Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Twenty-years out…

Michael Kinsley had an interesting post over on Bloomberg the other day on predictions about what might change, in terms of moral (and other) perceptions and behaviors, over the next 20 years.

The list of things that Kinsley and his readers came up with pretty predictably included attitudes towards gay marriage, climate change, and eating meat. But readers also suggested a few less sweeping but perhaps more interesting ideas about what might happen a couple of decades out

No more lawns, one came up with.

This is an interesting one, and a two-fer, as it hits at both environmentalism (leeching all that water that could be used more productively elsewhere, and oh, those chemicals leaching into the leeched-out aquifer), plus the scarcity of time to hover around your lawn. (Hey, I have to be inside, online reading about two-headed kittens and missing birth certificates.)

While I realize that they are unnatural, fussy, and water-wasting, I actually like the look of a nice green lawn, and would hate for them to die out entirely.  Lawn care was, more or less, a hobby of my father’s, especially the front lawn, which was mowed by hand mower (power mower for the larger, less pampered back yard) and only by my father.  The front lawn also had a higher-end watering system: flat hoses with tiny holes in them that sprayed a fine mist, vs. the whirling sprinklers out back. I don’t remember ever seeing any crab grass out front, but weeds and dandelions (front and back) were anathema to my father. Watching my father as he went on lawn patrol, I learned that a screw driver could and should be used to rout out dandelions.

As the result of my father’s care, the front lawn was a green velvet carpet. Nothing felt better than barefooting on a summer night in the aftermath of a watering.

So, while I recognize that green lawns are something of an environmental disaster (not to mention a time synch) I have a certain fondness for them.

But, hey, I don’t have a personal dog in this hunt, as I live in a downtown area where personal lawns don’t exist. If you want to see grass, you go to the Public Garden or Boston Common.

Still, I think the best route here would to encourage lawns to fade away in places – like the sandy parts of Cape Cod and most of Arizona – where there isn’t enough water to support a lawn without going to extremes. But maybe we can let them survive in the environs where water is (for now, anyway) in abundant supply. But about those chemicals…

Another Kinsley reader predicted that high-heeled shoes would be a thing of the past, like whale-bone corsets.

Despite the fact that high heeled shoes are hazardous to foot health, I wouldn’t bet on this one.

As long as high heels are considered sexy, sweet young things who want to catch a man’s eye are going to be forcing their feet into them and stumbling around.

Since I am no longer a sweet young thing, high heels are not my worry.

That said, I did slip up recently and order a pair of nearly 3 inch heels to wear to an upcoming wedding. What was I thinking?  I tried them on and, while they looked good when I was standing still, when walking I could do no more than totter around, leaning so far forward to keep my balance that I looked like Groucho Marx.  Zapped them babies back to Zappo’s. I’ll have to go with one or my more sensible alternatives, two of which, thankfully, are not entirely clunky.

One Kinsley respondent forecast that private car ownership might be illegal twenty years out. Given where and how most people live in this country, I would have to characterize this as wishful thinking, even if most people become telecommuters. But I’m certainly a poster child for how to live carless.

The key has always been living in a city with walkable neighborhoods and good public transportation, but the emergence of Zipcar has certainly aided this cause. (Zip is an entirely automated, short term rental car service that garages cars in convenient city locations.) Although my preference is always to take public transpo, if I need a car for a short hop, I do Zip. In the past year, I’ve used Zip to pick up my Christmas tree; get my niece home from her commuting-challenged suburban high school; meet with clients; have dinner with friends; and fetch a coleus, impatiens, and mulch to spruce up our front “garden.” (Too bad the impatiens, which was a bit water logged to begin with, got doused by a major thunder-boomer shortly after I planted them. Should have lasted through October, but sadly all gone…)

Great as Zipcar is, I don’t think I’ll see death to car ownership in my lifetime.

Kinsley also published a comment from a reader that did not quite enter into the spirit of the futurama discussion:

Another says: “It could be that Mr. Kinsley will be completely discredited as a polemicist of any note whose ideas and questions for discussion will be forever ridiculed.” I wish I could predict that in 20 years, rudeness on the Internet will be considered just as impolite as rudeness to someone’s face. But I doubt it.

Which raises an issue that is a complete bugbear to me: nasty, mostly anonymous comments on news sites and blogs.

While I don’t get tons of comments, I have noted over the years that, when I am posting about something that’s in the news and somewhat controversial, I do attract more short-terms readers. And comments. Invariably, the ones that go on the attack tend to be unsigned. I can understand why someone might not want their full name attached to a comment, but to not even come up with a handle?

But the real problem is not the ad hominem attacks I occasionally draw. It’s the level of discourse (if that’s the right word) in the real public idea domain.

It’s, of course, no surprise that the greater the anonymity of the commenters, the far greater propensity of the comment to be negative, scurrilous, and cretinous. What is so surprising is that so many chose this (cowardly) approach.

Most commenters to articles that appear in The New York Times are “signed” with real names and are, thus, more like little (and sometimes not so little) letters to the editor, only with the ability to do point-counterpoint. I’m not saying that these comments are always devoid of negativity, but there is a general level of welcome civility in the tone and word choice, even when people disagree vehemently with the article or one of their fellow commenters. Just thinking about the comments to NYT articles makes me think I really should subscribe online, rather than just keep on cadging the 10 free articles a month I’m allotted.

Comments on boston.com (The Boston Globe online), on the other hand, use pen or, rather, screed names. Some use their real names, but most use a handle. I’d say that, depending on the topic, the comments to articles in the political-social realm are typically at least half (and this is multiple choice): racist, homophobic, anti-feminist, anti-Obama, and willing to characterize the “other side” as lacking in decency, patriotism, intelligence, and moral fiber. (In this universe, everyone’s a wingnut or a moonbat, and I will note that the local commentary seems to attract more wingnuts than moonbats.) Oh, yes, and as often as not off-topic.

So many of them froth on about how Massachusetts is the worst place in the world to live, that I find myself gathering rebuttal points (education, health, wealth, divorce rate, gun deaths…) that I want to just package up and put in a signed comment pointing out that this really is, cost of living aside, a pretty good place to live. (While grinding my teeth and really wanting to write, ‘If it’s so awful here, why don’t you just pack up and move to Mississippi. And don’t let the door hit your arse on the way out, you moron.)

With Kinsley, I have my doubts about whether commenters will become less rude over time.

Maybe it’s good to have the anonymous commenting world out there to drain some of the tension and venom out of “the system.”

Still, I wish that the Boston Globe would put in place a commenting system that was more like that of The New York Times, where, comparatively speaking and absolutely, civility, perspective and intelligence reign. If they wanted to preserve what they have now, boston.com could keep it in place. Just run the signed commentary in parallel. Signed commenters could post on either side, and those who wish or need for whatever reason to remain anonymous could register with their real name, but with the ability to post as pseudonymous commenter on the signed side. This would be like the letters to the editor used to have “name held on request.”

But let the frothing, mean-spirited, crazed and moronic venom spewers go at it in their own space.

I’m sure I’d be tempted to make an occasional foray over into the muck pit – it’s just way too alluring – but the world would be a better place if, when people made their points, they did so knowing that they their name was going to be associated with it.

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