In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a writer, not a handyman or an engineer. Bookish types like me typically don’t like to get our hands dirty. Well, I discovered a few years ago what a self-defeating attitude that is.
I solicited a quote for a necessary home repair, and found that the company in question wanted about 10x the reasonable price for the job. Two other contractors in the area wanted 2 to 3 times the reasonable price.
I define reasonable here as: parts + labor + (reasonable) overhead + (reasonable) profit.
That said, there are limits to what you can do for yourself. The installation of a new AC system is beyond the scope of any homeowner; and environmental laws require that a licensed professional complete the work.
But you should educate yourself about what is actually involved in common home repairs. And never accept a quote from a vendor that isn’t broken out as described above. Most contractors who serve homeowners don’t want to do this, because they don’t want you to know how much they’re overcharging you.
Although I have recently ventured back into YouTube, video is not my native environment. Video will always be secondary to writing for me, and always exist primarily as a signal booster for my writing, both in bookstores and here on this website.
Adam Conover is more of a YouTube native than I am, and he recently took down the AI hype machine in a video entitled “A.I. is B.S.”.
Adam’s salient point is the true nature of the danger we face: Not that some super-smart techno-intelligence will take over, but that tech companies will manipulate us into using worse versions of what we already have, simply because they bear the trendy label of “A.I.”
In yesterday’s essay, I explored this in the context of those unusable chatbots that now routinely answer phones at large companies. Adam Conover has many similar examples.
The bottom line is that most commercial, overhyped applications of “A.I.” are problems in search of solutions.
A latchkey kid is a child or early teenager who is “home alone” for a few hours each day after school. This usually happens because parent(s) are working, and therefore unavailable.
The latchkey kid phenomenon is closely associated with the 1980s, and the generation of Americans born between 1965 and 1970-something. (The so-called “Generation X”.) That said, this was not the experience of everyone who was a school-age kid at some point between 1980 and 1989. Similarly, the generation that grew up in the 1980s was by no means the first—or last—cohort of young people who spent time alone after school.
All those disclaimers aside, we can speak meaningfully of the observable phenomenon, even if it is less than universal, and not strictly confined to the 1980s. The latchkey kid was a definite 1980s trend, owing to some unique circumstances.
Working moms, aka “career women”
In the third decade of the twenty-first century, the word “career woman” sounds quaint. Some might even find it sexist. Of course women have careers, you might say. And you’d be right, if we’re talking about the 2020s.
But four decades ago, things were different…and changing. Millions of upper- and middle-class women were entering the professional, white-collar workforce for the first time.
The concept of women doing paid labor wasn’t entirely new. Working-class women had long performed paid labor outside the home to one degree or another, usually out of simple necessity. And don’t forget Rosie the Riveter, who filled the vacuum in the male workforce during World War II.
There was also a long tradition of women working in specialized professional careers, especially teaching. (Almost all of my elementary school teachers were women.)
What was new in the 1980s was the mass entry of women into private-sector careers traditionally reserved for men. This is why you heard so much about the “career woman” in the 1980s. This really was a new dimension of female employment, and at an unprecedented scale.
These were also the women who were the young and early middle-age mothers of that era. Their children typically got home from school around 3 p.m., several hours before the end of operations in the typical white-collar workplace.
The result was millions of latchkey kids.
At the same time, a struggling economy had led to high levels of unemployment in the early 1980s. The economy improved as the decade progressed, but unemployment in the United States peaked at 10.8 percent in 1982!
This economic dislocation was dramatized in the 1983 movie, Mr. Mom, starring Teri Garr and Michael Keaton. In the movie, an out-of-work automotive engineer becomes a stay-at-home dad. His wife, meanwhile, becomes the family breadwinner, accepting a high-profile position in the advertising industry. Hijinks ensue, as Dad the Engineer attempts to cope with grocery shopping, housecleaning, childcare, and other traditionally “female” tasks.
Mr. Mom is a comedy; and as would be expected of any movie made 40 years ago, it is largely dated now. Nevertheless, the film serves as a time capsule of the economic anxieties—and realities—of the early 1980s.
As manufacturing took a hit, some traditionally masculine careers (what could be more manly than automotive engineering?) went into decline. Jobs involving computers, marketing, and other forms of white-collar “knowledge work”, were beginning to rise in importance. Many of these careers appealed to women.
Small families and broken homes
The 1980s latchkey experience was also affected by recent demographic changes. The 1980s was, compared to the decades before and since, a decade of small families. By the time the first GenXers were born in 1965, the postwar Baby Boom was petering out. The World War II generation was done with reproduction and childrearing, and that burden increasingly fell onto the shoulders of the Baby Boomers themselves. Most of the Baby Boomers opted for smaller families.
Once married, the Baby Boomers divorced in record numbers, causing divorce rates to peak in 1980. The so-called “broken home” was another reason for the latchkey kid phenomenon. Divorce compelled many mothers to enter the workforce.
My latchkey kid experience
But what if both of your parents were happily married, and gainfully employed? That was my situation.
I was twelve years old in 1980. That same year, my mother took a job as a contract administrator at a local defense contracting firm. The company made the fuses that went into Cold War-era weapons like the shoulder-fired TOW missile and the Hellfire Missile System.
I spent several hours alone each afternoon, between the time when school let out, and when my parents arrived home from work (usually between 5:30 and 6:00 p.m.)
Learning to entertain yourself without technology
What to do during that time? Homework? Surely you jest. There were a few other kids in my neighborhood, and I got along with them. But we could only hang out so much until we grew tired of each other.
How about TV? Afternoon television in the early 1980s was a wasteland for adolescents and teens. Cable television was just taking off, and nothing worth watching aired until the evening, when adult audiences were tuned in.
Most of the afternoon programming on the non-cable networks consisted of either cartoons or soap operas, neither of which was of much interest to a twelve-year-old boy.
Nor did technology offer much in the way of engaging entertainment. The Internet and cell phones were still decades away. Video games were in their infancy. (Think “Pong”.) If someone had uttered the word “iPad” to me in 1980, I would probably have assumed it had something to do with personal hygiene.
That left latchkey kids largely responsible for entertaining themselves. This was especially true on rainy days, and during the winter months, when it was distinctly unpleasant to hang around outside.
Most of us learned to entertain ourselves in various ways. I became an avid reader, and began dabbling with writing my own articles and stories.
I also immersed myself in various hobbies: coin collecting, stamp collecting, and angling. In the summer of 1978, my grandfather had introduced me to bass fishing. I acquired back issues of Field & Stream and Fishing Facts, and read them all cover-to-cover. By 1981, I knew more about developments in fishing than my grandfather did.
Ironically, this was just about the time that I dropped fishing for other, “cooler” pursuits. But I can still speak knowledgeably about the differences between spinning, spincast, and baitcast reels. I could give you a solid introduction to bass fishing in Midwestern and Upper-South lakes and rivers. (The basics of fishing, I’ve since discovered, really haven’t changed that much since I went fishing with my grandfather.)
The net effects of the latchkey kid phenomenon
All this time alone gave me the ability to ignore the crowd, zero in on an objective, and take a deep dive. I have resisted the modern obsession with cellphones and social media, the compulsive need to be constantly connected, and in constant communication.
Spending so much time alone, at such an early age, taught me to keep my own counsel. I don’t need that much approval from others. I really don’t care what most people think, either about me, or about what I’m doing.
This self-containment has obviously given me the advantage of independence. I have many, many faults; but being a joiner, a follower, or a bandwagon-rider is not among them. I never met a rule, group standard, or authority that I couldn’t challenge.
But all that independence and self-containment has a downside, too. The crowd can be a sinister mob, but that isn’t always the case. A thriving society cannot subsist solely on the uncoordinated activities of lone wolves. There are situations in which being a team player, marching in line, and having a willingness to be led by others are necessary and desirable.
I recognize this principle abstractly, but I don’t feel it in my bones. I’ve never been able to switch off my independence instinct for anything beyond a short-term, provisional basis.
My corporate career was notably lackluster, partly because I bristled at being ordered around. Nor did I naturally aspire to becoming the boss—the core motivator of most underlings. I have never wanted to take orders…or give them.
Oh, and I’m over the age of fifty and single. That might suggest that I have some commitment issues.
A final note on the latchkey kid. The term itself seems to be a retroactive one. Although my research tells me that it existed in the 1970s and 1980s, I don’t recall ever hearing it in those years, either in the media or in daily conversation. Nor do I ever recall anyone describing himself as “a latchkey kid”. The definition and analysis of the phenomenon have mostly come later. Back then, being a latchkey kid was simply what a lot of us did.
Pepsi has raised the prices of its soft drinks by more than 15% in recent months. A 12-pack of any of the company’s chemical-infused, acidic canned liquids now runs around seven dollars in the Cincinnati area. Coca-Cola products are priced at a similarly extortionate level.
We’ve been trained to crave sodas for at least three generations. My grandfather was a fan of Coca-Cola. He was one of those World War II servicemen to whom Coca-Cola aggressively marketed its products. He was never without his supply.
My grandfather was congenitally opposed to any form of diet cola, though. He drank only the original formula, with real sugar. But then, a Coca-Cola in his day was a rare treat, something to consume after hard hours of labor. In that context, the sugar boost was a feature, not a bug.
Subsequent generations started drinking sodas to fulfill their basic hydration needs, and that led to a demand for diet colas. One of the first of these was Coca-Cola’s Tab. Marketed mostly to women, Tab was the forerunner to Diet Coke.
Bare minimum Monday is the latest thing on the Internet—especially TikTok, that wellspring of youthful oversharing.
Bare minimum Monday means what it sounds like: doing the bare minimum at work (especially office jobs) on Mondays.
Slacking on the job at certain times of the week is nothing new, of course. And it isn’t limited to Gen Z white-collar workers. During the 1970s and 1980s, the prevailing wisdom was that you didn’t want to purchase a UAW-made automobile that rolled off the assembly line on Monday or Friday.
But Generation Z seems to be putting its own spin on the concept, to the cheerleading of the mainstream media. CNN gushes that younger workers are using “’bare minimum Monday’ as a form of self-care”.
So goldbricking has now become yet another version of seeking safe spaces and avoiding microaggressions. Just what the younger generation needed: yet another reason for older folks (who still do most of the hiring) to perceive them as effete, fragile, and incompetent.
Of course, there has never been a shortage of 40- and 50-somethings who believe that the younger generation is leading the world straight to perdition. I’m from the original “slacker” generation: Generation X. When I joined the so-called “adult world” as a newly minted college graduate in 1991, I endured the subtle jabs of older colleagues and bosses who quipped that “young people nowadays just don’t know how to put in a full day’s work”. And that was more than 30 years ago.Continue reading “Bare minimum Monday may come back to bite you”
As some of you may know, the Cincinnati Bengals lost the AFC championship game to the Kansas City Chiefs last night.
This morning, my personal Facebook feed, heavy with Cincinnati residents, was filled with professions of fan loyalty, like the one above: “Still my Bengals.”
Others were professing their “fan loyalty” in more abstract terms. Some declared that they would stick with the Bengals no matter what.
And here is one of the places where I can’t connect with the rabid spectator sports fan: this concept of team loyalty.
If you find spectator sports enthralling, that’s one thing. The fact that I don’t find them particularly entertaining is a mere matter of preference.
Similarly, we all enjoy different television shows and movies, different kinds of music. I don’t happen to be a fan of country music. This doesn’t leave me shaking my head at the preferences of country music fans.
But then, most country music fans aren’t making public declarations of fan loyalty when their favorite artist fails to win a CMA award. Only spectator sports fans do things like that.
A professional sports team—the Cincinnati Bengals, the Kansas City Chiefs, whatever—is a corporation that sells an entertainment product. No different from Sony Pictures or Netflix. Fans of entertainment companies are more accurately called consumers.
If you enjoy an entertainment company’s product, so be it. But it’s important to remember where you stand, in the big scheme of things, before getting too invested in this fan loyalty concept.
Take Joe Burrow, the Cincinnati Bengals’ 26-year-old quarterback. Joe Burrow has a 4-year contract worth over $36 million. And—of course—a beautiful girlfriend with a widely subscribed Instagram account. Rich young celebrity athletes with beautiful girlfriends are nothing new, of course.
More power to Joe Burrow. I’m sure he’s talented and that he’s worked hard. But it’s somewhat self-deluding—if not foolish—to think that this man needs your expressions of loyalty after he loses a game.
I personally had a happy 1970s childhood, with loving parents and grandparents, and a supportive environment. I’m not complaining about my own lot back then.
But the culture of that era, still stuck in that of the generally unwholesome 1960s, had a tendency to ignore—or overlook—the needs of children. Nothing like the child-centric, helicopter-parenting decades that would follow. This was also an era when divorce rates were skyrocketing, and “broken homes” were becoming more commonplace.
I will freely admit that I have never been much of a “car guy”. To me a car has always been little more than an appliance. Not all that much different from a washing machine or a refrigerator. I spend a lot more time oohing and aahing over the latest Apple technology than I do over the latest offerings from any of the automakers.
Most men much under 55 are similar, I’ve found. (The exceptions are pickup truck guys, but they’re a different breed, entirely.)
This is definitely a generational thing. Almost all of the car guys I know are over the age of 60, which means that they started driving in the 1970s or earlier.
I started driving in 1984. It was around this time that cars all started looking more or less the same, and not very exciting at all.
For example, check out the “K Car”, a popular car of the 1980s. The K Car was basically a shoebox on wheels. Yet so many cars built during the 1980s followed this pattern.
Vehicles of the 1990s, 2000s, and beyond became even more uniform in shape and appearance. Can anyone really tell the difference between a Kia Sorento and a Toyota Highlander without looking at the grill emblem? I certainly can’t—and I drive the latter car.
Now look at these cars that Chevrolet put out in 1972: the Camaro SS, the Malibu convertible, etc. And (of course) the venerable El Camino.
Now these were cars worth getting excited about.
No—I wasn’t driving in 1972. (I was four years old.) But many of these cars were on the road well through my early adolescent years. Trouble was, they already represented the last of the fading classic car era.
Why are cars so similar today? We can blame Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, as well as changes in the marketplace.
The era of the classic car is now over. And with it, I would argue, the era of the “car guy”.
I’m a packrat by nature. You should therefore not be surprised to learn that although I graduated from college in 1990, I still have many of my college textbooks.
I purchased the above text in 1986 for an English class (obviously).
The above textbook cost $25 when I bought it. If that sounds cheap to you, I’ll point out that this would be $65.58 in 2022 dollars. So perhaps college textbooks have always been overpriced. Also, minimum wage was $3.35 per hour in 1986, and $4 to $5 was considered a “typical” hourly wage for a student-level job.
I haven’t written or read much poetry since I took that class.
Why? While I’m more than willing to tilt at windmills, even I have my limits. The market for poetry in the English-speaking has never been great…at least in modern times. The editor of the above text, X.J. Alexander, points this out in an essay near the end of the book. He describes a “poetry glut”. And keep in mind: the above textbook was published a decade before the Internet or Windows 95, back when people who wanted to write had to actually use typewriters or pens. Now we can write entire books on our cellphones.
Like most overly introspective teenagers through the ages, I wrote my share of bad poetry between the ages of 15 and 17, or 1983 and 1985. Teenage crushes, feelings of being misunderstood, and generalized adolescent angst all tend to produce bad poetry, like May weather produces dandelions.
No—you will never see any of those old poems of mine here. All of those old pages disappeared in the chaos of a move in 1988. This was no great loss, neither to me, nor to the American literary canon.
Another nice thing about the pre-Internet era: the potentially embarrassing things we wrote, said, or did tended to disappear with the passage of time. As they should.
I haven’t yet taken the plunge into Amazon’s Kindle Vella platform. This isn’t because of any principle-driven objection on my part. I actually like the idea of serial fiction.
What I don’t like are the genres that presently dominate serial fiction on sites like Wattpad: YA romance, teen werewolf fantasies, and (of course) endless stories about teenagers with super-powers.
Nothing wrong with any of these categories, mind you. But I’m a 53-year-old adult. I don’t play in those fields, and have no interest in starting now.
Vincent V. Triola is another 50-something writer. Having perused his online footprint, I suspect that his politics are a bit to the left of mine. (That’s okay, most writers have politics to the left of mine.) But we’re both old enough to remember the pre-Amazon, pre-Internet literary world. I suspect that Mr. Triola, like me, spent some time in mall bookstores in the era of Ronald Reagan and Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
Mr. Triola is pessimistic on Vella, having dipped his toe into it. Writing on Medium, he describes Vella as “a writer-driven marketplace”. What this basically means (for those unfamiliar with Wattpad) is that most of the readers in a given literary marketplace are fellow (and competing) writers.
This is perfectly acceptable on Wattpad, which is youth-centric and mostly free. Wattpad also appeals to the generation that loves social media, and lots of step-by-step peer group engagement. My teenage years ended long before Instagram and TikTok, but I can easily imagine hormone-soaked, teenage brains lighting up with every social media “like”. We are all pack animals below the age of twenty-one or so.
But this community-based, social media-esque approach isn’t as appropriate for a paid platform like Amazon, where most readers aren’t hawking their own books and stories, too. There is nothing wrong with readers who are also writers, of course. But when that becomes the entire basis for a marketplace, the marketplace tends to become incestuous and spammy. (I’ve definitely seen this on YouTube, with all the “sub for sub” comment spam.)
As evidence for his claim, Triola notes that Vella has been almost exclusively marketed to authors thus far. This is a fair observation. I interact with Amazon as both a reader and a writer. I’ve received all Amazon’s communications about Vella so far via my writing communication channel.
Finally, Triola mentions that Amazon emphasizes the youth-centric genres that comprise most of Wattpad. There is only one tag for nonfiction. But “nonfiction” includes everything from historical biographies to automotive repair, to horticulture.
On the other side of this coin, some of the writers in several Facebook groups where I lurk are quite bullish on Vella. Almost all of them, however, write in the YA fantasy and/or romance fields. Back to some of Mr. Triola’s points.
Also, Amazon does now have a large banner ad for Vella on the front page of the Kindle store. So if Amazon isn’t exactly pushing Vella at readers, it isn’t exactly hiding it, either.
What is Amazon’s longterm strategy with Vella? Vella is obviously intended to be a Wattpad-killer, and Wattpad, as noted above, is all about YA fantasy and romance.
My guess is that Amazon realizes that YA fantasy/romance readers and writers tend to be “different” from readers and writers in other genres.
For one thing, the boundaries between readers and writers tend to be a lot more fluid in these genres. Note the prevalence of YA fan fiction. No one writes fan fiction based on the novels of John Grisham, Michael Connelly, or Clive Cussler. But there are online oceans of fan fiction for Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games—all of which are focused on a predominantly youthful market. The Wattpad format is appealing to writers of fan fiction because of the low barriers to entry.
Also, this group, being younger, usually has less disposable income. As noted above, Wattpad is a mostly free platform. Amazon is probably uncertain about the long-term monetization prospects for Vella, beyond the writers who are presently participating. (As an adult reader, I have very little interest in paying for serial fiction installments, for whatever that’s worth.)
We shall see. No one knows how Vella is going to turn out, or if it will even exist a year from now. After all, Amazon has in the past killed initiatives that proved unprofitable or unmanageable, like Kindle Worlds.
For now, I’m going to continue my wait-and-see approach with Kindle Vella.