Sunday, January 30, 2011

January 2011: I Didn’t Get the Memo

Last year some time, I used the word Oriental in referring to someone from, well, one of the countries of the Orient.  A friend quietly pulled me aside and told me in a polite, helpful, and instructive way that Oriental is considered offensive and the proper term to use these days is Asian.  I was glad to hear this as I had no intention, whatsoever, of being offensive.   I was also completely unaware of this change.  I never got the memo.
I wrote in a blog piece recently about gay marriage and kind of did a logical extension that if gay marriages are now cool, why not polygamy?  In that piece, I wrote “The majority, not all that long ago considered it [gay marriage] an abomination against God.  Now?  It is not.  Whoever decides what God thinks simply changed their view.”  I never got that God changed His mind memo either.  
Maybe I don’t get the religious memos because I am some kind of heretic, the kind of sacrilegious soul who believes that God is probably very consistent and it is men that change their view of what God says to suit their own social and political agendas.  Gee, if I were them, I would not be sending me any memos either.  Maybe I just don’t like the idea of people telling me what God thinks when telling me such is strictly for their own benefit.
I was debating whether to actually write about this not getting the memo idea, after all, it is just a slogan.  Is the phrase that popular, is it important, would anyone actually care to read about it?  Then two days ago, I was walking to a meeting with two IT guys.  One of them, Tom, told me, “I guess you didn’t get the memo.”  I was marveling at the sign from the aforementioned divine giving me the green light on this month’s letter topic so much, that I had no clue what Tom was talking about.  He pointed out that we were all wearing brown slacks and wearing sweater vests.  Their vests were navy blue.  Mine was maroon.  In this case, I got neither the memo nor the innuendo.
When Facebook was first becoming popular, my children were in high school and college.   When people my age were just starting to sign on and inviting me to do so, I asked both children what they thought about me joining Facebook.   Aram and Armene both sent me very clear memos stating that it was unacceptable for me to join.  My son went on to say that if I joined he would be obliged to terminate his account.  OK, that was pretty clear.  I had no problem complying as Facebook was truly the realm of the young back then.  Since then, Facebook has gone main-stream to become the primary social interaction site for many people threatening to make social email addresses obsolete.  Facebook has become a primary internet marketing vehicle for many businesses.  I guess it is OK for me to sign up now.  My kids, however, never sent me that memo giving me the green light.  If they did, I never got it.
I recently took a trip to New Jersey.  As I went by plane, I had the opportunity to go through security and experience, once again, the joys of that experience.  My routine is to be prepared by putting all metal objects in my briefcase keeping only my ID and boarding pass.  I placed everything on the conveyor for inspection.  As I was about to go through the metal detector, I took out my boarding pass to show to the agent.  On the outbound flight, the lady told me “we no longer require you to show your boarding pass at this point.”  I replied “Thank you” and thought “hmmm... I did not get that memo.”  On the return flight, I put the boarding pass in my briefcase.  At the same point, the agent asked to see my boarding pass?!  I said, “I was told by another agent that this was no longer required.”  He replied, “That is not the case.”  Either he didn’t get the memo, or the other agent made up the contents of a memo that never existed.  I would be more confused except that the TSA is involved and somehow that makes this all explainable.
The question is, why am I not getting the memos?  First off, it could be that I am, in fact, expecting a memo.  This mode of communication has most definitely been supplanted by emails.  So I rephrase, why am I not getting these emails regarding changes in appropriate politically correct vocabulary, changes in style and fashion, and religious dogma?  Is it because I have so many email addresses?  Is it going to spam?  Am I not keeping up with my correspondence?  Am I just a moron... oops... I mean stupid er... mentally challenged... OK then... special?  
See I am clearly not getting the memos.
Sometimes I get one memo but fail to get the follow-up that negates the first.  I remember when eggs were all but taboo.  I got a memo saying something about that they were laden with cholesterol and should not be eaten unless one wanted to be a social outcast and treated as a kind of dietary leper.  Then, I have no clue when, eggs were all of a sudden incredible and edible.  I never got that second memo even though several people have pointed out that I must have simply by virtue of using the words:  incredible and edible.  I have no clue what they mean by that.  I suspect I may have gotten this memo and forgotten all about it.  (Memo to self, try to remember to write a blog piece on... what was it?   Oh yeah, memory.)
Sticking with the food theme, the same thing has happened with coffee.  It’s good for you.  It is really bad for you.  It won’t hurt you in moderation.  This is an interesting case, I have been getting these memos but they simply confuse the heck out of me.  Drink coffee?  Don’t drink coffee.  If you must drink, avoid caffeine and drink only de-caff.  Avoid de-caff at all costs.  Sheesh.  It makes my head spin.  In this case, I actually ignore the memos, throw them all in the trash can, and continue to drink a few cups of coffee a day.
Most of the memos I never get are fashion related pure and simple.  I never got the memo letting me know that wearing expensive jeans and a dressy shirt with big flowery embroidery is acceptable for any social engagement.  Heck, I don’t even know where to buy such shirts.  That information must have been in the memo.   I somehow got the memos that ties were passé, I guess the flowery embroidery replaces the design flair men’s fashion used to get from ties.  
I wear baseball caps practically year round for all but the dressiest occasions.  Judging from the comments of others this fad may well have passed peaked and I never got the memo.    Sunglasses used to be big and then they got smaller and narrow.  They have kind of become big again.  I never got either of those memos.
Sometimes I get the memo but it just confuses me.  Our company email is Google based.  It used to have a separate sign-in page complete with our company logo.  It worked very well.  Sometime last year, Google decided to incorporate all emails in to the same standard Google sign-on and applications.  Sounds great.  It did not work for me for some reason.  As we actually pay Google an annual fee for our own email addresses and system, we get support.  There is no 800 number or anything.  Everything is done by email.  They sent me an email explaining how to fix things and move forward.  I have read that email several times and simply feel... um... incompetent which is even worse than being confused.  I would have provided an excerpt of the email but for fear that everyone but me would understand it.
We wrote back the Google people saying their email was confusing.  They sent an email back apologizing and telling me exactly what to do.  The explanation was marginally more understandable, at least enough that I thought I knew what to do.  So, I proceeded to execute the instructions.  The results?  I think the proper word to explain this is the Yiddish word - bupkis.
Who writes these memos?  When do they write them?  Who keeps the database of recipients?  How are they sent?  Is there a big building that houses an organization dedicated to crafting and sending these memos to all but the likes of me?  Do people get degrees in memo writing?  If so, what universities offer such courses and degrees?  Simply, I am not in the loop of this entire process.  Maybe I am not as smart as I think.  I have heard murmurs that the memos are actually secretly transmitted in TV shows, embedded in newspaper and magazine articles.  I probably should watch American Idol, Survivor, and Dancing with the Stars.   It is all right there in front of me and I may be just too thick headed to see the veritable writing on the wall or video monitor.
Surely as we age there is a real risk of hardening.  Certainly, we all know of the hardening of the arteries.  But there is a mental hardening as well.  Our attitudes, vocabulary, and way of looking at things can also settle and harden. We get stuck in our ways.  We eschew change.   While, I think that I am open and amenable to change, certain changes just irritate me to no end.  I hate the constant upgrading of software on my laptop.  I really hate ERP system upgrades and the chaos caused by new versions and new modules.  See how thick and hardened I have become?  Perhaps, these ethereal memos are wafting their way to me and just bouncing off of my hardened sensibility and fall by the wayside.
Speaking of hardening of the mindset, I truly believe people become resistant to change.  I am not against progress, life today is full of many wonderful tools and technologies that make life easier.  Part of me just wishes that we could just keep some things just the way they are.  I kind of enjoy things like newspapers, books, and music.  I liked music when records and radio were the only real formats available to me.  I embraced cassette tapes though I never did like the very concept of 8-track tapes.  I saw the value in CDs which finally provided a format that did not wear out.  Now, with the digital mp3 and mp4 players, I can carry all my music with me wherever I go.  Each change was amazing but also kind of a pain in learning something new, buying the music all over again in the new format, or transferring everything over to the new format.  In these kinds of cases, I want to issue a memo back to all saying I have to approve of every new change.  My growing resistance to such change sometimes makes me feel old.
Going back to the first example, I actually never meant anything bad by using the word Oriental.  I never even took it as anything negative.  There are negative terms that people use when referring to Asians.  I have seen the World War II and Vietnam War movies.  I worked in the auto industry when the Japanese were kicking our behinds.  I really never use any of those words.  When referring to the peoples of the Asian countries, I used a word that I had heard in polite society and school growing up:  Oriental.  I even knew that Europeans and Americans (the kind that emigrated from Europe) were referred to as Occidental.  The terms are Latin in origin.  Orient meaning to rise, i.e. where the sun rises, in the east.  Occident means to fall or set.  The sun sets in the west.   The terms were, I believed, innocuous.  I believe the memo on not using Occident came out well before I was born.  How is it, I even know this term?  Perhaps it is this bit of pun phrase:

Columbus discovered the New World by Occident

Needless to say, I had to Google the title of this piece:  I Didn’t Get the Memo.  The number one hit was from  The definition provided there is “To be or to remain uninformed, especially about something that is common knowledge to everyone else.”  Well I seem to have gotten that memo as that is pretty close to how I would define it.  The website even tried to entice me to buy items with the phrase “didn’t get the memo” or the entire definition.  There were coffee cups, beer steins, t-shirts, bumper stickers, hats, and even greeting cards.   Will I buy any of them?  Nah...
I close by asking all of you to do me a favor if you would.  Henceforth, when you get one of these memos forward it to me.  I would be most appreciative.

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