WSJ – Best Kept Secret in America?

BLOG #22, SERIES #4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
WSJ – BEST KEPT SECRET IN AMERICA?
May 29, 2013

It certainly was a secret where I was concerned, for all those years I just considered the Wall Street Journal to be merely the best-known of all financial newspapers, and what tycoons and wannabe tycoons subscribed to. Was I ever wrong!

Perhaps up until recently I just wasn’t ready to find out, lulled as I was by the assumption that, after half a millennium years of cultural dominance by print and paper, nothing significant was likely to alter that state of affairs.

But then came the long societal earthquake which triggered a seemingly endless succession of toppling dominoes. Small-town newspapers were first; then large dailies such as Rocky Mountain News in Colorado. At first I managed to console myself that the demise of that beloved old paper might not be all bad if the surviving paper, The Denver Post, would thereby become twice as strong, twice as rich, twice as interesting – but that didn’t happen. Then I began to hear of the demise of other well-known newspapers. And the ones that managed to survive seemed to be but pale shadows of what they once were, kept alive only by advertising; and when that too began to go elsewhere, massive staff layoffs became the norm.

Magazines were next. Actually, this equally sad development was anything but new, for magazines had been in steady retreat ever since the Great Depression hit in the 1930’s. Indeed magazines had ruled supreme over all other media in the 1910’s,1920’s and 1930’s, magazine editors paying writers more than book publishers or movie studio producers. Even though my wife and I had subscribed to both Time and Newsweek over the years, we’d always preferred Newsweek. Then I began to hear rumors I first considered to be all but impossible: my favorite news magazine, after a century of vibrant life, might not make it. And, not long before its last print issue; same for another news magazine I’d often read or consulted: U.S. News and World Report.

And then came what I first assumed would be merely a fad: e-books. Not in my wildest dreams did I envision electronic books ever challenging the supremacy of printed books! But like Dickens’ immortal supplanter, Uriah Heep, in David Copperfield, e-books seemingly were determined to supplant traditional ink and paper.

Just when I’d almost given up on print, one day at an airport, I idly picked up a copy of WSJ. Huh? Couldn’t be! After all, USA Today had a monopoly on national newspaper readership. Or did it?

I kept buying WSJ, then subscribed to it. An eye-opening series of daily newspaper thefts (always the WSJ, never The Denver Post), jolted me. Was the WSJ so good that people would break the law to steal copies that didn’t belong to them? Evidently so.

Gradually I became aware that a phoenix was arising from the graveyards of print. A newspaper that was a print window to the world. In depth, well-written, fascinating articles, columns, reviews, etc., that kept me informed on events, not just local, not just national, but global. And not just financial, not just political, but something I as a historian of ideas had only seen in Smithsonian’s incredible monthly magazines – art, music, books, fashion, religion, history, anthropology, geology, biography, cinema, television, burning cultural issues, sports . . . on and on. And Friday and Saturday’s expanded issues were so fascinating it would sometimes take half a day to fully digest them. I no longer missed Newsweek.

Having said all this, in many respects the same conclusions could be drawn for newspapers such as the New York Times, that also deliver well-drawn windows to the world. Indeed, a case could be made for reading both newspapers in order to arrive at a balanced synthesis of opposing political viewpoints.

Nor am I maintaining that faithfully reading newspapers such as WSJ or NYT each day may alone result in Renaissance men or Renaissance women, for today we are bombarded by such incessant streams of knowledge and information (mostly electronically) that the big problem may have to do with the distillation of it: making sense of it all.

We ought to be concerned about the demise of journalism, evidenced by the killing off of elementary and secondary newspapers, for the result will be a further diminution of adult journalistic minds. For make no mistake about it: electronic sound-bytes, thirty-second attack ads, electronic infomercials, and half-hour news broadcasts that include no more news substance than would fill one-half-page of newspapers such as the WSJ or NYT, are no substitute for thoughtful in-depth reading; for simplistic pre-digested information, not offset by broad in-depth reading, inevitably will result in adults crippled by myopic views of life and current issues.

Which brings me back to the reason I walk out each morning to the mailbox: to pick up The Denver Post (that fills me in on local/regional news) and the Wall Street Journal (that broadens my horizon so that I can see the broad global picture – the Zeitgeist).

What a pity that so few Americans today realize what they are missing by their disregard of newspapers, magazines and books.

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THE PARALYSIS OF THE AMERICAN MIND – Part Three

BLOG #18, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
THE PARALYSIS OF THE AMERICAN MIND
Part Three
May 1, 2013

So what do these three blogs mean? Is there a solution?

Before dealing with those two questions, let’s look at what we’ve discussed in the earlier two blogs:

We’ve learned that Internet social networks such as Facebook, are seeking to take control of every aspect of our lives and by constantly intruding, rip apart the fabric of our lives. For starters, let’s look at the issue of productivity, beginning with the current issue of Success:

SHUT THE FRONT DOOR!

          There’s a good reason to hang a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on your door when you need to concentrate. Researchers for Michigan State University and the Navy have determined that people make double, sometimes even triple, the errors immediately after they are interrupted, even when the diversions last only a few seconds. It doesn’t take much to get off track, which occurs whenever people have to shift attention. Three-second distractions doubled errors in the study; 4.5 – second interruptions tripled errors.

          Scientists call the delay in finding your place in the original task ‘resumption lag.’ . . . .It’s agreed that multitasking—essentially a cycle of interruption and resumption of work—acts like a brake to momentum. The takeaways: Turn off the phone, shut down email and close the door to avoid mistakes and work efficiently.
Success, May 2013

In the same vein, it has been aptly stated that today Americans tend to “Major in minors and minor in majors.” Most of what we read, see, discuss, and internalize is meaningless trivia. Contestants on Jeopardy who know all the actors and roles even in third-rate movies routinely miss the simplest questions from the Bible. Across America, there is an abysmal ignorance of even our own history. We have seemingly lost the importance of differentiating between significant and the meaningless and trite.

We have also discussed the alarming trend towards spending more and more of one’s life energy dwelling in a vicarious world rather than dealing with the day-to-day realities of the real world.

And even when we do dwell in the real world we often choose to accept a distorted view of it. In that same May issue of Success, its publisher, Darren Hardy, postulates that “News media has become a competitive blood sport for our attention. Their focus is finding the half-dozen most violent, tragic, scandalous and ugly things that happened in a day and parade them morning and night. Their goal is to trigger our fear, worry, threat and distress responses so we keep tuning in.”

Hardy wraps up his column with these sobering words:

          This barrage of negative input devastates our productive potential and creative capacity. What we see and hear is what we think about. Our thoughts become our expectations. Expectation leads to manifestations. It’s a dangerous and damaging downward spiral.

We’ve also discussed the significance of who each of us is, in terms of whether we are other-directed or inner-directed. If we are other-directed, inescapably we are bundled into the paralysis of the American mind.

And we’ve tackled, at least superficially, the issue of pleasure: Are we permitting the pleasure-principle to dominate our own life journeys? Furthermore, if sexuality becomes more significant than its God-given reason for being: cementing the life-long relationship of a man and a woman (the bastion of family life and security with our children), then of what value are our lives?

We’ve discussed too the increasing separation between us and our fellow-travelers-to-the-grave in this journey we label “life.” Are we willing to permit technology to replace day-to-day human relationships?

Nor should we forget that reading is at the very core of our creativity. If we are settling for the simplistic and narcissistic media world rather than studying books, magazines, and newspapers, then we are ourselves to blame for the myopic blinders we create for ourselves.

Ever since Gutenberg, reading has anchored civilization and made possible the Renaissance and the subsequent explosion of knowledge. If we desert reading in favor of sound-bytes, we thereby contribute to the decline of America. For if we forget God, forget our Founding Fathers, forget the principles our nation stood for during our first two centuries, our end can only be categorized as tragic.

* * * * *

But let me conclude with this sobering thought: In His earthly ministry, Christ hammered home no injunction more than time-management. In parable after parable, He reinforces His expectations that each of us would prioritize life thus: Each day should result in growth/achievement and in selfless service to God’s sheep. Everything else is secondary.

With this in mind, how can so many millions of us dare to fritter away the bullion of the universe—our time—on things that neither contribute to our daily growth and achievement nor make a positive difference in the lives of others less fortunate than us? Every moment of His earthly life, Christ considered precious.

So should we re-prioritize each remaining day left to us.

THE PARALYSIS OF THE AMERICAN MIND – PART ONE

BLOG #16, SERIES 4

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

THE PARALYSIS OF THE AMERICAN MIND

Part One

April 17, 2013

I pray a lot about my blogs – that God will help me choose each one – then I wait. Sometimes His answer is soft and under-stated; sometimes He permits me to choose from several options; and sometimes the answer is about as subtle as the smash of a sledgehammer – that’s the way it has been this week. The subject so significant it will take me three blogs to address it.

The catalyst? Two days ago, early one snowy morning, after walking through the almost heartbreakingly beautiful April snow – never a given in drought-plagued Colorado –, I thought once again about the fragility of our lives, and wondered how many more such April snowfalls the good Lord would grant me.

Back at the house, a fire was crackling merrily in our moss rock fireplace. When we were searching for a home in the Rockies a little over 16 years ago, a must was a wood-burning fireplace. When we found this place, one glimpse of this particular fireplace, and we knew we were home.

Back in the house with two newspapers, The Wall Street Journal and The Denver Post, I settled down to catch up on news of the world. Usually, I stall out more often with WSJ, but not this morning, for there in Section C of the Post was the blog catalyst for the next several weeks. Here is how Matt Miller’s jolting headline read:

PLUGGED IN
FACEBOOK DOESN’T WANT TO BE A TOOL,
IT WANTS TO BE YOUR SOCIAL LIFE

It begins with, “Facebook is in the business of social lives. The friends you have, the execs you stalk, the restaurants you like, and the brands you talk about are at the core of what they do.”

Miller points out that Facebook executives have been increasingly convicted that they were losing the battle for control of our minds to other media brands and forms. So their brain trust came up with something they call “Facebook Home,” but is really far closer to “Facebook Phone,” for it inserts Facebook into the center of the Android phone world.

Initially, Miller perceived the program as a good and needed thing, but the more he’s studied it, the more apprehensive he has become:

When Facebook becomes the hub of our mobile social lives as the operating core of our phone, it is no longer just a tool we use to streamline our social lives – Facebook can now BE your social life.

Miller then quotes from University of Colorado Michelle Jackson (associate professor of communication):

You get hundreds of people that you’re supposedly following. And Facebook takes care of all the decisions . . . of what to read about who, and when.

Imagine the number of times the average person looks at his/her phone every day. Now, with Home, this person is automatically being thrust into the social world via Facebook with each glance.

Jackson notes that deciding moment-by-moment whether to socialize or not will no longer even be an option, for if your phone is turned on, you’re already there:

From the moment you turn it on, you see a steady stream of who’s in a bad mood, who’s happy, who’s posted pictures from a party or a meal. Instant access to political rants or anything else people broadcast on social media.

* * * * *

I do not regard Facebook’s Home program as insidious in itself, but rather symptomatic of an even broader issue: What’s happening to us as a society? There’s an old sociological term for it – other-directed. We have just two options in life: we are either other-directed or we are inner-directed. To be inner-directed is to have an inner core of beliefs that enables you, to a certain extent, to be master of your own destiny. By extension: whether you succeed or fail at what you do and accomplish on a day-to-day basis, is in your hands rather than in the hands of others. On the other hand, if you lack inner-directedness, and are consequently other-directed, you are no more in control of your multitudinous life-choices than would be true of the captain of an ocean cruiseship that has lost its rudder. In wartime vernacular, you are a “sitting duck” for forces beyond your control.

We ought to be terrified by this accelerating shift from being an inner-directed nation to being an other-directed one.

The result is that more and more of us are choosing to live in a vicarious world rather than in the real one; choosing pleasure as our lode-star rather than real-life tough choices,. I’m reminded of my personal immersion into utopian and dystopian literature preparatory to writing my master’s thesis at Sacramento State University. During that time period I studied the two most famous dystopias: Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World. Orwell’s nightmarish world of the future was patterned after tyrants such as Stalin who murdered some 40,000,000 of his people in order to remain in power. Huxley’s view of the future was much more benign: ruling by control of the mind rather than body. In retrospect, as I look back over the years separating me from 2013 and the 1968 thesis (45 years), I feel that if Huxley were alive today, he’d have written a sequel to his own sequel. Twenty years after writing Brave New World, he wrote Brave New World Revisited. In it he voiced his deep concern for the societal shift that had already taken place: in only twenty years, already Brave New World was becoming reality rather than fiction. Originally, he’d assumed it would take a century to get there!

In Brave New World (a flashback to Shakespeare’s The Tempest), Huxley created a world driven by the pleasure-principle. Just as was true in the last years of the Roman Empire, unscrupulous individuals are able to assume control of millions of people by providing ever more pleasure-related activities so that the masses would lose interest in the realities of government and citizenship.

So, to conclude this first segment of “The Paralysis of the American Mind,” and set the stage for Part 2, let’s recap by posing some questions worth pondering:

• Just how much control over my life am I willing to surrender to someone else (be it an individual or corporation)?

• How much intrusion into my own achievement/career/family, etc. trajectories am I willing to permit?

• What effect on my personal time-management will these near constant electronic intrusions have?

• Just what am I today: inner-directed or other-directed?

• Recognizing that Facebook’s Home is but one piece of a vast electronic mosaic, is it perhaps time for me to back off a bit and take stock of how I am personally relating to the realities of my own Brave New World?