Real Life is Complicated, Right?

Each Wednesday morning, I sit at my laptop and survey my little corner of the world, looking for a story to tell. I ask myself a simple question. “How much has to happen to you before something occurs to you?”

I favor topics that have local impact, something that may have happened to you but hasn’t yet quite occurred to you. If I can prompt an “Ah Ha!” moment, that’s good. “Ah Ha Ha!” moments are even better. Fun matters. It makes life worth all the trouble.

Occasionally there are disasters that did or will lap into every corner, destined to become local, sooner or later, with nothing fun attached. The BP Oil Spill fits that cataclysm profile. Like it or not, we’re an oil-sopped nation and our pact with industry that oil will remain invisible has been broken.

Television and YouTube help us envision the unimaginable, steadily gushing us new video. We can’t take our eyes off it. It’s a parade of pelicans, politicians and plumes. It’s not local. Yet.

And then there’s the story about the nice lady from Hasbro who stopped by Chris Pender’s Saturday Market booth last week to introduce herself. Pender wondered whether she was sent to see whether his homemade board game “The Game of Real Life” was an infringement of their copyrighted “The Game of Life.” Hasbro bought out Milton Bradley in 1984 because every industry titan wants to become Too Big To Fail, even if that industry makes games and toys for little ones.

“I offered to let them buy me out,” Pender joked, “but she seemed totally not interested.” Pender makes the board game in his home and sells them on the weekends. He’s taking this year off from the Portland Saturday Market because it was draining him. “I’m gardening again,” he exults. “I haven’t seen springtime for a decade!”

Pender drove to Portland every weekend for ten years. It would be a long walk, especially carrying a load of board games. There’s no getting around it — we’re as sticky with oil as those Gulf state pelicans. We won’t be able to clean ourselves easily or soon. And until we do, real progress is out of the question.

We all scold BP for skipping steps. They overlooked important safety measures. But everyday life has gotten impossibly complicated. I googled “BP Oil Spill” and got 27 million hits. That’s a lot of background material to read. Then it occurred to me that I was using Google’s search engine as thoughtlessly as we use our gasoline engines.

I googled “Google’s Terms of Service” and got 174 million hits. I found the agreement I had carelessly made with Google to use their search engine. 6,401 words (some in ALL CAPS, for emphasis) later, I did not understand what I had agreed to.

But I pound away on my keyboard, not thinking about the Terms of Service I must abide by for using this software (10,440 words) or this hardware (25,250 words) or this wireless network (9,546 words).

My mother taught me always to read the fine print before agreeing. I’m sure BP’s mothers warned them to test blowout preventers at full pressure and to keep a containment dome on site, just in case. But the world is different than when our mothers grew up. We never agreed to anything for the right to mail a letter or read a magazine or listen to the radio or watch television.

If we really stop and think about each step of modern life, that makes for a life that stops more than it goes. Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. But examining every aspect of modern life leaves no time to live it.

Reading every Terms of Service might be a hobby for some poor soul, but it can’t compete with gardening. How we invest our time is what shapes our life. BP notwithstanding, some steps are better skipped.

Meanwhile, Chris Pender has gotten two or three board games assembled, which he will sell next Saturday. Each will have been enjoyed by Eugene residents or visitors by this time next week. So who’s really winning this game of real life?

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a weekly column for The Register-Guard and blogs.