Junk In And Junk Out

As a teacher and writer, I’m constantly thinking about the trap of social media, how much time it takes, the emotional trade off, and how little I learn, all of this balanced by the relationships I make online (which I do value). So is it worth it?

I also think a lot about how much we consume in our culture – entertainment-wise – rather than create, the scales not being balanced in the least. I worry about each time I zone out watching a screen for more than a few minutes. If I want to create, and to create quality work, I have to consume less and create more. And when I do consume, it has to be high-quality art (great books, poetry, lyrical rappers, paintings, sculpture, essays, etc.).

But that’s me – how I would say it. Here’s someone else’s voice…

Quoting Benjamin P. Hardy (from Medium):

“Invest At Least 80% Of Your “Off” Time Into Learning

Most people are consumers rather than creators.

They are at work to get their paycheck, not to make a difference.

When left to their own devices, most people consume their time as well. It is only by investing your time that you get a return on that time.

Nearly every second spent on social media is consumed time. You can’t have that time back. Rather than making your future better, it actually made your future worse. Just like eating bad food, every consumed moment leaves you worse off. Every invested moment leaves you better off.

Entertainment is all well and good. But only when that entertainment is an investment in your relationships or yourself. You’ll know if it was an investment if that entertainment continues to yield returns over and over in your future. That may include positive memories, transformational learning, or deepened relationships.

Even still, life isn’t purely about being entertained. Education and learning is also key. And although both are essential, education will provide far greater returns in your future.

The world’s most successful people are intense learners. They are hard readers. They know that what they know determines how well they see the world. They know that what they know determines the quality of relationships they can have and the quality of work they can do.

If you are constantly consuming junk media, how can you possibly expect to create high value work? Your input directly translates to your output. Garbage in, garbage out.”

Pretty good, right? Blunt and to the point, but accurate.

On the topic of high-quality art, here are three novels I’ve read this year that were incredible:

1. Zadie Smith’s NW (Note: the structure of this book is so mind-blowing, it could never be made into a movie.)

2. James Welch’s Fools Crow (US and native history collide with fiction – I’ve thought about the perspective in this book every day for two months, since I finished it).

3. Kent Haruf’s Our Souls At Night (I don’t know if I’ve ever read protagonists as real as the ones in this book).


The Internet Ruins Lives


I’m trying out this new idea, an hour at a time:

Zero internet.

For an hour.

No checking email, no Twitter, no Facebook. No CBS Sports, no New York Times, no CNN. No following a rabbit trail from Eugene’s 10-Day Forecast on the Weather Channel’s site to Antonio Brown’s Facebook Live fiasco to Youtube’s “The Netherlands Welcomes Trump In His Own Words” (which, trust me, is worth 4 minutes and 4 seconds of your life).

But it’s SO difficult. Especially while writing on a laptop. I go to research something related to my writing, say, Hiroshima 1945, and suddenly I’m reading about how to make sushi with Willamette Valley trout, then off to a fly-fishing trout video filmed in western Montana, then how to pack raft down the Escalante River in Utah.

Wait, what was I talking about?

Right, the internet.

Yes, I recognize the irony of writing about no internet while posting on a blog…on the internet.


But this is real. The addiction. The distraction that is the little guiding Safari compass or gorgeous little orange Firefox wrapped around a globe of pure, pure blue. I want to click them. I want to click them so badly.

Yet, I’ve found a way not to be on the internet, using a mantra. Each morning – when I get up to write, to write a real book, a manuscript, not a post or status update, but a real book – I say this to myself:

“The internet is broken. The internet is very, very broken right now.”

But sometimes I don’t believe myself, so I have to be emphatic:

“The internet is broken WORLD WIDE RIGHT NOW!!! So there’s no possible way it’ll work for the next hour. You can’t search or click anything. You can’t check your notifications.”

The only thing is, sometimes my finger acts of its own volition, just drags that little arrow down, down, down – to the toolbar at the bottom of the screen – and sometimes I even click that internet icon without meaning to and a page pops up, and…


Damn. What is this internet thing, anyway? This vapid little pill?

I used to have a wrestling teammate in college who’d tried crystal meth once – only once, back when he was seventeen years old – and he talked about it for the rest of his life. He said, “There’s nothing like it. Nothing at all. And all I want to do is do it, do it all the time, every single night. I think about it all the time.”

I nod and smile. Say, “Yes, I know what you’re talking about. I too have this little addiction.”

Update – Post School Shooters Article

Thank you for all the support and encouragement, and thank you for all the dissent and disagreement. My hope in publishing this piece (or posting it on my blog) was to start a discussion. And that discussion is certainly taking place thanks to all of you.

I knew this was an important topic, and that’s why I was so frustrated that the Huffington Post chose not to publish my op-ed piece.  In the end, that’s all it was, an op-ed piece. My opinion on a topic.

To clear a few things up:

1. I never suggested that all violent video game players would become violent in real life. I did suggest that violent video game playing might be a major contributing factor in mass school shootings. I know that my evidence is anecdotal at best, but (fortunately) we do not have a large enough school shooter sample size to have anything other than anecdotal evidence in this case.

2. Many of my readers have written intelligently-phrased anecdotes of themselves playing video games and not becoming violent, but other readers have countered that video game violence blurs the line between reality and non-reality and makes real violence seem like a more viable option. I’m not sure which anecdotes are more valid. But I question whether any practiced violence is positive, especially for angry or mentally ill teenage boys. And again, why do any of us need to practice, simulate, or glorify violence in any form? What does that do for us as human beings? How does that make any of us into better people?

3. Some readers suggested that mass school shootings pre-dated video games, but that is false.  There were many school shootings in the late 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries in the United States. Dozens of teachers were shot in front of their classrooms by disgruntled students.  But that is something entirely different. Mass shootings of fellow students or younger students by young male shooters is a newer phenomenon. And that phenomenon has become more common since the advent of violent video games.

4. Yes, we do have a gun problem in the United States. It is crazy that gun purchasers can circumvent gun shop laws and standard waiting periods by buying handguns at gun shows. That’s silly. That’s like allowing 13-year-olds to legally buy alcohol but only at the county fair.  Plus, assault rifles shouldn’t be available to anyone.  They’re called “assault rifles.” I know that many readers disagree with this point because they talk about the “right to bear arms,” the Second Amendment. But do those readers know the context of the creation of that amendment? Yes, if I had armed, foreign troops stationed in my home, and we had had multiple wars on our soil in the past 100 years, I might feel differently.  But I don’t, we haven’t, and the hypothetical “maybe it could happen” is not a strong argument.

Thanks to all of those who posted on Facebook, retweeted, and blogged in response. I read as much of that response material as I could, but responses got beyond me. Thank you for continuing the conversation.  Thank you for agreeing and disagreeing.  Keep it going.


A Healthy, Long Rant – Give The Commenter The Floor

I was commiserating with Jay Kinzel (a regular commenter on this blog) about one of our collective pet peeves, when a person bores you to death in conversation.  Can’t they tell that they’re punishing you?  Don’t they know that they’re horribly and unforgivably boring?

Jay and I realized that there are certain phrases that precede total and utter boredom.  For example, when a kid says, “Let me tell you about this one episode of Sponge Bob.”

“Really?” I think to myself.  “Please, please don’t.”

Or when a person says, “Well this is what my cold’s like.  It’s sort of a…”

In this situation, I wonder why I’m being tortured.  I wonder what I’ve done to deserve someone describing the minutia of their physical ailment.  “Oh, you have thick clogging snot in the back of your throat?  Really?  Thanks for telling me that.  I certainly do appreciate that specific detail.  Oh, you’re eyes are scratchy and there’s a whitish film on your tongue?  Can I smell it?”


But while I was thinking about this, Jay was doing much better.  He was writing a solid and detailed rant on the topic.  And his rant is too good not to include here.

So this is from Jay:

“It may be hard to admit, but we’ve all done it.  We don’t mean to do it.  It just happens.  We verbally assault someone with a boring story.  There is no shame in being boring.  I’m probably the most boring person on the planet.  I have an MBA, live in the suburbs, married once, have a golden retriever, drive an SUV and have 2 kids.  I’m the antithesis of the dude from the Dos Equis commercials.  But what’s worse than being boring is not being self-aware.  So, I put together this list to give you a guide or a heads-up that you are about to bore to death another human being.  If you start a story with any of these statements, you are on your way to making the person you are talking to wish they were somewhere else.  Anywhere else.

  • You won’t believe what my kid did yesterday. Yes, I will.  I have two kids of my own.  They probably did the same thing you’re about to tell me about your kid.  And, I could barely feign interest when my wife was telling me about my own kid.  So, keep track of this stuff in a scrapbook and then never, ever show that scrapbook to anyone.
  • I saw this amazing video on YouTube last night. YouTube has some great stuff.  I’ve seen a lot of funny and amazing stuff there.  But, your description is going to be neither funny nor interesting.  Just email me the link and I’ll check it out.  Don’t try to paint me a word picture about the 6-minute time-lapse video of a skyscraper being built.
  • My boss is so stupid. This may be true.  Most people think this about their boss.  But, the only thing I will be thinking while you tell me this boring story is how smart can you be, working for someone who you think is so stupid?  George Carlin said it best, “Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.”
  • I just barely lost my fantasy football matchup this weekend. I love fantasy football.  Love it.  I’m in between 4 and 8 leagues every year.  But, even if we are in the same league, I couldn’t care less about how you lost by 1 point when Tom Brady hit a Hail Mary in the waning seconds of Monday Night Football.  Keep it to yourself, Sparky.
  • Maybe you had to be there. This should be self-explanatory.  What this really means is, “Unless you were actually there witnessing this event, my verbal recap will have zero interest to you.”  I had to be there.  I wasn’t.  Let’s move on.
  • Let me show you some pictures from my vacation. Unless you went on vacation with Miranda Kerr, Candice Swanepoel or Meatloaf, I couldn’t have less interest in your vacation pictures.  Sure, I will flip through them, fake smile and look for every opportunity to skip a picture or two.  But make no mistake, I would rather watch paint dry.
  • You won’t believe the stuff that was on sale at the store today.  This one seems so obvious.  But, it’s amazing how many people want to tell me (or even worse) show me what they got on sale.  Ugh.  Your last bowel movement has as much appeal.
  • My kid is so smart.  Everyone thinks his kid is smart.  I even think at least one of my kids is smart.  But, unless your kid gets into college at age 10 or something like that, I’m not going to be impressed.  And even though I may be impressed, I’m still going to be bored.  So, if little Molly makes the honor roll, great.  That’s never been done before.  Congrats.
  • The Presidential debate last night was unbelievable. Let me guess.  Some middle aged dude in a blue suit and a red tie talked about the need for change, how he can fix “the system” (whatever that is), and how his opponent will ruin your life if he’s elected.  Yep.  Seen it.  Next.
  • I may have told you this story already.  If you ever lead with this one, I will definitely say I’ve heard it before.  Starting a story like this is kind of like a Get Out of a Boring Story For Free Card.  Thanks.
  • I heard this on Facebook.  I’ve never been on Facebook, but I think you usually “read” things on Facebook.  Facebook doesn’t speak to you, so you can’t “hear” things, right?  Either way, it doesn’t matter.  I don’t give a %&#@.
  • So, last night we were playing this board game.  The only thing worse than the agony of having to play a board game, is listening to someone recount their playing of a board game.  Yes, I’m sure it was brutal when you rolled doubles for the third time and had to go to jail.  Life really isn’t fair, is it?
  • I can’t believe it’s been 5 years since my grandpa died.  (In addition to being boring, I am also insensitive.  I submit this as Exhibit A into evidence.)  I’m sure your grandpa was a great guy.  Mine was too.  But, you know what?  There was probably a service and eulogy 5 years ago.  We don’t need to recount it here.  People that are actually alive aren’t very interesting.  What makes you think the dead guy will be interesting?
  • I was sooo drunk last night.  I get that your drinking may make me more tolerable.  But, I assure you it did not make you more tolerable.  Just sayin.
  •  Did I tell you about my trip to Washington DC?  Don’t ask me this question.  Because I will be forced to lie in order to try and avoid hearing this story.  And even if I haven’t heard the story from you, I’ve still heard it before.  “First, we went to the Smithsonian and then we went to the Lincoln Memorial and then…” ZZZZZZZZZZZ.
  • You won’t believe what happened at work today.  There is a 100% chance that I will believe it.  I take great effort in not talking about what happens to me at work.  Why?  Because work is boring.  There is a reason they pay you to be there.  Work is a fact of life.  Talking to someone else about your job doesn’t have to be.
  • I found these great coupons.  This is the ugly stepsister to “You won’t believe the stuff that was on sale at the store today.”  And it is really ugly.  Now you are going to tell me about crap that you haven’t even bought yet?  You cannot be serious.
  • I just read about this amazing new diet.  Wow!  You can only be telling me this because you think you are fat (probably true) or you think I’m fat (certainly true).  Either way.  Neither of those things is going to change.  So what do you say we skip hearing the boring story about this diet and go get some ice cream?”


    Amen, Jay.  AMEN.



On Cell Phones and Facebook.

I realized that my-only-friend-in-the-entire-world-Jeff-Hess doesn’t understand my decision-making process.  He defended his phone and Facebook addictions.

But for me, it’s all about time.  Anything to save time, set aside time, put more time into the things I care about.

Thus, to start, no cell phone.

I know.  I’m the weird one.  What used to be seen as a cool oddity – that I don’t have a phone – is now thought of as a freakish character flaw.

To quote a lady I met recently.  “WHAT?  YOU DON’T HAVE A PHONE?!!!  ARE YOU KIDDING?  THAT’S RIDICULOUS.”

People don’t even try to hide their disgust.

So I get it.  I’m passe.  So far behind the times that I’m picking up its garbage.

But I know myself.  I can get addicted to anything.  And if I had a call anyone at any time/text as much as I want/check the internet anywhere I go/Twitter it/hand-held device, things would get ugly.  I’d be like those hunched over University of Oregon football players who, I swear, cannot walk two steps on campus without checking their phones.

Same with Facebook.  Or as the cool kids say, F-Book.

Pictures and messages and updates and three-hundred “friends”?  Really?

How much time could I spend browsing there?  Five hours a day?  Ten? Fifteen?

I already blog for two websites, check my email with the mouth-slobbering frequency of a meth addict, read inane sports posts until way past my bedtime.  So do I really need one more thing?  One more time suck?

Like I said, I understand people’s reactions.  I’m the weird one.  But I know me.