Water cooler politics: Ally Mcbeal vs. Playstation

How do you handle conversations at the office water cooler when you don’t know what’s going on? The girl who sits two cubicles over from me asked how my weekend was, so I told her about the clan match I had – getting a blank stare in return. She doesn’t ask what a clan is, she just goes back to working. I went to the lunchroom where 3 other people were casually chatting, and one of the guys who works in production starts talking about the last episode of Ally McBeal – I’m lost. It starts to occur to me… maybe I’m a bit out of the loop?

Office politics go right over my head. I found out that someone was nearly fired last week, only because the guy who was nearly fired said to me, “So, you heard about what happened,” assuming that I, like everyone else in the company, knew. I looked at him blankly for a minute before I responded, “Umm… no. what happened?” He was beyond surprised that I didn’t know about it, since everyone knew. The whole conversation drove home just how little I have in common with my co-workers, if I don’t even know the office gossip…

And yet, strike up a conversation about the news on upcoming video card technology or game releases, and I can hold my own. And I keep up on all the latest news on the export of Playstation 2’s from Japan, when they’ll be available, what problems are showing up, and so on, and I can give anyone who asks all the scoop. Do you suppose anyone has ever asked? Of course not, games are for kids. Ask me about current events, upcoming elections, how the leafs are doing in the playoffs (being in Toronto, this is a big deal,) and I want to ask “are the leafs still in the playoffs??”

The few shows that I know I like to watch, I miss. I try to remember, I really do, but that feeling when I’m really involved in a game and what’s happening on my computer takes over my awareness, and by the time I remember that I wanted to see this week’s episode of the Simpsons, the show has been over for 2 hours, and I’ve missed it again. I wonder, am I the only one? I haven’t watched television in what feels like years – I even cancelled cable when I realized that I hadn’t switched it on in a month.

April 22nd – 30th was TV turnoff week (as well as sweeps week.) People around me were commenting that there was no way they could go without TV for a week, especially during sweeps, or that they would do their best to avoid the reflex of switching the television on for company when they got home. Some of my friends were horrified by the idea. In honour of the event, and so that I wouldn’t feel too left out, I switched my TV on just so I could say that I turned it off. I do have a television. It’s a pretty piece of furniture that I won in grade two, and frightfully enough still works. It has doors that close and make it look like a wooden cabinet – you’d never know there was a television hidden inside. I rent movies from time to time, but rarely try to aim the rabbit ears properly for “Who wants to be a millionaire.” It’s not that I don’t like television shows… I just forget that they exist as a form of entertainment. And it’s not just TV that I’m missing, it seems – if you don’t watch television, then how do you know what constitutes a fashion faux pas?

I stepped off the streetcar a few days ago on the way to work, and happened to overhear the conversation going on five steps ahead of me. With a laugh, one woman said to another, “Oh, no… white pants before May 24th is fine, it’s white shoes you can’t wear!” I paused, glancing at the shoes I had started wearing as soon as the snow was off the ground… you guessed it: white. I nearly felt shame, until I realized that the colour of my shoes just didn’t matter, since I was also wearing a pastel green t-shirt that said “inspiration ’89″ – a shirt my older sister had given me in 1992 because it was too out of style for her. I made sure I changed into something a little less pastel when I went out with friends to a book launch that night.

At the bar where the book launch was being held, myself and a friend were discussing some of our other mutual friends using only their online nicknames. From the surreptitious glances people at the table next to us were tossing our way, we might have been speaking a different language… and maybe we were. There is an entirely new vocabulary for when you’re talking about anything computer, internet, or gaming related, and there are some places where such conversation seems a bit out of place. When the conversation turned to a comparison of various weapons used in computer games, the looks got a little more nervous… I guess it’s not every day that two girls at a book launch converse openly about the merits of an AK47 over an MP5 in close quarter combat. I think we both got a kick out of the looks we were getting, though, because neither of us got self-conscious about it, and at points we seemed to go out of our way to talk just a little bit louder, to make sure we were being heard.

The same sorts of things happen with my boyfriend Jay and I when we go out together. A few nights ago, we were having dinner at the local homestyle fish & chips greasy spoon restaurant (complete with ‘cash only’ sign at the register) and somehow the conversation turned to a discussion of Counterstrike map tactics for the scrim we were scheduled to play later that night. You would think that we were seriously planning a hostile invasion, if you were to eavesdrop for a little while (well, actually, we were planning a hostile invasion).

I visited a few websites dedicated to discussions, and found a few conversational threads on politics and current events. I read for a while, and realized that I had absolutely nothing to contribute… I didn’t know anything about this Cuban boy everyone was talking about, or what was going on with the Election for the US Presidency (last I heard, Bob Dole was running…) I tried the television threads, where they were discussing a show I’d never even heard of. Finally, I just gave up and went to music. At least I know what’s going on in that part of the entertainment industry, mostly, since I have to know it for work.

My primary news and entertainment source is the Internet. I read gaming sites for news on upcoming games, I get emails to let me know about upcoming film releases. I read the music related sites for research at work (and because I love music). I download trailers of movies I might want to see from the net, and check out the funniest TV commercials (avoiding all the bad ones in the process) at AdCritic.com. I have learned some things from my complete lack of exposure to the media beyond what the net offers… if I want to be part of the watercooler conversations, then I have to nod and smile… a lot.

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