When in “Roam”

I am sure I am already dating myself by using this olde-tyme phrase, but it makes sense to me.

Remember when we used to “roam?”

For those of you reading this who were born after (gulp) 1999, there once was a time that our mobile phones would declare we had strayed beyond the comfortable limits of our homeland. Or, more easily put, they would blink orange or red lights and display the phrase “Roaming.” The undesired side-effect of that status was an immediate decrease in device capabilities– you couldn’t use all the features of your phone. And, when you did- they were increasingly expensive. Think “airplane mode.”

The technological side of this was something like, you were outside your network, or you had a poor signal, or something like that. (This is the part where it becomes painfully obvious that I’m the ‘make it look pretty guy’, not the ‘tech guy’). Hang in there, I have a point.

Virtually every time you would jump in your car, or board the train or subway, your phone would move to the “Roaming” status. I, like everyone else, would be instantly enraged, longing for a better signal, a better network, and occasionally- a better device.

The unprescribed side-effect of that archaic technology was humans, from time-to-time, would put their device away, and look around, read a book, and sometimes (though rarely)- interact with other human beings.

Today, I am available. All the time. Or, at least my iPhone thinks I am.

I recently found a handy little setting on my phone that allows me to set ‘quiet hours’- times that I am unreachable. Because I value my five hours of evening respite, I created the times of 12:30 a.m. – 5:50 a.m. as my private time. How delightful, right?

CBS This Morning co-host John Dickerson recently experimented with attempts to “shut down” his screens: computers, tablets and mobile devices. It was painful to watch. Embarrassing, actually. A recent study found Americans look at their phones more than 40 times each hour. Oh, dear.

We Will Never Get That Time Back

I have two sons, ages 20 and 15. Occasionally, I impart my wisdom (frustration) upon them regarding their use (misuse) of their devices. And, I know I instantly sound like an old man. So be it.

When I sit down, after a long day, I have a choice to make: What will I do with my time?

My problem with their answer to that question is not that they spend time on their devices, but rather, what they are doing while on those devices. The time spent trolling Twitter, or Snapchat or Instagram is all reactive time, or- time that we allow others to orchestrate. If some Silicon Valley algorithms determine you should see this ad, or that article, that is what it sends to your eyeballs first. And, I am savvy enough to understand that those decisions are being made by algorithms- not human beings. And, certainly not by my sons.

Compare this arbitrary allotment of time spent on social media with the proactive decision to choose a novel or a newspaper or a book with a title or subject of interest, and investing a set amount of time with that content. Investing that time in a subject or topic. Undisturbed.

Now- I know, I know, books and articles and newspapers can all be read on tablets and devices. But, who chooses to first place their phones or devices on “silent mode” or “airplane mode” or “do not disturb.” None of us.

We think we need the disturbances. Because they are so important. Every employee checks email on the weekends. Every boss sends texts after hours. It’s dangerously similar to working around the clock.

Now, I am not suggesting that we abandon every device, and delete our social media accounts. However, perhaps we think twice when evaluating our “notifications.”

And- I apologize if the “alert’ of this blog post interrupted you today.

$330 Sneakers? Maybe.

A fascinating article in GQ today examined the current alarming status of the sneaker market.

That’s right– tennis shoes, gym shoes, kicks– whatever you call ’em, the market is booming. And not just for new items, either. The after-sale market is presently valued at $2 billion, with the ath-leisure market expected to be worth $83 billion by the year 2020, according to some analysts.

In the early 1980’s the footwear trend hit my hometown, a suburb of Detroit. And I had to have them. All I had to do was convince my parents that the $40 price tag was worthwhile. It wouldn’t be easy– we’d never spent more than $25 on shoes, and those were dress shoes. My parents scoffed at the idea.

Today, a $40 pair of quality sneakers can be near impossible to find.

After Christmas this year, our family decided to have a ‘stay-cation’ in Chicago. Since we live here, we often don’t do the touristy things, so once every year, we try to be tourists for a day or so. We visit museums and eat pizza and drink too much coffee.

As a special treat, I thought I would jet my boys to a couple of the “hippest” sneaker shops  while we were nearby. (Thank you Google for making this middle-aged dad appear, even momentarily, kinda cool.)

What I found inside the minimalist, tiny, privately-owned shop surprised even me: white walls, bare floors, plywood shelving and industrial pipe racks. This was the place?

Now, let me be clear: I have literally seen closets on the north shore that rival the square footage of this shop. But, here, on a blustery December day, I found a welcoming shop owner and a small community of enthusiasts who were pleased to show us their latest acquisitions. My sons were wide-eyed. And, I admit, I was taken by it all.

The sneakers in this shop are unique. Most are unavailable at retail outlets, and here they are sold at a premium- with few at retail prices. The curating of such items comes at a cost. The average price of a premium, after-market sneaker these days is $330.

Each of my sons, age 20 and 15, would pick up a sneaker, examine it from every angle, holding it up to spy the unique stitching and fabric dyes. And to be honest, I haven’t seen them take an interest like this, other than the screens of their phones.

What is it about this place? They’re just tennis shoes, right?

Wrong. It’s the community that the individuality and specificity of the brands affords the consumer. There are Adidas folks. Nikes folks. And then, those others who want the custom, gold-plated designer shoes. My boys save their hard-earned dollars to buy tennis shoes. Ridiculous? Maybe not.  My youngest has even taken to buying premium sneakers on their ‘drop date’ and reselling them online at a premium. And he’s making good, real money.

We bought shoes that day. That’s right, we. I bought a pair, too. To be fair, they were on sale for $50. And I love them. houndstooth

Read GQ article here.