Thinking outside the Xbox

Nothing makes me feel more like a bumpkin than the field of consumer electronics. Each innovation nudges me further away from the center of mainstream America, and raises new fears that someday I will fall completely out of touch with everyday society.

The latest warning sign came when two industry giants unveiled their new products for video-game enthusiasts. The Nintendo GameCube and Microsoft Xbox are expected to fly off store shelves during the holiday shopping season. But neither one is on my list of must-have items. Strange as it may seem, I have never felt any urge to establish a home entertainment system.

I hope this confession doesn't destroy my credibility as a commentator. I take pride in my ability to stay informed on all aspects of modern life, but it's getting tougher every day. In this era of instant communication and rapid cultural change, it takes hard work just to pretend I know more than I really do.

Since my personal schedule never has enough time for attending new film releases, watching extensive television, or trolling the Internet for cutting-edge websites, a lot of my information is gathered on the run. It's possible to glean crucial tidbits from tabloid headlines in the supermarket, promotional ads for movies and TV shows, and angry tirades by talk-radio hosts.

Thanks to my haphazard system, I am not caught flat-footed when friends bring up topics of popular interest such as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or "Sex in the City." I know Sarah Michelle Gellar stars in the former and Sarah Jessica Parker in the latter, although I have never watched an episode of either program.

But faking expertise in the video-game market is risky, especially since I never got wired into the high-tech world, and my grasp of the terminology is minimal. A news story describing the GameCube said it "hews to the company's strategy of making hardware simply as a platform for games." The only platform I ever think about is the one I was standing on when the train pulling the computer revolution left the station without me.

My last hands-on experience with a video game took place in the 1980s, when I loaded a quarter into a machine and played a round of Pac-Man, which was fun but not very challenging. I remember thinking, snidely, "If the gamemakers want to stay in business, they'll have to come up with something better than this." And to my chagrin, they did.

I'm now amazed whenever I walk into a computer store and see all the different models of joysticks. A huge number of people are obviously enjoying the chance to pilot simulated starships and other imaginary aircraft, but I still don't feel like plugging into cyberspace for rest and recreation.

What's the best way to describe a person like me, someone who can't keep pace with the latest technological trends, whose habits and hobbies will never be compatible with a GameCube or an Xbox? Definitely an old-fashioned square. But not yet a total blockhead.

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