Nate\’s miniblog

Crying Wolf, or Why We’ve Stopped Listening

Posted in Thoughts by Etan on December 8, 2005

Cry Wolf/Metal Detector Collage

As children we are all raised to be wary of “crying wolf.” The phrase, we’re told, comes from the story of a little boy who always cried out to the villagers that there was a wolf, and that they and their flocks were in danger, but each time it turned out that he was lying. One day the wolf came for him, but when he cried out for help, the villagers simply chuckled, saying “We won’t be fooled this time!” The wolf killed the boy, and we are supposed to learn that one only calls for help when one is truly in need.

I have recently been giving some thought to how this principle has played itself out in our modern technological age. On almost any electronic or digital or computerized device we find some sort of alarm or notification letting us know that the battery is dying, that the clock is not set correctly, or that we are at risk for one thing or another. But the same boy-who-cried-wolf principle works here as well, and what I’ve found is that technology providers and producers have ignored it to the peril of us all.

Let’s start with the most obvious and most banal example: your Windows System Tray (don’t worry, this is the only time I will discuss computers here). If you are using a Windows PC, you have a row of icons in the bottom right hand corner. Many of these are advertisements or nice status things, but some of them can be trying to give you vital information. When you are no longer protected from internet viruses for example, a bubble extends from an icon to warn you about the vulnerability of your system. Microsoft, particularly sensitive to the various security and safety problems with Windows, issues updates at least once a month, if not more often. They pop up an icon in the System Tray when such updates need to be addressed. The problem? So many different messages pop up so often, that in the last 5-7 years of supporting many levels of computer users, I have seen almost everyone say something along the lines of, “Oh, that’s always there – I just ignore it!” Our computers cry wolf, and we’ve stopped listening.

A few days ago I was doing some shopping downtown and I had brought my backpack with me, loaded up with my laptop, various peripherals and cables, some books, dvd’s, my iPod, etc. With each store that I walked into, I passed through a security detector meant to prevent shoplifting. In each case and at all three of the stores I went to, the detector went off and the store people waved me through, saying “Oh, it always does that!” Our security systems cry wolf, and we’ve stopped listening.

When a cancer patient goes into a clinic or hospital to get a dose of chemotherapy, they are connected to a machine that is meant to watch the flow of the IV to prevent the sorts of bubbles and other problems that crop up in frequent administering of IV medications. When there is a problem that needs the attention of a medical professional, the machines will sound a beeping alarm. The problem is, it beeps all too frequently – either it is way too sensitive or inaccurate, or chemotherapy procedures need to be reexamined. The result is that walking through the chemo wings, one will hear many machines beeping their alarms. The nurses ignore them, saying “Well they beep all the time – everything is fine.” Our medical appliances cry wolf, and we’ve stopped listening.

This trend is quite disturbing. At this rate, building alarms or notifications into any machine, from security appliances to personal computers to bio-medical devices, is probably not all that helpful anymore–we’ve simply stopped listening.


Don’t I Know that Yellow Cloak?

Posted in Movies by Etan on December 4, 2005

Anyone who glanced at the cover of the New York Times this morning might have noticed an eerie resemblance between the cover photograph and a recent much-maligned M. Night Shyamalan film.

Which Tolkien race are you?

Posted in Movies by Etan on November 22, 2005

Kubrick would be Proud

Posted in Movies by Etan on November 15, 2005

Darren Aronofsky’s latest film, The Fountain, according to this interview with Ain’t It Cool News, still has no defined release date. Who is Aronofsky? He’s the young Brooklyn-born Jewish filmmaker behind Pi (1998) and Requiem for a Dream (2000), as well as the screenwriter of Below (2002). His new film stars Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz, and is as he describes it, “a psychedelic fairy tale.”

Anyway, the teaser trailer is out and it’s totally trippy. Go check it out.

Tenacious D as Metaphysical Poetry

Posted in Music by Etan on November 15, 2005

Do you know Donne? John Donne, that is. The late 16th century poet is probably the most popular of what has been termed the “Metaphysical Poets.” These complex individuals wrote complex poetry dealing with the vagaries of life, love, and death, and did so through a conceit, or an “extended metaphor with a complex logic.” The most common example of the metaphysical conceit is in Donne’s poem “The Flea.” Donne uses the idea of a mosquito bites and sucking the blood of both him and his beloved as a way of explaining the deep connection between them.

So what does all this college English crap have to do with Jack Black and Kyle G’s comic rock group?

Album Cover

Tenacious D’s best song is, almost unreservedly, a track called “Tribute.” In this great track, the dynamic duo employ a conceit where the song they are singing is the “greatest song in the world,” but wait, no it’s not, “but this is just a tribute.” As Shakespeare would talk about the inability to quantify love and just as Colleridge would talk about the inability to really understand God’s mercy, Tenacious D is admitting to the inability to really craft the “greatest song in the world” — all attempts will really just end up being tributes. Who would have expected Plato’s myth of the cave coming from this pair of “devil’s rejects”?

Double Meaning in Green Day

Posted in Music by Etan on November 15, 2005

I find that very often the things I think are the most simple and straightforward turn out to be anything but. This has been the case with the pop-punk leaders, Green Day’s, most recent album American Idiot. Not to say that this was on the surface an overly simplistic album. The title may or may not have been referring to our beloved commander-in-chief, as was the case with Radiohead’s 2003 release, Hail to the Thief.

Then there was the cover, which pretty much reinforced the political undertones of Green Day’s release:

Album Cover

(in case you need me to spell it out for you, the minimalist silhouette of a clenched fist has represented radical revolutionary activism since the late 1960’s (if not earlier) and the heart/grenade and red/white contrast tells us the contents are concerned with the conflict between humanity and violence/war)

But what I really want to focus on is the song that has turned out to be the most effective and powerful on the album. I am talking about “Holiday” – track 3 on the release. Here are the lyrics, so we are all on the same page… (more…)

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