This Isn’t Your Living Room and Its Not Mine Either

I love movies. I the dark theater and the sense of anticipation right before the movie starts. I love the communal feeling, of experiencing something in a crowd that makes everyone laugh or cry (or just get misty) or scream. I love when you are walking out of a just finished great movie and you look at a total stranger and you see in that person’s eyes that he or she just had the same experience as you and you know that you both understand that something meaningful just took place. Watching a great movie is one of the pleasures of life. Still, I rarely go to the movies anymore.

I have many problems with going to the movies. For one, it’s impossible to know beforehand if the movie is going to be satisfying or not. I hate to sound like an old crank, but movies in New York are expensive and it’s disappointing to spend the money and then leave dissatisfied. But this never used to bother me, so what changed?

I think people changed. People now think its okay to talk during the movie as if they are in their own living room. They think its okay to put their feet on the back of your seat or kick your seat. They think its okay to make a lot of noise opening the packages of food that they smuggled in from outside the theater. In general, the behavior of the movie-going public has deteriorated to the point that I’m tense from the moment I sit down in the theater. I’m looking and listening before the movie starts, trying to figure out from where the problems are going to come. Maybe its confirmation bias, but it seems like the problems always come.

Another issue  is that watching movies at home has never been easier or more enjoyable. Movies are available on cable (on demand or at air time), or from the ether through Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, iTunes and no doubt a number of other services. And our TVs are much bigger now. My smallest TV (33″) may be embarrassingly small by today’s standards but it is significantly bigger than any previous TV that I owned. The picture quality in the movies I watch is HD. Plus, I still get all the other benefits of being at home that I always had; I can put my feet where I want, talk when I want (until the wife shushes me), I can pause the movie to use the bathroom or to get food or to send an important text. I miss the magic of the theater but there is a version of that magic in the home now.

The other great thing about watching at home is that the stakes are much lower. By not trying to make sure that I spend my movie money wisely, I am spared having to expose myself to the movie hype machine. I don’t need a bunch of articles and commercials and reviewers and friends telling me how great a movie is, raising my expectations to an unreasonable level. I can go into most movies with a clean slate, with little expectations. My wife and I recently watched two really good movies, “The Secret in Their Eyes” and “Dogtooth”. I had not heard of either movie and I recognized a total of one actor from the two movies combined. It didn’t matter. I watched “Red Road” a couple months ago, same thing. I started watching these movies with little to no expectation and was rewarded.

I’m not sure that I’ll ever completely stop going to the movies. At some point you want to join in the conversation, even if it means sitting through a movie like “Avatar”. Sometimes I want to be part of a community. The good thing is that watching a movie at home no longer means that you’re not part of a community. Thanks to the internet, a community is only always seconds away.

All the Others Are So Much Easier to Bear

We are all a number of different people at the same time. There’s who we think we are, who we want to be, who we want others to think we are, etc. Sometimes these things are aligned but most of the time there are differences between these various parts of ourselves. It is these differences that lead us to form friendships. We all have the need to reveal who we really are and a need for acceptance of that person.

A close friend of mine feels that technology is changing the nature of friendship. She feels that things like Facebook and Twitter are removing the impetus for people to interact face to face, and that losing this interaction makes friendships less meaningful.

When Facebook launched in 2004, I was 34 years old, married and living with my wife in an apartment we owned. I suppose that I was not in the target demographic for Facebook. I was old enough to have grown up in a time in which you didn’t keep people informed of everything you thought or did. I was also (and still am) happily married, so tracking down old lovers was not of interest to me. I don’t need to be on Facebook for business reasons. In sum, I can’t think of a single good reason to get on Facebook while I can think of plenty of reasons not to (including old lovers trying to find me).

Even though its not for me, I do believe in the possibility of friendship through Facebook or Twitter or other social media. A friend is someone you can tell what you really think, reveal who you really think you are. The only consequence of social media is that maybe the boundary between you private and public self is breaking down. Is this a bad thing? After all, wouldn’t we all be better off if we could live our lives as openly and honestly as possible? I think maybe it could be but I also wonder about unintended consequences of all this. I continue to stay off Facebook.

It Seems Simple

As has been continually reported, albeit not comprehended, the biggest problem with the US Federal budget is that even if it was decided that all discretionary, non-security spending be eliminated, the budget could not be balanced. This is important because the current debate in the US Congress about whether to cut spending by $61 billion, as advocated by the Republicans, or by $10 billion is almost meaningless. The real debate needs to center around the proverbial third rail of US politics, namely entitlement reform.

What I don’t understand, is why is this subject so taboo? As others have pointed out, the two major entitlement programs, Social Security and Medicare were established when life expectancy for men and women in the US was much lower than it is now. Men now live approximately eight years longer and women approximately six years longer than was the case in 1965 when Medicare was created. The difference is more pronounced since 1935 when Social Security was created, with men living approximately 15 years longer and women 16 years. It is clear that circumstances have changed since those laws were passed.

Measures have been taken on Social Security. The age at which a qualified person can receive full benefits has increased in steps up to 67 for those us who were born after 1960. This is reasonable but insufficient. When Social Security was established, people on average didn’t reach 65. Now will all live with the dream of ten to fifteen years of retirement. I don’t want to have to work past (or even up to) 67, but I assume that I won’t be able to draw full Social Security benefits until I pass 67. For younger people, retirement is so far away and so much less interesting than their current lives, I can’t imagine that many of them will balk at the age of full Social Security benefits being pushed back from 67. After all, you can still retire at any age; this just affects getting Social Security benefits.

With Medicare, the eligibility age is still pegged at 65. I’m not sure what sense this makes. Why can’t Medicare eligibility be pushed back as Social Security eligibility has? I’m not advocating changing benefits for those who are already receiving benefits or even for those who are close to receiving benefits (60 years old +). But what about people in my age group, people who are still more than twenty years away from qualifying for Medicare. Tacking on a few years isn’t really going to affect me much at this point.

Part of the solution with both of these programs is changing the eligibility age. Why can’t this be done? Who is going to object to this? Both parties are waiting to make a proposal on entitlement reform, no doubt waiting for the other party to go first so that they can criticize. (It’s always easier to destroy than create.) But what exactly is at risk? Normally, a logical point of view on an issue like this is unattractive to conservatives, but this is an idea that they conceptually support. (Republicans with nothing at stake in this like Governor Christie of New Jersey have already weighed in on this.) As this could lead to a real solution in the structural problems with the federal budget, why isn’t anyone taking the lead?

I’m sure someone could tell me what I’m missing. I’m just puzzled and wondering; what don’t I understand?