Modern Country

I’m on the road again, in one of those towns where there really aren’t any restaurants besides chains.  So I went to the nearest place within walking distance of my hotel — a Longhorn Steakhouse.

img_5171-1For a chain joint, the Longhorn isn’t bad.  The servers are nice, the place is clean, and the food is decent and reasonably priced.  There’s only one problem — the soundtrack at the Longhorn is “modern country,” which is enough to make pretty much any rational diner lose their appetite.  If there’s a more soulless, generic, synthesized, cookie-cutter music genre out there these days, I don’t know what it is.

I have no idea who modern country artists are — I just know they all sound the same.  The only thing that’s “country” about them is that they wear cowboy hats and try to sing with a twang.  Other than than, they’re indistinguishable from soulless, generic, synthesized, cookie-cutter pop stars.  As musical performers go, the modern country “stars” seem to be all hat and no cattle — pathetic, lamentable posers who aren’t fit to carry the boots of the country music stars who came before them.

It’s sad, really.  Country music used to be interesting, with artists like Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Merle Haggard, George Jones, and Tammy Wynette.  They actually seemed to care about the songs they wrote and sang.  There was feeling in every chord.  Calling the modern bastardization of the genre “country music” really is an insult to the authentic, roots-related music that was produced way back when.

Fortunately, “modern country” is so generic that it’s like elevator music — easy to tune out.  I read my book, ate my steak, and pretty much ignored the twangy sameness.  You wouldn’t have been able to say that about the country stars and songs of the past.

Facebook Fatigue

Some years ago we were on a trip to Antigua with Richard and Russell where we met a very nice young woman from Great Britain and her parents.  She ended up hanging out with the boys, and after the trip we became Facebook friends.

The other day she posted this on her Facebook feed:

fear-of-missing-out“Has anyone else on here been considering deleting Facebook for a long time, but keeps putting it off? I’ve been toying with the idea for years but can never bring myself to fully do it; it’s an attachment to photos, friends from all over the world I might lose, FOMO of information, and sheer habit. I find it’s become more destructive than good, however. It doesn’t make me feel good, it makes me feel depressed, and in the few times per week I actually check it, I realise I’ve become a robotic scroller, consuming information mindlessly and feeling lousy afterwards. According to statistics, only 9% of Facebook activity per day is to be social, the rest of the time is accidental logging in (how many of you have tapped on the Facebook app without even meaning to, just to ask yourself why did I click on this?), stalking and filling up time. It sucks to acknowledge that you’re addicted to something, and it sucks to realise you’re scared of leaving something inanimate. Does anyone else have this feeling?”

[For the aged among us, like me, “FOMO” is short for “fear of missing out” and is internet slang for feeling a sense of anxiety that you’re missing something interesting that people on social media are talking about or experiencing, like the recent solar eclipse.]

Her post captures a mood that I’ve been hearing from a lot of people who are fed up with Facebook and other forms of social media.  They’re finding it to be a bit empty and unsatisfying, they dislike the ads and the nagging prompts to update their profiles, they really hate the angry political debates, and they question whether the amount of time spent endlessly scrolling is worth it — so they drop off Facebook.  Some are happy that they have done so; others get that FOMO feeling, because once a social media connection is made it’s really hard to sever it, and they come back, presumably feeling a bit sheepish about the experience.

I can see her point, but I think the benefits of Facebook and other forms of social media outweigh the downsides — so long as you avoid obsessing, control your exposure, keep your temper, and recognize its limitations.  In fact, my contact with this young lady exemplifies why I think Facebook is a good thing.  She was an interesting person, and being Facebook friends has allowed me to see what she’s up to from time to time, wish her happy birthday, and congratulate her on getting a new job.  The world is a smaller place than it once was, and Facebook facilitates a sense of staying in touch with friends, acquaintances, family members, and former colleagues who are now far away.  And if you happen to be traveling to a place where one of your Facebook friends lives, it’s a handy way to see whether you can set up a meeting over coffee or dinner and really catch up.

I think Facebook has obvious downsides, and there’s a Big Brother element to it that is bothersome, but on the whole I think if Facebook didn’t exist it would need to be invented.