Op-Ed

Op-Ed
You Finally Really Did It!

Russ Pitts | 18 Dec 2006 10:00
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imageOn Tuesday I had a moment of weakness.

I'd been writing for a little over 12 hours straight (on various projects) and at about midnight or so I decided I needed to take a break and step away from the computer, which, for me, is like convincing my mind to step out of a 10th story window into thin air.

Between the fabulous distraction engine that is the internet and the marvel of modern communication that is email, IM, Skype and all that other crap, the little box has an amazing gravitational force, and tearing myself out of its event horizon is a daily struggle. I closed my eyes, thought of Christmas, took a deep breath and ... stepped away. I opened my eyes - I was still breathing. I had succeeded. Then the only problem I had left was deciding what to do with myself afterward.

I'd returned my Netflixes, cancelled my cable, was a little too drained to pick up the plastic axe and my eyes hurt too much to read a book. I'd have called up a friend if it wasn't midnight (and I actually did that sort of thing). So I was kind of stuck. I paced around the apartment for about 20 minutes or so. I adjusted pictures hanging on the wall, pet the dog, made a post-apocalyptic car chase diorama out of the handful of matchbox cars in the side drawer of my desk and attempted to tidy up the apartment ... I believe people older than myself call this "puttering." I'd just reunited my last pair of stray shoes with its permanent home when I remembered that Microsoft had been offering TV shows on its Live Marketplace service, and that I hadn't yet tried it. So I poured a couple of fingers of scotch, plopped my pimply butt on the sofa and decided to give it a whirl.

A few tedious moments of punching a credit card number into an on-screen keyboard later, my account was 1000 Microsoft points richer, and I was like a kid in a candy store. Unfortunately it was a candy store filled with those rock-sized globs of peanut butter flavored taffy wrapped in orange and black wax paper. I didn't have the time (or so I thought) to watch a movie, I'd already seen most of the episodes available of the TV shows I cared about and there wasn't an impressive list of shows I hadn't seen, but cared to.

I persevered, though, and found an episode of C.S.I. Miami I hadn't yet seen. (I love that show. It's so stupid, it's awesome. And David Caruso is Jack Lord reborn.) After watching that I was hooked, and dug around in some of the darker crannies of the lesser-known cable networks until I finally found It: the discovery which made the whole thing finally click for me and validated what, until that point, had felt like a waste of good puttering time. I found Invader Zim.

More specifically, Episode 8, in which Zim's robot sidekick goes haywire, takes over their secret base and turns into a giant robot dog which then rampages through the city in search of tacos. And burritos.

Zim is the hapless alien invader, whose incompetence is matched only by his delusions of grandeur, and Gir is his slightly-broken sidekick, who more often than not disrupts his master's plans by being playful and dumb. The two are like the binary stars of my personality, distilled to cartoon potency and drawn in fanciful, saturated colors with dialogue written by one of the more sadistically funny minds of our generation. To laugh at Invader Zim is to laugh at my own delusions of self; which is something we could all stand to do from time to time. As Gir would say "It's my favorite show."

imageAs I watched with glee while Gir, valiantly trying to be loyal and obedient, got bored, gave up the fight and began playing with a squeeze toy which would ultimately seal his doom, I couldn't stop laughing, remembering the countless times I'd done the exact same thing. (Minus the doom.)

I have, literally, over a dozen toys on my desk, and regardless of how prolific I may be on any given day, I've stopped at least once per hour to pick up something shiny and play; too bored to work, but with too much energy to rest. Just like on Tuesday, after working 12 hours straight. I should have called it a night, celebrated my productivity and gone to bed, but instead I sat up half the night catching up on old cartoons courtesy of the Xbox Live Video Marketplace.

And that's when the brilliance of Microsoft's Xbox strategy finally hit me (like a squeaky piggy barreling through the vortex of space and time). They've finally done it. They've created a machine that will someday become an indispensable home accessory, just like the PC. An Xbox in every home, under every TV? It sounds far-fetched now, but so did that other prediction, back in the late 70s, when Bill Gates first uttered it.

Microsoft's Live service is doing for entertainment what the home computer did for information: making it possible to access virtually everything, nearly instantly. Thankfully they haven't figured out how to keep it updated. The TV shows are all two or three weeks behind (and falling further each week), and their movie list is growing in dribbles (they'd added two new movies this weekend, from what I could tell). But once they get the kinks worked out, it could be the end of everything. Productivity will cease, pictures will hang crookedly on the walls and dogs will be abandoned.

Apes will rule the Earth. Damn you to hell, Microsoft. Damn you to hell.

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