Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Familiarity Breeds...?

Shortly after Thanksgiving 2006, James Kim and his family were driving in Oregon when they got lost in the wilderness.  After several days stranded in the woods in their car, with no cell service, James set off on foot to try to find help for his wife Kati and his two young girls, Sabine and Penelope.

As he was hiking in the woods, searchers spotted the car and rescued Kati, Sabine, and Penelope.  They had been living on melted snow; Kati breast fed the two girls.

Meanwhile, James Kim froze to death as he hiked in the wilderness.

Why is this important?

Because the tech community -- especially the television tech community -- is very small.  In fact, there was one lone technology channel for a few years (ZDTV, then renamed TechTV, until it was bought by G4 and wasn't a tech channel anymore).

(Southern California locals might be interested to know that Michaela Pereira of KTLA started on a tech news show on TechTV called TechLive.)

In any event, once TechTV stopped being TechTV, Leo Laporte started podcasts and a radio show that brought most of the old "family" back together, while others moved onto CNET and other places.

James Kim was one that had moved to CNET.  While on TechTV, he did reviews -- mostly of printers.  I remembered him immediately as the guy who used to show off printers with pictures of flowers...until he abruptly began to use pictures of his new baby girls.

Once at CNET, James Kim did mp3 player reviews for a video podcast that TiVo allows you to download.

I never met James Kim.  I've never met Leo Laporte, or Patrick Norton, or Kevin Rose (yes, the digg guy), or Roger Chang, or Megan Morrone, or Cat Schwartz, or...

...but years after the demise of the TV channel, I remember their names, and feel a connection with them.  A shared geekdom, if you will.  Pleasure at knowing that someone out there built a one terabyte drive and stuck it in a monster of a CPU tower just because it was cool.

And the really cool thing is that these guys were just unapologetically geeky.  See -- I had two disclaimers where this paragraph is at this moment essentially saying "I know I said it was cool, but I know it wasn't really cool."

I don't follow sports, but the nearest analogy I can think of is, for me, watching somebody demonstrate water-cooling a CPU by dunking it in...I think...rubbing alcohol was like watching Shaq play basketball in his heyday.

What brings this up now?

I'm not really sure, except that I read some really awful comments on the Yahoo! story about Heath Ledger's death about how it didn't really matter because thousands of people die every day.

You know what?  They do.  And it's awful, and it sucks, but if they're lucky, they live in a small town where everybody knows them and a few hundred people mourn their death.

You know what else?  For better or for worse, people feel a connection with TV/movie stars, often for superficial reasons, and often for very personal ones.  No, there's no reciprocity, but I still contributed $20 to the search for James Kim's family, because I cared.  People care about Heath Ledger.  Millions of people know who he was.

Do I agree with the sensationalism?  Of course not.  Whether he committed suicide or not (it looks like probably not), whether he took sleeping pills or heroine or nothing, whether he died of heart failure or pneumonia or an overdose, huge, hysterical, sensationalist headlines based on little more than rumor do nobody any good.

Do I agree that Heath Ledger's death should take precedence on Yahoo!'s main page over any number of other disasters, both foreign and domestic?  Of course not.

But to say "so what" and much, much worse is just callous.

For the record, I've only -- to my recollection -- seen Heath Ledger in one film: after it came out on DVD, I got Brokeback Mountain from Netflix just to see what all the fuss was about.  Now, I don't cry at movies...but with the possible exception of What Dreams May Come, I don't think I've ever come as close as I did during the closing scene where an aging Heath Ledger comes across the shirt in his closet.  Ouch.

So I'm not speaking as a fangirl here; but I am speaking as someone who's experienced losses in my family, and even though I know better than to wade into the on Yahoo, I had to say something.

And even though they'll never read it, my condolences to his daughter, her mother, and his family.

(Also, and please forgive the gallows humor, but I have to ask...according to imdb.com, both he and his sister were named after the lead characters in Bronte's Wuthering Heights.  Hello?  Isn't that just about the definition of "asking for trouble?"  About the only thing worse would be to name your kids Romeo and Juliet, or Oedipus and Jocasta.)

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