aversion fascinating. Is it nostalgia? Some kind of asceticism or self-sufficiency thing?

Whenever people wax poetic about slow food, I think of Dunbar from Catch-22.

I also think that Megan's distaste for compliments is pretty interesting. It's true that people are working from limited information, but then, isn't that information filter part of the reason for blogging in the first place? You get to condense all of your coolest and funniest thoughts into one place and leave out the half-baked versions and blind alleys. If some poor guy out there says (with whatever level of seriousness) that he's in love based on reading the blog, then it's perfectly reasonable to feel proud that you've done a good job.

Appreciating the fact that some people want to compliment you does not make you stuck up. What exactly is it about the compliments that makes you uncomfortable with/bored of them? Do you always actively discourage things that you find boring but that are otherwise harmless?

You write well, and have a good sense of humor. And a nice ass :-P

Now, relax, look at yourself in the mirror, and say, "Mitch thinks I have a nice ass, and that's OK."

10:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

M: "I also don't have a:

Television/VCR/DVD player
Air conditioner
Watch/Clocks (well, one in my bedroom)"

LOL! I love the way Americans think not having what most of the world doesn't have is a form of "asceticism" or "nostalgia"!

on the importance of food, Berger's 'eaters and the eaten' is a great read (food for thought).

11:18 PM  
Anonymous mitch said...

"LOL! I love the way Americans think not having what most of the world doesn't have is a form of 'asceticism' or 'nostalgia'!"

Well, in America, it is. Or at least, it's uncommon. Here, not using those things is a deliberate choice.

11:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fair point Mitch -and I was not in any way criticising you. Just trying to say , rather clumsily, that perhaps a certain level of material abundance makes it diffciult to think how other people live. Other people who do not have these "things" will always be "backward" in such a view. "Third" world. The language gives it away!

The point being: in late capitalism one has to be rich to live a simple life! Only the rich can "opt-out" of publically provided goods (see Ivan Illich's Shadow Work here).

11:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

isn't it while the cat's away, not "when"?

12:59 AM  
Blogger matt said...

Megan, I sympathize. I have Windows ME, but only because my computer was hijacked by a friend years back, and he refused to use 98. I do use a microwave, but only because I am sometimes on a student schedule; I much prefer not to.
I don't own a driver's license, much less a car -- I run, bike, walk, use public transportation, hitch rides with friends.
And I definately don't own a cell phone, a blackberry, or an iPod, a dishwasher, scale, TV / VCR / DVD.

I don't even own a bed. (I sleep on a blanket on the floor.)

I'm still working on finding a good drying rack (there's no where for a good line in our current yard) so that I don't have to use to the dryer.

4:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

She found a working payphone? That's the most surprising thing in the whole post.

9:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm curious how you justify using a range and oven. Is food not important enough that you should build a fire by hand (by stoking embers, no doubt)? Is there some logical explanation for why turning a dial to "medium" is acceptable? Why turning an oven to "350" is allowed? Or is it just a pretentious affection?

And what's the point of not having a car if you're going to fly in airplanes, given the overwhelming evidence of the negative impact of passenger air travel?

9:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Recycling issues aside, aren't microwaves actually more environmentally sound than ranges for some purposes? It was my impression that it requires more energy to boil, for instance, a cup of water on the range than it does in the microwave. Just saying, if that's the case, wouldn't microwaves count as more than just convenient time-saving devices that only us spoiled westerners have?

10:47 AM  
Anonymous UnderwearNinja said...

If you do a search for "Microwaved Water" there's stuff out there about it killing plants =) Not sure how scientifically sound their processes are though.

I also was on the anti-cellphone thing, but they're just so incredibly useful, I couldn't stay away.

Cars are awesome. Woo Yosemite here I come.
TV? What else will you watch cartoons and play video games on?
Air Conditioner to keep my TV and computers cold!
Dishwasher isnt much faster than by hand.
Scale, how will I know when I'm back to my fighting weight?
Watch, how do I plan to be 15 minutes late everywhere if I don't know what time it is?

11:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

By "stuff out there" you mean a single 6th grade science experiment of a single plant? When this was posted on reddit it inspired a teacher to have his entire class try the same experiment and they found no difference. He put the results on a web page:

There was also a discussion on

suggesting explanations for the difference (including deliberate fraud and photoshopping)

12:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I never used a cell phone until I lived in the "Third World" and then I realized they were incredibly useful. That, and considerably less annoying than dealing with the local telecom monopoly.

2:26 PM  
Anonymous dan said...

The 1993 wave of the General Social Survey included the question "How important is owning nice material possessions to you?" It also asked for self-reported happiness.

If you regress happiness (higher number is happier) on materialism (higher number is more materialistic), you get a negative coefficient.

That's just to say, people who cared more about possessions were generally less happy.

Adding demographic control variables doesn't change the results. Adding income and a proxy for ability makes the coefficient on materialism even more negative.

I've never found data with both happiness and technological uptake, but I'd be surprised if uptake matters much in wealthy countries.

2:52 PM  
Anonymous mitch said...

I've never found data with both happiness and technological uptake, but I'd be surprised if uptake matters much in wealthy countries.

With this paragraph, you seem to be acknowledging that materialism vs. happiness is a little beside the point. Obviously, choosing to use technology does not by itself make one materialist. You might find a correlation, but you'd have to deal with scads of confounds, and the definition questions are pretty hard, too.

Even if it were proven that using cell phones has no relationship to happiness after all of the relevant variables were controlled for (which I would find suprising, given my anecdotal experience), the fact remains that it's uncommon. At this point, it's fair to assume that not having one (for Americans who are middle-class or richer, living in cell coverage, blah blah blah) is a deliberate choice.

I assume that choice was made for a reason, and I'm curious to know the reason. Once you know that, then you can form an opinion on the original question in this post.

4:32 PM  
Blogger Ennis said...

You could marry her and bring her into the 21st century ... ;)

5:38 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

What if I dragged my husband back three generations? What if we met in the middle, and that was still pre-cell phone? What if he had to choose between me getting a cell phone and us having a TV?

12:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mitch, I disagree with you. Banning cell-phones would be a great blessing. All of the idle chatter and shouting in public places. Yep, let's go back three generations..bring back the Taleban! (er...that was a joke by the way, just in case the CIA are reading in...don't want to end up in Gitmo)

5:21 AM  
Anonymous dan said...

Mitch wrote:
Obviously, choosing to use technology does not by itself make one materialist.

The survey question asked about the importance of acquiring material possessions, which would include consumer electronics (as well as a car and everything else mentioned)

You might find a correlation, but ... the definition questions are pretty hard, too.

It's a reasonable concern how people define happiness when answering this question. But answers to "happiness" questions have been shown to be positively correlated with physical signs of happiness-- including frequency of smiling and electroencephalogram measures of prefrontral brain activity (the area associated with positive mental states.)

I'm not trying to make too much of the regressions here... just an interesting trend in the data.

I'm curious to know the reason. Once you know that, then you can form an opinion on the original question in this post.

Wasn't the question whether Anand should punish Megan by making her wait at the airport with the Hare Krishnas?

I hadn't planned on forming an opinion one way or the other.

5:57 AM  
Blogger Ennis said...

I have a cell phone, but not a broadcast-receiving TV (I do have a DVD player though). When I lived abroad, they were more necessary than they are here, and not so much of a luxury at all.

I'll bet megan owns an mp3 player though, which seems like a violation of the whole 1930s spirit. Anand, if you really wanted to punish her, you could make her be consistent - no more recorded music except on vinyl!

7:53 AM  
Blogger Dubin said...

Strictly speaking, it wouldn't be vinyl. It would be a Victrola that you would crank and have to change the needle every time you put a new shellac disk on the turntable. THAT WOULD RULE. Then you could make your husband wax his moustachios.

8:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How many of you have computers with internet access? Or that other great 1930's invention: a personal blog?

(If the answer to the first question was "no" don't bother replying)

9:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

None of this seems that ridiculous to me. I knew people from SF who had no cars. If you're not going to drive it, it's just a big unnecessary expense. Of course my friends who always need a ride, and can't ever drive anywhere we go get on my nerves.

I've got a tv, but I'm barely ever home to watch it. Megan talks about how active she is, so, again, why bother with something you don't use?

Most apartments here in the bay area don't have AC. And, even if they did, I work all week, and then I'm out when I'm not at work.

Dishwasher, if I didn't have a roommate I wouldn't need the dishwasher. I do my dishes as I use them. But for some reason the people I live with can't even manage to get their dishes into the dishwasher, they just pile them in the sink.

Scale, what do you need one for? If you belong to a gym there's on there.

The only one that would annoy me is the cell phone. But, since she can't drive herself anywhere anyway, she's either out with people who probably have a phone, or at home where she can be reached.


10:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a reasonable concern how people define happiness when answering this question. But answers to "happiness" questions have been shown to be positively correlated with physical signs of happiness

However, more recent studies (this one came out within the past two months, sorry for no link) have called into question all previous happiness research by concretely establishing that people's reports of "happiness" very greatly depending on when the survey is taken.

The study I'm remembering, for instance, surveyed Asians (I forget whether it was Chinese or Japanese or whatnot) and Americans. When the survey was conducted during the course of the day (i.e. "how happy are you at precisely this point in time") it found that, despite the findings of every other study so far, Asians actually ranked higher on happiness.

However, when the same question was asked of the same people at the end of the day (i.e. "how happy were you today") the results were reversed and suddenly the Americans came out as "happier". (That is, somehow the Asians had "lost" happiness for no obvious reason. I believe the researchers' theory was that the different formulation of the questions added a level of reflection that adulterated the pure response by allowing cultural mores to come into play.)

The study highlighted the dramatic importance of self-perception and the influence of cultural mores on self-reporting studies.

11:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happiness: only the Englishman seeks that (Nietzsce). Have you ever wondered why with all of this striving for happiness so many are unhappy and require material things to make them happy or intoxicants or medicines to take away the unhappiness?

If the economic system led to happiness and contentment wouldn't it come to a grinding halt?

Hasn't anyone read Philip Roth out there for Christ's sake?

12:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, the secret to happiness is to lower your expectations to the point where they're already met.

Hobbes (the cartoon tiger)

Not the exact quote, but close enough.


1:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

no, that doesn't necessary follow justin but there is, perhaps ,something to be said for what E.P.thompson would call 'customary expectations'.

the question is whether the economic system isn't geared to project an ideal (the american dream , say) that is always just out of reach and if that doesn't engender a permanent state of dis-satisfaction.

My question is just: will the accumualtion of more and more goods, the destruction of the environment lead to more happiness or will it led to an 'atomisation' and profound unhappiness?

The point I'm trying to make is NOT that happiness isn't important or that material progress isn't an important aspect of our happiness but that there is a whole range of human values that are equally 'valuable'. Why the obsession with happiness?

Friendship, love , beauty, art, respect, duty, loyalty, compassion, altruism,the pursuit of knowledge..all these things may *lead* to happiness but they are not the sole reason why we pursue these things. (you may want to look at Amartya Sen's Ethics and Economics).

2:33 PM  
Anonymous mitch said...

Hmmm, after reading the last set of comments I don't feel so bad about being a wonk anymore :)

The survey question asked about the importance of acquiring material possessions, which would include consumer electronics (as well as a car and everything else mentioned)

And a whole lot of other things as well, which are unrelated. "happiness" and "materialism" in the abstract are a long way from the particular question I'm interested in here, which was Anand's "do I simply tolerate this backward-ness with her?" in the cell phone context. Clearly, it was half tongue-in-cheek, but there's some frustration there too.

Perhaps you think that people who want a cell phone feel that way only (or even partly) because they are materialists, but this case is a concrete example where having one would have been helpful, even if Megan were a nun. She's away from home, and the metro means she can get around on her own (without having a cell-phone-owning friend driving her). Even back in Sac, there's foot/bike/bus travel as well.

And the question of why Megan feels the way she does is an interesting one IMO, which is why I keep going on about it. For example, I have a friend who doesn't have a cell phone. When I ask him why, he says it's just one more phone that he'd not be getting any calls on. Clearly, he feels a bit lonely, so the good friend response on my part is to call him more, which I'm doing.

I don't think that's the case here, but I do think there's a reason and I think it would tell us something interesting about Megan.

If you find cell phone users annoying, you can choose to use yours politely. If you don't have a cell phone because you choose to renounce empty materialism and the capitalist machinery that it powers (especially since studies show it doesn't make you any happier), then get a cheap non-flashy cell phone to make it easier to connect with actual people, including your good friends who are trying to tell you that their flight was delayed.

Many people find technology somehow alienating, but I think cell phones help strengthen connections with other people. Kind of like this blog. Both are valuable not because they're cool or flashy or because they're nice material possessions, but because they help create and nurture connections with other human beings.

4:53 PM  
Anonymous dan said...

Anonymous at 11:10:
The phenomenon you mention, that the answer to happiness questions are sensitive to the what question is asked, doesn't invalidate the data. It only suggest we be careful in how we use it.

For instance, the 1993 GSS survey I mentioned asks the same question of all respondents (all in the US). So the problems you suggest are a non-issue.

More generally, noise (e.g. variation in mood throughout the day, etc.) don't bias our estimates since happiness is the independent variable. If it were an explanatory variable, we would have something called "attenuation bias." There are good ways to deal with that too though.

So timing-sensitivity and cultural mores are issues, but they don't invalidate the data.

Anonymous at 2:33PM:
Your suggesting that we are "obsessed with happiness" and we're ignoring "friendship, love, beauty, etc?"

We talk more about love more than happiness. Look around the blog, it's not even close.

4:59 PM  
Anonymous dan said...


The regression clearly doesn't say anything about Megan as an individual. For all I know, she may be skimping on cell phones so she can buy blinged out flower pots for her houseplants.

It also wasn't meant as an "anti-materialsim" tirade... "materialism" was just the best one word description for what that question asked.

It's just an interesting trend that I found on-topic given the comments about owning cars, microwaves, cellphones, etc.

She'll probably give you a good explanation for her lack of cell-phone when she gets back.

5:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dan: "We talk more about love more than happiness. Look around the blog, it's not even close"

"we" isn't a personal comment on you Dan or anyone else. Chill out dude. "We" is us, us moderns. It's not about *talking* about love. LOL!

The point is: the dominant economic ideology is overwhelmingly about happiness; a fundamental 'right' in the western tradition is "the pursuit of happiness"; the economic system is based on the idea that individuals following *their own* happiness will generate the happiest society .

Take a look around you ...a look outside the world of this blog.

10:43 PM  
Blogger Cladeedah said...

How on earth do you ever make it through all these comments??? And what happened to your car?

11:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How on earth do you ever make it through all these comments???

This sounds like the product of Fear Cladeedah. Fear is negative energy on the life line :)


9:38 AM  
Anonymous nuclearpoet said...

What if I dragged my husband back three generations? What if we met in the middle, and that was still pre-cell phone? What if he had to choose between me getting a cell phone and us having a TV?

Um, does that have to be an "all-or-nothing" proposition on both ends? Perhaps you could get a cell phone for limited use only (i.e., in emergencies for situations such as earlier in the weekend, and you never know when you might need a 911 call) and a TV in the house that is ONLY tuned to PBS?

8:25 PM  
Blogger Cladeedah said...

I think you're right DD. I have a fear. A fear of not having clean underwear because instead of doing laundry I sat here and read every single comment on this blog.

11:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now pay attention might miss something important: only read the odd ones.


12:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I got stuck on the bit about not having AC. It was 100 degrees (Fahrenheit of course) in my house yesterday! This is significant because I live in Sac too.

5:31 PM  
Blogger amanda bee said...

I have a cell phone but it doesn't work, so I live in both worlds. When I really need to I can send text messages, sometimes if I'm lucky I can even make a phone call. I freelance, I sort of do need a phone that is not my home phone so it would be good if this worked, this cell phone, but that isn't even my point.

My point is twofold: cars suck and we all make compromises. I don't have AC but when it is really nasty out I've been known to spend the entire day in a cafe that does. In New York City that can mean a lot of time in cafes. I try to buy clothes that are not made in sweatshops but then I get pedicures, which involves letting a woman scrub my feet who has been breathing awful fumes all day long. I think about it, I don't stress out about it. I probably make all kinds of other compromises, too, and I just don't see them.

I fly in airplanes but don't drive a car. that one, though, isn't so much of a compromise of values. Here is how I figure it: Even though airplanes use
about 8 times as much fuel per passenger mile than an automobile
, the overall impact of airplanes on the environment and society is minute compared to the automobile. Somewhere (there is a limit to how much sleuthing I'm going to do for a blog comment) I did look at a great study that illustrated the overall, cumulative emmissions from automobiles vs airplanes and while one has remained relatively static over the last two decades (yup) the other has skyrocketed.

When I go to DC or Boston, I take the train or a bus. When I go to San Francisco or Istanbul, I fly in an airplane. Occassional travel is a world apart from daily practice, and it isn't airplanes that ferry schoolchildren (obese or not) around at the expense of any kind of actual exercise. We've given over a lot of space and quiet to airplanes, but not nearly as much as we've given over to the private automobile.

I like not having a million kitchen appliances, I take a certain amount of pride in that, but the real reason my kitchen is bare is that it isn't bare at all, it just happens to be a 3 foot by 3 foot square and I really can't fit anything more into it.

It is entirely rare for Americans to think before we acquire Things. We are forever acquiring things and we don't use most of them. Everyone (even Megan) has at least one kitchen appliance and four or five weird utensils that they never, ever use. We have some idea that a bread machine or a rice cooker or a stand mixer will change our lives, but really they clutter the counter, get moved to a high shelf and fade into obscurity. The challenge is that for every rice cooker gathering dust there are five more that haven't been unplugged in ten years. It is hard to know what you are actually going to make use of.

I don't know why I care, but I can get really riled up about cars and consumerism. Now that I've been sitting here riling myself up for like 30 minutes, I feel like I have to post this just to justify how much time I just wasted (time I could have spent watching TV ...) composing this comment.

3:03 PM  

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