On Busy-ness

posted by linds

Check out this article on our busy lives. Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work. They schedule in time with friends the way students with 4.0 G.P.A.’s  make sure to sign up for community service because it looks good on their college applications.

 

More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.

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on why we need essayists

I read this essay by Joseph Epstein a while back, in one of those rare occasions when I actually read news on the day it was printed. And I was struck by the value of writers in the political discussion; not just people who write, but people who spend hours to craft a delightfully subversive, middle of the road, nuanced phrase.

Read this piece on the teacher strike in Chicago, not just because you care about a broader solution to our nation’s educational woes, but to see if you agree with me that more essayists belong in the news.

Here’s a taste:

For all the various studies, quick-shot panaceas and exotic reforms, nobody really knows how education works—knows, that is, why some children are inspired to learn and others left untouched by everything that goes on in a classroom.

The Future is Later

posted by cath

I’ve been in an idea dearth lately because I haven’t been reading anything good (help me out people). When you stop to think about it, does it surprise you how much of what you read isn’t good? And yet, we read on, read on, read on.

Well, my friends, here is something good: How to Spot the Future from Wired Magazine. It suggests seven ways to spot “the next big thing.” My favorite of the seven is Demand Deep Design, and here’s my favorite quote:

Our lives are beset by clutter, not just of physical goods but of ideas and options and instructions–and design, at its best, lets us prioritize.

I actually read this in the real live mag, and if you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up. The print version has commentary and personal opinions from several influential trend spotters, and they are pretty entertaining. Here are a few snippets:

How do I spot the future? Two words: flux capacitor.

–Chris Sacca

Instead of being a futurist, be a nowist.

–Joi Ito

The Service Patch

posted by cath

Okay, okay, okay. I’m going to post another David Brooks article. You’d think he’s all I read (and you’d be right! So post more so I can diversify!)

The rational part of my brain doesn’t believe all the talk about America going to hell in a hand basket, but I still find commentaries about the lack of moral moorings in my generation fascinating.

Like this one:

“Many people today have not been given vocabularies to talk about what virtue is, what character consists of, and in which way excellence lies, so they just talk about community service, figuring that if you are doing the sort of work that Bono celebrates then you must be a good person.”

And this one:

“In whatever field you go into, you will face greed, frustration and failure. You may find your life challenged by depression, alcoholism, infidelity, your own stupidity and self-indulgence. So how should you structure your soul to prepare for this?”

Ironically, David Brooks doesn’t give any answers in the end, and so I’m left asking you: How did you learn to structure your soul? Who taught you the vocabulary of virtue?

Full text here.

Why I Cried While Watching Invictus

posted by matt

I listen to a lot of music. If you are one of my (unfortunate) Facebook friends you have no doubt been spammed by incessant updates of what I’m listening to. I listen while I’m at home. I stream tunes whenever I’m driving. I do most of my listening alone. And there are times when I don’t listen: walking, sleeping, studying (occasionally). Sometimes it’s a leisurely activity – but more often than not I’ve come to realize that for me listening to music is a form of consumption. I’ll prowl around a blend of blogs, friends’ recommendations, or news, hungry like a wolf for a new sound which falls positively on the ear. I’ll pick an album based on some mix of criteria above and I will figuratively eat that album. I’ll attentively chew threw the album song by song, and either I’ll star a given song and add it to the master list1 (which, in theory is everything I like to listen to) or if I don’t like the song, I’ll dismiss it with no star and move to the next track.2 Sometimes the process occurs in the form of a snap judgment (a la Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink3) or sometimes I can’t make up my mind and decide it takes at least a couple more listens to determine tare or wheat. I have two primary motivations for this musical feast (1) to satiate my hunger to taste something new and different or (2) to familiarize myself with the work of groups, artists, or composers who have, in some form or another, become legendary or immortalized.4

At least that’s how I understand it in my mind. Seems pretty indulgent! But I’ve wondered if in my defence there is there some greater benefit or effect which I’m not realizing? Where does the hunger come from? There may be more that’s going on here. Before I go further I’ll ask the reader: why do you listen to music? Does it change your mood? Does it change who you are? Is it a social activity? Do answer those questions before you read further.

I stumbled upon some research in the UK and US entitled “English and American Adolescents’ Reasons for Listening to Music”5 by North, Tarrant, and Hargreaves which reveals some primary factors as to why individuals 15-276 listen to music.

Historically, research on the subject has indicated that people ages 15-27 “typically report listening to music in order to help pass time, relieve boredom / loneliness, and to create a good mood. (Zillman and Gann 1997).” The study by North et. al. sheds further light on particular reasons this demographic listens to music which are categorized by the author into three buckets:

  1. for reasons of self-actualization
  2. to fulfil emotional needs
  3. to fulfil social needs

Particularly, factor analysis performed on the data revealed these suggested buckets are made up of specific reasons for listening, such as:

  • to enjoy the music (emotional)
  • to be creative / use imagination (self-actualization)
  • to be popular with others (social)
  • to relieve boredom (emotional)
  • to express feelings / emotions (self-actualization)
  • to reduce loneliness (emotional & social)
  • and more

Other insights provided from the study I found interesting or I thought may pertain to me:

  • US respondents listen to more music than UK respondents
  • 22.8% of US respondents reported “other” as a reason they listen to music (there is clearly still unexplored area as to why people do it)
  • US males reported listening to music more for self-actualizing reasons than any other group
  • US participants who reported listening to music mostly alone, or who reported listening to the same amount of music in the company of friends as they did alone, also reported listening more to fulfil emotional needs than did those who listened mainly with others.
  • If you allege to have a high-level of musical experience, you listen to music for more self-actualizing reasons than if you have medium- or low-level experience

I’ve known for a while now that my favorite songs are sad songs. Which is sort of an irony; I don’t consider myself an eeyore, nor do I think people take me as a sad individual. My demeanor is generally easy going, light-hearted, happy (though not always). In light of this research, I believe that music is an emotional outlet for me. I don’t cry in “real life”7 very often so I use an outlet through music to fulfil the emotional need to cry. I may not feel particularly sad in a given moment, but if you were to play Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago8 or Beck’s Sea Change, I would feel truly and deeply sad. Or for another example, I rarely have angry outbursts, but Rage Against the Machine is a definite favorite group; not one I listen to every day but at certain points it is the right choice. “Who controls the past now, controls the future; who controls the present now, controls the past…who controls the present now?!”9

So why, when I recently watched the film Invictus, did I weep like a baby? The music. And because I needed to. The traditional South African folk song Shosholoza10 building harmoniously in the background and reaching its Zenith with the final Springbok penalty goal kicked through the uprights did me in. Triumph! Elation. Nevermind that the movie is at times cheesy, or that Matt Damon’s South African accent is laughable, or the fact that I’ve never played rugby nor have I had comparable experience to apartheid and all the prejudice that went down in South Africa as contextualized in the movie.11 It was an emotional release I needed, as spurred by sound. And I really do need those moments – I ask myself when was the last time I cried about something? I can’t remember. Maybe the Justin Bieber biopic?12

In closing, I’ve pointed to some findings in this research that relate to me – think about why you listen to music and what it does for you. Some people want to know all the “latest bands” and sort of flaunt them like a peacock. Others I know are very private about what they listen to. I’d love to hear anyone’s response of why they listen to music, no matter the context. Thanks for “listening.”

Endnotes

  1. My spotify starred playlist
  2. This behavioral pattern is not unlike what The Sneetches went through.
  3. Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
  4. You may be wondering how I afford this expensive indulgence? Well before a few years ago, yes, it was expensive, and at times limited by a proper budget. But with the advent of Spotify however this hunger is limited only by the Spotify catalogue (2nd only to iTunes) and time. I’ll put it this way that my Spotify premium membership is immaterial compared to my previous annual spend on digital music.
  5. Download it here
  6. Disclaimer: I am twenty-eight, but people frequently guess that I’m twenty-two or -four. Also my horoscope is Aquarius.
  7. Real life.
  8. It should be disclosed that this album consoled me after a bad break up. Maybe this fact trumps any other circumstantial or situational effect and just makes me sad no matter what. Also, these albums are both ostensibly albums written after really serious relationships or bad breakups.
  9. Lyric taken from George Orwell’s 1984.
  10. Another great rendition of Shosholoza by Ladysmith Black Mambazo
  11. I do however, love deeply the namesake poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley.
  12. Unconfirmed

Need a Coach? You probably do.

posted by linds

This article reinforced my desire for a coach in every aspect of my life, in particular the roles that I care about the most.

Check it out here.

“Gameness,” Concussions, and Football

posted by jack

Last week’s release of the film adaptation of Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games provides an opportunity to consider the current resonance of the ancient Latin proverb, panem et circenses, or, “bread and circuses.” The saying refers to the Roman contempt for a spoiled and entitled population, one who had mostly abandoned participation in important municipal and imperial political conversations for the baser, more selfish interest in one’s own entertainment and indulgence.

Collins named the political entity that survived a collection of natural, martial, and political disasters Panem in order to focus our attention and criticism on how near-sighted self-involvement not only distracts us from the real social, economic, and political tragedies occurring on our globe and in our nation, but how our own disinterest in these issues can affect and amplify the seriousness of these contemporary issues.

A not-insignificant portion of today’s circenses is football– high school, college, the NFL. Merely one college conference, the Southeastern Conference, topped $1 billion in revenue for the 2010-11 season. Football, in other words, leaves a pretty big footprint on our national landscape. Football’s relationship to The Hunger Games may at first appear forced, and while the comparison suffers in scale and intent (no one is out to kill or see someone be killed in football, despite the recent revelations of the New Orleans Saints’s bounty program), the NFL and NCAA football stand out because of our time commitment to and the integral role that violence play in the sport.

I probably pay more attention to the NFL than the average American, reading analyses, recaps, power rankings, etc. weekly, in addition to watching a number of games per week, each running approximately three hours. So despite my moaning over the absence of nuance in political ads, debates, and coverage, I probably spend more time watching commercials during a single NFL games than I have in attempting to follow the current GOP race or the healthcare debate at the Supreme Court.

But tackle football has more immediate consequences than simply weaning me from political engagement. An emerging awareness of the threat that concussions pose to amateur and professional football players might put the prominence of the sport at risk long-term, since growing evidence appears to suggest that athletic success comes at the expense of the mental and emotional health of the participants.

In 2009, Malcolm Gladwell wrote an expose of sorts for The New Yorker, providing a sketch of the burgeoning research into head and brain injuries of (mostly) professional football players. His most poignant and indicting image comes from comparing football players and their fans to the loyalty of dogs trained to fight in illegal dogfighting rings:

“In a fighting dog, the quality that is prized above all others is the willingness to persevere, even in the face of injury and pain. A dog that will not do that is labelled a ‘cur,’ and abandoned. A dog that keeps charging at its opponent is said to possess ‘gameness,’ and game dogs are revered.

In one way or another, plenty of organizations select for gameness. The Marine Corps does so, and so does medicine, when it puts young doctors through the exhausting rigors of residency. But those who select for gameness have a responsibility not to abuse that trust: if you have men in your charge who would jump off a cliff for you, you cannot march them to the edge of the cliff– and dogfighting fails that test.”

The question that Gladwell raises is whether or not we can separate the “breeding” for gameness in football players from the betrayal of that loyalty, whether intentional or not, and maintain interest in the NFL and football.

Football is almost unavoidable in the United States. Estimates place viewership for the most recent Super Bowl, between the New York Giants and New England Patriots, at 113 million, over a third of our population. No other domestic event or sport compares.  Comparing football to the Hunger Games borders on the hyperbolic and also ignores very real issues of tyranny, choice, child murder, and other things; however, on a more immediate level, panem et circenses asks us to reassess how we spend our time, and at what cost our choices come to ourselves and those removed from us.