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Topic: [ncsm-members] Happiness Takes (A Little) Magic
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
[ncsm-members] Happiness Takes (A Little) Magic
Posted: Feb 3, 2012 6:27 PM
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From The Wirecutter, Wednesday, January 25, 2012.
Happiness Takes (A Little) Magic

By Brian Lam

There's a whole laundry list of disclaimers
attached to it, but my pal (and Pulitzer winner)
Matt Richtel wrote about a Stanford research
report suggesting that spending considerable
amounts of time on multimedia/technology can make
us unhappy [see

In his words

"The answer, in the peer-reviewed study of the
online habits of girls aged 8 to 12, finds that
those who say they spend considerable amounts of
time using multimedia describe themselves in ways
that suggest they are less happy and less
socially comfortable than peers who say they
spend less time on screens."

I owe my livelihood to technology and I love the
raw capability it offers us as a tool, but I fear
it a bit more than most people do. It's a tool,
but it's not quite a hammer, because a hammer
doesn't seduce you into sitting around lonely in
your underwear for 6 hours at a stretch clicking
on youtube videos and refreshing Twitter. I fear
technology because I fear that bad feeling I get
after a three day XBox binge I go through every
year around the holidays. I fear technology not
because I think it's evil, but because it's too
easy to start clicking and never stop, even if
the stream of data starts to go from meaningful
to useless after the top 5%.

I am fascinated by this study because everything
I have been doing in the last year professionally
and personally has been to reduce the overage of
technology and noise in my life and it has
increased my happiness by many fold.

Happiness is the most important metric in
personal tech. If it improves lives, it is
important. I've always suspected that sitting
around on the Internet was a sort of rot, but I
had no proof until I read this piece on the
Stanford study. I just don't know why this
research isn't getting as much attention from
reporters as new iPads, CEO changes, earnings
reports, acquisitions, and other bulls_it that
only affects the greedy. People think I'm crazy
for complaining about tech news and how stupid
and boring the mass media Internet has become,
but I think they're wrong. And I think most are
writing about the wrong things.

It's the perfect time, with this abundance of
pages to read and videos to watch, to consider
Clay Johnson's book, The Information Diet. In his
words, the book is about "How the new,
information-abundant society is suffering
consequences from poor information consumption
habits" [see ].
The book also outlines a plan for metering the
kinds of content that we consume, as we do with
food diets that need to be balanced between junk
food and healthier food that initially taste
worse but will make us healthier and happier.
(For every milkshake, I average out a glass of
green kale juice.)

Informationally, we are becoming lard-asses. In
the pageview and ratings driven media economy,
too much of the content these days is designed to
be just like junk food to quickly boost
quantifiable viewership. If you make content that
is the intellectual equivalent of gummy bears,
your site will appear to grow quickly.
Advertisers reward size, and growing fast is
expected in most places I've seen. Last month I
visited Xeni Jardin, my blog-sister from Boing
Boing and she said to me, "Only cancer and
bulls_it websites grow fast." It's happened to TV
with reality shows, radio with clear channel, and
it's happening to words online. I've never seen a
world-class sized publication that was founded in
the past decade do world class quality work. It's
not because the people running them are dumb-it's
because they don't have enough time to think
their work through because there's no short term
incentive to. There's an excuse there aren't
enough resources to go around, but that's
bulls_it. It just takes a little confidence in
the long game.

I had a powerful moment of reflection when
applying for the Woods Hole Oceanographic
Institute's Journalism fellowship last year. I
realized I didn't have as many clips I was proud
of. I was spinning my wheels online. I didn't get
in. I would say over 5 years, my animal instincts
were enhanced to the point where I could guess
how many clicks the wolf-whistling mob would
provide my website with a high level of
confidence, but my intellect was dulled and my
patience for books and feature length films was
non-existent. I'm fixing that now by slowing down
so I can make more time for the things that make
me feel good to consume.

The first thing I did was to take back my time. I
quit all the online content that was id-provoking
and knee jerk. I stopped reading the stupid hyped
up news stories that are press releases or rants
about things that will get fixed in a week. I
stopped reading the junk and about the junk that
was new, but not good. I stopped reading blogs
that write stories like "top 17 photos of awesome
clouds by iphone" and "EXCLUSIVE ANGRY BIRDS
corporate news that only affects the 1%. Most
days, I feel like most Internet writers and
editors are engaging in the kind of vapid
conversation you find at parties that is neither
enlightening or entertaining, and where everyone
is shouting and no one is saying anything. I
don't have time for this.

They're. Also. Splitting up. Their sentences.
Into. Individual words. So they can make more.
Traffic. They're also calling things stories that
are not stories. This is not a story. The
Wirecutter leaderboard is not filled with
stories. If there's no stake, no conflict, no
resolution-if it's not a story you'd tell a date
to excite them-it's all marketing. And all we can
hope to do is be helpful and pay our bills and
then go experience the rest of life. I'm guilty,
too. I just keep my commerce quarantined in a
really small holding pen with an electric fence.
By the way, those amazon book links are laced
with affiliate codes.

Tech news has become the kind of party you show
up for filled with corporate drones where no one
is really having fun, and leave as soon as is
socially acceptable to go find good trouble and
get weird at the dirtiest bar you can stand on
the bad side of town. Sometimes you find other
refugees at the far end of the counter. But few
have the sense or guts to act differently at the
party and get crazy and honest about it at work.

If something important happens, I'll read about
it on twitter from one of the smart editors I
follow or someone will call me. I won't know
about it instantaneously, but I will know about

I also stopped reading twitter and facebook
regularly, because most of my online
acquaintances are nice, but I like to think about
these experiences as shallow and yes, also I
don't give a s_it about 99% of people I interact
with online. I've met some great friends online,
but once I find them I would prefer to spend that
time and energy with the few I would do anything
for. Also, clicking the like button 1 billion
times will never give you an orga_m or a hug or a
high five.

All this has freed up about 3 hours a day for me.

I bought a model boat. I'm going to built it, and
paint it. In the time I did that, I could watch
100 batman trailers (BAIIIIINNNN) or post that
same batman trailer and rack up 100k clicks on
The Wirecutter. I'm not batman-ing. I'm building
my boat.

While writing this, I flipped to a random page in
a book about technology I want to read but
haven't gotten around to yet:

"The naive optimism of the 18th century led some
people to believe that technological progress
would lead to a kind of utopia in which human
beings, freed from the need to work in order to
support themselves, would devote themselves to
philosophy, to science and to music, literature,
and the other fine artsŠInstead of using their
technological means of production to provide
themselves with free time in which to undertake
intellectual and artistic work, people today
devote themselves to the struggle for status,
prestige, and power and to the accumulation of
material goods that serve only as toys. In
effect, American popular culture has been reduced
to mere hedonism, and hedonism of a particular
contemptible kind."

The book is called Technological Slavery, and it
is written by a man named Ted Kaczynski. And yes,
I just quoted him [see
]. He was wrong to hurt people, but he wasn't all
wrong in all his observations.

Technology lets us do things faster and more
efficiently; why would we use that newfound free
time to do more and more of the same old thing?
I'm not just talking about smarter consumption of
content like Johnson is- I'm also saying, fu_k

In light of the Stanford study I'd take Clay
Johnson's argument further-instead replacing junk
media with more high end media, try using
technology to work and read and watch faster.
Then use that time to go explore the world or do
whatever makes you happier. Is it hanging out
online? If you think this, then you probably have
not seen the things I have seen away from my
computer. You can argue that different styles of
life are better and worse for different kinds of
people, but as the Stanford study implies, online
worlds are just not as of high resolution as real
worlds and experiences. You can argue styles, but
you can't argue quality. Quality is quality.
Again, Like button < hugs/orga_m/highfives.

Exploring the world away from the digital one is
not so important for the sake of finding new
ground. Internally, exploration is also about
testing and growing the self and to live a life
that isn't painted by number. (I think
exploration and adventure are essential to the
happiness of every person, but I can't presume to
present this as anything but my own opinion. Most
people are pre-naturally more happy than I am,
out the gate.)

Thoreau, when he spent two years on Walden Pond to live simply, wrote,

"Most men, even in this comparatively free
country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are
so occupied with the factitious cares and
superfluously course labors of life that its
finder fruits cannot be plucked by themŠHe has no
time to be anything but a machine."

Thoreau had to abandon work and friends to live
simply, but he was not against it. He just had no
choice at the time, given the technology at hand.
I think we-and information workers like
programmers, designers and writers especially-are
capable right now of living a fantastic life that
marries the wild vitality that Thoreau
experienced at Walden with the better parts of
civilized living. This is a life that Ted, if he
were still in his cabin, could be envious of-if
we could only muster the discipline to get away
from the noise.

See, for the first time ever, the trade off
between living a powerfully exciting life close
to nature and adventure and having the basics of
civilized, boring life are largely gone. We don't
have to abandon civilization and our friends and
our work and technology and run off into the
woods to live a simple, powerful life.

With my three extra hours a day, I will often go
to the beach. Cook a healthy meal. Do a bunch of
exercise. Have a drink with friends. Read a book.
Write a poem. Mow the lawn. Go skiing while
checking my email from the chair lift. Visit a
museum. Get into my van at 10pm at night and
drive to Joshua Tree by morning without worrying
about having an editor to report to. My van has a
bed, a stove, a closet, a fridge and and
auxiliary battery, 4g modem and my laptop. I can
work from the desert, the beach, the mountains,
reception withstanding. My life has never been
fuller and I've never been more meaningfully
connected. I'm not making as much money as I was
before with my hyper intense news job, and I
might run out of money and need to work at
McDonalds one of these days, but for now I'm
using Airbnb to pay my mortgage and it's working
out just fine. It's a little scary at times, but
I'm going to keep going with it. Having a van is
not really the point. It's just a symbol and
metaphor and tool for having both freedom and
security through technology.

All it's cost me are LOLs and LIKES and YOUTUBE
VIDEOS OF EXPLOSIONS and news about startups.
It's more than a fair trade-it's a no brainer.
And I think almost anyone with a job based on
information can set up a similar life that is
just as enjoyable. It might take a few years, but
you can't do it while you're rotting online
reading junk content. Get on, make the most
meaningful information and connections, and then
get offline. Then, live purposefully towards
happiness. Because I've never met a person who
spent their days and nights online that was happy
as I am right now.

The Right Running Watch -- go to website and
play the video --
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244

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