Archive for November 2009

The wonders of technology

November 29, 2009

The advance of technology is an amazing thing.  We put people on the moon.  We cure disease.  We send a package thousands of kilometres overnight.  We watch television shows on really, really thin TV sets.  The opportunities that technology has brought to our lives are too great to even begin to quantify.

Last night, I surfed the internet from a hot tub.

Well, really I only had time to read my e-mail and visit Facebook, since three other people were waiting to read their e-mail and visit Facebook.  One of them wanted to check her stock portfolio, too.

Also, there is mounting evidence that I caught pneumonia.  This probably has some connection to being wet on a windy terrace in the middle of the night.

But, none of this meaningfully detracts from the sheer rainbow of amazingness of an online hot tub.

I admit that I was a little surprised, at first, to see this seemingly odd combination of technology.  Also, I had some initial concerns about how computers run on electricity, and hot tubs conduct electricity, and electricity kills people.  Have you seen the episode of Ren & Stimpy with the board game, “Don’t whizz on the electric fence”?  Yeah.  But, the hot tub’s designer seems to have foreseen that potentially lethal design flaw, and accounted for it with some sufficiently waterproof computer hardware.  The touchscreen was a bit slippery, but otherwise everything worked admirably well.  And, the possibilities of an online connection in a hot tub are very impressive.

I could, for example, check my e-mail, instead of hanging out with the three women in the hot tub with me.

Or, I could IM someone on Facebook, instead of hanging out with the three women in the hot tub with me.

Ooh!  I could look at online pornography, instead of hanging out with the three women in the hot tub with me.

And, of course, nothing is more exciting than being in a hot tub while someone else checks e-mail.  That brings a whole new dimension to the hot tub experience.

Hmm.

So, it turns out that having online access while in a hot tub is actually not as astoundingly amazing as it seems at first.  In hindsight, I think I’m going to rank it right up there with the personal pizza and the one-player ping-pong table, and other leaps of technology that might perhaps have missed the point.

But, we were amused for a good five minutes.  And, no one was electrocuted.  So, in the end, the online hot tub was hardly a complete waste.

Although I think I did catch pneumonia.

Apples and Oranges

November 23, 2009

I’m sitting in my usual café, in front of my laptop, idly sending e-mails and studying Spanish.

I’ve just noticed something.

(My attention span is rather short, so I tend to look up and around a lot when I sit in a café.  I’ve mentioned this before.)

Everyone has laptops.  This is not news, or remotely unusual in this café.  However, everyone but me has an Apple laptop.

I can see nine laptops from where I’m sitting.  All nine are Apple-brand laptops.  I’m using a humble Dell (which has served me pretty well, so I’m quite happy with it).

Now, Apple doesn’t even remotely have a 90% stranglehold on the market share of the laptop industry.  In fact, I believe they are still a pretty clear minority relative to Windows PC’s.

I’ve noticed before that café-dwellers, and young student-type folks in general, tend to lean more heavily towards Apple products than the overall population.  But, I don’t believe I’ve ever found myself using the only PC in the room.  I mean, I’m sure there must be others, but I literally cannot see one from where I’m sitting.

Now, I like Apple products quite a bit.  They’re pretty, and generally do the same things as a PC can.  So, all things being equal I’d at least consider one for myself.  PC’s are much cheaper though, and can be just as pretty if you pick one carefully, so I’m unlikely to have an Apple laptop any time soon.

All these people have one, though.  And, while perhaps a few of them are actually using the Apple’s multimedia features and other fancy stuffs, I bet most are doing exactly what I’m doing: internet, word processing, and random other programs (in my case, a Spanish lesson).

So, that means that most (probably all) of these people have an Apple laptop basically for style points.  I’m not being critical in that analysis — I do plenty of things purely for style points, and I absolutely don’t have a problem with someone buying a laptop with that in mind.  I actually chose my current laptop mostly because I think it’s pretty, so I can hardly criticise anyone on that front.

But, now I feel like the kid in school who’s wearing the uncool sneakers.  I don’t want to be that kid.  I wonder what the folks on an Apple laptop are thinking when they look at my nondescript Dell.  Mine even has a boring black top instead of one of the colourful and exciting (also, somewhat expensive) pastel options.  My uncool sneakers aren’t even an interesting colour.

Café culture is two dozen people sitting in front of laptops with earphones on, quietly ignoring each other and working in their own little bubble.  How did I manage to feel peer pressure, of all things, in such a thoroughly detached environment?  I don’t even know these people.

It’s not fair.  I want the people in the café to like me.  But, I’m wearing the wrong shoes.

One minute left to post…

November 22, 2009

When I originally submitted this entry, it read in its entirety as the following:

There!

I had just arrived home, at 11:58, and realised that if I wanted to have a post for yesterday, I would have to very quickly write… something, anything.  I was actually quite worried that my generally dodgy internet connection would choose that moment to fail, leaving me with a missed day.  Of course I could simply have written two entries today, but there still would have been no post dated yesterday, and for whatever reason the continuity of daily posting seemed important at the time.

I now realise that it’s been exactly a month since I started this blog (my first post was actually written on October 22, but a default time zone of GMT on the WordPress website labeled its posting time as the next day).  Frankly, now seems like as good a time as any to stop worrying about posting every day, since I’ve sufficiently demonstrated that I can write that often if I really want to.  And, as the quality of my posts demonstrates, it might just be that I can’t offer something on a daily basis worth saying.

What’s interesting about my rush to post last night is that I actually have a half-dozen completed (or near-completed) posts sitting in a draft folder, any one of which could have served as yesterday’s post in a more contentful way than “There!”  I didn’t use them, though, for the same reason that I didn’t use them on the days I wrote them (and that I probably won’t use them in the future, at least without considerable revision): they reveal a little too much about me, or perhaps the people I care about.

When I started this blog, I envisioned it more as an opportunity to rant a little, basically an online diary or journal, something that would be personal and not really intended to be shared with the outside world.  But, like a drunken sorority girl who uploads naked pictures of herself to Photobucket for only her boyfriend to see and then finds them on 4chan a few days later, I seem to have found an accidental audience for this weblog.  That’s fine with me, but it colours a lot of what I’d write with the vague apprehension that certain comments about my life might bother people I care about, or at least reveal more about them than they’d care to share.  Even when I try to write with a style that largely leaves out personal details, there have definitely been times when people who know me (and, I’ve got to assume that most of the people reading this know me personally) will recognise events and people from even my cloudy descriptions.

I certainly don’t feel any particular obligation to open myself up on a random online log space.  On the other hand, am I straining the bounds of the genre to be so withdrawn in a medium that for someone like me amounts to a glorified public diary?  There’s certainly an exaggerated sense of self-importance that comes from withholding largely irrelevant personal details (“I’m important and mysterious.  No, you may not know my belt size!”).  On the other hand, I have written but not published several entries that reflected poorly on people in my life, even though the posts were focused on me, and I wouldn’t want those people to read the entry (more of the possibly-delusional self-importance theme: “I’m so important that people in my life take time to read about me!”) and be hurt or confused.  It certainly seems uncool to write about other people in a public webspace.  But, it’s tricky to write about me without also writing about the things and people around me.

Meh.  Thinking on this topic gets circular awfully quickly.  In the end, I raise this partly because I think it’s an interesting point of discussion.  The notion of what exactly a web-log is, personal diary or public column, or something in-between, is intriguing, given how many people have blogs now (especially when contrasted with how few people actually read them).  Of course I also raise this topic partly as an explanation for the dozen-or-so people who saw this entry as a rather odd one-word post, before I could edit in what you’re reading now.

Ultimately, I started this blog mostly out of boredom, and I’m rather pleased to have stuck with it this long.  I think I’ll now throttle back to writing only when I actually have something to say, which is probably best for everyone involved.  After all, there’s enough terrible writing on the internet as it is.

Protest smarter, not harder

November 20, 2009

So, the University of California campuses have been “on strike” for the latter half of the week, with students walking out to protest the giant fee increases that are coming next year, on top of the pretty big payment hikes that have already gone through for this year.  Some students will be paying close to double what they expected when they started their degree programs.  That’s… just ridiculous, really.

It’s interesting that the UC system was intended to provide tuition-free post-secondary education for California residents.  It’s actually built into the university’s charter that the stated goal of the university is to cost nothing:

Sec. 14. For the time being, an admission fee and rates of tuition, such as the Board of Regents shall deem expedient, may be required of each pupil, except as herein otherwise provided; and as soon as the income of the University shall permit, admission and tuition shall be free to all residents of the State.

Admission fees and rates of tuition were a temporary measure, until the university got up on its feet and could start providing a free education to the residents of California.  That was almost 150 years ago.  It’s worth noting that the university did technically meet this standard by removing all tuition costs from students, instead charging them a steadily increasing additional fee that has long since become a de facto tuition payment for attending the university.  A side note to this is that UC students are ineligible for certain US federal government programs because those programs provide support for tuition costs that UC students technically do not pay.

So, the UC system has already strayed rather far from its stated goal of a free education, and the latest giant fee increases certainly do little to help.  I just don’t know what the government of California is thinking when it dramatically cuts funding to a higher-education system that is not only in-place and functioning, but by most standards is performing brilliantly.  It strikes me as rather poorly-conceived to underfund something with an established infrastructure and systematised operation.  The land is bought, the structures are built, the staff are hired and trained — the hardest and most expensive part of establishing and running a university is already done, and all that effort and expense is being underused because of the government’s unwillingness to keep things going.  It’s like paying a fortune for an apartment and then not moving in because you don’t want to cough up the building’s maintenance fees.

*   *   *   *

All of that leads back to the student protests today, the “strike.”  I support the students 100% in their efforts against the absurd fee increases.  Their voices need to be heard.  I’m also aware that I was pretty damned lucky to finish my degree when I did, so as to avoid this kind of  abrupt increase in the cost of education.

But… a “strike,” really?  What exactly are the students striking against?  The university isn’t (for most, at least) their employer, and isn’t paying them for the work they do.  The relationship is actually just the opposite, where the students pay the university for its effort and resources.  When students don’t attend class, that isn’t a strike.  It’s not even a walk-out.  It’s a boycott, a consumer rejecting a product with which the consumer is unhappy.  Boycotts are a practical and effective way to communicate with an organisation — the protest model is certainly sound.

However, the student actions over the last three days have highlighted why these protests are frustratingly inefficient: you can’t boycott a product that you’ve already paid for.  Not going to classes right now is the functional equivalent of ordering a pizza, paying for it with a credit card, and then having the driver go to the wrong address; it’s a great prank, except that you already paid for the pizza.  The students who aren’t attending class today have already paid for these classes.  It’s done; the money is spent.  Would anyone protest high food prices by buying food and then letting it rot for three days?  When the underlying disagreement here is about the effective use of limited resources, it seems awfully bizarre to frame a protest around the under-use of resources.  How much does it hurt the university to have a bunch of students not attend class?  The answer — not much.  But, how much does it hurt the students?

Of course, in theory the “strike” by students frees them to attend the protests, and the protests are what will make a difference in communicating their frustration and anger to the Board of Regents and the government of California.  But, how exactly does not going to class facilitate this?  Students, for all their hard work, don’t actually spend much time in class.  A full course-load for most students is three hours a day, give or take.  That leaves plenty of time to attend protests.  And, protesting between classes would actually increase the number of students attending the demonstrations, because for every student who arrives late or leaves early because of a class, two more students can attend who wouldn’t even have been around at all otherwise.  This “strike” has dramatically reduced the overall number of students on campus, and as such has dramatically reduced the number of people around to protest.  By “cancelling” classes, the protest organisers are encouraging their manpower to stay home.  I know an awful lot of people who used this strike as a chance to go home for Thanksgiving early, and many of those people would cheerfully have attended a protest if their classes had forced them to be around anyway.  The “strike” action has made for a smaller protest.

Added to this, I see that today’s boycott of classes is actually being run by protest organisers as if it were a real strike.  Protesters were running into buildings and setting off fire alarms to force evacuations, for example.  Now, if this were really a strike that would be a very effective strategy, because it would prevent the services originally offered by the striking workers from happening without them.  But, again, this isn’t a strike.

If the effort here is to force solidarity among the boycotting students and those who chose to attend class (a class they already paid good money for), then the effort fails.  The students who chose to attend class are very unlikely to think, “I’m really worried about my grades this semester, and now I’ve lost my chance to get the Professor to answer my questions, and I’m outside standing in the rain.  Naturally, I’ll go join the protests that ruined my class.”  They’re going to home annoyed, and the protest will have alienated valuable potential allies.

If the effort here is to punish Professors who insist on mandatory class attendance during the boycott, and therefore to liberate students who would otherwise be at the protest, then that would be a good strategy.  Except, profs aren’t doing that.  Faculty has in general been very supportive of the protests.  I’m sure that there must be a few profs out there who are insisting with draconian firmness that students must attend classes during the boycott, but they are clearly very rare.  I’m not aware of a single professor who has insisted on attendance during the boycott, and I don’t know of anyone who is.  I assume that such profs are out there, but clearly not in enough numbers to matter.  Instead, the attitude among faculty who are holding classes today is overwhelmingly, “Go to the protest if you like, but I’ll be here to help anyone who needs it.”  Those are the classes that are being shut down by fire alarms and building takeovers — the ones run by profs who support the protest and don’t want to see students suffer.  How on earth does it help the protest movement to interrupt such classes with yelling and screaming until the prof gives up and sends students home?  The students aren’t liberated; they’re just more stressed about failing their finals.

So, I look at these protests, and I wonder just whom they are designed to help.  The organisers have encouraged their biggest manpower base to stay home, or go to the airport.  The student protesters themselves are letting a service that they already paid for rot in order to demonstrate how important that service is.  And, sympathetic students and faculty who chose not to directly join the protest are being alienated from the movement.  How is this effective protesting on any level beyond the most basic notion that loud noises get attention?

The cynic in me wonders, if this student protect is being organised as if it were a strike, aren’t the people to benefit most the unionised workers who are (actually) striking for several days during the course of the protests?  It seems fairly obvious that striking university employees are gaining overall protest manpower by striking with the students.  And, while the students lose overall manpower by framing their protest around an ill-fitting strike strategy, the union employees actually benefit as any striking labour entity would.  It’s hard not to think that the student protesters (who form a fairly significant majority of the protest) are being used by the striking unions as an avenue for enhancing the effect of the union walkouts; if the students could have protested their own causes more efficiently by not following an employee-oriented strike strategy, the only reason I could see for them to intentionally adopt a less-effective protest technique is if it were intended to primarily benefit a group other than protesting students.  Of course, it’s also possible that protest leaders were simply more concerned with being loud than being heard, but I do wonder what role union organisers had in shaping the student protest strategies.

It’s really, really lame what is happening to current UC students with these fee increases.  I think protest and activism is absolutely the way to go with this, because the government of California is going to keep cutting university funding as long as it thinks people don’t care enough.  But, the activists need to be smart about this.  A successful protest doesn’t hurt the people it tries to help.  A successful protest doesn’t encourage protesters to stay home.  A successful protest creates sympathy, not alienation.  I really, really hope that the student voices have been heard over the last few days, because I would hate to think that all of this mismanaged effort could be for nothing.

Protest isn’t about being loud; it’s about being smart.  University-educated protest organisers should be able to figure this stuff out.

Beware of Crocodile

November 19, 2009

So, this afternoon I was sitting in my favourite café, doing some work and quietly ignoring my obligation to buy at least a small cup of coffee in exchange for the free table, electricity, and internet, when in walked a ghost from my past.

Well, he isn’t really a ghost — literal, or metaphorical — so much as an old guy whom I used to see around.  And, that past is really just when I was a student, only a few months ago (and a few city blocks away from the café).  But, my point is I really didn’t expect to see this guy wander by, and I was actually mildly shocked.  It felt a little like seeing your elementary-school teacher at the grocery store.

But, what’s so special about this one old guy, that it would actually startle me to randomly see him in a café?  Well, for that, you need to understand where and how I lived until just a few months ago.  As a student, desperately trying to graduate and move onto the next stage of my life (a notion that, in hindsight, probably deserves the stifled giggles that I imagine it just got), I lived in a university residence hall.  It was, in fact, not at all a bad place to live, and I met many wonderful people there, some of whom I hope to keep with me for the rest of my life.  One of the less universally-appreciated things about this student residence building, though, was its dining hall.  I do understand that cooking for hundreds of people is difficult, and in fact I still maintain that the food wasn’t bad so much as uninspired and repetitive. but it remains that the dining hall was not the brightest light in our accommodation.  It was a large room, with many tables and benches vaguely Harry-Potter-esque in design, with plenty of room to sit with your friends and eat.  It was also, for reasons purportedly to do with community, open to the general public.  Anyone with $8 was welcome to join and have a hearty residence-hall meal.

The thing about residence halls, and universities in general, is the way they attract… groupies, almost.  There’s this genre of non-student, non-university-affiliated person, who likes to linger around residence halls and other student areas.  I’m not sure quite what attracts them — perhaps the hustle and bustle of all the young people, or the sense of purpose and intensity.  For some it’s clearly just for the girls.  But, it’s annoying for the students, and downright intrusive when such folks stake your residence hall (where you live; your home) as their territory.  Yes, parts of the building are technically open to the public, but it feels a lot like going into your living room in the morning and finding a stranger having coffee on your couch.  When you see enough of the same person you start to get used to it, but it’s still intrusive.

At any rate, we’ve all seen those Animal Channel shows about Africa.  The  giant herd of gnus is crossing a river, and everything looks fine until the camera closes in on two green scaly eyes peeking up through the surface, and the antelopes just keep swimming on their way, and the eyes drift closer and closer, and the animals keep swimming, and suddenly GRAAAALP — in one lightning strike the powerful jaws erupt and drag the poor gnu under the surface.  With that image in mind, you know everything you really need to know about the man we called the Crocodile.

He’s unassuming and harmless upon casual inspection, an older Indian (as in, from India) who frequented the café and dining hall.  He stuck out a little perhaps for his age, but there was nothing especially predatory about his appearance or demeanor.  Once you watched him, however, his technique became obvious.  He would affect an uninterested impression of scholarly detachment, sitting quietly with his face buried in a book.  But, discreetly peeking over the pages, his green scaly eyes would watch for unattended young women, alone or in small groups, especially vulnerable at the beginning of the semester when not everyone has many friends.  And, with a movement so subtle that you had to be watching to see it, he would suddenly be sitting at the same table as the object of his interest.  “What do you think of that entrée?” he would ask, or perhaps “what class are these books for?” and suddenly the jaws snap, and the prey is snared.  The brilliance of the Crocodile’s technique was that, once trapped by the introductory conversation, there was no escape.  Everyone is taught to be respectful to their elders.

Now, this guy has been around for quite awhile; both students and staff members can remember his perpetual presence at the residence going back years.  Complaints from the students even had him briefly restricted from the building, before his righteously-indignant defence — “What exactly am I doing?  Aren’t I allowed to talk to people?” — convinced the administration to allow his return.  But, he continues to aggressively target unaccompanied young women, whose naïve confusion often allows him to get a distressing amount of personal information from them before they realise that they had best clam up.  He once managed to convince a new arrival to take a tour of the city with him, during which he apparently took enough photos of her to arouse her confusion and discomfort, and encourage her to end the outing early.  His attentions are so thorough and relentless that they are considered almost a rite of passage for young women in the residence, because so few manage to get through their first few weeks without suffering his advances.

Why am I dwelling on this gentleman, though?  My blog entries so far generally abstracted away from simple details of my life or environment.  I realised, as I watched him enter the café, that a lot of what bothers me about him is the same as what bothers me about The McDonald’s Gang, from my post last month.  As a society, we are trained to be respectful and deferential to the elderly, and to our elders in general.  Seemingly a direct result of this is the phenomenon of old people behaving badly, forcing us to grin and bear socially unacceptable behaviours simply because they come from our elders.  When teenagers act like idiots at a fast-food restaurant, they get booted out; old people, however, can sit there and be loud and rude all afternoon.  When an old man spends all day (hell, all year) relentlessly talking up young women, he eventually gets official acknowledgement from the powers-that-be that his behaviour is acceptable; a young man doing exactly the same thing would be discreetly beaten up, or at least thoroughly ostracised as an intrusive creep, within a week.

Now, the obvious response at this point is to note that the elderly have, pretty much by definition, lived a long time, and therefore probably have also had to deal with a fair bit throughout their lives; as such, we should cut them some slack.  That, I think, is garbage.  The elderly get perks in society not only because they have potentially earned them through long lives of service, and also not simply because they need the assistance (although both, especially the latter, are perfectly valid in my mind), but also because they are role models.  They are people to whom we look for good judgement and character, because of a lifetime of experience and some healthy distance from the foolishness of youth.  And, frankly, if they want me to treat them like a nice old person, then they bloody well better behave like a nice old person.

At any rate, this entire rant was motivated by the unpleasant sensation of seeing this fellow turn up unexpectedly.  It’s interesting how a sense of comfort and familiarity can be bruised just by the unwanted presence of an unlikeable individual in a public place.  I mean, he’s allowed to be there.  It’s just a café, not my fortress of solitude.  And, I’ve already admitted to being distracted by pretty girls in this same café, so it seems awfully hypocritical to want to exclude someone who does the same thing.

Although, man, he’s sure a ton more aggressive about it.  And, no one’s ever complained about me being aggressive.  If anything, I’m passive, and squander opportunities.  Still, part of me wants to say “live and let live,” while another part of me want to punch an old man in the nose.  In the end, I just don’t like this guy.  On some level, I don’t feel like I need to justify that, or, even that I could justify a personal dislike if I had to, beyond, “Well, I think he’s a stupid-head.”

So, he’s old and creepy and I don’t like him.  I want him out of my café.  Punching him in the nose would probably do it, but again I’m being too passive and wasting valuable opportunities.  I guess I’ll just have to wait for him to leave.

I demand infinity

November 17, 2009

So, I’m currently trying to teach myself Spanish, because quite a few of the people I care about are Mexican and I’m tired of not understanding a word they say.

To this end, I’ve been using a popular but outrageously-expensive piece of language-learning computer software.  You’re probably familiar with it, since it has ads on television and kiosks in shopping malls.  And, the software works.  It’s not perfect by any stretch, but I am, in fact, learning Spanish.  I can’t yet speak or listen worth beans, but I can write a little, and I’m getting surprisingly decent at reading.  That may not seem like much, but considering that four months ago I thought that the band name Yo La Tengo was jibberish, I’d say I’ve come an impressive distance so far.

(In case it’s not immediately obvious to non-Spanish speakers, Yo La Tengo is not jibberish, but rather Spanish, at least to whatever extent that Spanish is not jibberish)

In about a week, I will finish the main part of the software’s language lessons.  To continue, I will need the advanced language disks, which are sold separately from the original lessons.  I could simply have bought them online, but they cost something along the line of a billion dollars.  So, like everyone with a computer who earns less than a medium-to-high-six-figure salary, I hoped to pirate the software, as I so cheerfully did with the original lessons.

The base program, and the regular lessons for an absurd variety of languages, are casually available on any number of conventional software piracy websites.  There is a giant file floating around containing the complete language library, which every computer expert worth his salt seems to personally own just for the sake of having it.  I got my copy from one such noble individual.

But… the advanced disks don’t seem to be out there.  My associate has looked, even asked, and yet cunning as he is he cannot find the advanced language lessons anywhere.

This tells me two things.  First, even though everyone and their brother has these language programs, I am apparently the first ever person to actually use them for more than the cultural capital of having them on a hard drive.

Second, the internet… has limits.

How is this possible?  He’s looking on the internetEverything is available on the internet.  Dirty underwear is on the internet.  Dogs in sweaters are on the internet.  Vintage Optimus Prime toys are on the internet.   An upside-down woman in a bathtub squirting poop on herself is on the internet (seriously, don’t click that last one; I’m only providing the link to make a point.  You don’t want to click it.  I’m not joking).  How can advanced language disks for a commonly-taught language not be on the internet?  The internet is infinite — it must be in there somewhere, right?

I’m left with a vague feeling of disappointment and dissatisfaction.  I know perfectly well that I shouldn’t have any sense of entitlement about this — the sheer scope of resources available online for basically no cost is boggling, so I can hardly begrudge the occasional disappointment.  Still, the grim reality seems to be that something I was rather counting on isn’t available.  To my surprise, I’m actually considering buying a legitimate copy of the software.  That seems ill-advised given that it costs a billion dollars.  Those little shiny disks are really expensive.  I suppose that the value of learning a language is itself significant (which is presumably how this company can charge so much for little shiny disks), but that’s still a lot of money.  There are undoubtedly other ways to learn Spanish, but since I’ve found something that seems to be working well, I’m loathe to part with it.

At this point, I’m basically putting all my hope and faith in one dedicated and savvy computer expert, who certainly has better things to do than find me software, but with luck will try anyway just to avoid my whinging.  Keep your fingers crossed for me.

The view from the cutting edge

November 16, 2009

A few weeks ago I wrote about the rejection of being unexpectedly removed from the friend list of a former (?) friend on Facebook.  At least I was using the correct term:

I was, as I correctly noted, unfriended.

(Well, I actually wrote that I was un-friended, but I’m going to call it close enough as makes no difference)

The New Oxford American Dictionary has decided that “unfriend” is their 2009 Word of the Year.  That the verb itself should be a part of a credible dictionary is no surprise — there are eleventy-billion users of Facebook and other similar social-networking websites, and the term for booting people from your friend list is widely used.  What’s interesting is that the dictionary made this their word of the year (and over similar electronic-media terms like sexting and intexticated) presumably on the assumption that social media were such a big deal in 2009 that they deserved the honour and recognition of getting some niche jargon celebrated.

Now that there’s an official, dictionary-recognised word for the act, I feel like it somehow legitimises the entire process.  It used to take a lot to make me remove someone from my Facebook friend list.  But, now that I don’t feel like I’m committing some back-alley behaviour, secretive and illicit, I think I might indulge a little more.  Like regicide, prolapseadumbrate, and other useless niche words, unfriend has become an accepted and dictionary-validated part of our lives.

I wonder if it’s poor form to friend someone you don’t like, just so you can unfriend them a moment later?