Category Archives: Reviews

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Parked in Adolescence

Various forms of popular software have narrowed the parameters of personal growth.

Last week I approached a recruiter from a local college steeped in the Liberal Arts: the same institution I worked at for many years. She was staffing a table at a local street fair, and was in the midst of a conversation with a prospect–I’m guessing a high school junior or senior–trying to entice him to visit the campus.  She offered him some free stuff, and he did help himself to a bottle of hand sanitizer. But he was not interested in the slick and college magazine that included articles on recent student work and experiences.  She tried a couple of times to give him a copy. But without a pause or any sense of irony, he said he wasn’t interested. “I don’t like to read,” he noted.

Are there Navy Seals who can’t swim?  Any doctors who faint at the sight of blood? I suppressed a grimace after hearing the prospect’s response.  It was no longer my job to query his apparent shallowness.  Even so, his response was a reminder that there are sometimes conversations I’m sorry to have overheard.

Luckily, there are still of adolescents who are voracious readers.  But the young man at the booth represented a larger pattern that might be found in the many disengaged adolescents who pull back from the busy and demanding world, settling in to their own digital refuges of screens and games. Today, kids spend hours gazing into the small screen on a hand, or parked in a game nest they’ve created in their bedroom.  It is little wonder that some now have less interest to pursue the endless storehouses of American culture offered on printed pages or their pixel equivalents.  One sign of this extended adolescence was reported a few years ago by researcher Sherry Turkle, who documented the experiences of teachers who often find kids who “tend to respond like younger children.”  As one teacher noted, “Twelve-year-olds play on the playground like-eight-year-olds. They don’t seem able to put themselves in the places of other children.”  Has the game chair replaced the more communal space of a grass playing field?

The growth of technology for communication at a distance allows a person to grow comfortable with digital isolation.  But it comes at a price we all have to pay. The gamer cum intelligence leaker Jack Teixeira followed what is becoming a familiar pattern of the withdrawal of some young males from a balanced life. He was a member of the Air National Guard, but reportedly found his personal niche playing online games, and trying to be what the Washington Post described as a “commanding persona online.”  We now know that his desire to make his mark—even at a distance—involved passing on a trove of U.S. secrets. His distorted way to dramatize his worth required no social skills, and apparently no sense of connectedness and responsibility to the people damaged by his intelligence leaks. All he needed was a video monitor facing a plush game chair a few feet away.

As researchers like Turkle, Jaron Lanier have noted, we are delaying or destroying the natural curve of human development by allowing children to park in adolescence as gamers and fantasists. Many are able to stay in their own heads rather than engage in relationships they will need to fully mature. In what was once a language used to assess social isolation in early childhood, their “play” is typically more “parallel” than “interactive.” Computer software rather than human institutions are setting up the parameters of their attention. Eye-hand coordination matters more than empathy; they are of the world rather than in it. And this narrow zone of existence is self-perpetuating, especially in the awkward years, when it is easier to find meaning in mechanical or electrical systems rather than the open spaces of human experience.

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Other Uses of the Pitch Clock

The new baseball clock requiring a quick turn-around of pitches made me think of some other uses.

As you probably know, a new rule in baseball requires that a pitcher and hitter take no more than 15 seconds between pitches.  A few more seconds are allowed if there is a runner on base or if there is a new hitter coming to the plate.  The goal is to speed up the game.  And, indeed, pitchers are getting a workout to be ready to send a ball to the plate so frequently.

This clock requiring a quick turn-around made me think of some other uses.  It could help whip the rest of us in shape to ‘get on with it’ in good order. Laggards in the ballpark can have a penalty of a ball or strike added to the count, depending on whether they are a pitcher or hitter.  In lieu of a “ball!” called on the rest of us, we might learn to live with a marine horn that sounds when we’ve drifted over our allotted time.

Some possible applications:

  • Aches and pains are always good for comment from those of us who’ve been around a while.  But the “organ concert” that results can get mighty tedious. A limit of 20 seconds seems like enough time to recite a recent medical calamity.


  • I have a friend who likes to tell long stories that we’ve all heard before. We could give these jokes numbers to save time. Or there could be a limit of  20 seconds to get to the end of what we already know.


  • We have all encountered speakers who pause excessively between words or thoughts. The comics Bob and Ray had a classic illustration of it in their radio bit entitled “Slow Talkers of America.” As a variation, some of us use “silence fillers” before meandering on to an additional thought. This can make us all sound like our brain has hit a molasses patch. The clock and horn might help move things along.

  • Phone solicitations are never fun. If you get dragged into one, it would be nice to point out that they, too, are on the clock. There would be no time for lengthy verbal fogs that try to conceal their sales intent.


  • Helpful servers in some restaurants are required to recite all the specials of the day. The fussier the establishment, the longer the list. This tableside oration needs to be done in 20 seconds or less.


  • I have colleagues in education who like to lecture. I do too. But we are given way too much class time by our institution: about 80 minutes.  Most lectures would be more focused if the time were cut in half.  And all should be required to come with a preview of no more than 20 seconds. If a person can’t pull that off, the rambling lecture that follows probably has no central theme.


  • Unfortunately, vacation pictures don’t fade like they did in the last century. We collect them in abundance on our  phones.  15 seconds per shot would be generous. A picture with a story to go with it might get 20.


  • Dinner parties are still a thing with my generation.  The food is always good, but a wooden chair can get mighty uncomfortable after two hours. Changing places every 20 seconds would be fun to try, but probably result in quite a mess to clean up. Even if the pitch clock is probably too short to be of much use, it is clear that a long evening assigned to the same broken chair should not run longer than a baseball game.

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