Wait, You People Still Speak to Each Other?

I haven’t been home to D.C. since I left for south Texas just over seven months ago. I keep up with some home friends via phone, and I caught up with a few earlier this month out in L.A. But for a good chunk of news and gossip from home, I rely on an email listserv that circulates amongst the guys from home.

So when I found out today that someone who we all went to elementary school with was joining an American football team in Spain, it seemed implausible. At work, I run three different Twitter clients at all times. I have a cell phone, a landline, a Google Voice number, an actively updating Facebook news feed and at least three email accounts. How the hell had I not heard about this already? (1)

Usually, when anything semi-important happens involving someone at home — say, two kids from my high school getting their Cal Tech-certified game theory paper on waiting for the bus published in the New York Times Magazine — I know about it. But this one had eluded the listserv, apparently.

I emailed into the group to see what the word was. A response came back: “not true, i — and i thought others — knew about this like a week ago if not more?”

A week? Three constantly updating Twitter feeds — and I was behind by a week?

I searched my Gmail account. No word of any Spanish football league teams. I emailed my friend back: Was there some alternate, super-secret listserv circulating?

Then the response came:

“The secret listserv you refer to is in fact the technologically archaic word-of-mouth.”

Oh.


Post-script: Since this post was published, everyone from home has been piling on. “I would like to amend your latest blog update,” wrote one friend. “You were behind at least a month. I knew about Carl in December at least.”

Another, studying abroad: “even i knew and i am in a third world country living in a rice village.”

And worst of all, from my mother: “Actually, I knew that.”

  1. And as someone who considers himself a legitimate sports fan — and someone who spent half of 2008 living in Spain — how was I unaware that Spain had an American football league?

A Eureka! Moment: Why I Only Have Good Ideas When Tiny Scraps of Paper Are Around.

The revelation came to me in the moments before sleep, and I went searching for something to scribble it down on. All I could find was a small envelope on my kitchen table.

But what else could I be expected to write on in such a moment?

What hit me last night, what pulled me out of bed and sent me searching for any scrap of paper, was a simple truth: I only have good ideas when there’s barely anything around to write on.

I have owned dry erase boards that I’ve never used, oversized notepads that stayed blank and binders that held nothing.

But I’ve captured eureka! moments on cocktail napkins, scribbled genius ideas in the margins of newspaper columns and on business cards. I’ve rarely had success carrying around a notebook, with one exception: in the summer of 2008, when I had this bound, 3” x 2” pad that I covered every inch of with tiny thought bursts during my travels in China.

The more I consider it, the more the words jotted down last night on the back side of that envelope ring true: “The profundity of an idea varies in inverse proportion to the size of the paper it’s written on.”

eurekamomentsgraphed

Or, in words: the smaller (and stranger) the thing I’m writing on, the greater the eureka being written. (1)

I’ve always kept these big legal pads around for the moments in which I’d need to fully flesh out an idea. But maybe it’s that a confined space — forced brevity! — is the key to innovation.

Shouldn’t the best ideas should be jotted down in their most basic form first before being carefully considered and expanded upon? Isn’t it only fair to let a spark turn into a slow burn, to let brief moments of genius turn into something of scale?

This is the kind of revelation that could force a change in lifestyle. I’ve started thinking about getting rid of all the big legal pads around my apartment. With the money saved, I could head to a local paper store instead and buy a stack of customized cocktail napkins. (“From the Desk of Dan Oshinsky,” they’ll read.)

That’s just one idea; I still haven’t decided what the next step is. But I’m not too worried. I picked up a tiny green receipt from a parking garage the other day. It couldn’t be more than an inch tall and two inches wide. I guess I’ll just have to keep it around and wait for inspiration to strike.

  1. This may explain why I’ve jotted down great ideas on the inside of a paper towel roll but never on an actual, oversized paper towel.

Dear Fans: Please Stop Storming the Court After Inconsequential Wins.

I’m sorry, because this doesn’t concern either journalism or my mother (1), but this is too much.

At right, delirious Michigan fans are celebrating a win that happened just this afternoon over the University of Connecticut Huskies. Most years, a win over UConn would be a huge deal. But not this year.

This year, UConn’s best win to date is over William & Mary, a Colonial Athletic Association team that has never made the NCAA Tournament. (2)

And I simply cannot stand by while college sports fans are storming the court after their team beats a team whose previous best victory was over a team that has never played in the NCAA Tournament.

Luckily, I happen to run in the kind of circles where such thoughtless court storming is frowned upon. A friend, Ryan Meyer — who you should get LinkedIn with here — started a chain of e-mails last week after the Clemson Tigers defeated his North Carolina Tar Heels, leading to a storming of the court from Clemson fans. He argued — and most agreed — that UNC wasn’t good enough to deserve a court storming.

What was decided upon is that there should be a set of rules for fans to abide by before storming a court.

Those rules are:

1) The opponent your team just beat is ranked in the top 10, and your team is unranked.

2) The opponent is ranked #1 in the country (your team can hold any ranking below #10).

3) Your team wins on an incredible buzzer beater.

4) Your team wins the conference championship. (For example, Siena fans storming the court as their team clinches an NCAA berth.)

5.) Your team was ranked as a 20-point underdog by Vegas oddsmakers.

6.) It’s a massive rivalry game that your team hasn’t won in more than decade.

7.) Your team erased a deficit of 20 or more points during the game.

A combination of several of the above can also justify a court storming. Take the last court storming that I was involved in: Feb. 9, 2009. My Missouri Tigers were losing by 14 points at the half to the Kansas Jayhawks, a hated rival; KU was ranked in the top 15; and Mizzou hit a game winning shot in the last three seconds for the win. It wasn’t a 20-point deficit (rule #7), or a top-10 win (rule #1) or the end to a decade-long drought (rule #6). But the combination of the three puts it over the top:

  1. Which, as you’ll note from the header here at danoshinsky.com, is the main focus of my blogging efforts
  2. N.B.: UConn has beaten two teams that have beaten Top 50 RPI opponents. William & Mary has won at Wake Forest and at Maryland. Notre Dame has beaten West Virginia at home.

My Generation is Totally Screwed, and It’s All the iPhone’s Fault.

There is a very good chance that my generation is totally screwed.

Certain jobs are disappearing, and that’s a shame. It’s a shame that copy editors at newspapers are being fired. It’s a shame that accountants are being replaced by inexpensive computer software. It’s a shame that elevator operators are out of jobs (and have been for quite some time).

It’s a shame, but that’s all it is.

What’s terrifying — and maybe even dangerous — isn’t the loss of those jobs but the loss of certain skills. Technology has given us a wonderful ability to streamline our lives by pushing us past our cognitive limits. We have brains, yes, and when you sync that brain to an iPhone, you’ve got a tandem that’s capable of sorting through infinite amounts of hard data while freeing up space to make the difficult rational and emotional choices in our lives.

But what happens when we allow the machines to wholly replace certain skills? (1)

This isn’t the first time that someone’s raised concerns about the loss of basic human skills, and it won’t be the last. Consider the classroom, where teachers worry about the impact of calculators on students. Who needs long division when a TI-83+ can do it for you? Who needs to master proper spelling when spell check will fix your mistakes?

Technology is evolving faster than we are. It will, I believe, come to a point where it overwhelms us.

The only question left is, What do we do when we get there?

I think of poor orientation skills due to GPS technology, poor researching skills due to Google and poor handwriting skills due to computers. I wonder how my brain will hold up under an inundation of information. On a daily basis, I multi-task while monitoring cable news (including the ticker at the bottom of the screen) and a cascade of news and links via Twitter. There’s no way my brain’s capable of processing it all.

Then I think a bit deeper: I wonder what will happen to our interpersonal skills now that Facebook is the link connecting friends. Chivalry is dead, but text messaging has taken communication to an instantaneous level that humans have never before experienced.

There’s one more level, and it’s the one that worries me the most. Maybe our brains will be able to evolve with technology. Maybe my fears will go unrealized. But what if — in 20 or 30 years — we find out that technology has come at a human cost?

As I write this, I’m sitting in a window seat on an airplane. It’s a prop plane, and the blades are whirring with remarkable noise. I can barely hear my friend, who is sitting in the seat next to mine.

Two rows in front of us, on the other side of the aisle, a man is listening to his iPod at what must be an incredible volume. He’s seven feet away, but I can hear every drum snare and every bass line escaping out of his headphones.

I’d like him to turn the music down, not as much for my sake but for his. I cannot imagine how many decibels must be pumping into his ears, but I know it cannot be a healthy number. At this volume, this man is literally listening himself deaf.

So I wonder: what will my generation do if iPod use wreaks permanent hearing damage upon us? And what will we do if we find that cell phones have been pumping cancerous waves of radiation into our brains?

In previous generations, health risks were slightly less complicated. Cigarette use was linked to disease and early death, and smoking rates have declined steadily since. But cigarettes were just a tool to relax the mind; they weren’t rewiring it. Even if we find out that certain forms of technology are detrimental to our health, putting down the smartphone might be a tough task, especially as we grow dependent on it as the brain we keep in our pocket.

What I’m saying is this: if technology doesn’t leave us behind, we still might have to find a way to leave it behind.

That might just be the scariest thought of all.

  1. The answer — as it concerns taxpayer dollars — is debated at great length in P.W. Singer’s “Wired for War,” a wise read about the future of technology in the military.

Airport Questions.

“Do you know which way your gate is?”

I look up at the airline employee who just checked me in. It’s 4:52 a.m. at San Antonio Interational Airport.

“Excuse me?”

She repeats the question.

I look right. There is a security checkpoint over there.

I look left. About 10 feet away, there is a blank, white wall. There are no doors or exits or windows, only a dead end. I don’t have any rappelling equipment with me, and I’ve left my chainsaw at home. TSA orders.

I look up at her. She’s waiting for an answer: left, to the dead end, or right, to the gates.

I point. She smiles. I’ve passed the test.