It Might Hurt, but I Refuse to Toughen Up

It’s been more than three weeks since I’ve written anything, other than an e-mail to a friend and some private messaging on Facebook. Ever since I finished off my word count for National Novel Writing Month (also known as NaNoWriMo…or insanity) on November 30th, I haven’t felt the slightest urge to write a single thing. There was a writing contest I had intended to enter for The Prepper Journal, but I could not bring myself to even seriously contemplate a topic. Maybe I’ll send them something at a later date and ask if they’re interested in publishing it, but I desperately needed to take a step back from working for a little while. Luckily it coincided with the Christmas break for the show I produce, because I’ve been a completely lazy git for the last three weeks.

Not that I can blame myself for it. Most people don’t write a book in the course of less than a month, edit it in three weeks, and then write half of another book, while overlapping the editing of the first book. For two and a half months I worked every single day, usually from the time I woke up, until I finally fell asleep about twenty hours later. I’d take the odd break here and there, usually to binge-watch the X-Files with my daughter (we just finished season five and watched the movie a couple of days ago), but mostly I worked. Not that it felt like work at the time, because I was enjoying the hell out of it, but in reality I was busting my butt.

The problem didn’t really come until after my book was published and I started receiving negative reviews. The first couple were great, and I consider the majority of them to be positive. However, the negative ones were pretty bad, and in some cases downright rude or wrong. Believe me when I tell you that writers are very sensitive to criticism, though we’re told we just have to suck it up and move on. It’s not anywhere near as easy as it sounds. Even when a review is dead wrong (to the point where you believe they didn’t even read the book, or they skipped half of it), it gets in your head and plays a tune on you whenever your brain gets a little too quiet. I tend to have a lot of quiet time, so my brain poked fun at me quite a bit.

So, since the end of November I’ve been having a pity party along with my burn-out. In addition to that I’ve had to suppress my irritation with people. I mean, unless you’re stupid you don’t respond to the reviews on Amazon. It’s bad form, for one thing. For another, it’s a no-win situation. Not only is it rude to the person who left the review, but then other people start thinking you’re a jerk. For that reason I’m not going to talk about specifics even in my blog. People should be allowed to review. I do think Amazon should consider their review policy, such as disqualifying reviews from people who haven’t bought a product, or who are blatantly attacking or bullying someone, but other than that people have to be allowed to express their opinions.

I just can’t imagine expressing my opinion in such a rude fashion as some people do. Maybe it’s because I’m Canadian, and the whole mud-slinging thing is anathema to me, but there are rude Canadians, too, so I don’t think that’s entirely the issue. I think it’s simply a change in how people behave when they’re allowed to be anonymous. There’s an expression I like that applies to this.

“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” ~ John Wooden

We’ve all seen what’s been happening online these days, particularly when it comes to inflammatory issues. Women are subjected to rape and death threats online, just for stating an opinion. Muslims are seeing hateful rhetoric in a constant barrage. Gun-control advocates are getting threats that they’ll be shot by ‘responsible gun owners.’ If these people were sitting face-to-face, in most cases the majority of their words would not pass their lips, and that comes from all sides of the arguments. It doesn’t matter if a person is a liberal or a conservative, a man or a woman, a Christian or a Muslim. We’re all guilty of it.

When it comes to my personal situation, I tried to make myself feel better by looking at reviews other authors had received, and it actually made me feel worse. Sure, I felt like I was in pretty good company. Well-known authors (such as Nora Roberts, Karin Slaughter, and J. K. Rowling), were subjected to major abuse in their Amazon reviews. I started seeing that the reviewers who spoke like that had some issues. Often they were extremely hateful. Teenagers were leaving nasty reviews about the Harry Potter series, and I have to wonder how they even have access to leave comments. In order to review an item you have to have made a purchase on Amazon, which means you must have a credit card of some sort. In most cases that would mean it’s the parents’ accounts, and yet the parents are okay with their kids leaving those sorts of remarks. It doesn’t bode well for the future of society.

I honestly thought I would feel better about my own bad reviews if I was in good company. I mean, hey, if it can happen to some of the best (or even most popular, whether or not you agree they’re the best), then it should be okay that it happened to me, too. Instead I feel scared by it. I’m scared of what we’re turning into when it becomes okay to belittle people online. I know that there are people that get off on hurting others. I know there are trolls and bullies. I know some people try to feel better about themselves by showing off and criticizing other people for doing something they themselves cannot do. I see it all the time on Facebook. I’m a member of some movie groups for some reason, and I see people panning movies left, right and centre, when I sit there and think, “I’d like to see you do better!” If they can’t do it themselves, then at least they can cut down someone who has already done it, in other words.

That’s the real test, though, isn’t it? A friend of mine reminded me of that saying, “Those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach,” and said he didn’t think that was a fair thing to say. I agree completely. You can’t teach something if you don’t know how to do it. He said those who couldn’t would just criticise those who do, and again I agree. But I’m still very worried about society. There’s a damn good reason I don’t leave the house much. When people think it’s okay to issue threats over books or articles, there’s a serious breakdown in our humanity. People are shooting people over idiotic things. Young men think they have a right to kill a bunch of people because young girls won’t send them naked pictures of themselves. The sense of entitlement on this planet is growing all out of proportion with what we actually deserve.

Part of me is saying that I should just toughen up and get on with my life, and the other part of me is saying that’s entirely the wrong thing to do. Why should I toughen up? Why should I be any less sensitive than I am? The real question is, why should I change because of what other people are saying and doing? Yes, I will have to suffer if I don’t toughen up, but I also won’t lose the part of myself that refuses to become desensitized to aggression and violence – and that’s what it boils down to. People are being rude and angry toward other people, for no good reason. They’re taking out their own insecurities on others, and we have to stop tolerating it.

I don’t believe in all the old-school manners and etiquette, but by the same token we should treat one another with respect. Even when another person has shown they don’t really deserve it, we do not need to sink to that level. We become that other person if we do. I’ve made it a habit the last few months to simply stop arguing with people the moment they become rude. I refer to one-on-one encounters online. If a person calls me a name I tell them I’m done with the conversation for that reason, and then I actually leave the conversation. I don’t care what they say after that, because the name-calling just invalidated their argument for me. A debate is fine. Even an argument can be fine. When you step across the line to abuse, I’m done with it. And I wish more people did the same. It might teach these rude people that it’s not socially acceptable to do what they’re doing.

Of course, far too many people thrive on drama, and often cause it. It’s like those people who like to gossip. I can’t understand why they have so much of an interest in someone else and how they live their life. It makes no sense to me. And yet they sit there and talk about another human being in the worst possible way. It might sound terrible to say, but I honestly don’t have that much concern for what other people are doing, so long as they’re not hurting anyone. I’m more than happy living in my own little world, while everyone else lives in theirs. I like my solitude. The only people I make an effort with, to find out what’s going on in their lives, are the people I love. Other than that, I can’t be bothered. I’ve got too many other things in my life to do, that I find far more interesting.

Today I finally wrote an article for a friend of mine who asked me to contribute to his online magazine about a month ago. I wrote about dealing with criticism, because it was what I’ve had on my mind for some time, and his site is about happiness and mental health. I’ve worked through a lot of it, though I still get somewhat irritated when I stew about it too much. In my case I can’t resolve the criticism with a confrontation, so I have to vent in other ways – like this blog post.

I don’t want to be a whiner or a wimp, but I also don’t want to lose touch with my honest feelings. I’ve distanced myself from people in many ways, in order to prevent loss of emotion on my part. It may sound counter-intuitive, but I find too much interaction with people I don’t know can result in me shutting down my emotions just to get through it. I did it when I worked in the corporate world, and I worked too hard as a teenager to regain my emotions (after a childhood of abuse) to lose them now because of strangers.

So, instead of toughening up I’ve examined the criticisms, learned what I could from them, determined what parts might be accurate, and then tried to get a handle on why people would feel the need to behave in such a fashion. Allowing myself to understand their motivation has been a big help. Any disparaging remarks will hurt, but knowing why they were made makes them easier to deal with. And of course, just because someone has an opinion, doesn’t mean they’re right.

Brushing Up Against Rental Fraud

The phrase, “Too good to be true,” was invented for a reason. Seriously. With my daughter and I looking for a new apartment, and not having a lot of time left to do it in unless we talk our current landlord into letting us stay another month, we’re looking at every advertisement online and culling out anything that seems decent. I’m even going into strange rental sections on Kijiji, like “Others,” just for the hell of it.

It was there we found the apartment of our dreams. Or so one might think. However, it could easily have turned into a nightmare if I were of a less suspicious bent. Believe me when I tell you there are con-artists everywhere, and it’s our disbelief that anything so unusual could happen to us that aids them in their victimization.

Imagine this, if you will:

2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, all appliances, all furniture, all utilities included. [Insert stunning description here along with 5 equally stunning photographs.] $819.00 per month.

Contact is made via e-mail, and more photos are sent. They’re not looking to make a profit, or turn it into a business, etc. They just want the apartment rented out to someone responsible so it’s not sitting there empty. They will buy a plane ticket to come show you the place, but they need you to do them a favour and place an ad for their spouse’s old apartment – apparently they are unable to do so because they are currently overseas and the classified ad website will not allow people overseas to place ads on the Canadian site. They dangle the carrot of removing the ad so that you’ll be the only prospective tenant.

Being of a suspicious and cynical nature, I took a good look at the ad before I even contacted them the first time. I decided I might as well check it out. If it was a scam, no harm done. Being of that suspicious and cynical nature, I did not send them anything other than our names and phone number, and I wasn’t about to send anyone any money, so I wasn’t concerned.

The first response was a long e-mail, and asked us to let them know if we’re interested. I said I was, and we wanted to view the place. I asked them to send the application, because I figured we could fill it out and give it to them when we saw the apartment. (I wasn’t sending them anything with personal details by e-mail.) The ‘application’ was a few questions in their reply e-mail, along with a request for a picture (that was not mandatory). I replied vaguely, saying my daughter has a full-time job in a factory and I’m on disability. When I came to the question about references I said I would provide references when we viewed the place. With my name and references they would be able to obtain my current address, and it’s more information than I want a stranger to have through these means.

No, I didn’t send a picture. I couldn’t see any valid reason why a prospective landlord would need a picture, and believe me when I say that sent up big red flags with sirens blaring and strobes flashing. My first thought was that the place might be real, but have hidden cameras for underground porn videos of the peeping Tom variety. So I figured if we viewed the place I’d be looking very carefully at mirror placement, and behind anything mounted on the walls.

The next e-mail was when they said they’re more than happy to book a flight back here to show us the apartment, but they needed our help in placing an ad for his wife’s old place so they can take care of that at the same time. Yeah…right. Just like the people who have fifteen million dollars waiting to be taken out of a bank account, but they need you to do it for them, and it doesn’t look like they’re asking much – and certainly nothing that will cost you anything – but it generally results in a person being stripped of their life savings.

My response was polite, because it’s just barely possible the apartment is real. However, I made it clear that it was their responsibility to be available for viewings, and if they found it inconvenient to do so, they could hire a property management firm. They have the added benefit of being licensed, and can run credit checks for prospective tenants as well. Or they could book a whole bunch of viewings all at once. This person said in the last e-mail that ‘he’ had come up here once before and the person hadn’t shown up – gee, people who break promises? Who’da thunkit? This is an old trick used by scammers who are trying to reassure someone by showing they know how that feels, and implies that they, themselves, would never do such a thing.

I also made it clear that, whatever they wrote in an e-mail, we did not know them. We were not going to place an ad for them which might result either in us being victimized or being accused of collaboration in a scheme meant to defraud others. I apologized, just in case they were on the level, but I very much doubt that they were.

After sending that last e-mail I started to do some research. I found an article in the Winnipeg Free Press newspaper from 2009. It details how a woman lost $1200 in almost identical circumstances. In her case the gentleman had relocated from Winnipeg to New Jersey, but was currently in London. She sent $800 for a month’s rent, and $400 for a damage deposit. When she requested keys he demanded another $1200 before he was apparently willing to send them. Once the situation was investigated it was discovered that there was no one in the building by that name, and it was managed by a property management firm with no ties to this person. The police could do nothing. After all, she had sent her money out of the country.

Kijiji warns on every page that a person should never give money to someone they haven’t met in person. Their classified ads are meant for person-to-person sales, whether it’s an apartment or a bicycle. Near-identical ads for ‘dream’ apartments have appeared in major cities all over Canada, and I don’t doubt that they appear in most other countries as well.

People want to believe they’ve found a place to live. It hits in a vulnerable area, especially during a time when it’s difficult to find an apartment. In the last two and a half years since we moved into this apartment, rent prices have gone up considerably, and apartments are taken almost as soon as the ads appear. Then if you find yourself in a situation where you might not have a place to live in a couple of weeks, you really want to believe that this wonderful place is sitting there just for you. An answer to a prayer, basically. The thought of being homeless scares the crap out of pretty much anyone, and who can blame them?

Still, there are a few hard and fast rules out there if you don’t want to be a victim. The biggest one is that you should never trust anyone without reason. I mean, geez people! Why would you send money to someone outside the country for a place you’ve never even been in? An apartment has to be viewed in person. I’m sorry, but that’s the reality. Even real ads will often show an apartment that isn’t the one that’s available. Management companies have show suites. Even when you go to view an apartment, they often show one that has the same floor plan, but isn’t the one you’ll be renting. That’s pretty standard for big buildings, so then you have to do a walk-through of your actual apartment to list any damage that’s already there.

Trust is earned. It takes time to develop. Not everyone is trustworthy. In fact, a very large portion of the population cannot be trusted. I personally believe no one can be trusted for everything. Every human has flaws, and there are certain things each person can’t be trusted with. It all depends on their personality type. Some can’t be trusted to pay their bills exactly on time, even if they do eventually pay them. Some people don’t do things they’re supposed to do by the time they say they’ll do them. Some people show up late. Everyone has flaws, and those are the things that can’t be trusted in that person, but they may be completely trustworthy in every other way. Some people you could loan a million dollars to, and they would pay back every penny with interest, but you know they’re always going to blab secrets.

It takes time to know the flaws of a person, and thereby know which things can be trusted about them, and which things can’t. Trusting anyone without knowing them is ridiculous. The woman in the above-mentioned article said she trusted the person she sent money to because he claimed to be a Christian. Really? Wow. I can claim to be Jesus Christ, but that doesn’t make it true. In fact, I would be less likely to trust someone because they’re religious, than I would if they said they were atheists. I do not like organized religions, so I have a huge bias there.

Though I might vaguely feel sorry for anyone who has been ripped off, there’s a larger part of me that thinks, “What the hell were you thinking?” Then my sympathy tends to dry up. When it’s someone of diminished capacity who is scammed, I feel terrible for them, but with the general population I feel mostly disgusted that they’re not using their critical thinking skills. Of course, lack of critical thinking is something that drives me crazy to begin with. It’s the reason the vast majority of people believe what’s reported on the news. In the US they’re not obligated to tell the truth, yet people still believe what they’re saying. In Canada that’s against the CRTC regulations, and results in fines and other penalties, but that does not mean they don’t unknowingly report a falsehood – because it’s quite possible those who wrote the stories in the first place weren’t using their critical thinking skills and didn’t thoroughly investigate their sources. They might report the truth as they know it, but it’s quite likely not the whole story.

My basic point is exactly what I said in my very first sentence. Too good to be true is always too good to be true. Follow your instincts, use your brain, question everything, and don’t give people money for anything they’re not handing to you right then and there. Even when you’re doing business with people you know (perhaps especially when you know them), you don’t pay them until they’ve given you what you’re paying for – whether it’s a service or an item. I offer website design and maintenance as a service, but I certainly don’t expect anyone to pay me for something I haven’t done yet. Some companies may require a deposit, but it’s not necessary. Not when you can build the site and not post it, but still show your client what it will look like once it’s published, and there are other ways web designers can protect themselves if their clients don’t pay.

In all business dealings (and renting an apartment is a contract just like any other) both parties should be able to provide proof that they’re on the level. An apartment is visible proof. If you don’t see the place with your own eyes, there’s a good possibility it doesn’t exist. On the landlord’s end of things, they’re well within their rights to take a look at your identification and do a credit and reference check. Don’t be afraid to offend someone. Honest people will understand and respect skepticism if you’re polite about it. It’s only the dishonest ones who will react defensively and get angry – most likely because they see their scam falling apart and realize the money they foresaw is slipping through their fingers.

In our case I would expect that this supposed landlord would respect the fact that I’m mature and responsible enough to be careful with regard to my personal information and my money. If I just gave out money to everyone, it would show an obvious lack or responsibility and maturity. Sadly, there will be people desperate enough and gullible enough, who so badly want to believe their dreams have come true, that they will fork over most of their savings to secure a non-existent apartment. I’m not immune to those feelings myself, and I hoped we weren’t being scammed. I was polite in my last e-mail because a tiny part of me still hoped it was real. This was before I started researching rental scams and saw the various articles about the different ways people got fleeced. Then I started to see the similarities.

What’s funny is that I’m a huge believer in doing things online. I buy groceries that way sometimes, and have them delivered. I shop online for other things, paying for my items electronically. I honestly do not have to leave the house if I don’t want to, though you pay a little more sometimes for that privilege. Maybe it’s being experienced in the ways of online retail that helps me weed out the scams. The worst thing that ever happened to me was that a ring I ordered from eBay was never delivered, and since I only paid about $10 for it I wasn’t all that concerned, particularly since I’d ordered a bunch of other stuff at the same time and sort of forgot I was expecting it.

In fact we just ordered dinner online, but I’m pretty sure they’re going to deliver it since we haven’t given them any money yet.

Be Afraid…Be Very Afraid – There is No Such Thing as Anonymity

Be Afraid…Be Very Afraid – There is No Such Thing as Anonymity

When I started publishing my writing, I took a step away from my personal information to make it more difficult for anyone to physically find me. I’ve been stalked before, and I knew the dangers. To this day, however, it scares me when I see how frighteningly easy it is to find people who are online – and even those that aren’t. In fact, that’s part of my job as a producer for The Kovacs Perspective. Sometimes there is a particular guest we want to have on the show, or even just an expert on a particular topic, that doesn’t come through our usual route for guests. Then I have to go online and find their contact information. It usually takes me less than five minutes, even if I don’t know their name when I start out.

That should scare you. Yes, you. Every one of my readers needs to understand how easy it is to find someone online. I can track down almost anyone, and I do not have access to police searches. Nor do I subscribe to any credit reporting service. I Google it. If a person is online in any fashion, their contact information is usually there for the taking. If someone even mentions their name online, I can find them. It happened today, in fact, when I was looking for a guest for the show.

Admittedly I have very good research skills, but you don’t even have to know how to use any of Google’s advanced search options. I used them years ago, but now I don’t even bother. I don’t have to. I don’t think there is anyone that I have looked for that I haven’t been able to find. Even people who do not have Facebook or Twitter accounts.

Some people just shrug their shoulders at this – either because they don’t understand the danger, or because they’re already cynical about it. I can only be grateful that my stalker did not have access to the tools back then, that I have access to now. It was more than twenty years ago, and the internet wasn’t in everyone’s home yet. My parents had it, but I didn’t know anyone else that did. I didn’t even know how to use it, because I didn’t live with them anyone. It certainly wasn’t the indispensable tool then that it is now.

Imagine, though, that you’ve got a neighbour who doesn’t like you. Maybe they don’t even know your name, because you’ve never introduced yourself. A quick look online to match your address to a name listed in the White Pages, and suddenly they’re harassing you on social media because you waited an hour longer than usual to bring your garbage can inside. Yes, I’ve had neighbours that were like that. Not that incident specifically, but similar in magnitude. They didn’t like how fast I drove up to my house in my own driveway. Confused? Yeah, so was I. They almost killed a couple of friends of mine by messing with the tires on my car, which later caused it to flip over multiple times. It was a very good thing they were wearing their seat belts. They also thought it was a lark to siphon gas from my car, leaving me stranded many miles from a gas station.

Those kinds of people are everywhere in the world. They think you looked at them funny one day, and suddenly they’re justified in taking a crazy revenge on you, when what you were really thinking about at the time was that you forgot to buy sugar and you were really ticked at yourself. Now you have a mortal enemy you were completely unaware of making.

The fact that I’m very opinionated about certain things and express those views online, makes me a target as well, but at least I went into that knowingly. Every once in a while I have to take a break from it, because I don’t enjoy being called names. However, my beliefs don’t just disappear because someone calls me a political psycho or an idiot. It’s kind of like what Jon Stewart said about values.

I do not consider my values to be hobbies, and though I might not like how people speak to me, and the disrespect I’m occasionally subjected to, I don’t generally take it lying down. When I do take a break it’s always with the intent of coming back full-strength again.

I recently did that with Facebook. I was getting some strange characters commenting on some of my threads – people who were not friends of mine, but rather friends of friends. It was getting to me to the point where I stopped being polite and was on the verge of spewing my own vitriol. That’s not acceptable behaviour to me, so I walked away, figuratively speaking. This illustrates the complete lack of anonymity perfectly, though. People who don’t even know you will spew hatred toward you because they disagree with your views. You can’t stop them. You can only resist engaging with them.

There is a lot of hatred in the world, and a lot of anger. When I say I’m a feminist it raises a lot of hackles. All I mean is that I believe men and women are of equal value and deserve equal treatment. It does not mean I think women are superior, or that men are jerks. It does not mean I’m a lesbian, or that I refuse to shave, though I stand up for the rights of those who are gay or don’t want to shave. My ball-busting is limited to those who treat me as less worthy than a male, and I don’t care whether it’s a male or female engaging in that behaviour. Of course, it helps that I’ve broken a vast majority of the stereotypes myself, and that provides credibility when I speak.

I still keep in mind, however, that I should never assume a determined person won’t find me. They will. If they really hate me enough, I can be found and my safety can be threatened. I haven’t been threatened thus far, and I intend to keep it that way if possible. That means I try to see more than one side of an issue, and acknowledge that others may have good reason for disagreeing with me. I’m not always successful, certainly, but making an effort helps. I’ve written articles for feminist publications and actually had people thank me for acknowledging the abuse and rape that occurs against men. I’ve had friends subjected to both that were were male so I’m well aware it happens, and it’s no laughing matter when anyone is hurt that way.

On the flip-side of anonymity, there are also those who perform criminal actions online, and those people can almost always be found as well. Very few people even bother with a proxy server when they commit certain criminal acts. There have been a number of 12-year-old-boy types who have been found that were threatening to rape and kill women. That sort of thing is usually seen in gaming culture. For some reason they think it’s okay to issue those threats, and think they’re safe from anyone knowing who they are. It’s one thing parents need to spend more time actively teaching their kids these days. It wasn’t so much of a problem ten years ago when it might have applied to my daughter, because online gaming hadn’t hit the levels it has now. I severely restricted her internet time back then, too, to make sure her homework was being done. If it wasn’t, she was grounded from her computer for long stretches of time. ‘Forever’ to a teenager.

There’s a good reason children under the age of thirteen aren’t supposed to have a Facebook account. It’s bloody dangerous. I honestly think it’s a terrible idea for them to have an account before they’re legal adults. Pedophiles search for victims online, and find them all too easily. Teenagers think they’re invincible, which doesn’t help, and they also have no knowledge usually about how to protect their personal information online. I’d be monitoring my daughter’s account constantly, if she were still a teenager. She didn’t have an account until she was an adult, though it had nothing to do with me. She just didn’t want one. Even now she limits it to friends she actually knows, rather than just letting anyone friend her, and she’s inherited some of my paranoia about personal information thankfully.

Even if it’s not a stalker looking for you, there are always those that chase down credit card information, or want to steal identities. The latter is very very easy to do, by the way. I know exactly how to do it, though I have not. If you’ve ever misplaced your wallet, even if it was returned to you, you really need to monitor all activity under your own name, and you may have to do it for the rest of your life. Keep an eye on your credit, and make sure there are no alternative addresses associated with your name. Do yourself a favour and don’t keep your birth certificate or SIN or SSN card in your wallet. Only have it with you when you’re going to need it for something specific. If someone manages to make a copy of them, they can use that to get other ID, and the ID will be the real deal, unlike having forged documents. This is especially a problem when you can change your information online through official government websites. Their website security will mean little if someone else has all the right information to get past their security checks.

Here’s the bottom line. I’m not some hot blonde that shows her cleavage in every ID photo. I don’t do ‘duck face’. Ever. I’m not young. I’m not a famous celebrity. I’m not rich. I still take precautions, and so should you. I’ve chosen to have an online presence in order for my voice to be heard every once in a while, but just because you haven’t chosen that doesn’t mean you’re any less vulnerable than I am. A lot of information will already be available about you online, no matter what you do. Just don’t add to it and make it even easier for someone to find you

Stop Paying for Cable When You Can Get it Free – Legally

The cable broadcasting industry has always been less than stellar when it comes to value for your money, and in their business practices. It always starts out with that infamous introductory package where you can get basic cable for a low monthly rate for the first three months or so, but then the price goes up. Sure, they’re usually legally required to list in the fine print what your rates will go up to after that introductory period is over, and they have to tell you how long you need to use their services in order to get that temporary low price, but so much of our society is based on instant gratification and add-ons (otherwise known as up-selling) that it really isn’t hard for them to rip people off.

Almost everyone who subscribes to cable or satellite gets hooked into taking so-called specialty channels. Usually the one channel you actually want is grouped with several other channels, so you have to pay for the package rather than a la carte services. Even when they allow you to pay for a single channel’s subscription, the group price seems like it would be a much better deal. So, in addition to ‘basic cable’ which doesn’t seem to give anyone any of the channels they like, you go for the enhanced services.

Now, of course, we have high definition TVs, and even Ultra HD and 3D. Let me explain to you how high definition works. It’s exactly like the analogy about chains being only as strong as their weakest link. You will most likely never have true HDTV, because there is always a weak link in the signal chain. Somewhere along that chain there is a flaw where in one tiny little place (and often in many places) there is a wire or piece of equipment that is not HD-capable. Maybe it’s your neighbourhood wires, and chances are good you’re not among the 1% who live in fancy neighbourhoods with the best of everything. Most local cable outfitters do not have the money to replace the old, out-of-date equipment with HD. Small towns, people who live out in the country, poor neighbourhoods in every city, etc. You’re also going to have general signal loss, and if you’re paying for HD I bet you’ve noticed that it didn’t live up to your expactation. You were probably hoping it would be like watching a movie on Blu-ray. It should be, but it’s not.

It’s not uncommon for people to be paying up to $200 every month for their cable subscriptions. How much value are you getting for your money, do you think? Are you even aware that there’s a better way? Don’t forget all those additional fees and service charges they tack onto your bill that make absolutely no sense to you – and there’s a good reason they make no sense, since they’re total BS. If you watch 10 hours of television every month, you’re paying $20 an hour for your entertainment. Granted, most people watch a fair bit more than that. 5 hours per week is almost bare minimum for the average person, so you’re paying $10 even at that. I won’t bother calculating average number of family members. Most people at this point would say this is a reasonable price to pay for entertainment. Is television as good as a movie? That’s a highly subjective thing, so I can’t answer that. I just know that I have zero interest in watching TV, but I love movies, so I wouldn’t pay that much for TV since it isn’t worth it to me.

For those who love television programming, however, they’re still getting ripped off in a big way. Many of the shows broadcast on cable networks are available online. If you do not have a computer or internet access, then by all means do what you like regarding TV programming. If you’re paying for both cable/satellite TV and internet, however, they’re double-dipping into your wallet. A lot of networks stream their shows right on their own websites. Yes, there are commercials, because that’s how they pay their actors the big bucks, but it’s completely legal and you can watch it whenever you press the play button for the video to stream. All you’re doing is cutting out the middle man.

So, what about those who don’t like watching TV on their computers? Well, almost every computer now has an HDMI output that goes directly into your TV. Think of your mouse as your remote, and you’re all set. HDMI was a huge step forward in connectivity, because the wire acts as 2-way communication between devices, and a lot more than one signal is being sent at a time. All audio and video can be transmitted this way, and your computer will know it’s connected to a TV, and your TV will know if a signal is being transmitted. Like the old fax machines that almost no one has a need for these days (yes, there are free fax services available online, too), there is a handshake signal between devices. Kind of a, “Hi! How ya doin’?” in machine-speak. Except now you don’t need to hear those annoying squealing sounds as it sends frequencies across the line.

One big benefit to this is that any show you watch online, streaming from the original network, the resolution is usually very good. Like YouTube, there’s a lot of stuff shown in 1080p (which is literally 1,080 lines of resolution broadcast all at once – the little ‘p’ stands for progressive scan, as opposed to a little ‘i’ which means interlaced, where only half the lines are showing at a time). You’re really only limited by your own computer, and the cable that you use. Both are things you have control over, rather than some crappy cable line that might be a thousand miles away. The video is sent as a data packet, rather than a broadcast signal, and so it behaves more like a DVD or something similar.

If you really, really do not like connecting your laptop or PC to your TV, there are other alternatives to standard cable companies. Things like Hulu and Netflix. If you’re interested, I would suggest further reading here. Or simply do a Google search for ‘cable tv alternatives’ and lots of stuff will come up. In my case our major phone company does an internet TV service, in addition to the satellite service they already offer, but it’s Bell Canada, and I’ll never recommend them to anyone. They’re one of the worst price-gouging companies in my country. (They still haven’t realized that I can get cell service for about half the price they charge for a landline, and at least one cell provider is unlimited in both Canada and the US for everything including data.)

What it boils down to is this: Are you sick of paying for things you can get for free, or for reasonable amounts like $100 per year? That cable bill adds up, especially when you’re paying rental charges on receivers for every room in which you have a TV – and they charge more for the ones that have on-demand capability, like PVR/DVR boxes. When I had cable so I could watch the basketball games, it cost me a fortune – that sports package had an insane price attached to it. Now those games are broadcast online, and I’ve been watching them that way for years. It’s not just NBA games either. They have pretty much everything, including European football. The games are live, and they broadcast the ones that you can’t get on cable, too – you know, those ones they black out in your area to encourage people to go to the local games in person.

I don’t know about you, but I got really tired of them charging me almost $10 for licensing fees, $20 for equipment rental, $15 for the sports networks and enhanced cable, $5 for each additional channel pack, taxes, distribution, basic cable rates, etc. Never mind the sudden jump in price after the three months were over, or the pre-billing most cable companies do. That’s the reason your first bill is so high. They prorate what you’ve already used that month, and bill in advance for the next month. Not to mention the service fee for ‘installing’ your cable – ahem – that’s calling typing a command into their computers, usually, since it often doesn’t require a visit from a technician unless you’re technically inept enough that you can’t screw a cable line onto the threaded peg of your wall outlet. When you move, of course, you’re usually charged a service fee for ‘installation’ again. They have to shut off service at your old house, and turn it on in the new one. Woopee. I’m sure you can sense my sarcasm.

The fact is, cable and satellite TV are luxuries. They’re not necessary for us to survive. However, we live in a consumer society and we can’t stand being bored. We will go to any lengths not to have to entertain ourselves, apparently, and that means TV for most people. So, if you’re broke, or just interested in keeping the money you’ve worked so hard for, this is one way of lightening the monthly load on your wallet.

Most people need internet service (in North America at least), for one reason or another. In my case I make part of my livelihood online. Even for those who do not work online, there’s the simple fact that it’s impossible to even find a job now, if you don’t have internet. Most employers want resumes e-mailed, most job-finding can only be done online, and even the government (in Canada anyway) uses the internet as its main source for helping people find work (they have a Job Bank online), as well as for people using government services such as employment insurance (similar to UI in the states). Here we file reports every two weeks, and they encourage you to go online to do it. Even changing the address on your driver’s licence, or renewing it, is done online here. Same with our health cards. We can file our taxes online, and Revenue Canada prefers it that way since they’re stored more easily as data. Plus you get your refund a lot faster if you file online.

The internet is now an intrinsic part of our lives. TV might have been at one time, but so many of us get our entertainment in different ways these days that it seems pointless to be paying those ridiculous fees. If you’re anything like me, and any of what I’ve said here has sunk in, you’re probably pretty annoyed right now about how much money your cable company is getting from you. So, don’t just stand there – do something about it once your contract is up, and tell them why you’re leaving. Maybe they’ll pay attention if enough people get fed up. Probably not, but it’s always worth it to be honest.