Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Belated New Year Post

Working on a school calendar doesn't add to the excitement of January 1. It also makes the setting of resolutions seem like it's coming too late in the game. I've never been a huge new year's resolutions guy anyhow. Yet, contrary to the last three sentences, I continue to take the opportunity of a "new start" and try to refocus my path, sometimes in large ways, but most often in small ones. Perhaps my two favorite resolutions of yesteryears are flossing and stretching. Both attainable, healthy-ish, and quirky.

For some reason, I'm feeling the need to post this year's resolutions. An embarrassing move when they're abandoned in March. But maybe a posting will add a few months to their life.

  • Join a small group. Jorjette and I were a part of separate groups last year and that went well. But this year, in a new place, we're looking to join a group from our church. Hopeful outcomes: deeper church relationships, understanding of the Bible/theology, awareness of ourselves.
  • Change my morning routine. I'm not a workaholic but most mornings I would check email in bed, a compromise between productivity and laziness. What an awful way to start? Replacing it is an attempt to read through the Book of Common Prayer (with the accompanying scripture).
  • In reading articles, limit the quantity and finish the ones I start. Nicholas Carr's The Shallows really got to me (my review here and a better synopsis/thoughts on the subject here). I'm heavily guilty of clicking on five different links from Twitter/Google Reader/Pitchfork/etc. and then only reading half of the first paragraph. I'm  training my brain to wade in shallow thinking. So this year, I'm going to limit the links I click on and then read all the way through the ones I do.
  • Listen to music well. I want to sit down and listen through whole albums using my (good) headphones.  I don't do this often but did with a few albums near the end of 2012. Already solid, meaningful albums become much more so when doing so singularly.
There ya go. Here's to growing and maturing. Comment with your own if you feel so inclined.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

My Tumultuous, Tortured Relationship (with the Academy)

The Oscar nominations were announced this morning.

This is a pretty exciting time of the year for me. I love filling out March Madness ballots. I joined and participated in a Fantasy Football league this past fall. The interactive thing is fun. But if I had a choice, I could geek out on Academy Award buzz for much longer. If only Academy Fantasy leagues were a thing (wait, are they?).

I like that the Academy has a strong reputation that goes back a long time. I like that, although there are plenty of awards for every detail of movies, there are 24 that are the main focus and an average Joe like myself can have educated opinions on most of them. I like that I can throw parties requiring people to dress up. I like getting caught up in the ridiculousness of it all.

Here's what kills me. The Academy's incessant love of biopic movies.The Academy's refusal to give a nod to anything superhero related. Its pick of The King's Speech over The Social Network. Its overflow of love poured onto The Hurt Locker. Alas, it's not a perfect relationship.

This year, I don't have any strong favorites. I probably enjoyed Moonrise Kingdom the most. The Cabin in the Woods was one of the smartest. The Hobbit and The Dark Knight Rises took me on a pretty great adventure. Bernie was the most twistedly endearing. And I hear Looper takes your brain for a ride.

While I haven't seen all the movies (Amour, Zero Dark Thirty, and Life of Pi remain in my queue) nominated for best picture, none blew me away. I'm hopeful for Zero but am trying not to set myself up for disappointment. I'm grateful the Academy is willing to include movies like Beasts of the Southern Wild in a number of categories but disappointed when The Dark Knight Rises or Moonrise are absent.


As in all art forms, movies have elements of subjectivity. That's why they're great. That's why we all have a favorite genre. That's why I keep coming back to the Oscars even when they don't treat me right.

The Oscars will be aired February 24 on ABC.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Book Review - The Shallows by Nicholas Carr

Although the book is a couple years old, Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains came at a good time for me. As I prepare for a few social media usage programs/presentations and as we enter a new year with the accompanying resolution season, the book provides some helpful content related to the way I think about and use the Internet.

Carr's general thought is that our non-stop Internet usage that emphasizes quick, brief attention to a wide spectrum of information pushes us to use the shallower parts of our brain while crowding out the deep thinking portions that longer and slower forms of media require (such as book reading). While he keeps it interesting with some anecdotal support, the majority of the book sifts through various studies done on the human brain. The scope of the book is rather large as it covers everything from a brief history of the the passage of information (oral to written to printed to hyperlinked digital text) to the level of depth the Google masterminds have gone to in order do our thinking for us. Although Carr doesn't stay completely objective, his level of immersion in his own technological usage certainly keeps him from any sort of judgmental tone.

My primary take away from the book is to slow down. When overwhelmed with the number of items on my to-do list, my natural inclination is to try and accomplish everything at once (even though following a to-do list usually slows me down eventually). Yet the book re-affirms the suspicion that scattering my brain over four items simultaneously really isn't helping me get anything done well. It is a reminder (and shows some statistical backing) that eliminating the distractions I expose myself to not only keep me focused in the here and now but that it actually will benefit the way I think.

Not a bad thought to start in 2013.