Skiing with the Aliens

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“You need to enter the 21st century and get some new equipment,” he tells me, gazing down at my obsolete straight-shaped skis. I’m enjoying a half day of skiing during a visit to my mom, and I receive this bit of unsolicited counsel from the stranger on the chairlift.

“Yeah, eventually I plan to,” I reply. “I’m sort of a working-class skier. But so far, these have worked well for me.”

“The difference between those and parabolics is like night and day. Too many black diamonds and death cookies with those, and you’re bombin’.”

“No kidding.”

“What are those, about 177? 180?”

Uh-oh, here we go again. Does he really care what centimeter length they are?? I doubt it. Instead, I think he’s pulling one of those alpha-male-skier things, advertising that he’s a veteran “powderhound” by dazzling me with ski jargon.

So I try to divert the path that “Ski Wolf” is blazing by using a little humor.

“Actually, they’re only 12s. As in 12 dollars. Thanks to Goodwill.”

“Oh.”

Ski Wolf is conspicuously silent for the rest of the lift ride.

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I’ve had similar unsolicited comments while hiking: “Man, you still shoulder an outer-frame backpack? I haven’t seen one of those in years! Do you rub sticks together for your fires?”

Also on the running trail (although there’s only so much you can say about running shoes): “Air Pegasus, huh? I don’t like the Cushlon midsole on them. I prefer Saucony’s ICS moulded pillar construction. Do you overpronate or heel strike?”

Although I’m not a bicyclist, I can imagine the esoterica involved with having two wheels and a derailleur under your body. And from my experiences with speeding bikes on the local trail, correct bicycle apparel is de rigueur. Evidently, the tighter and more colorful, the better.

You’ll probably guess where I’m going with this. These days, our disposable culture has an obsession with fashion and technology. And not just digital fashion and technology. Outdoor sports are overflowing with “techies” eager to rave about flashy new products and denigrate the old (old meaning a year ago).

I’m not a total Luddite (a person opposed to increased industrialization or new technology). I’m amazed and grateful for the medical advancements that technology has brought. I just think leisure technology – which includes sporting equipment and clothes – has gotten a little out of hand, and we may be at a point of diminishing returns. I think advertisers do a great job of convincing people they need a certain product only because it’s new, different, and features, for example, “double-suspension Kryptonium© wicking technology,” or something equally impressive-sounding.

And some people, although they may mean well, feel the urge to flaunt their knowledge and preference for the latest and greatest (and usually expensive).

Then there’s the fashion aspect. While some of the techno-talk might be ego-related, part of it, too, is the code language we’re trained to share as members in our little “clubs.” Simply put, we like to be around like-minded individuals. It gives us a feeling of security and belonging. It’s why we have churches, street gangs, genealogical societies, sports fanbases, civic, political, and military groups, fraternities and sororities. If you’re a member of one of these clubs, you quickly learn to conform by dressing/talking/behaving a certain way.robots

I’ve concluded that, although not as obvious, a similar thing holds true for the sub-cultures surrounding outdoor recreational activities.

Here’s a challenge: the next time you attend church (if you attend church), try dressing out of character. Wear faded jeans and a Black Sabbath t-shirt, for example. See how the herd reacts.

Or try this: the next time you attend a Republican function, mention how much you admire the political savvy of the Clintons. Or if a Democratic function, try dropping conservative catchphrases like “pork-barrel” and “nanny state.” Count how many sidelong glances you get.

Or if you’re on the hiking trail and see a 20-something guy with one of those fashionable bushy beards, stare at his beard awhile then ask if he’s Amish.

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Now that I think of it, maybe I should’ve tried a different tack with Ski Wolf. What I should have done was massage his ego a little:

“Say, you seem quite knowledgeable about skiing. What type of parabolic skis might you recommend? I mean, you know, for those black diamond slopes?”

Then – after he rhapsodized about cambers, rockers, and Atomic Bent Chetlers – maybe we could relax by the fire while ravishing a few St. Pauli Girls and discussing the Book of Mormon.

Oh well, hindsight’s 20-20. Since it’s too late, I guess I’ll hang on to my old-fashioned skis a while longer, and just hope I don’t “bomb” on any “death cookies.”

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Get Smart with Your Smartphone

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Last month I was in Wisconsin and had an interesting chat with a university graduate student about the weighty topic of technology and “dehumanization.”  We were sitting on opposite sides of a table facing each other.  After about five minutes, I dropped the name of movie director Stanley Kubrick (DR. STRANGELOVE, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, etc.).  I noticed his head also dropped.  This happened again several times later.  “Is my conversation that boring?” I thought, believing he was having trouble staying awake.  It turned out he wasn’t dozing: he was punching information into his smartphone, which I didn’t see because it was on his lap and hidden by the table.

He was a nice guy, and I give him credit for wanting to learn about Stanley Kubrick from Wikipedia.  But it was a little annoying having to talk to him without eye contact.  Similar things have happened other times with other people.

It wasn’t long ago we didn’t even have smartphones.  Even mobile telephones have only been around a couple decades.  Nowadays, though, we often look like an army of secret agent Maxwell Smarts with miniature shoephones up to our ears.

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I know I’m getting gray at the temples and cling to the past.  I’m also aware that we live in an age of instant communication, and I haven’t totally embraced it yet.  And I plead guilty to rudeness myself.  I once glanced at my cellphone during a meeting at work – I don’t always agree with my boss, but he was right when he admonished me to “Keep it in your pants.” (Sorry about that, Chief).

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But although digital technology has enormous societal benefits, like so many other things it’s also an excuse for silliness and sloth.  There’s a difference between using your phone to broadcast to the world a violent street scene, and texting “LOL” and “OMG” during a social occasion.  Advertisers like to push the idea of cells and smartphones as fashion accessories, but good manners are always fashionable.

I remember being in school when the dining hall monitor posted Amy Vanderbilt’s top ten rules of etiquette.  We made jokes about it because we thought he was acting like an old lady.  But he had a point.  Rules of dining etiquette may not mean much when you’re a self-obsessed teenage slob, like I was, but they become important when you have to socialize later in life.  It’s not so much about adapting or fitting in, but rather respecting yourself and others.

I feel the same way about i-phones, Blackberries, cell phones, i-pads… whatever.  Good manners never go out of style, but in the global village, they often seem to be going out the window.  You don’t have to answer every call or text immediately, or finish that game of Candy Crush, or check your Facebook page for updates every 20 minutes.  Unless it’s an emergency or something very important, keep the toy out of sight until you have some private time.

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This blog is just a hobby for me, but there are people who get paid to write what I’ve just written.  I checked out a few of their articles.  I’m not sure these paid professionals quite get it, either.  The first article I saw discussed “smartphone decency” and advised “Do schedule some offline time with your family.”  Really?!  Gee, what a novel idea, Skippy!  To actually pull yourself away from your gadget and spend time with your loved ones!

Another writer discussed smartphone etiquette and dating.  She advised not using it on a first date.  I guess the inference was that, on subsequent dates, it’s ok to LOL and OMG and ignore your partner.

Like I said, these folks get paid for their writing, so maybe they know more than me.  I wonder if they know who Stanley Kubrick is.

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