What are you Overlooking?

After decades of myopia ("nearsightedness" in American, "shortsightedness" in British), I'm starting to go farsighted. Too.

Sometimes it seems ironic, but mostly it's annoying. I had my first experience of not being able to read a map recently, lost in San Francisco fog after dark. The car's dome light was simply not bright enough to enable me to read the fine blue print of the rental car map. I've had to stop at gas stations to get directions before, but it felt different this time. I had a map (granted, not a good one -- the part I needed wasn't on it, which helped me get lost to begin with), but I couldn't read it.

So "fine print" is taking on a richer (and broader) meaning for me. It's not just the weasel words at the bottom of a contract now, but includes a growing universe of words in print that are formatted by people younger than me who don't know or don't care about this disability. I used to read the fine print out of a sense of responsibility, but for a number of years I mostly couldn't be bothered. Now, I just can't in a lot of cases, without going to some trouble. Usually there aren't any problems, and if there are, well, I deal with that as the need arises.

I had another thought about "things that are practically invisible" when I was listening to Scott McNealy talk at Comdex this year, about some convenient consumer opportunity on the 'net. I was thinking about how saving a couple or 20 bucks probably doesn't mean much to Scott; one-stop, click and go shopping that saves him a couple minutes outweighs the risk of paying a bit too much.

I probably err on the cheap side of "what's your time worth?" But hey, when I relax or do something I want to do, I don't think about "return on investment." There are tradeoffs, though: I'm not wild about shopping, for example, so I should be considering that less time spent shopping is more time for everything else. That's worth something.

But how does someone with a personal assistant (or several) and who makes millions of dollars a year appreciate the point of view of those of us who still compare prices at the supermarket? He likes the idea of personalized lettuce delivery, so that other people aren't handling his lettuce in the store. That's a long way from a household concerned with being able to afford lettuce, let alone how it gets from the field to their refrigerator.

It's gotta be an act of imagination, eh? At least politicians have a team of people telling them what to say. McNealy seems to mostly follow his own muse. That's not a bad thing, really -- I prefer candor to canned -- but it suggests his concerns may tend toward the parochial when they don't quite reach "visionary" grade.

It's a problem for all of us. Having been through one or another impoverished states, maybe we can remember what it was like. What's it like not to have easy access to a car? I certainly can't tell you, even though I went through more of my late teens and early twenties that way than 99% of my neighbors. I've used public transportation where it works and where it doesn't, quite, but since I mostly don't have to use it, I'm free to enjoy the novelty of the experience, or at worst suffer through it knowing it's temporary.

The first-hand experience fades with time, as habits settle in, middle-class comfort protects us, and concerns of senescence start to outrun the adventure of youth. I guess that's why most old farts turn into Republicans.

Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org


Sunday, 21-May-2000 18:18:00 MDT