Everything old is new again l Chuck's World


Last updated 6/5/2019 at Noon

One cold winter’s day, wearing a bulky coat, I walked down a grocery store aisle and my sleeve brushed a display of wine glasses.

There wasn’t enough contact to cause breakage. The metal snaps on my coat just nudged the glass, producing a clear “ping” sound, and everyone in the aisle immediately reached for their phones.

I didn’t say which day this happened. Or which winter, for that matter.

It was many years ago, in fact, back in a time when we were just beginning to be bombarded with bells and beeps coming from devices we carried around. I’ve told the story a few times. I just wondered if it still was funny. I don’t think so. Sorry.

We became desensitized to the sights and sounds of new technology quickly, I think. What was once intrusive and annoying has just become part of the aural landscape, another noise to ignore.

It’s harder not to notice people who talk on their phones in the store, although it’s interesting how that turned out not to be a huge problem. It’s irritating to listen to someone else’s loud, one-sided conversation (or worse, someone using the speakerphone) in a public place when you just want to buy spaghetti and milk, but the truth is I rarely see it anymore.

There are now more smart phones in this country than people. We just don’t use them to talk to each other, or not most of us, not most of the time. The noise pollution some of us envisioned, everyone talking at once, never happened.

And while I see people shopping while using their phones, all the time, it rarely occurs to me that they’re doing exactly what I’m doing, which is checking a shopping list. I carry around a device with more computing power than most laptops, worth over $1,000, and I use it as a notebook.

I also sometimes stick it in my mouth when I’m washing my hands and have no pockets. I’m not really proud of that.

We do a lot of perfectly ordinary things with very fancy stuff now. I’ve spent a fair amount of time over the past few months sitting in hospital waiting rooms, for example. Someone always asks if I bring a book. This baffles me, since there are a dozen books on my phone on any given day, and hundreds of others I could download to read.

I understand that people have preferences, but an e-book is still a book, just words to be read. It comes in handy when your bookshelves overflow and your eyes weaken, but reading is hardly new.

And if I don’t want to read, I listen to podcasts, and podcasts are just radio.

I’ve been listening to these things since before the era of smart phones, in fact, loading them onto a castoff iPod for walks around the neighborhood. I’m always reminded of doing essentially the same thing when I was a kid and had a transistor radio, and then a Walkman in the 1970s.

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People don’t seem to share podcasts, or not in the way they suggest movies or television shows. This is just as well, I think, one less recommendation in a world of them, all supposedly necessary and urgent. I’m grateful, although I have no idea which friends like to listen to podcasts and which don’t.

Brian Nissen does, I know. I heard him say so, but then this was on his own podcast. It made sense.

If you were a parent of young children in the 1990s or later, you might be familiar with Brian. Back in those days, when trips to the video store were routine, Brian Nissen’s work was always on display. Does “The Swan Princess” ring a bell? He wrote and narrated that, along with a bunch of sequels and other animated films. He’s written over 100 screenplays.

I met Brian in college, when we were cast in a play together. I met his future wife, Maria, at about the same time. I lost track of him for years, although I’d occasionally hear about his adventures in Hollywood.

By the time we reconnected, he’d moved with his family to Arizona, and on one trip half a dozen years ago, he and I met for a nice conversation and some reminiscing.

Last week we had another, when he asked me to join his podcast as a guest. This was “Story Babble,” a weekly show that Brian and his longtime friend, Mark Arnett, both writers (they wear other hats), host to discuss the art of telling stories, from breaking down a screenplay to getting that initial spark of inspiration.

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There are nearly a million podcasts currently available, and I suspect the vast majority have fewer than a dozen listeners, if that many. There’s usually a good reason for that. It’s about as easy to start a podcast as to start a blog. There’s no gatekeeper anymore, no one to pass judgment on an idea before it goes any further. If you’re 14 years old and you want to start a podcast about your love for Sonic the Hedgehog, you can certainly do that. I might not listen.

And you might not listen to “Story Babble,” although I’ll recommend it anyway (https://storybabble.com). I’ll show up on it one of these days, and it was fun to talk with my friend.

I used my phone and everything, just like old times.


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