Short Memory

This will not be a post to forget.

I am a rabid sports fan.  As soon as I was old enough to vaguely understand football, my happiness each Monday depended on how the Broncos did on Sunday.  I even wore Broncos gear when composing music with my brother.

This will be bigger than the Beatles.

Interestingly (an arrogant phrase, isn’t it? What a brilliant writer I am!), the Broncos have only won the Super Bowl when they’ve had a Hall of Fame caliber quarterback.  Turns out that’s true for most teams if you think about it.  And in the pass happy modern NFL, it’s hard to win one without two shutdown cornerbacks as well – they are often on the proverbial island at the most critical points in any game.

What does this have to do with memory?  I’m not done yet!

Fast forward from the dashing young prodigy above to adulthood (don’t worry, we’ll have plenty of time for me to tell you all the effed up things that happened in between).  I have spent a fair chunk of my adult life playing goalie in ice hockey.  People are often impressed with that (until they see me actually play – see the picture below).  A common theme is “wow, how can you let people hit you with slap shots” – but the truth is, there is a lot of padding to deal with that.  Goalie is much more challenging to the mind than to the body.

Note the unideal position of the puck relative to the goalie. The team never recovered.

What does this have to do with memory?  I’m not done yet!

I am a fairly decent Colorado Rockies fan, though I’m not as much into baseball as I am into football and hockey.  I will watch high school versions of the latter two if I flip to it while channel surfing.  But baseball is more about the ballpark than the game for me.  I have precisely one signed item from the Rockies – a picture of Huston Street from the late 2000’s.  He was the Rockies’ closer the year in their last playoff appearance before 2018 – and he blew the save that ended their season.  But I always admired the way he didn’t shy away in the postgame interviews.  Closers have to deal with a lot of the same mental hurdles as hockey goalies.

In fact, goalies, quarterbacks, cornerbacks, and closers all share one common trait if they are successful:  they all must have a short memory.  If you give up a goal, a pick six, a long TD pass, or a home run in the ninth, you have to forget about it and move on to the next task at hand.  In those specific cases, there is no skill quite as important as having a short memory.

You would think, then, that having a short memory is a rare trait, limited to the elite of the elite.  Interestingly (there I go again), it is not.

I have, probably in the last 24 hours, been driving somewhere, and cursed at the malevolent force that is sitting in my blind spot, preventing me from executing my carefully prepared automotive itinerary and causing me to miss my acceptance of a Nobel Prize.  I have also, in those same 24 hours, been the malevolent force.

I could unleash a slew of other examples, and I could even move them into the realm of the political, but let’s face it – I don’t have to.  You probably need not look far in your life to find a moment where you conveniently (even if not consciously) forgot what it was like to be “the person in the other car”.  Cars make it even worse, of course, because we see the car first, which detaches us from its occupants and makes it easier for us to start getting angry instead of understanding what they’re doing.  The Internet serves a similar purpose.

This also ties back a bit to the inaugural post here about perspective.  Sometimes we don’t even remember we were once standing where the other person stands now.

So let’s recap the trilogy of posts that have ushered this blog into cyberspace:

  1. There are other points of view out there besides the two that have been prescribed for us by our completely polarized political machinery.
  2. A meaningful discussion of any meaningful issue cannot occur within the confines of a meme, a tweet, or a political TV ad.
  3. Leave all high horses at the door, because none of us are innocent of the things we hate to have done or said to us.

That’s probably enough setup.  The next entry will start getting into juicier discussions.  Bring a napkin.  And don’t forget.


Building Character(s)

280 and 1 vs 5298 and 150. That is the main problem with public discourse today.

Ok, fine, I’ll elaborate.

The limit on the number of characters in  a tweet is 280.  That is up from the previous limit of 140, a change made in late 2017.  The average number of characters in a word (by the way, I just hit 280 characters in this post) is 5.  That means the maximum number of words in the new, liberated gasbag era of Twitter is, on average, somewhere approaching 50 (leaving room for spaces and such).  How good are you at expressing your complete assessment of a situation in 50 words?  If you’re really bad at it, you’re better than most.

Most tweets are generated in reaction to something.  Sometimes it’s something that’s just happened, and sometimes is just another tweet.  But either way, there are zero mechanisms in place to prevent you from tweeting something as fast as your fingers can move.  The general thought is, on average, it takes a minute or less to generate a tweet, from inspiration to immortality.

280 characters and 1 minute.

My first blog post, by comparison, was 5298 characters, and 936 words.  Thinking back to my first draft of that post, and how many times I went back and tweaked it, I’d say I spent about 150 minutes actually writing or editing it.  Granted, I probably spent more time on that inaugural post than I typically will from here on out, because let’s face it, it’s all about first impressions.  But that’s how much time it took me to really think through what point I wanted to make, and how I wanted to say it.

5298 characters and 150 minutes.

Public discourse today is overwhelmingly in the 280 and 1 world, and it needs more than ever to move back to the 5298 and 150 world.  This is not all Twitter’s fault.  On Facebook and Instagram, the meme is even worse, typically doling out irrefutable wisdom in 10 to 20 words.  And before any of these platforms were in place, we were already in a world of sound bites.  Look no further than the political TV ad, where the challenge is to tell millions of people why they should pick this person over the other in the course of 30 seconds.  No wonder it all gets reduced to mud-slinging; what kind of meaningful discussion of the issues can you have in 30 seconds?  And of course slogans didn’t arise with the advent of TV; they’ve been around as long as politics has.  And so the only thing we really end up saying to each other is “Yay for our team, the other team is stupid/evil/lying, and anybody who disagrees with me is an idiot.  And this picture of a cat underscores my point.”

To be concise (now I’m doing it), human beings have become lazy communicators, effectively neutering one of the abilities that allowed us to rise to our current status of dominant species on Earth.  No doubt we will soon find a way to nullify the opposable thumb as well; its main purpose today is to type tweets.

I will do my part in this blog to help move us away from these unfortunate trends.  But in so doing, my blog will automatically generate a tweet and a post to Facebook, so I’ll probably accomplish a net of zero.  The only possible salvation is if you actually read this.  So really it’s all on you.

I hope you have enjoyed these 2619 characters.

Welcome to the Machine

This is the part of the post where I struggle to come up with an opening line.

Okay, let’s go with this.  As I type these words, there are around 152 million blogs in cyberspace.  How do I know that?  The first hit from a Google search said so, and everything you read on the Internet is true, especially the first hit.

Fortunately, that number could be way off, and it wouldn’t change the point: there are a lot of blogs, and somehow I need to make this one stand out.  Meanwhile, you are going to be the judge of whether this blog stands out.  So unless you’re one of the few hundred Facebook friends I’ve invited to read this, we haven’t even met, and you already have the upper hand in our relationship.  In the past, I’ve always needed to meet someone to create that situation, so I’m going to claim progress.

So what will this blog be about?  How about dangling participles?  Wait, I’ve got an even better idea: this blog will be about perspective.  

This is the part of the post where I explain how I came up with the name “Parallax Machine”.  

You may or may not know what parallax is.  If you already know, please forgive my feeble attempt to define it for everyone else: parallax is the effect by which something looks different depending on your perspective.  It usually applies to optics, but I’m going to hijack it to apply to the way we form our opinions and beliefs.

Far too often, and increasingly so, we are polarized into one of two camps on any given issue in the world.  Entire nations routinely operate in that mode, and it is a tragic waste of our potential to solve our biggest problems.  The ability to truly understand, much less solve, a problem depends entirely on the ability to see that problem from multiple perspectives.  Black and white must give way to varying shades of gray – and yes, sometimes even fifty or more.

I am a highly flawed human being, a completely unshocking statement to those who know me.  I will not pretend I know answers.  Frankly, the frequency with which I see people exhibit 100 percent confidence in their own points of view is alarming.  It’s a symptom of a closed mind, which in turn has little capacity for meaningful dialogue and growth.  We will never break down the barriers between us unless we understand where each of us is standing relative to those barriers.  Hence this blog’s tagline:  where you stand depends on where you are standing.

This is the part of the post where I vastly overstate the impact this blog will have on the world.

Humanity is at a crossroads.  We must decide whether we will give in to our most basic biological urge, or seize upon our ability to grow beyond that urge.  Our most basic biological urge is to protect ourselves, and maybe to extend that courtesy to those who look and sound like us.  If we do not evolve beyond that, we will likely not survive as a species.  The specific reason – nuclear war, squandering of our resources, or failure to expand beyond our world when some inevitable cataclysm hits us from the depths of space – is almost unimportant.  What is important is that what made us the dominant species on Earth won’t keep us there.

Not every entry on this blog is going to speak at that grandiose level.  Often I’m going to talk about things that seem (and probably are) completely unimportant by comparison.  But the common theme will always be there:  challenge yourself to think beyond your own perspective.  Picture yourself standing somewhere you haven’t stood before.  I find myself doing that every single day.  It is a nice way to avoid getting things done.

Let’s end this inaugural post with a picture, accompanied by somewhat less than the proverbial thousand words.

I took this picture a little over a week ago, on the shore of Estonia.  Momentary digression: Estonia is a beautiful country with resilient and thoughtful people; you should definitely visit if you get the time.  End digression.

Look first at the boats.  They look like they’re converging, so that if you kept adding more and more to each row they’d eventually collide.  But those rows were in fact parallel to each other, which would be painfully clear if you were floating overhead.  An isolated perspective can skew the world.  Look next at the water.  You can see the ripples from the wind.  But if you were floating overhead from a great height, you would see larger ripples that follow broader wind patterns.  And if you were a few inches above the water, you’d see smaller ripples and maybe even Don Ho’s tiny bubbles.  An isolated perspective can simultaneously miss both the details and the bigger picture.  Look next at the trees in the distance.  They look tiny (like bubbles) compared to the boats, but they are really much larger.  An isolated perspective can make big things seem small and small things seem big.  And finally, look at the sky.  It looks blue overhead, but different colors as you approach the horizon, as though the air itself is changing.  But it’s all the same atmosphere, it’s just that sunlight gets more scattered the farther it has to travel through the atmosphere to your eyes, and that changes the colors you see.  An isolated perspective can lead to entirely the wrong conclusions.

And speaking of conclusions, this is the part of the post where it ends.

Talk to you again soon.