Downsides of technology

Much has been lauded about technology and I won’t deny that its development has brought so many benefits to modern life, some that I can’t imagine being without. But we have probably heard and known enough about all the good things that technology has delivered so it’s really meaningless to continue praising it here.

Technology has its downsides as well, which many of us probably also know and acknowledge. By doing so, it doesn’t mean that I’m deploring technology or being unappreciative of the convenience enjoyed as a result of technology. It just means that perhaps we have to be mindful of it, and understand that technology should be a means, something like a slave, rather than master, of our lives.

Too often, I have witnessed and experienced, social situations such as gatherings, dinners or the likes, where instead of engaging the people seated face-to-face with them, people are busily tapping away at their smart phone screens, whether scrolling through Facebook news feeds, Whatsapping their friends, checking their emails, or otherwise. It is absolutely pointless that a group are seated physically together at a table yet their minds and focuses are elsewhere. Kudos to technology for enabling us to communicate with people across geographic locations, obliterating the distances in-between. Yet we can’t fault technology but how human behaviour has evolved to lack the consideration of “face-time”. Sometimes I have been exasperated enough to ask pointedly at my lunch/coffee/dinner partners if the issue is so urgent that their digital conversations have to take precedence over the face-to-face chats. Mostly, they will absentmindedly wave you off while they continue texting their friends.

Mobile phones and tablets should really be banned during such occasions but how many actually have the discipline and courtesy to practise this? I can be very absorbed in my phone too, I won’t deny that. But those are usually times when I have nothing better to do, for example whiling time away when waiting for someone or during the daily commute. I try to make it a point not to keep checking my phone or stow it away when I’m out with someone, unless it gets to the stage where my presence is redundant.

It’s just annoying. And plain rude.

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No time or just not a priority?

I read something on Dayre some time back, which set me thinking about familiar conversations; when we ask people out they always have numerous reasons to explain their apparently busy lives where they are unable to find time for a meet up. In most cases, it also isn’t like the person who takes the initiative to ask has all the time in the world, but the difference lies in making an effort to arrange and schedule appointments and commitments so as to meet up with friends.

The writer of the Dayre post put it simply, that the sad truth is that you are just not a priority to the person.

Then the other day, I attended a course where the instructor was lamenting about the proliferation of smart devices that have led to the dearth of face-to-face relationships. Sure, we have such things called “Facetime”, but what is really lost now is the real ‘face-time’. With a variety of instant messaging apps at our disposal, we don’t even call each other to talk nowadays, much least meet up physically. He went on to give an account of how his Whatsapp function was down and his friends/contacts ended up having to default to SMS, which they then started complaining because text messages (through SMS) are not free for some people. He asked us (and his friends), that if what they wanted to convey to him, or sending him a text message, isn’t worth that 10-cent, then probably the message wasn’t that important after all, or that he just is not worth them spending 10 cents to link up. Makes sense?

So really, if someone else doesn’t value us, the effort that we make, the time that we want to invest into maintaining the relationship, then do we still want to try and hit our heads against a brick wall once more?

 

Renovation woes

Life is indeed a journey. Nobody forewarned me about the potential frustration and grieve that renovating a home would entail.

Instinct would have told me to pick the easy way out, as I was always inclined to when it comes to things I am unfamiliar with. After all, it is easier to have someone ‘in-the-know’ so to speak, to handle everything right? But after some suasion from the family, I chose the more challenging route. What is life without some challenges to make us grow tougher and stronger… no? It was as if life wasn’t already tough enough that I had to make this choice. On hindsight, we all have perfect vision. However, we seldom have the benefit of hindsight upfront.

My flat’s renovation is probably one of the longest ever heard. What was supposed to be a simple retrofitting of a small apartment became a massive case of project and people management, for me. I suck as a project manager in things that I haven’t a clue about, because much as I am supposed to exercise ‘professional skepticism’ as part of my job, it really isn’t me to question the intent of everyone I meet. I tend to put on rose-tinted glasses and assume that everyone has a good heart.

After what seemed like forever, the part of the renovation undertaken by the contractor/ID is drawing to an end. So the story was that I split up the works, some of it outsourced to a contractor/ID who is supposed to be a friend of a relative, and the rest of it done ‘in-house’ by my dad, the most trust-worthy contractor you can ever find, honest to goodness.

Although this is supposed to be an ID of sorts, what they really did was the carpentry work, and some odds and ends. They didn’t really do much design, as it ended up that in terms of colour scheme, where to do what and how, it was mostly from me. And when they told me that everything is done, this was what we found in the kitchen.On the left of this panel is a set of cabinets overhanging the sink. To the right is where the cooker hood is, and because I have a chimney, I was told that typically the chimney isn’t covered so they just left the top over the hob empty, with the backsplash covering the wall up to where the hood hung. The rest was just the grout-filled-with-grime tiles, offering a stark contrast between the old and new. And they left this panel as it was. My relative insisted to the ID that this is unacceptable, even if the bulk of the work we are getting them to do is carpentry, the cabinets would have involved a bit of design, which covers aesthetics. This was just aesthetically displeasing.

Below was another hiccup. There was a stove top that I had wanted to replace and put in new cabinets, so part of the work of the contractor was to hack away the stove top. I wanted to change the tiles for the whole unit, which the contractor quoted a fee for that my dad deemed too pricey (by his standards). So since that wasn’t rocket science, he got one of his friends to do it, which was eventually completed at a much lower cost and just within 2 days (washrooms and kitchen). Because this task was carved out from the contractor’s original quote, they stated that flooring/tiling is not part of their responsibility, and so whatever resulted or was left behind by them when the stove top was hacked off and removed also was not their duty.
This, they said, was something I had to mend/patch back. Thankfully, my relative managed to pull some weight with her friend (who is the owner of the firm and not the project manager by the way) and they settled it, along with the first boo-boo above where they covered up the offending panel to complement the look of the cabinets.

There were still other things that have cropped up during the renovation phase that made me want to throw in the towel and give up. But what can I do? I couldn’t just forfeit whatever has been paid and get a brand new contractor. Plus the fact that I already had caused some strain within the family because this contractor was supposed to be a friend of my relative. I didn’t want to make matters worse, and for some things, they were deemed ‘OK’ by my relative so I had to therefore compromise…

Lesson learned – I should just have stuck to my gut instinct at the start and got someone else to do the work instead. It might have been cleaner and more straightforward.

building castles in the air

 

This year, the birthday came and went like that. Well, each year it comes and goes but for all these years I have always entertained superfluous thoughts in my mind about how I would wish for the day to pan out. Not every year but in some years. I don’t know if it was a result of books that I read or shows that I watched in my growing up years where to me, birthdays are special occasions where one will have a small group of close-knit friends, or just one or two pals who would make it truly special for the birthday person on that day. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate celebration since as the adage goes, it is the thought that counts, and it is the thought that goes into making the day extraordinary as a birthday.

Thinking such thoughts only sets me up on a course of disappointment for being unrealistic. It is ironic how some have asked about how I spent my birthday or wishes have come in the form of text messages that follow with a “Hope you have/had a great day!” depending on if the wish was belated or not. I wondered how they would have reacted, if they would, if I had replied with a “It was not great, in fact, it was worse than if it were just another day.” Text exchanges save them the awkwardness if such a response was sent from me, and it wouldn’t serve any purpose either because that appended sentence was just an afterthought to the “Happy (belated) birthday”, perhaps to make the message look more complete. I admit that I am as well guilty of sending such messages, but to different people it will probably appear differently.

So each year I just stay optimistic until the actual day swings by and go by. Each year, I seem to make myself feel more disappointed, if that was even possible. It was funny how making my birthday invisible on Facebook shows how reliant friends are on Facebook reminders and notifications. I don’t mind that some people don’t remember because I don’t expect them to and I probably don’t make it a point to remember their birthdays as well. But there are/were close friends who totally did not even make an effort to remember. I suppose because we drift apart, or we don’t meet up anymore, which is a good reason to delete any cache memory that was used to store such information?

For the record, one of my friends did invite me over to her place to spend my birthday together with her. But I was just lazy to make the trip. I chose to wallow in self-pity, which I have been told I shouldn’t and which I know it too. It does not help a single thing and it does not change a single thing. People not caring won’t start to care just because I am feeling lousy that they don’t bother. It only makes me reluctantly accept that this is just how life is. Seeing pictures posted on Facebook by friends who shared the same birthday having friends celebrate with them made it feel like having salt sprinkled on open smarting wounds, but that is the downside of social media that has to be accepted if I’m not ready to cut the use of it.

Maison Kayser, Wheelock Place… What a shame

I really love the baked goods of Maison Kayser, and I have one particular favourite which I give myself a treat to on-and-off, the Pain aux Noix (walnut bread). I enjoy breads that are not too soft, and that contain nuts or grains because the added texture and chewiness makes eating more fun in a way, not to mention that they also give more dimension to the taste.

This evening, after my class was over, I thought I’d try my luck at the Wheelock Place outlet to check if they are still open, and if so I’d buy a Pain aux Noix, or maybe just something, for breakfast tomorrow. My class is supposed to end at 9:45pm but my teacher usually makes us stay a little longer because there’s just too much to cover. But it was still before 10pm when I got there, and was slightly dismayed that the lights in the display cases were already off, signalling that they were closed for the day. But I saw that there were still loaves being displayed in the darkened cases, and there was a staff milling behind them, so a shimmer of hope raised in me.

I approached the counter and tried with a few “Excuse Me”s that got ignored, until the female staff member looked up from what she was doing and saw me. She was in the midst of emptying the baskets of breads into a large trash bag, so I asked “Are you closed?” to which she responded “Yes” and continued with her action, despite that I was actually interested to buy something. Right in front of my eyes, with Pain aux Noix still available, she took them all and threw all the contents of the trays into the trash bag.

I was really disappointed and angry that they would rather throw away food items that are still edible and good and could be sold to me. I know they have already closed the till for the day, but they could always just make a sale and put it into the next day’s takings, couldn’t they? Or she could have offered a more polite decline instead a curt “Yes” before trashing the loaves. To look at this in a positive way, she was probably sticking to rules and procedures to not sell anything after the cashier has been closed, and that she did not take the chance to sell something and pocket the money since it isn’t recorded (but to these youngsters these days, $3.40 probably isn’t worth their effort to pilfer anyway), but it was just in extremely bad taste and poor customer service.

As much as I really enjoy Maison Kayser’s breads, I have only ever encountered very limited instances of good customer service from their staff manning the takeaway counters. In the service line, or F&B for that matter, it doesn’t matter if it is a $3.40 bun that someone is buying or a $10 sandwich, you still accord them the same service, don’t you? I don’t know if it’s attributable to the lack of proper training or the transient nature of such jobs that are usually staffed by part-timers who do not give a damn about building a good brand image to which customer service is a fundamental building block. But the sad state of customer service in Singapore is something that just never seem to change, although there are some places that do indeed serve up good customer experience, such as for instance, Starbucks.

Sift Patisserie, Hong Kong

This is the second time I’ve visited Sift, and the only one I’d ever been to even though they have outlets elsewhere in Hong Kong that are probably more convenient. But it is a convenient stop along the way as I make my way from the top levels of Horizon Plaza downwards. Usually that is how I proceed, take the lift up to the highest floor and start my way downwards on the stairs, until I reach perhaps level 18 or 17 and then take the lift either all the way down to the ground level or stop on level 5 where the IT outlet is. Again on this trip, I didn’t buy anything. I don’t know why I still visit Horizon Plaza despite that I never seem to be able to get anything even though everyone seems to love that place and emerge with great buys. I think I am a scrooge, so that even at discounted prices, the designer togs, shoes and accessories still seem pricey to me. Oh, and for most of them I can’t find my size either. I’ve actually bought stuff at the SPACE outlet that is a short distance away from Horizon Plaza but on the last trip I skipped it because there wasn’t enough time.

Sift serves really nice cupcakes in sizes that are too sinful, especially when it is shared. This is probably red velvet, and the best thing about it is that the top is most likely frosted cream cheese, like those used on carrot cakes and not sweet icing sugar. Whether it is less sinful or not I don’t know but it definitely tastes nicer.

20140107-230135.jpgThis would go very well with a cup of coffee.

My vacation in December was so short that I didn’t really feel like I had any proper break. Right now, I’m still missing the idea of holidaying and part of me is already missing the prospect of travel. These days, I’d wonder if I’d made a wrong choice and if there will be any room for regrets. Much as I try hard to keep the positivity and optimism high, it is definitely an effort to do so as I struggle to stay afloat and combat the stress of uncertainty and not knowing. Sigh.

Too many random thoughts darting about in the realm of my mind. I guess this is going to be another sleepless night. When will I ever get a sound night of slumber.

the dearth of communication

Due to advent of smart phones and the proliferation of instant messaging applications like Whatsapp, and all the rest that followed like Viber, Line, what-have-you, I find that we are gradually going into an age where face-to-face, heart-to-heart conversations are slowly dying out.

Maybe it is me, being a relic in this digital age, unwilling to progress with the pace of technology, but part of me really enjoys the old-fashioned things of the past. Granted that I no longer spend hours on the phone like I did when I was in school, because I really find holding the ear-piece to my ear a chore and it burns my ear, I think I still like the idea of seeing a person when I talk to him or her. It is all the subtleties of body language, facial expressions, the small gestures and nuances that mere words and emoticons on the phone cannot even begin to capture and transmit.

Days when I am in a good mood and start a chat over Whatsapp, or try to convey some deep serious thought or emotion to a friend, only to have everything fall flat with the lackluster response that comes back. It is a kill joy, to say the least, and as I lament about this I know too that I am just as guilty of it because I am not always in the best of mood or in the best conversational frame of mind when I craft a reply and hit “Send”.

There are times when I refrain from using my phone when I am with my friends physically because why should I be engrossed and sucked into the digital world when I have a living, breathing person seated right across from me? Yet it is so often that I get sidelined by a phone and various threads of communication going on in the digital realm through it that makes me want to get up and walk away. Maybe even when that happens, the action will go unnoticed.