Posts Tagged 'Internet'

Deadman’s A-Z Guide to Living: Distractions

The ability to focus.

In this modern world of tweeting and texting, channel surfing and Web browsing, instant messaging and status updating, that may just be the most vital skill necessary for success.

It is also, alas, something I entirely lack.

For instance, the astute reader of this blog (yes, I understand there should be readers first before I attempt to categorize them) will notice that this post is being written several months after my last post, a pace that is quite shameful.

Let’s just use very round numbers and say it’s been 80 days since my last blog posting. That’s 1900 hours. Let’s assume that 17 of them every day (less on the weekends, more on the weekdays) are consumed by necessary activities (e.g. child care, working, housework – no snickering, mrs. deadman – sleeping, showering, eating, etc.), which leaves about 560 hours of free time. Here’s how I believe a reasonable breakdown of that time was spent:

  • Facebook games – 100 hours.
  • Other Facebook activities – 20 hours
  • Fantasy Football/Watching Football (or other sports) – 240 hours
  • Other non-Facebook, non-fantasy football Internet activities – 100 hours (and only some of that porn!)
  • Dumb, mindless TV – 70 hours

Ok, maybe i kid a bit, but even if I’m in the ballpark, that leaves less than an hour a day for what I would consider productive use of my free time: exercising and playing sports, reading, thinking/meditating, going out with friends, doing crossword puzzles, watching intelligent TV, chatting with the Mrs., having sex, chatting with the Mrs. while having sex, etc. Totally pathetic and certainly not enough time for me to devote to maintaining an interesting and regularly updated blog, let alone to getting me anywhere closer to achieving my long-held dreams of being a successful fiction writer.

When I was in high school, I had this classmate and baseball teammate who wasn’t the most intelligent, or the most athletic, the most intellectually curious, or even the hardest working, but he seemed to excel at most everything he did because he could be extremely focused when he needed to be. I mean, how’s this for focus: In a math class during our senior year, he showed me his dayplanner, which really was more like a lifeplanner because in it he had mapped out a great deal of what he expected the rest of his early years would look like. Among the predicted highlights: President of the United States in 2020.

Now so far, the guy hasn’t been elected to any public office, but given Barack Obama’s meteoric rise, there’s still time. And his resume sure is an ideal one for the job. Here’s just a brief, incomplete synopsis of what he has accomplished so far:

  • Graduated from Duke University as an Angier B. Duke scholar
  • Worked as an undergrad helping war refugees in Croatia and Rwanda
  • Became a Rhodes Scholar and got his master’s and Ph.D. from Oxford
  • Won numerous amateur boxing medals (and has run a sub-3 hr marathon)
  • Joined the Navy as an officer in 2001 and became a SEAL in 2002
  • Deployed four times as Lt Cmdr, including stints in Iraq and Afghanistan
  • Earned numerous military awards, including the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
  • Started and still serves as CEO of a charity/mentorship program for returning veterans.
  • Has written a couple of books, including a NY Times Bestseller on his experiences as a SEAL and humanitarian.

Clearly, focus doesn’t have to mean just being engaged in one activity. You can still have – and be successful within – a broad array of interests, but I guarantee you this guy wasn’t spending much time watching reality TV or playing Farmville when he was writing his thesis, or training for his boxing tournaments, or fighting in Iraq.

Now I’m sure the ability to focus has always been an important skill to have, but advances in technology have without question made it even more necessary. We’re now always connected. Distractions are everywhere. Hundreds of TV channels to watch, thousands of emails to read, millions of Web sites to visit (and now the ability to watch, read and visit them at nearly any time on nearly any device from nearly anywhere).

Perhaps the economists are right that technology has made us more productive at work – certainly it has allowed me as an investor to do tons of research much faster than was ever before possible – but I believe it has also eroded our ability to focus, especially over longer periods of times. I actually sometimes feel like modern technology is this actively negative force, maliciously keeping us from focusing on the things in life that truly matter. Technology perhaps helps us engage more fully with the world around us, but it also keeps us from engaging more meaningfully, making us like addicts who now crave – indeed, cannot function without – the quick cuts, the flashing lights, the 140-word summaries, the instant gratification.

I think at times about pulling the plug, going somewhere far away (at least a metaphorical move if not an actual physical one) and getting back to the basics: Reading, writing, raising a family, and just trying to find more productive ways to spend the precious days which remain. I think about that at times, but then I think about how much I’ll miss all the diversions, even if they’re fleeting, and all the connections, even if they’re only surface deep. And then I think … and then I think … now where was I?

Question time …

Happy Halloween all! Last week, I threw out a bunch of questions I had been asking myself lately, and people seemed to enjoy the post, responding with some incredibly wise and insightful, or at least terribly smartass, answers. So, I figured I’d do it again, maybe even make it a weekly thing. Without further ado …

1) Will there be more Jokers or Joe the Plumbers out there tonight? (If you’re answering this and Halloween is already over, reply with the actual answer)

2) Why do parents wait until the last minute to buy Halloween costumes? The costume place by me was absolutely crawling with kids last night, and there was a line to get in the store. Don’t they know it comes the same time every year?

3) If you win a World Series and no one in the world is watching, have you really won a World Series? (No offense, Philly fans, I’m just so happy you out-underrated the 2006 World Series, when my Cardinals won the title and no one seemed to care because a New York and Boston team wasn’t playing)

4) Agree or disagree: Obama’s non-selection of Hillary as VP was one of his best moves of the campaign. I say yes, and not because Biden’s been a big help (I’m a fan but he’s been a neutral at best), but by not picking Hilary, it led McCain straight to Palin’s frigid Alaskan door, and that’s a gift that keeps on giving (They’re now talking about her as a leading candidate in 2012, which boggles the mind but warms the heart)

5) Give me your best guess of the percentages for voter turnout as well as Obama’s popular vote total on Tuesday? I say 64 and 53, respectively.

6) Can you think of any any worse, more terrfiying way to die than in an airplane crash? I’m talking only about relatively common and immediate forms of death, so no death by testicle tickle torture or long terminal illness. Seriously, the idea of having to endure ten or more minutes of being able to do nothing but imagine your imminent death while being surrounded by screaming people and unbelievable turbulence as a 100,000 lb. aircraft hurtles earthward at an accelerating pace, frightens me to no end. But maybe that’s just me.

7) Genghis got me thinking with his W. movie review, what was the last good Oliver Stone movie?

8) When was the last time you listened to music on a terrestrial radio that wasn’t in a car? Talk about a dead medium. And good riddance.

9) It’s not because of radio’s demise, but I feel I’ve stopped learning about good new music. How can I fix that?

10) And finally, shifting to a much more exciting medium, please rank the following positive, life-changing attributes of the Internet in order of greatness:

  1. E-commerce (Amazon, ebay, craigslist)
  2. E-mail and IM
  3. Comparison Shopping and Reviews
  4. Online gaming (social and multimedia)
  5. Facebook. Social Networking and the ability to transcend physical borders
  6. Maps and Step-by-step directions
  7. Free Porn available in any fetish imaginable
  8. Search, Wikipedia and the ability to find almost any piece of info
  9. dagblog.com
  10. Other (List your own piece of Internet enjoyment)

Time to Google ‘Laziness’?

Is Google making us intellectually lazy?

That was the gist of a question financial wildman Jim Cramer asked Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt on a CNBC interview this week. Cramer pointed out that one of his daughter’s fifth-grade teachers banned the use of Google for an assignment she received. Schmidt seemed genuinely surprised by the anecdote, comparing it to how math teachers often ban the use of calculators.

Schmidt called Google ‘a new way of learning … Kids are going from knowing everything to being able to search (for information) very quickly.’

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I have to agree with Schmidt.

For me at least, the Internet and search engines haven’t made me lazier, but more inquisitive. Not a day goes by that I don’t find myself doing a search on a topic I’ve never studied, a person I’ve never heard of, a word I’ve never learned, etc. And I don’t think the Internet has let me down yet in terms of finding the information that I seek.

Last week, I was writing a short story about a loan officer for my writing class, and I was worried about the piece’s verisimilitude, so I went online to do some research. There was just a ton of stuff out there, from consumer advocacy organizations discussing how to get a loan, to government agencies explaining the daily life of a loan officer.  Some of it was overkill for my purposes, but even adding just a couple of small details to the story really helped make it more believable.

And I can’t even imagine doing my job – researching stocks – without having the Internet at my disposal.  The productivity boost I get from finding information so much faster than ever before possible far outweighs the potential risks of relying too heavily on other people’s work, which can at times either be based on faulty assumptions or, worse, just plain wrong.

Schmidt’s calculator analogy is somewhat apt. The Internet and search are tools which help us more easily find basic facts and figures, but if we’re looking for anything more than simple answers, and we don’t understand the underlying issues or concepts, they won’t do us much good.

Remember, trivia does not equal knowledge. And knowledge doesn’t equal intelligence.

So, in the meantime, I’m going to continue to do what my girlfriend tells me to do whenever I question one of her dubious oddball statements: ‘S-T-F-W!’ she’ll say, exasperated that i just won’t believe her.

Don’t know what that means? Neither did I … ’til I STFWed.

Linkgasmic …

The Internet is making us lazy, shortening our attention span, dulling our senses.

We still read, but our eyes glaze over anything more than a couple of paragraphs (140 words or less please).

We still listen to music, but now download a single onto our IPod one day and forget about it the next (how quaint the concept album now seems).

We still have friends, but now often substitute brief, vacuous messages or a ‘Second Life’ for physical contact and real intimacy.

Face(book!) it, we’re becoming Twitter-ized. (If only the Internet hadn’t made me so damn lazy, I’d trademark The Twitter Generation).

Yet despite all of the Web’s negative influences on society and human behavior,  the Internet remains the greatest invention of my lifetime, and I can barely imagine living without it anymore.

The other night, doing research on why we treat dying humans so much worse than dying animals, proved once again why the Interweb is so fucking great. I started with a relatively simple search on Yahoo and ended up lost in a fascinating – often only tangentially related – linkgasmic maze of stories, personal blogs, government sites, message boards, news articles, research reports and literature analysis.

I figured it’d be interesting, using Firefox’s library tool, to give you a brief recap of my hyperlink adventure (obviously leaving out the parts where I got sidetracked into watching some porn).

I knew I wanted to somehow incorporate Dylan Thomas’ ‘Do Not Go Gentle …’ poem in the headline for my post so I did a Yahoo search and visited a poetry site which included the full poem and a cool audio reading, as well as a number of other poems about aging. One of my favorites was ‘Affirmation‘ by Donald Hall (I love the line – “To grow old is to lose everything”), though I wasn’t sure what it all meant so I did another search and checked out this Yahoo Answers page.

Then it was on to the main subject. I did a search on ‘putting animals to sleep pain’ cause I wanted to see if indeed the process was as painless as I had thought. I read an ‘Ask the Rabbi’ site for one viewpoint and explored a couple related questions. I then checked out a more negative article which stated that the sight of the needle and the injection of lethal drugs causes animals way too much anxiety and pain. Next, it was off to a somewhat grisly report on lab rat euthanasia. And finally, I read the official stance from the Humane Society.

Next, it was time to research human euthanasia, and I started at the Wikipedia entry, where I learned more about some of the rather reasonable reasons people are against the practice (not the least of which was the fact the Nazis gave it a pretty bad name), which challenged my preconceived notion that it was all about religion.

The Wikipedia page led me to a message board discussion on the ethics of doctor-assisted euthanasia, where one of the responses mentioned the Nancy Crick case, which shows just how complicated the issue is (Crick said she was suffering terribly from bowel cancer and eventually killed herself, but apparently the problem was not cancer – none was found in the autopsy – but potentially fixable damage caused by previous cancer-related surgeries).

Reading up on the Crick case led me to the questionably named Compassionate Healthcare Network, an anti-euthanasia site that informed me of Oregon’s Dignity with Dying Act. It actually pointed me to some not-so-distressing stats regarding that particular law as well as one absolutely fascinating story of a woman putting the law in practice. The author notes that while the woman in the story lay dying, her brother read from William Wordsworth’s ‘Intimations of Immortality,’ …

… which led me full circle back to reading about poetry on aging. Of course, Wordsworth wasn’t a big fan of materialism and instead got turned on by ‘splendor in the grass’ and ‘thoughts … too deep for tears’, so I’m going to guess he wouldn’t have been a big fan of the Internet. As for me, I absolutely love ‘Intimations’, but damn, it’s long! Who’s got time to read all those words?? :-)


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