Being Old and Observing the Young

By James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The older I get, the further away I get from the young. It’s not intentional on my part. They’re just leaving me behind.

When has a sale, I buy audiobooks about unfamiliar subjects and subcultures to check out. Recently I bought I, Justine: An Analog Memoir by Justine Ezarik. Ezarik is a young woman who goes by the name iJustine, and is supposedly well known on the Internet, but completely unknown to me. Her book turned out to be well worth the $4.95 sale price, because of its many insights of growing up in a unique subculture. I love books about computer history, so this volume was more than a web celebrity’s personal story. The times, they keep a changing—I’m reading more books about people born in the 1980s, growing up in the 1990s. I think I first took note of this generation with Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.

I Justine

iJustine makes her living doing what she loves. Totally geeking out on with Apple computers, gadgets and gaming, establishing a career by making her fan-girl life public, especially on YouTube. She even live-streamed herself for a while, which I found bizarre, and still spends most of her time making videos about her daily life, friends and digital life. I, Justine chronicles how she developed her internet celebrity business. iJustine, born in 1984, and now 32, is a Millennial.

iJustine is young, but not that young, because she also reports on the generation coming up behind her, which aren’t always her fans. iJustine describes a lot of nasty animosity in her world, which I occasionally encounter online. I find that very hard to understand. iJustine is an attractive young woman, who I would think guys would want to flirt with, instead some guys hate her, sending her the social media equivalents of hate mail, death threats, and even calling the police on her (swatting). There’s a lot of Gamergate type misogyny around her online world. I assume most of her time is spent having fun, being friends with nice people, and I just remember the bad stuff from her book.

I find the hateful incidents in her story disturbing, in the same way I find Donald Trump scary. iJustine herself is wholesome, polite, upbeat, and leans towards the silly side. She’s an extreme fan of Apple, working in a subculture that’s beyond my comprehension. I’m old, and only see digital life as an outsider. Reading I, Justine made me realize just how far away I am from being young. Although, my peers think I’m up-to-date because I know about computers and they don’t, being tech-savvy isn’t the whole story. I also wonder about how iJustine feels about aging. She says her target audience is preteen and teen girls. She’s half my age, and her audience is now half her age. At what age does a young woman start to appear too old to that audience? I wonder when she gets to be 64, will iJustine have trouble relating to the very young growing up in the 2020s? And can our culture keep mutating so frequently?

Since I don’t play video games, and don’t own a gaming console, that puts me on the other side of a huge generation divide. I was about to buy a new iPad so I could read my digital magazines better, but I’m now wondering if I shouldn’t buy an Xbox instead, just to see if I can get into video gaming. iJustine got her granny to play Call of Duty , and I assume she must be older than I am. I must be iJustine’s parents age. Maybe if Susan and I had had kids we’d have grown up with a succession of video gaming consoles too.

Now there’s growing excitement about VR. Virtual reality has zero appeal to me. I suppose this will put me two degrees away from the young. Or two-and-half since I’m a half-ass user of social media. I’m not quite Amish, but it seems I exist halfway between the Pennsylvania Dutch and hip hop America. What’s beyond VR life? Jacked in cyborgs?

Most of my friends live on the edge of the Internet. We all have smartphones. Most of us are now cord-cutters, watching TV off of Roku. I read ebooks and audiobooks, I listen to music via Spotify and Pandora. Half of my friends even use Facebook. We have adapted. But I, Justine showed me how far away I’m still from the digital norm. Like I said, I live on the shallow end of the net, while the young thrive in the deep end. There’s a big difference. I don’t comprehend the pithy (and often nasty) world of Twitter. And there’s a whole host of social media apps that I can’t even name, much less understand what they do.

That’s not saying I won’t catch up. Quite often subcultures become dominant. I’ve read many essays written at the dawn of the television age, resisting that change, and TV watching became universal. Yet, I can’t imagine wearing a VR headset. Will people start tuning out of reality for longer and longer periods of time? That seems no more practical than LSD back in the 1960s.

I support David Brooks notions about character and manners. All too often, iJustine reported having to deal with people who are rude and uncivilized. Is that becoming the new social norm? I’ve had to deal with some of those people blogging, and it’s stressful. I worry the more we interconnect through social media, the more we drop self-controls, letting raw emotions hang out. That can’t be good. At least not for dwelling in the Hive Mind.

I’ve had two friends my age whose bosses asked them if they had ADD. And other friends who said young coworkers would push them aside to do a task, not in an unfriendly way, just impatient to see the task finished quicker. Which makes me wonder if young people see us as moving too slow, or think we can’t comprehend. More than once I’ve been dismissed as just an old white guy. That doesn’t hurt my feelings, but it makes me wonder if there’s a cognitive gap.

By the way, my wife and women friends tell me to stop writing about my age, and hide that I’m old. My guy friends are like me, unconcerned about age. My lady friends warn me young people don’t want to read about old folks. Of course those women want to think they are still young. My wife plays video games, loves Facebook, and her and her friends are always texting and sending selfies.

There was a scene in I, Justine that was kind of sad. iJustine worshipped Steve Jobs, and the one time she got near him, Steve probably recognized her, and ran away. Maybe Steve was feeling too old to deal with a crazy young fan. I’m sure iJustine is a nice young normal woman, but her world does seems a bit hectic, sometimes mean spirited, fast changing, often silly, and way too videoized. Yet, if you just look at her videos, iJustine seems quite normal, if a bit goofy, and so maybe all the problems are with how the young communicate with each other—the snarky Tweets, the extreme expressions of emotion, the black hat hacking, doxing, swatting, phishing, misogyny, death threats, and all the endless ways they treat each other like they didn’t understand the person on the other end is a real person, and not some video game character to destroy.


LG BD390 Blu-Ray Player

I woke up this morning, got the newspaper, and opened the ads to discover that the 40th Anniversary Edition of Woodstock the music documentary is to be released on Tuesday.  Hot-damn.  Not only that, but a special edition with even more un-shown acts was coming out on the Blu-Ray version.  I’ve been wanting a Blu-Ray player for years, but have been waiting for the price to come down.  I got on Amazon and found out if I ordered my copy of Woodstock from them they’d include a bonus disc with even more un-shown acts from that famous three days of love, happiness and mud, so I ended up buying my first Blu-Ray content before I actually owned a player.

I jumped on Google and started researching players.  I figured I’d want to be at Best Buy by 11am to get one, no use wasting any more time.  But which Blu-Ray player to buy?  I assumed I’d get a Samsung, since I’ve been a Samsung kind of guy for awhile now, but after reading many reviews I decided to give the LG BD390 a try.  It was $150 more than what I wanted to pay for my first Blu-Ray player, but it had wireless draft-N built in, whereas the Samsung used a USB plug-in wireless-G dongle.  The reviews and specs were more favorable to the LG.  Samsung had one thing I really wanted, Pandora streaming, but because of the funky wireless and more complaints, I was pushed to try out LG for the first time in my life.

I decided to pay the extra $150 for the nicer machine because it had wireless-N built in, so I wouldn’t have to run an Ethernet cable across my attic and down two walls.  Because the BD390 had 1gb of flash memory built in, so I didn’t have to buy a USB flash drive that stuck out the back of the player to store configuration data and other digital junk within the Blu-Ray unit.  Because it had a Netflix decoder, so I could stop wanting the $99 Roku Netflix player.  And finally, because it had media player support so I it might replace my SoundBridge 1001 and have a visual interface for looking up music to play on my stereo in the den.

I was at Best Buy by 11:07, and out by 11:27.  I grabbed the BD390 and gazed at the Blu-Ray movie selection, settling on the 10th Anniversary Edition of The Matrix as my test disc.  I got home and detached my Samsung up-converting DVD player/recorder, and attached the BD390 and put in The Matrix.  Total breeze.  Set the player to 1080p – the first time I saw media in this mode on my Samsung HDTV, which had been a buying point two years earlier.

Then I used the menu to tell the BD390 about my wireless system, which worked immediately.  I had remembered my secret security code okay, which made me feel good, since I’m forgetting so much now-a-days.  I then told the new LG player to update itself, which it did.  Again, a breeze.

After the update, I click over to the Netflix menu and the LG told me a 4 digit code to go enter at the Netflix web site.  I went back to my computer room, brought up Netflix, told them I was willing to spend $3 a month extra to add Blu-Ray discs to my queue, put in the code at /activate, added a few Blu-Ray titles to my growing queue and went back to the den to check on the BD390.  All the Play Now movies that were in my queue were now listed on my HDTV screen.  So I played the second episode from Star Trek, the original series, called “Charlie X.”  It was beautiful.  I’m thinking the Netflix streaming episode might have been from the newly re-mastered Blu-Ray episodes, but I don’t know for sure.  Netflix streamed perfectly and the video quality was excellent.

Many reviewers of the BD390 complained of having trouble setting up the media server.  I checked the menu and my Windows Media server was showing up, but it wouldn’t let me access it.  I took the computer install disc that came with the BD390 for Nero MediaHome 4 back to my computer room and installed it on my desktop with all my media files.  After a quick install the program scanned my computer for photos, videos and songs.  I went back to the den and found several folders of media, including 18,000  MP3 songs.  This was under the Nero MediaHome 4 server.  Still couldn’t get into Windows Media server that was also listed – I had two media servers in the menu now.

Went back to my computer room and installed the update to Nero MediaHome 4, which messed up the original setup.  I ran the update again and got the program running for the second time, but had to re-scan the folders for my media again.  Damn, it takes awhile.  Went back to the den.  This time I could see into both media servers, but the Windows Media files loaded far slower, and had interruptions when playing, whereas the Nero MediaHome 4 folders opened faster and played files flawlessly.

Now for my first complaints.  Nero MediaHome 4 is simple, but not elegant, although it plays the files perfectly so far.  But with 629 artists and 18,000 songs, jumping to a particular cut involves a lot of menu clicking.  I quickly discovered that I could search by artist by displaying 5 large folder icons, or 14 medium-sized folder icons, or 40 small folder icons at a time, by cycling through the Display button.  Page down, page down, page down… through 629 artists even at 40 at a time takes awhile.  LG needs to add a A-Z selector.  The media librarian is spartan, but works.  I’d like to see LG add a lot of polish to it, and I hope it can be done through firmware updates.

When you get to an artist’s folder, you’d think you’d see photos of all the albums, and the LG might eventually load them all and show them, but not while I waited.  The album covers get displayed when you open an album folder and then the album art is repeated for each song, so it looks stupid.  There are 14 tiny photos of Blonde on Blonde covers listing the songs to my favorite Dylan album.  Why not show the album covers to each album once in the artist folder?  And then just list the tracks by track number within the album folder?

Selecting music through the LG Blu-Ray menu is far nicer than looking up albums on the tiny LED readout of the SoundBridge 1001, but it’s not as fast.  Using an iPhone app on my touch is even faster managing the SoundBridge, and using a software program on my laptop is even faster still, but keeping those two machines on and charged in the den is a pain.  So is using 4 remotes to get everything turned on and ready for watching a movie or listening to a song. (Cable, TV, LG, Receiver).

The Nero MediaHome 4 also found my the movies I had bought and downloaded from Amazon Unbox, but it wouldn’t play them.  Wouldn’t it be fantastic if LG worked with Amazon like it does with Netflix?  The BD390 does show CinemaNow rental movies and free YouTube clips as part of its menu.  The is so much technical potential out there, but it all needs to work together.  One player should be able to be a front-end for many online stores.  Who wants to own a device for all the different online movie outlets, much less all the online music stores.

I’m hoping LG will add Pandora, and even Rhapsody to their firmware via an upgrade, but this is probably wishful thinking.  Maybe ten years into the future I’ll have one TV, one box and one remote, and life will be simple.  I wish my Comcast DVR/cable box had everything built into it, so I didn’t need anything extra.  I fantasize about having a DRV with 2gb of storage, a Blu-Ray player and burner, a built in Surround Sound receiver/amp, a media extender for my computer files, all working perfectly integrated and controlled by a single elegant remote.  Ha-ha, dream on kid, what a fanciful fantasy.

I suppose someday 1080p video will be streamed, and Netflix will offer absolutely everything in streaming mode.  And Rhapsody Music will also stream through the same box.  And I wouldn’t have to worry about owning movies, TV shows or songs.  Just rent everything and select it from a menu.

I decided I couldn’t wait for Netflix to ship me  more Blu-Ray movies, so I went to Target this afternoon and bought Kevin Costner’s Wyatt Earp for $15, the only movie that I’d wanted to keep that was cheap enough to consider.  Both films look beautiful at 1080p, but not stunning like I’ve seen some Blu-Ray movies look at Best Buy.  I’m used to 1080i and 720p high definition and to be honest I could probably live with that quality of video for the rest of my life.  Blu-Ray is much better than up-scaled DVDs though, and now that special content is coming out for Blu-Ray, I’m happy that I bought a player.  I’m looking forward to re-watching Battlestar Galactica on Blu-Ray, and if Netflix offers that new Neil Young retrospective box set on Blu-Ray, I’m anxious to see it, but I wouldn’t spend the money to own it.  I was happy to spend $48 for Woodstock though, or at least I hope it will live up to my expectations of having a nostalgia summer, because it’s the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, my high school graduation, and Apollo 11 landing on the Moon.  Maybe NASA will offer a Blu-Ray retrospective this summer too.

Part 2 of my review…

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