Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pics or it Didn't Happen

“Pics or it didn’t happen“. This used to be a response on message boards, chat rooms or social networking sites in response to an outrageous claim. “I just saw Tony Romo punch a 12 year old in the face on the street”. An appropriate response would be, “Pics or it didn’t happen,” because the responder is smart enough to know that it probably didn’t happen. However, it seems to me this is becoming the norm for how we share our lives with our 200 closest friends via the social networking community.

This is probably due to the fact that you can’t buy a cell phone anymore that is not equipped with a digital camera. “Pics or it didn’t happen” is how we share our lives. I now know what my friend from 2nd grade had for dinner last night via a photo. You know that guy that dated and broke up with my best friend in 9th grade? Well, his daughter (not with my best friend, of course) just did something really cute, proven with an accompanying picture. That guy I dated for 2 seconds in high school and haven’t seen since? His cousin, whom I never heard of before today, just had a baby. Is all of this too much information? Maybe for me. But there is someone else out there who is hanging on every detail.

Have you been to a concert lately? I have. It is a sea of blue screens, thousands of people hanging on every note through a 5” screen. We aren’t watching the stage but watching the stage through a camera, likely uploading the video footage to you-tube before walking out of the venue. We are more interested in sharing our experience than actually experiencing it. Pics or it didn’t happen.

Did you go to a concert last night? Prove it. Did you eat dinner? I want to see. Your changed your baby’s diaper? How gross was it? What does your boss look like when he is yelling? How far is too far?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I‘m not judging. A quick scan of my Facebook page proves I am as guilty as anyone. Did I take blurry picture of Jack White at the last concert? Yes. Did I photograph my last culinary masterpiece (or disaster)? Yes. Did I share the last exciting thing I got in the mail via a photo upload? Most likely. Did that girl I knew in 2nd grade care? I bet not. But, did my friend from my hometown or my other friend across the county feel a little closer and more connected to my everyday life because of it? I would say yes. It is how I stay close with my friends and family who are far away.

I don’t take and share pictures to prove to my middle school friends that I have a life now. Those pictures most likely prove otherwise. For me, it is not “Pics or it didn’t happen”. It’s Pics to keep and grow a personal connection with old and new friends alike.

A person connection with someone comes and grows from sharing intimate details of your life. I suppose the fine line is drawn around who exactly is the recipient of all our generous sharing of the personal details of our lives. But the real lesson here is to be sure the sharing isn’t interfering with the experiencing. I recently came across a blog I wrote about a concert I went to in 2008. I found that reading about my experience nearly 3 years ago brought back more memories than the blurry photos I uploaded to my Myspace page the next day.

I will likely continue to share pictures online that I think will make my close friends smile or give them a glimpse into our everyday mundane life. I hope they continue to do the same for me, because pictures of my hometown friends at a Steelers game or checking in at a favorite local restaurant brings back good memories. My friend’s adventures in photos from California makes me feel a part of her life, although I haven’t seen her in over a year. Not everyone in my Facebook friends list may care about the greenbean casserole I made last night, but I do it for the few who do.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

How to fire your cable or satellite company

How to fire your cable or satellite company

Before I begin, I must warn you that this not for people addicted to cable television series. This is not for people who must watch the latest show the moment it hits the airways. This is for people like me and my husband; casual TV viewers. We watch the week night prime time sitcoms, the nightly news and enjoy reruns before we go to bed. We like the forensics and crime solving reality shows, home remodeling shows, music television and sports. If you are like us, I can show you how to cancel your cable or satellite service.

Allow me to rewind. We were happily paying our satellite TV provider a whopping $69 a month + tax. This did not include any paid movie or entertainment channels and was not part of any kind of bundle. Basically we were paying close to $75 a month to watch TV. I didn’t even realize at the time how absurd this was, it is just what we did. Then one day, the satellite went out. The weather was clear and there was no other indication of trouble. I called the tech support at the satellite company and after a few trouble shooting attempts they informed me that they would have to send out a technician to our house to access to situation. Then the bomb dropped that they would be charging me a (hefty) fee to come out and look at it. When I inquired why it would be that I should have to pay to fix faulty equipment that belongs to the satellite company, I was told cheerfully that I should have purchased the insurance for $5 a month that would cover any such visits in the future.

So, let me get this straight; You rent me equipment that you are pretty sure is going to break down, so it would be in my best interest to insure this equipment against any such breakdowns? After about 45 minutes and talking to more than one supervisor, I had enough. I had threatened to cancel my service which was smugly responded with a reminder that I was in a 12 month commitment. After trying several tactics including the-kill-them-with-kindness-method, the-kill-them-with-angry-words-method and the literally-threaten-to-kill-them-method, I was finally at my wits end. I was so frustrated at this point that I was willing to pay my way out of the contract and end this once and for all. It was at the very last minute, after more than an hour on the phone and a temper that was lost long ago they finally agreed to waive the cost of the technician visit. But, it was too late. That offer should have been made an hour ago. I was done. And with that, our satellite was cancelled. Here we were with a 42” flat screen TV and a blank screen. No more TLC, no more TBS, no more MTV, no more Court TV…or so I thought.

So, I begin to research. Turns out TV antennas are not the rabbit ears you remember from your childhood. For about $30 you can buy a flat antenna that is smaller and flatter than an iPad that sits nearly undetected on your TV console. Plug that sucker in and voila, you get all your network channels for free - about 15 of them. Wait, doesn’t the satellite company charge $5 a month for network channels? You know, the ones that are free? I feel smarter already. Although the flat antenna did the job, my hubby who is a technician by trade installed an antenna (purchased from Wal-Mart for $60) on the roof for an even stronger signal.

We enjoyed our free TV for awhile, but the hubby wasn’t still wasn’t completely happy. It seemed like years of being spoiled with 100+ channels (most of which we never watched) would take awhile to get over. I took away his music channels, his sports channels and his forensics shows. I tried to just remind him to focus on the money savings. Is it really worth $75 a month to watch TV?

Then I discovered Netflix live stream + 1 DVD at a time for $8.99 a month. When I first signed up for Netflix, I fully intended for using the free trial month and cancelling the service before I was charged. I even circled the date on the calendar when I needed to cancel to avoid being charged. As soon as I plugged in, I knew I wouldn’t be cancelling. I’ll preface this by saying in order to watch on your TV rather than just your computer screen, you must have a Netflix ready device. We have a blue-ray player which happened to be one, but you can also stream from your gaming console. The movies available to watch instantly on your TV have a lot to be desired, basically a large selection of movies at least 10 years old. We didn’t have movie channels on our satellite service anyway. This is about TV and replacing that service. Netflix has TV. You like network sitcoms? Check. How about past seasons of popular HBO series? Check. Forensics and crime solving reality shows? Check. Comedy? Check. Music? Check. Plus we get a new release movie DVD, one at a time, as many times we want a month.

Between free network TV and Netflix, I got 90% of my viewing needs covered. Plus, my blue-ray player has other free internet video viewing options including, but not limited to, You-Tube on your TV and a free music video channel (way more videos that MTV plays anymore). The only thing I noticed with the blue-ray player, unlike the game console, is that there is no internet browser or address bar. You can only go to the pre-determined sites.

What about live sports? What about football games not shown in your market? We are Steelers Fans living in Dallas. This happens a lot. I discovered where you can watch most games online . I can watch anything I can get on my computer on my big screen TV. I simply connect my laptop to my TV by using a S-video cable and set up our TV up a second computer monitor. (a VGA cable will also work). Then anything you can pull up on the computer can be dragged to the TV screen for big-screen viewing. The quality is not as high as you get with Netflix, but it does the job for live sports. A quick internet search can give you instructions how to do this, even a relative techno-phob like me figured it out fairly quickly.

I was, at first, disappointed the Conan O’Brien’s new show would be broadcast on TBS. I was even more disappointed to learn my favorite musician was his first guest. Is this the first time in months that I wish I still had cable? I quickly learned that full episodes would be shown on Conan’s website the very next day. I can wait one day. Who needs cable? Not me.

It has been months and we have never looked back. Our TV viewing needs are covered and our bank account is about $65 richer each month. I feel a certain satisfaction knowing that I was not forced to put up with the poor customer service of a large corporation. They lost a customer that they will never get back.

Again, if you are waiting all week long to catch the next episode of Dexter, this is not for you. However, if you want to watch all the past seasons whenever you want, Netflix is your friend. This isn’t intended to be a advertisement for Netflix. I hear there is also Hulu-plus for $9.99 month, who also has a large selection of instant live-streaming programs to your TV. You have options that don’t involve paying a hefty fee each month to have 100+ television stations that you don’t watch. You too can fire you cable/satellite company and put up to $800 a year back in your pocket.


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