Tag Archives: morons

The Experts Are Probably Wrong.

“Whatever you believe / You might be wrong.” — Paul Thorn

 
When I was in college, I was part of a small group of journalism students who took classes that were basically about the Internet. This was 2005 or so. Journalism on the Internet wasn’t new, but it was for journalism schools.

Anyway, we spent a lot of time in class talking about things that seem funny now. Was Facebook journalism? Was blogging?

Again: It was 2005.

But one thing was made very clear to me by my professors, and by pretty much every professional person I knew: We had to be careful about what we posted online. If we weren’t vigilant, we’d never get a job in the real journalism world!

Yesterday, my current employer hired a guy whose Twitter handle is @WeedDude.

Really:

And then there’s stuff like this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

And here’s a presentation that the CEO of my company likes to give at conferences. It includes this slide:

And I could go on and on. Just know: All of that comes from respected, professional, important people who make stuff in our world.

Point is: Whatever the experts are telling you, there’s a good chance they’re wrong. Seven years ago, every professional journalist in the world would’ve told you that professionalism came first. That keeping the appearance of seriousness mattered.

It turned out that they were wrong. Newspapers might’ve been built for professional-looking/sounding reporters, but the web is a wonderful place where strange/eccentric/bizarre people flourish. Weirdness is celebrated here.

Anyway, if someone tells you something’s for certain, there’s a good chance they’re wrong. Don’t blindly accept the advice of experts. Question them. Challenge them.

Just FYI.

An Oshinsky Family Lesson: Do Big Things With Crazy Amounts of Love.

“Of all the things to be picky about, people is the most important.” — Nick Seguin

 
Two years ago, I wrote a happy birthday message to my mother on this blog. It read:

“A very happy birthday to you, mom, without whom this blog would not be possible, and without whom I would be rendered hopelessly, painfully normal.”

Normal.

Normal.

Normal.

I shudder just thinking about it.

Normal isn’t something we Oshinskys do, and it gets us some weird looks. I’ve done a lot of things that I keep being told I’m not supposed to have done. For me, lots of stuff has come out of order. I covered my first NFL game before I went on my first real date. My first paid job in newspapers wasn’t a full-time gig, but it did involve covering the Olympics in Beijing.

This thing I hear from others — that there is some sort of order to this life — has never really applied to me, and I don’t mind that at all.

Mine is my path, and I’m rather fond of where it’s been taking me, potholes and steep climbs and all.

I learned the ways of the unmarked path from my family. The Oshinsky family does not do ordinary.

My father, at 55, decided he wanted to get into the best shape of his life, and he spent a year doing just that.

My mother, at 52, decided she wanted to run a marathon, and she finished at a 14:30-per-mile pace.

My sister decided she wanted to spend a semester of high school studying abroad — and then pulled off five months on the beaches of the Bahamas.

My brother decided he wanted to use his bar mitzvah for good, and raised $15,000 to build a playground in post-Katrina New Orleans.

I do not believe that we are an extraordinary family. We are not the smartest people you will ever meet, and we are certainly not the most athletic.

But in the Oshinsky family, we take pride in our work. We do big things with great amounts of love. We hustle.

When we go for something, we go all in.

I cannot imagine life any other way.

That photo at top is of my little sister, Ellen. She does crazy beach workouts.

Why I Am Giving Such a Ridiculous TEDx Talk Tomorrow.

Tomorrow, I will speak at TEDxMU, the TED-approved event happening here at Mizzou. I’m enormously excited to be a part of the speaking list. Astronauts, businessmen, leaders and thinkers will be speaking.

And me, somehow.

Of course, I’m not content giving just any speech. I decided that if I was going to give a TED talk, I was going to make it big.

The advice that I should stay in over my head at all times hit home, I guess.

This is a common theme among my talks. Last summer, I spoke at an event called Disruptathon about a man named Skeet. I had a speaking coach tell me that my speech didn’t make any sense.

I was named runner-up for best presentation.

I spoke in December at NewsFoo. A friend told me that I was an idiot. You’re getting a chance to speak to a big room of powerful journalism folks, and you’re not going to say a single word about your business? You’re going to spend five minutes talking about your mother? That’s just dumb, Dan.

The talk got big applause. Even my friend later conceded: It worked. I don’t know how, but it worked.

So tomorrow? Tomorrow I will get up in front of the TEDxMU crowd and give a 13-minute talk about U2. I will play guitar for the crowd and lead a sing-along, even though I’ve never played guitar in front of a hundred people before, and I’ve certainly never lead a sing-along before.

I do not know how it will go. I hope it will go well. I’ve looked back at my lessons from Disruptathon — know your audience, show (don’t tell), and use your time wisely — and I think I’ve got it down for this thing. I’ve also kept in mind all those times that things have gone horribly wrong. Even in those times, things have always eventually worked out okay.

I’ve practiced the speech. I know the chords to “Elevation” as best I can. When I put public speaking on my List of Things for 2012, and I meant it. No backing down now.

The only thing left is to get up, smile big, be confident and give the most ambitious, most absurd talk I can.

Here goes.

Introducing Smartphoneless (a Dan Oshinsky blog venture).

Back in July, I decided to defend my choice of telephonic device with a blog post, titled, “Why I Do Not Have a Smartphone.” Many people read this post, said they appreciated my opinion and then told me that I was a moron.

The questions about my phone persist. Every week, a handful of people offer to buy me a nicer phone. Many still ask me how I can live without a phone that checks email. The very sight of me flipping open my phone to take a call gets chuckles.

So I’ve decided to take a formal stand. This week, I launched Smartphoneless.com, a destination for me to post thoughts about and defense of my very phone. There are others like me out there, bravely venturing into a world where needing directions requires asking a live human for help, where taking a picture requires an independent photographic device, where playing Words With Friends is limited to the other fifteen Internet-connected devices we carry around in our bags. Smartphoneless is for the rest of us, the quasi-untethered who walk among the masses.

I may be an idiot by birth, but I use a flip phone by choice.

Follow along with my smartphoneless life, if you wish.

What Happens When You Call Three Airline 1-800 Numbers in One Night… And Then Zappos.

Travel Sponsor: Zappos

So this is the story of how I called three airline customer care numbers in one night — and then Zappos.

And then I understood.

Now, I don’t recommend calling multiple airline customer care hotlines within the span of an hour. They’ll make you mad. At the first airline, it took me 15 minutes to get on the line with someone — and that’s only after pressing every button on my phone five times just to figure out the secret code to get to an actual human. At the second, the customer care rep actually snarled at me over the phone. By the third call, I was numb.

Airlines have gotten pretty good at replicating the in-flight experience over the phone, it seems.

Then I called Zappos. And this is where all the happy-smiling-elves, over-the-rainbow stuff that I’d been hearing about Zappos comes into play.

Last month, I decided to buy two pairs of boots on their site. I found the ones I wanted. Clicked buy. Got the confirmation email that they’d been sent. And for three days, I checked each morning to see when my shoes would be arriving.

I was weirdly excited for these shoes. I’ve never owned a pair of decent boots before. The thought of looking all professional was… kinda cool, actually.

Anyway, it’s Thursday, and I check the UPS site. The package had been delivered, it said. I walked home, walked to my mailbox… and nothing.

I went to my apartment. Nothing sitting on my door.

I took a loop around the apartment building. Then outside.

Nothing.

I call the landlord. Anyplace else I should be checking?

Nothing.

So I call Zappos. And they tell me: Yeah, it’s not all that uncommon that around Christmas that people steal packages. But that’s alright. UPS insures everything we send. When we get your shoes back in stock, we’ll just send you a new pair.

Sweet!

Two weeks pass, and I check the Zappos website. One pair of my shoes is in stock. I give Zappos a call.

Just as before, a human picks up quickly. She’s cheery, pleasant. Even makes small talk about state abbreviations.(1) I tell her about my issue. She looks through it, tells me not to worry about the stolen shoes. Tells me she’s happy to refund the money for the pair of boots that isn’t in stock, and she’ll send me the other boots right away.

And, just for being patient with us: We’re upgrading you to VIP status, so you can get way faster shipping.

Sweet!

I get the confirmation email from Zappos this morning. The boots will be here this very afternoon.

Really sweet!

And this time — I’m not taking any chances. I’m having them shipped to work.

  1. “MO! I’d never heard someone pronounce your state’s abbreviation as a word before!”

What the Hell is the New York Times Doing Selling Subscriptions Inside the ‘Wal-Mart of New York City?’

I was in New York City last week, and I went shopping with a friend. Or, more accurately: She went shopping, and I came along to try on funny hats and annoy her.

Nevertheless: She took us to a store north of Columbus Circle. I’d never heard of the store before. It was called Century 21, which is apparently unrelated to the real estate seller of the same name. My friend referred to the store as the Wal-Mart of Manhattan.

But what made an impression on me wasn’t the store itself — though it did seem like a Wal-Mart that was trying extra hard to dress up appropriately for the city — but this display in the front of the store. It was a table near the entrance, and there was a rep from the New York Times sitting there, selling subscriptions to the paper. Buy a subscription, get a $50 gift card to shop at Century 21.

And this just started to bother the hell out of me.

So I’m writing this post now because I’d like some answers. I’m confused as to how the New York Times — the newspaper of record for the freaking universe — could end up in a business relationship with a store that sells designer gloves at 50% off retail. Such a partnership seems to violate even the most basic rules of branding.

Because if I’m in charge of the New York Times brand, I’m asking these questions before I enter into any business relationship:

-How does this extend the New York Times’ brand?
-Is this a positive extension of the Times’ brand?
-Is the Times reaching new clientele with this partnership? Could this clientele be reached otherwise?
-Does this make the New York Times money?
-Does it do enough of both — reach new clientele and make money — to justify the partnership?

In my estimation, I’m not sure what such a partnership with Century 21 does for the Times. There are an endless number of points where you can interact with the Times’ brand: In print, online, through advertising, through social media. If you pop into an Apple Store to test drive an iPad, and you see a New York Times app on the device, that’s an interaction with the brand. (And for the record, that’s a damn good interaction. Gold stars to the Times rep who pulled that one off.)

So I’m confused as to why the Times would want a “Please buy our product and we’ll give you a few bucks off shoes!” brand interaction at Century 21. If anything, it seems to cheapen the Times’ brand. It seems to scream, “We’ll sell papers anywhere they’ll let us. Even here!”

Here’s what the Times itself wrote about the store in an article just two months ago:

“Civilized it’s not.”

“The dramatic markdowns and bazaarlike atmosphere (nothing’s chained for security, yet) can encourage foolish fashion risks.”

“I descended to hell, a k a the fluorescent-lighted basement footwear department…”

“What the branch lacks in ambience (brace for cheap carpets, garish cylindrical light fixtures and droning soft rock)…”

You get the idea. Why’s the Times decided to associate itself with that?

To go question by question through the bullets I’ve listed above:

How does this extend the New York Times’ brand? It gives the Times a direct presence in seven large department stores in and around the city.

Is this a positive extension of the Times’ brand? Unlikely. Here’s how I’ve always determined a newspaper’s true audience: See who they’re writing about in the vows and the obituary sections. Those are the types of people they’re really writing for. I’m not sure that I see the Times’ vows/obit audience having much crossover with Century 21’s core of shoppers, most of whom seemed to be foreigners and out-of-towners. (The locals were all bargain hunters, and I’ll get to them in a second.)

Is the Times reaching new clientele with this partnership? Could this clientele be reached otherwise? Maybe. There might be a non-New York crowd at Century 21 that might want to subscribe to the paper, I think. But it’s also worth asking: Are the kinds of people shopping for deep discounts the same people with disposable income to spend on a yearly subscription to a print newspaper?

And I do think much of this audience could be reached otherwise. Might some of this audience — especially the foreign shoppers — be more interested in a subscription to the Times online as opposed to a print subscription?

I’m told the Times also has a similar presence at the city’s many street fairs, but that’s a different story. In that case, the Times is also associating itself with a brand, but the brand is New York City itself. The Times wants to be the paper of record for the city. Nothing wrong with being visible within city limits, and I’d guess that the street fair audience isn’t all that different from the Century 21 audience. (In fact, it might be more domestic, and weed out the international shoppers who can’t buy a print subscription anyway.)

Does this make the New York Times money? This is the big question, and I don’t have an answer to it. In most arrangements like this, it’s the Times that would be paying to get a spot inside the store. (It is also possible, though less likely, that it’s Century 21 that’s paying the Times, and Century 21 is hoping that the halo of “elite” status that the Times exudes will help increase sales of, I dunno, handbags.) I’d guess that the Times offers up a percentage of in-store subscription sales to Century 21, on top of a fixed payment to get into the store in the first place.

Does it do enough of both — reach new clientele and make money — to justify the partnership? I just cannot imagine a situation in which it does much for the Times’ brand or bottom line. Who okayed this partnership? The whole thing confuses me, really.

Of course, I’d love to get a real answer on this from someone at either the Times or Century 21. Because the way I’m seeing it, this is the kind of partnership that reeks of desperation. This looks like a brand that’s going to any length just to make a sale — even if in the course making the sale, they’re actually hurting the overall reputation of the Times’ brand.

I just don’t understand it.

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These Things I Know To Be True.

Jorge Chávez International Airport is not a fun place to be, especially after midnight when you’re leaving Peru but your flight back to Houston has been delayed yet again. But my delay at Lima’s airport gave me a few minutes to reflect on my recent trip abroad, and especially on a few things that I very much know to be true.

  1. A country cannot be truly free until its people can print out airline boarding passes from home.
  2. If my mother starts running at the sight of someone, you should start running too.
  3. Wherever your are, the drivers are worse than wherever you just were.
  4. There is nothing more arbitrary in this world than airport taxes.
  5. If you are on a historical tour, and your tour guide is not speaking in his/her native language, the truth will become slightly more malleable.
  6. It is difficult to trust anyone who packs more than 50 lbs. of luggage for a vacation to anywhere short of Antarctica.
  7. The same holds true for those who refuse to turn off their phones in the middle of the Amazon rainforest.
  8. The number of crying children on your plane varies directly with the length of your flight.
  9. It actually kind of helps to smile while you’re getting screwed.
  10. Luxury is a very, very relative term.

Do Not Attend the Fourth of July in Biloxi, Miss., Unless You Have Very Good Health Insurance.

In the summer of 2009, having just accepted a job at a TV station in San Antonio, Texas, I attempted to convince my bosses to allow me to channel my inner Dave Barry and publish a daily blog, to be titled “The Evolution of Local Man.” The pitch, as I delivered to my bosses in an email:

Local Man finds himself in a constant, Sisyphusian struggle against success. He has attempted to scale buildings when drunk. He has acted in anger against drive-thru speaker boxes. He has found himself ornery, naked and, most often, confused.

And Local Man will not stop there. He will persevere; he will evolve. Local Man has not failed at all he can fail at.

The blog never happened, (1) but Local Man lived on that year in our news broadcasts. He crashed through windows, busted through police barriers and achieved all kinds of stupid. I was proud to just be there to read the police reports.

But I left South Texas last week, packed my life into a Chevy Trailblazer and moved east, to Biloxi, Miss. When I was arrived, Local Man was here waiting for me.

❡❡❡

Every year, from some tiny port of call you’ve never heard of comes a story so sordid, it’s tough to believe it only happens dozens of times every year. On the Fourth of July, Local Man drinks heavily, lights off fireworks and brings harm upon himself and others. This year, in Chicago, a firework blew up in a man’s face. Fireworks exploded in a teen’s face in Tennessee. Fireworks even blew a man’s arm clear off on Long Island.

And those are just the first three links I clicked on in Google News.

But what I’m really here to say is that any of those local men could have been me, Dan Oshinsky, a respectable, not-in-possession-of-exploding-substances American who just happened to be dangerously close to the path of a toddler with a lit Roman candle on Sunday.

On the Fourth, at about 9 p.m., I drove down to the Biloxi beach to enjoy the fireworks. I did not expect that this would be a life-threatening decision.

What I know now — and what I wish I known then — was that a Mississippi fireworks show should probably come with a surgeon general’s warning. Just in my walk down to the beach, I crossed paths with a handful of teens shooting off Roman candles into and over a crowd of thousands. I came about fifteen feet away from a ten-year-old who was lighting off some $20 fireworks with the range of a Soviet-era warhead.

To put it in perspective: I hadn’t see that much firepower in one place since my visit to Tiananmen Square.

But it’s tough to blame those kids for being stupid. At least they weren’t drunk at the time (2)

I will, however, point the finger at one Local Man (see above photo), who, for the purposes of this blog post, I will describe as Some Giant Drunk Asshole (SGDA, for short). SGDA was about six feet tall, with all the shapeliness of a small zeppelin. In tow, he had his son, who was maybe two or three years old. And there SGDA was, handing a lit match to his kid, who put it to the wick on a loaded firework and ran.

This happened, oh, about 20 feet away from me.

It was very, very loud.

And then SGDA lit another firework. And other one. And maybe five or seven more.

All while the actual fireworks display was going on.

Was there remorse from SGDA? An apology for nearly blowing off my ear when one of his miniature rockets turned into a sidewinder?

Of course not. Local Man cannot apologize for what he cannot comprehend.

When the actual fireworks display ended, the kids on the beach were down to a handful of Roman candles and bottle rockets. SGDA had lit off the last of his $100 or $150 worth of explosives.

I still tiptoed out of there like I was crossing a minefield near the DMZ.  I wanted, badly, to live. Besides, what good is seeing Local Man in the flesh if you’re not around to tell his story?

  1. I believe the word “total loss of credibility” was mentioned at one point in their argument against it.
  2. I think.

When You See Me Sprinting Through an Airport, Please Step Aside.

There’s this amazing moment in one of Carl Reiner’s and Mel Brooks’ “2000 Year Old Man” sketches, when Reiner is moving through a line of questions about the early days of man. He’ll get to the good stuff in a second — questions about Joan of Arc, questions about the secrets to longevity — but first, he’s got a softball. “What was the main means of transportation back then?” he asks.

Brooks’ response is classic deadpan, and he crushes it. “Fear,” he says. “You’d see a tiger, and you’d run a mile in a minute.”

We don’t have such sources of transportation inspiration anymore. Except for one, really: the fear of missing an airplane.

On Thursday, I was nearly confined to the multi-thousand square foot beast that is Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

So I ran.

❡❡❡

The last time I made the airport sprint was in San Francisco. My shuttle to the airport was late — by an hour. My flight was on time. From curb to last-call at my gate, I’d been given 14 minutes. But San Francisco International is a relatively easy airport. Each wing has its own security checkpoint, servicing just a dozen or so gates, and I didn’t have any bags to check in, so I butted in line, apologized profusely and then ran — my left hand keeping my pants up, my heavily duct-taped roller bag and belt over my head and waving behind me. I ran like Reggie Bush on a punt return, dodging travelers, spinning away from golf carts, my eyes upterminal at all times. I made it to the gate — the very last gate in the terminal, of course — in time.

I gasped.

I heaved.

But I was on the plane.

❡❡❡

My sense is that Americans, in general, love to procrastinate. We also love to be lazy, to lounge around and to waste time.

So it should follow, logically, that getting a few hours to kill at the airport would be an American pastime.

That’s how I used to feel, actually. When I was young, I’d to ride the subway down with my dad to National Airport in D.C., and we’d sit by the windows and watch the planes take off. Some fathers and sons went to baseball games or the zoo to relax; we went to the airport.

But most Americans don’t see the airport as a relaxing place. That’s why we have a phrase for the occasion: stuck at the airport. Or worse: stranded at the airport.

In all your years, have you ever heard anyone outside of a first class lounge talk excitedly about an extended airport layover? Don’t worry about me, honey. I’ve got four whole hours to spend at Boston Logan!

As a society, we are not claustrophobic, but we fear airport-based confinement, and all of its trappings: patience, non-reclining chairs and doubly-overpriced Starbucks.

Maybe it’s just the way we define airports. We break them up into sections — Terminals, we call them — but we view them with a lower case ‘T.’ As in: beyond curable. Beyond suffering.

As in: the stage just before the light.

❡❡❡

The first sign of trouble hit my inbox on Thursday. There they were two e-mails from Continental Airlines informing me that my flight to Houston had been delayed. I looked at the details. Both said my 8:35 flight had been delayed to…. 8:35. Whatever.

By the time I’d gotten to San Antonio, the departure monitors told a different story. The 7 a.m. to Houston still hadn’t taken off yet. The 8:35 was delayed until 10:15.

My connecting flight in Houston left at 10:30.

I’ll fast-forward for you: I got on a non-delayed 9:15 flight, due to land in Houston’s Terminal C at 10:10. The connection was over in the B gates, no. 75. High numbers are never a good sign, and when my San Antonio flight stalled on the runway for 10 minutes — broken radars in the control tower, the captain said — I wasn’t optimistic about getting to B75 in time.

But we touched down at 10:04, and I was sitting in row 8, and the flight attendant said that since so many people had been delayed that morning, please, for the courtesy of your fellow passengers, let’s have only the passengers with urgent connecting flights stand up when the plane stops.

The plane stopped. The first eight rows stood up.

One guy was connecting to Kansas City. Another to New York. Someone else to Albuquerque, I think.

The doors opened, and we ran.

We ran through the jetway, where the emergency alarm had sounded when the gate agent had goofed in a rush to open the doors for us. We ran through the noise and into….

…Terminal E. Not, as I’d been told, Terminal C, only a quick one-hop subway connection away from my B gate. Instead, I was in the third-to-last gate in the terminal farthest away from where I needed to go. I’d have to cover over a mile of airport in about 12 minutes.

Naturally.

But my next gate hadn’t changed: B75. At least I knew my destination.

Houston Intercontinental Airport

❡❡❡

There are three keys, in my opinion, to surviving the airport sprint:

1. Use the Reverse Jinx: Sitting in San Antonio International on Thursday, I knew two things:

A. If I didn’t eat, I’d make my connecting flight but not have enough time to grab a bite in Houston, and I might not eat anything until 2 or 3. That wouldn’t do.

B. If I did eat, I’d miss my connecting flight and have three hours of waiting in Houston, with plenty of time to eat. And I wouldn’t be hungry, because I’d already eaten. That wouldn’t do, either.

So I grabbed a sandwich and secretly hoped to reverse jinx my way into the perfect scenario: eat early and make my connection. (Spoiler alert! It paid off — except for the part where I had to sprint through an airport terminal with a belly full of McMuffin. But more on that later.)

2. Be Loud: When you’re running, make sure people hear you coming. Be loud, and people will clear a path for you as you run. An airport sprinter is a wrecking ball-in-waiting, so make your presence known. Yell, holler, wear clogs — whatever it takes. There’s a reason those airport golf carts have sirens on them.

3. Look Desperate, But Don’t Panic: If you only take one piece of advice here, take this one. When you’re clomping down a terminal, you want people to look up and instantly know which person is rushing to a flight. Your face needs say, Please, for all that is holy, don’t make me stay one second longer than I need to in this place. But internally, you’ve got to stay poised. I’ve seen roller bags go flying out of control in airports. Stay in control, and let your legs do the rest.

❡❡❡

I ran right, then left, then across a moving walkway. My roller bag skidded behind me; the duct tape on the handle seemed to be holding things together nicely. I wheeled past the international terminal, passengers from Guam and Guatamala looking both groggy and very much not on high alert for me, this 6’6” thing cannonballing into Terminal D, where I could catch the inter-terminal train. Up the escalator, passing a couple on the right — sorry! — I made it to the train.

If the Google Maps tool over at WalkJogRun.net is to be believed, I’d just sprinted just over a quarter mile. In sandals. While wheeling a bag and hauling another one over my shoulder. Through an international terminal.

We reached Terminal C at 10:19. I had a chance, but the train pulled away slooo….. ooowwww…. wwlyyyy. We inched along. Terminal B arrived at about 10:22. My gate was just closing, if I was lucky. Maybe the airport door hadn’t shut, too. I had two minutes, tops.

Out on the platform, there were two escalators, both headed down. The guy going to Kansas City was a step behind me, and I beat him to it. I was in full-on “American Gladiators” mode, demolished the escalator and spun onto the main concourse. Lesser airport gladiators would crumble at the sight of the Houston Intercontinental eliminator; I hung in.

I should say here the floors in Terminal B are different, older. They’re a thin layer of carpet over concrete, and I was running in sandals. The thwap of each step echoed behind me, like “Riverdance” in snowshoes.

Terminal B opened into a square-shaped area, with four corridors leading out from each corner. Gates 76 and above were up on the side next to the train.

Gates 75 and below were not.

So there was another run, this time through the square, past another food court and to the right. It was the home stretch, the last tenth of a mile sprint through the B concourse, and my legs sagged. I wanted to quit. I wanted to stop sprinting. I was defeated.

And then, the tunnel turned. There was light.

❡❡❡

“Breathe, honey, breathe.”

I continued to pant, gasp, sweat. The gate agent, Rosetta, printed out my boarding pass. “Oshinsky? Coming from San Antonio? No way I thought you’d make it. Where’d you come from?”

E22.

“That’s amazing.”

The airplane door hadn’t closed yet, so she walked me down the gateway. I was still sucking for air. She mentioned something about wishing that she had my speed, and I laughed. No one had ever called me fast before.

I tried to tell her that, but it came out something like, “Eyyyee [gasp] mmmm not [gasp gasp] thaaat fass [gasp] ttt.”

I was boarding a puddle jumper, so my roller bag had to be checked plane-side. My breath was coming back, and I asked Rosetta if airport employees had a word for what I’ve just done.

“You know, we used to call it — well, before the trial — we used to call that the O.J. sprint.”

I looked back at her before I board the plane. I got here, I wanted to tell her. But I won’t go there.

Why We Need to Change the Concept of Time — Immediately.

Today is my birthday, and my annual reminder of how much I dislike the concept of time.

Truth is, time is unfair. When I see someone wearing a watch, I don’t see someone with punctuality in mind. I see someone slowly counting down the seconds until the grave.

What is a day, after all? It’s a very strange segment (1) of a larger year, which we define as the time it takes for the Earth to circle the sun. And if you’re like me, you can’t get enough reminders that the Earth is spinning blindly at 67,000 miles per hour through a vast and unknowable universe.

Point is, I’m just not a fan of time, especially on birthdays, when it serves to remind me that I’m getting both older and no closer to figuring anything out. Human years are so scarce; if we’re lucky, we get 70 or 80 years to live, and that just doesn’t seem like enough.

What I wish was that there was a way to make time seem less scarce (2). So I’m proposing here, on May 16, 2010, that we adjust our notions of time.

The human attention span is, depending on which Google source you trust, somewhere between five seconds and 20 minutes. 150 years ago, the Lincoln-Douglas debates lasted anywhere from five to seven hours at a time. Today, those debates would be reduced to mere soundbites, because our attention spans are shrinking. Who has time for five hours of political discourse? Hell, who has time for any political debate involving more than a few bullet points?

In the 2010, we have more distractions than ever, and we’re as easily distracted as ever.

But if that’s the case, then why are our standard units of time not adjusting to our shorter attention spans?

Let me put this another way: when Andrew Carnegie died, he was worth $475 million. But $475 million in 1919 isn’t worth what it is today. Luckily, we’ve got tools to compare the dollar from 1919 to today’s dollar. (3)

We adjust to each age. When humans got taller, we raised the height of our doors. When people got fatter, we widened the space in the supermarket aisles. A news cycle used to last months. Now it lasts hours. We constantly recalibrate to what’s happening now.

But we still allow time to remain constant. I don’t think that’s fair.

If a piece of paper can become more or less valuable over the course of time, then, well, why can’t time, too?

The best part is, there’s some precedent for this.

Abraham lived to be 175. His wife, Sarah, continued to have kids well into her hundreds. Biblical time clearly didn’t use our rigid time structure.

So what’s stopping us (4) from altering our concept of time? I’m okay with seconds and minutes and hours — anything that can measure the length of a YouTube video seems like it should stay — and I’ve got no problem with sun-up-to-sun-down days. But why shouldn’t we alter our concept of years? Does any modern human have the capacity to actually pay attention to something for an entire year?

How’s this sound: let’s decree that each season is considered a year. The modern calendar year gets split into fours, so today, I’d have just turned 92 — and I’d still be entering my prime.

What happens to everyone else?

Dick Clark becomes four times as valuable. Gyms get four times the number of resolution-related membership drives. Champagne companies see four times the rate of sales.

And best yet: wasting a year doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, because there are so many more of them to waste. Sure, it’s just a way to trick the brain into believing that we’re not screwing around as much as we really are.

But it’s working.

Our concept of time is changing. It’s time to make it official, I think.

When I die, I want my rabbi to be able to say, “Here lies Dan Oshinsky, who died at the age of 375.” The crowd will nod appreciatively. Honestly, who’d believe that a man so old could have accomplished so little?

  1. Do we divide anything else by 365?
  2. This, in itself, is a pretty strange thought, because time is infinite. What I really mean to say is that I mean to make my available time less scarce, though I’m not sure when I became so possessive about it.
  3. In today’s money, Carnegie’s fortune would be in the billions.
  4. Besides common sense