James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘Twitter’

Catching up: A brief social media summary

Posted by James McPherson on June 10, 2015

A couple of nice comments on my most recent post made me realize that it had been more than three months since I’d written anything for this blog. Twitter, Facebook, my classes and one letter to the editor about Baltimore protests have been my only outlets for commentary during that time.

I can’t recapture here what happened in classes, but thought it might be worth sharing a few highlights of what I’ve posted on social media. I’ll exclude my regular ranting about the ineptitude of the Seattle Mariners, and there’s no way to include my hundreds of witty or snarky or reflective comments; after all, I’ve posted more than 1,300 tweets since February. For those comments, you’ll need to friend me on Facebook and check out my Twitter feed.

Topics, in no particular order, have included:

The idiocy of John Thune complaining that a Supreme Court decision against the Affordable Care Act (a decision scheduled for this week or next) could cost 6 million people their health care subsidies, which helps show “why Obamacare is bad for the American people.” Of course, the subsidies would not exist without Obamacare, and are at risk now only because of a Republican lawsuit, King v. Burwell. And even Ted Cruz has signed up for Obamacare.

Related to health care, as many of us already knew, Americans pay more for worse care than some people elsewhere.

Evidence that American politics have shifted far to the right, even as the American people have not. The good news about that is that it makes it more difficult for Republicans to ever again win the presidency.

The unprecedented secrecy of the Obama administration (also here).

Evidence that the economy performs far better under Democrats than Republicans.

“Altruism pornography” via “The Briefcase“: Just because reality television and privileged Americans’  disdain for the poor haven’t quite hit bottom in a country that is become increasingly divided economically.

Doubts that allegations regarding the Clinton Foundation will amount to anything, though I also have concerns about the foundation and its donors.

Problems with journalism in regard to dying newspapers, how Facebook filters news, and Fox News viewers being LESS informed than people who watch no news.

Lies or hypocrisy by Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, in a fundraising email; Jeb Bush in talking about his brother’s rationale for the Iraq War; Ted Cruz over federal aid; Mike Huckabee over military service; Carly Fiorina about Chinese ingenuity; the State of Tennessee over a law making the Bible its official book; Idaho legislators worried about Sharia Law; the NRA restricting guns at its national convention; Cruz again about a variety of topics; Fox News over Benghazi.

In education, separating Wheaton (College) from the chaff (Dennis Hester), an arrogant professor, and the largely mythical idea that political correctness is scaring teachers. Plus God helping Ben Carson cheat in a chemistry class.

Craziness involving guns in Idaho, TexasHollywood (Vince Vaughn), an NRA seminar and the NRA’s national convention.

Race issues on Twitter and elsewhere on the World Wide Web, and new “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah.

The “American tradition” of rioting, the deadliest hate crime in U.S. history, LGBT equality and Republicans who favor it.

An old negative review of L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics, along with the insanity of Paula Geller, who compared herself to Rosa Parks, and of a Playboy-posing veteran who wants to “protect” the American flag.

The stupidity of war as tied to patriotism and the end of the world by the end of this year.

Why Americans should slow down and take it easier. Huh; maybe that’s why I haven’t posted for so long until now.

So there’s a small sample of what I’ve been thinking and writing about. But I’ll try to make better use of the blog as the political season heats up.

 

Posted in Journalism, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , | 19 Comments »

Riding, writing and resting

Posted by James McPherson on November 25, 2013

For the past six months, politics has been relatively low on my list of concerns. Call it burnout, or simple disgust with almost everyone in politics (including those in the media who cover it), but after my sabbatical began at the end of May I probably watched and read less about contemporary politics (especially from cable news) for the next several months than during any similar period in perhaps a decade. I have to admit that I didn’t miss it.

Nor have I missed most things about my “real job” as a professor. Someone asked me a while back the most important thing I’d learned during my sabbatical. My answer: “That I probably won’t have any trouble adjusting to retirement in 12 to 15 years.” I love being in the classroom and interacting with students, but certainly haven’t missed grading, course prep or meetings.

During my sabbatical I added a regular Wednesday “guys’ breakfast” and a regular Thursday golf game to my Tuesday and Friday morning basketball games. I’ve read more — and more for fun — than usual. I worked in the yard and garden. I spent time with parents, siblings, kids and a grandchild.

Most importantly, I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with my wife of almost 33 years, especially during a 25-day 5,700-mile drive that included visits to various family members and the cities of Boise, Tucson, Santa Fe, New Orleans and Natchez — the lovely Mississippi city (with the troubling history) in which my wife was born. The cities of Las Vegas, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas and Salt Lake City we passed through quickly, but not too quickly to be reminded of the sprawling corporate sameness that scars the Great American Landscape (though perhaps not for much longer, if my brother and other “doomers” are correct about the fate of the world).

More directly related to my profession, while in New Orleans I attended the annual convention of the American Journalism Historians Association. The convention was held in the beautiful historic Hotel Monteleone, where, despite a steep discount, the nightly rate was more than I paid for my first car, and where it cost more to park my pickup each night than I’ve paid for a room in some motels.

Back home, I attended a breakfast at which I chatted with historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and then (at her request) sent her a copy a book I wrote. (Unlike a similar event with George Will a year earlier, I didn’t notice any errors worthy of correction here.) Later that month I helped out with a high school journalism workshop.

In terms of writing, I have revised a book chapter, chipped away at a novel, compiled notes and done research for a new academic book, and written more than 90 posts for an ongoing blog project. Today I even started our annual Christmas letter, having put up and decorated the tree a couple of days ago. And naturally I’ve been writing on the most pervasive medium in America today: Facebook.

Yes, I’ve devoted too much time to one form of anti-social media, though I’ve managed to forego Twitter, Instagram, Tumbler, Pinterest and Alltherest. I don’t tweet, or even text, and I definitely don’t twerk, Thanks to modern media, sometimes I twitch.

What I’ve written on Facebook  was typically far less important than what I “shared” from elsewhere (the same sorts of things that have no doubt prompted some “friends” to hide me from their feeds). And in retrospect, at least some of what I took the time to share via Facebook also seems worth sharing here. Some examples follow, though for space reasons I obviously can’t include oh-s0-witty-and/or-insightful comments I offered with each post.

The eclectic mix includes: an 1812 test for eighth-graders that few of us today could pass; a professional football coach (who knocked me out in practice when we were on the same college team);  the discovery of a new dinosaur; police brutality in New Mexico; empathetic high school football players; a revised “U.S. map” based on watersheds; Boeing’s anti-union efforts; Richard Cohen’s racism and sexism; how some of Apple’s overseas employees end up as virtual slaves; “15 Ways The United States Is The Best (At Being The Worst)”; the highest-paid employees in each state; a lesson on being quick to judge; some bragging about my workplace; and “the incredible story of Marion Stokes,” an obsessive librarian who taped — on VHS videocassettes — 35 years of television news.

Related to media, I posted items about the dangers of texting while driving and  sexist cyber-bullying by football fans. I explained why my local newspaper screwed up, placing a beautiful photo of a Native American mother and child next to an unrelated headline stating, “Child porn cases result in prison.” I pointed out that a widely quoted ESPN piece about NFL hazing used faulty math and therefore probably drew erroneous conclusions. I made fun of a local television station for misusing a word during a hostage crisis. And I shared a funny piece about a newspaper that retracted its criticism of the Gettysburg Address as “silly remarks” worthy of “a veil of oblivion.”

As a feminist who sometimes teaches a class on women and media (while serving on the board for a local nonprofit devoted to media literacy), I shared various items related to women’s issues: a story about “how we teach our kids that women are liars“;  a piece about sexist treatment of Janet Yellen; how women like working for women; and one about the Bechtel test for movies. I also addressed males, sharing “Five Things Every Self-Respecting Man Over 30 Needs.”

I shared some items about religion, including mega-churches and the fact that the region of the country most opposed to government health care is the Bible Belt. Naturally I couldn’t avoid mention of the Affordable Care Act. Posts compared: Al Jazeera America’s coverage of Typhoon Haiyan and Obamacare with the coverage by CNN, Fox News and MSNBC; how journalists were fact-checking other journalists; Sean Hannity’s lies;

I didn’t managed to ignore other politics entirely, either, discussing such issues as Barack Obama’s judicial nominations; Senate filibusters and the “nuclear option”; nutjobs who advocate killing Obama; National Security Agency wiretapping; Texas textbooks and evolution (a subject of this blog in 2009 and 2010); George W. Bush addressing the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute; some loony Sarah Palin fiscal hypocrisy; Chris Christie’s flip-flop on immigration; and Rand Paul’s plagiarism. What, you expected me to go six months without criticizing a few conservatives?

Most of those Facebook comments came during the past month and a half, suggesting that I’m being sucked back into caring more about politics than may be healthy. Too bad; I’ll have to keep working on that for the couple of months that remain on my sabbatical. Perhaps I’ll report back after that.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Legal issues, Media literacy, Personal, Politics, Religion, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , | 14 Comments »

Social networking making us stupider–and me cranky

Posted by James McPherson on April 30, 2010

I’m on Facebook even though the social networking leviathan–now the most popular Internet site in the country–apparently makes people stupider. Like we can afford that.

I tend to check in on my page relatively rarely, most often when an e-mail alert tells me I have a message, when I want to track down someone I know, or to pimp this blog or other writing. I hope my disinterest beyond that is more because I’m too busy than because I’m too selfish to care what my “friends” are up to most of the time, but in fact I use Facebook in the same way I use other technology–as a tool.

That’s why the only cell phone I own is a prepaid version that’s never turned on unless I want to make a call (which happens probably about once a month, usually when I’m trying to remember what I was supposed to buy at the supermarket), and why I have caller ID and an answering machine. I own technology for my own convenience, not, frankly for the convenience of others. As convenient as cell phones are for many things–and I no longer no anyone that doesn’t have one–I wouldn’t mind terribly going back to a world without them. I don’t text, let alone Twitter; life is too short. And I don’t understand, as I weave my way through traffic past numerous nitwits talking on their phones, how people can have so much to talk about.

One of the best things about Facebook is seeing how some people change; one of the worst things about Facebook is what it demonstrates about how many people are stuck in the past. I once imagined that years after graduation, everyone would be different–that we’d all be less petty, more enlightened. But attending a 20-year-reunion showed me that far too much of the change was external; we were grayer and heavier, and the men had less hair. But the people who were jerks and morons in high school mostly still were.

More than a decade after that reunion, Facebook lets me see that they still are. And for better or worse, they now have the opportunity to exhibit their ignorance far beyond the confines of a small Idaho logging town.

Posted in Education, History, Personal, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Obama saves turkey, not soldiers or landmine victims

Posted by James McPherson on November 25, 2009

Some 34,000 troops face the prospect of celebrating their last Thanksgiving at home–or their last Thanksgiving, ever–as President Obama will apparently announce a plan Tuesday to send them to the bottomless pit of Afghanistan.

Naturally right-wing wackos such as Glenn Beck and Dick Cheney (aka Glenn the Weeper and the Grim Reaper) say that sending more troops into harm’s way earlier would actually be a way to support the military. (I haven’t linked to the info about Cheney, because frankly I wish he’d just shut up and crawl back into whatever hole he was hiding in during most of his vice presidency).

Of course American soldiers and Afghans won’t be the only ones who will be blown up during this holiday season (though one turkey has been saved). Millions of people–many of them in countries no longer at war (unlike the U.S., which is virtually always at war, though few of its citizens suffer beyond economics as a result)–face the possibility of being among the thousands killed each year by landmines scattered in fields throughout the world.

More than 150 countries have signed on to an international convention that bans the production, stockpiling and use of land mines. International organizations expressed concern last summer about the fact that Iraq (a signer of the ban) had an estimated 20 million mines (and 2.66 million kid-killing cluster bomblets, an American specialty) spread throughout various parts of the country. Iraq’s mines that will take decades to clear.

So who hasn’t signed on to the landmine ban? The U.S., of course. The Obama administration announced yesterday that it would not change George W. Bush’s policy because “we would not be able to meet our national defense needs nor our security commitments to our friends and allies if we signed this convention” without mines and cluster bombs. Apparently Obama likes Tuesdays for announcing decisions about propagating of mass murder.

To be fair, the U.S. isn’t the only nation refusing to sign onto the treaty–others include the enlightened nations of China, Russia, Pakistan and Myanmar. And India, which saw its prime minister and Obama proclaim their “growing partnership” at a black-tie state dinner last night. Wearing black seems appropriate (though in India the traditional mourning color is white).

The dinner came almost exactly a year after deadly attacks in Mumbai–perhaps the last time that Twitter actually provided a useful service (though apparently it also helped terrorists track down victims, as discussed tonight on the PBS program “Secrets of the Dead“). Sadly, the current presidential administration seems dedicated to pursuing the kinds of policies produced by its predecessor, guaranteeing an increasing number of those kinds of “secrets.”

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Twit lit: Palin publisher hopes ‘rogue’ stays in vogue

Posted by James McPherson on October 3, 2009

Apparently not bothering to read much gives Sarah Palin lots of time to write, as her new book will hit bookstores next month, rather than next spring. Perhaps this Thanksgiving will go better than last year’s for Palin.

Publisher HarperCollins reportedly want to take advantage of the Christmas shopping season, though I suspect fears that the Alaska Abdicator may completely fade from relevance may also be a factor.

Some Republicans think a Palin nomination would be “catastrophic” for the party (admittedly that quote comes from a John McCain aide, but then, who knows GOP disaster better than McCain folks?), and the conservative New York Post reports that the Moose Killa from Wasilla has not proven to be much of a draw on the lecture circuit,

“The big lecture buyers in the US are paralyzed with fear about booking her, basically because they think she is a blithering idiot,” says one apparent insider. “What does she have to say? She can’t even describe what she reads.”

That doesn’t raise much hope for the book, whose “author” (not surprisingly, she has a co-author) can’t even stay honest on Facebook or Twitter (come to think of it, that seems to be a common problem on social networking sites, though most writers are lying about themselves, not about policy proposals).

Regardless, considering Palin’s level of accuracy within 140 characters, or speak coherently for 20 minutes, pity whomever decides to try to  wade through 400 pages.

Posted in History, Politics, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Twit litter categorized

Posted by James McPherson on August 31, 2009

Apparently 40 percent of Twitter tweets are “pointless babble.” That seems like an incredibly low figure to me, but then I think much of what passes today for mainstream news also qualifies as pointless babble.

 I’ve disgust … er, discussed previously my views about Twitter (also here, here, here and here). Still, I like the diagram below and thought it worth sharing/saving. It comes to me from Kevin Kelly, via Endless Emandation.

 

Posted in Journalism, Media literacy, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , | 9 Comments »

Jittery Twitterers

Posted by James McPherson on August 8, 2009

Twitter crashed yesterday, leaving far too many people feeling confused and disconnected.  On the other hand, considering how many of those people are totally clueless about things that matter, perhaps we should hope for a lot more technology breakdowns.

At the very least, it would be useful if more people would evaluate how they use media more often, as this journalist blogger (and former student) has.  Most of us have long known the value of thinking before speaking. More consideration of media habits might increase the number of folks who think before tweeting.

Posted in Media literacy, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

John McCain, torture MIA

Posted by James McPherson on April 17, 2009

John McCain’s campaign manager told fellow Republicans today that conservatives should support gay marriage, and that the party had been co-opted by the Religious Right. McCain himself recently insulted Sarah Palin, his own vice presidential choice, on national television.

No wonder his boss had trouble winning over conservatives, and these incidents remind me that I once was a McCain fan. Then I became so disgusted with McCain’s presidential campaign, which seemed to be mostly a series of  desperate “Hail Mary” passes that sent him lurching farther and farther to the right, that frankly I recently wished I’d never have to hear from him again.

And yet, today I do. A day after the Obama administration released proof that the Bush administration had indeed endorsed torture–and at the same time announced that it would not punish the torturers–I want to hear the views of torture victim John McCain on this issue.

Does McCain agree with Rush Limbaugh that torture, at least to the extent we know so far was done by Americans (my bet is there will be more and worse to report) was justified, and that a worse crime was in fact Obama’s release of the torture memos?

“My God, we’ve just shown our enemies what we do! We’ve just given away the effective elements of our techniques here,” said Limbaugh. “What he’s done now is, if we’re hit again, he owns it.  If we’re hit again, President Obama owns it.”

Limbaugh also implied that even McCain supported his view–even if the former torture victim himself might not be smart enough to know it: “The idea that torture doesn’t work, that’s been put out from John McCain on down.  McCain for the longest time said torture didn’t work, and then he admitted in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention last summer that he was broken by the North Vietnamese, so what are we to think here?”

That’s a good question, actually. Once we thought we knew the answer, as demonstrated by the three clips below (I appreciate the part of the second when McCain had no way of knowingly that he was comparing the Bush administration to Pol Pot).

There is no issue on which McCain should have more credibility than that of torture. As he reminded us thousands of time during the campaign, he has seen it, felt it, and lives daily with its effects. So here’s my plea to McCain:

Senator, the presidential campaign left us as confused about where you stand as it seemed to leave you. So please–and God knows, I can’t imagine asking again–let us hear from you now, before the nutballs can froth at the mouth for another day.

If your resounding defeat has restored your principles and your soul, let us know, so we can all start the process of rebuilding your reputation. And if you remain tortured by an inability to recognize the American values you once heralded, please, again, just go away.

Next day update: ThinkProgress and Huffington Post demonstrate how Limbaugh distorted McCain’s words, and offer video of Limbaugh’s quotes. We’re still waiting to hear from McCain.

Sunday update: In a headline that surely wasn’t accidental, the CNN Wire offers this: “Former CIA head slams Obama.” Get it? Head slams? The released memos show that slamming a suspect’s head against a wall was considered an appropriate means of interrogation. And we’re still waiting to hear from McCain.

Sunday update #2: What I didn’t know, and can barely believe considering how his admitted cluelessness about technology may have hurt him in the campaign, is that John McCain is now on Twitter.

If McCain really writing and sending the tweets (and I have doubts), that means there’s even less excuse for his silence about the torture memos. The most recent tweet, as of now, from 23 hours ago: “Chavez’s book–best cure for insomnia!!” Yes, with two exclamation points. Cute, but of course irrelevant.

Monday update: We now know that the CIA waterboarded suspects–in one case, apparently 183 times–and that the agency lied about it. You might want to check out this “tortured history” of the practice from NPR.

In the meantime, four minutes ago John McCain Twittered, “Turn on FOX News now! – Joe Lieberman and I are doing an interview with Jane Skinner.” He remains silent on the latest torture revelations, however. Maybe Skinner will ask him about it.

Tuesday update: Americans are split on torture, meaning they don’t know what to think, while paragon of evil Dick Cheney–who for most of us didn’t have any credibility even before he started his years-old campaign of lying about the Iraq War that would make him richer–continues to spew garbage. We seem to be hearing more from him now than when he was in office.

So, could McCain help? Maybe a little, if people listened closely enough. He finally did speak yesterday to Fox–somewhat contradicting himself with his own statement (basically saying, “Torture is bad; talking about torture is bad) and refusing to clarify it later. But clearly did say that the fact that America has tortured prisoners has helped our enemies, serving “as a recruiting tool for Islamic extremists.” Thanks, John.

Wednesday update: Today we find that Condi Rice and probably Dick Cheney approved the waterboarding. I wrote more than a month ago that Cheney should be tortured; now it appears that Rice should be, too. We’ve probably had presidential administrations that were as inept as the Bush people, but I wonder if we’ve ever had a group that was as evil.

Posted in History, Legal issues, Politics, Video, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Twittering while Rome burns

Posted by James McPherson on April 3, 2009

I’m generally not convinced that the British are smarter than we are, despite their intelligent-sounding accents and even if they happen to think so. After all, England was the one country that mostly strongly went along with the Bush/Cheney War, and which has now pledged to join us in sending more troops to Afghanistan.

Still, one group of UK islanders impressed me with their smarts this week. Those were the folks who chased away a Google camera car that was to photograph their homes for Google Earth. Perhaps those people’s actions will someday keep me from getting a close-up view of a crime scene from my office computer, and the fact that they apparently were more elitist snobs than pitchfork-wielding mob and were acting at least as much to protect their wealth as their privacy takes some of the luster off of my admiration.

But the key fact remains: Even as a near-First Amendment absolutist who almost always thinks more information is better than less information (prompting my regular critiques of the Bush administration’s secrecy and sneakiness) sometimes we’d be better off if more often we just told more people–politely, of course–to please shut the hell up. 

I want information to be available, but that doesn’t mean I want to be buried in that information all the time. I agree with Kathleen Parker, who previously coined the term “Twitterati,” in her column of this week. She writes that information overload makes it difficult for us to put things in context: “It’s a toxic asset that exhausts our cognitive resources while making the nonsensical seem significant.”

In fact, even though Barack Obama has become famous for his use of technology, Parker notes that information overload may in fact be bad for democracy: “TMI [Too Much Information] may indeed be the despot’s friend. Keep citizens so overwhelmed with data that they can’t tell what’s important and eventually become incapable of responding to what is. Our brains simply aren’t wired to receive and process so much information in such a compressed period.”

Too much information distracts us from all sorts of things–prompting the phrase coined by my wife’s that I used as the headline for this post–while making us incapable of focusing on what’s important. It gives us too many reasons not to sleep at night.

Parker mentions a Columbia Journalism Review article that includes some fascinating statistics, and though she probably didn’t have the space for it in her column, one paragraph of the CJR article is worth repeating in full:

“There are more than 70 million blogs and 150 million Web sites today–a number that is expanding at a rate of approximately ten thousand an hour. Two hundred and ten billion e-mails are sent each day. Say goodbye to the gigabyte and hello to the exabyte, five of which are worth 37,000 Libraries of Congress. In 2006 alone, the world produced 161 exabytes of digital data, the equivalent of three million times the information contained in all the books ever written. By 2010, it is estimated that this number will increase to 988. Pick your metaphor: we’re drowning, buried, snowed under.” (emphasis added)

The fear of information overload is why I have an answering machine and caller ID. It’s why I don’t subscribe to any Twitter feeds, including those coming from volcanos or from Obama (and I hope someone else is actually tweeting on behalf of the president; I want him saving the economy, not giving me hourly updates on what he’s doing right this minute). It’s why I typically check my Facebook page three or four times per month, rather than three or four times per hour as some of my students do.

And it’s why even though I now own a cell phone, largely by accident, it’s never turned on unless I want to call someone. That happens about once a month, when I’m in a store and can’t remember what my wife asked me to pick up.

I also assume you don’t want to be buried in trivia. That’s why I don’t Twitter, even after learning that it might prompt Demi Moore to care about me. I’m not surprised to see an apparent Twitter backlash. It’s why I update my Facebook page even less often than I think to check it. And my recognition of the problem is why one of the texts for my media criticism is Todd Gitlin’s Media Unlimited, and why I advise students to critique media carefully, but also to take breaks from those media.

The combination of too much information coming at me and too much coming from me goes to an important question that I regularly pose to students, and which Parker asks in her column: “What if everybody just took a timeout?” That combination also is one of the reasons that I will stop posting regularly to this blog in about three weeks (other reasons I’ll explain in more detail as the date–April 22–approaches).

I’ve seen the value of taking time away from the media in very real terms. Most notably, once I went from being a newspaper editor and hardcore news junkie to living in a converted school bus on the Oregon Coast for more than a year. I intentionally avoiding watching television, listening to news on the radio, or reading a newspaper during that time (the Internet hadn’t yet arrived, and in those days I did my own writing on a portable manual typewriter).

My wife and I enjoyed the year tremendously. We read a lot, spent more time outside, and made many new friends. Interesting, I missed almost nothing of significance in the world that I otherwise would have known–which didn’t stop me from going back to a news junkie when I ended my media sabbatical.

Another example of the value of escape came several years later. After I had invested significant time and effort in my doctoral dissertation, someone on the other side of the country wrote about the same topic–and did it better than I could. Suddenly my topic was dead, my past year of effort appeared to have been wasted, and I began spending panicky long hours in the school library trying to come up with another workable idea. I spent hours on Web research (the Internet had arrived) and talking to people who might be able to help, burying myself in information for several weeks–to no avail.

And then I went on a backpacking trip with my parents and siblings in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. I didn’t feel I could afford to take the time, but I had promised to go, and my wife–no doubt sick of my self-pity–urged me to get away (or maybe just to get away from her; memory is a funny thing). A couple of days later, as I was standing hip deep in a cold mountain lake trying to entice a rainbow trout to smack a dry fly, a new dissertation idea popped into my head.

Importantly, the new topic had nothing to do with fishing, camping or the outdoors, and in fact incorporated much of the work I had already done. I needed to get away to see how to make it work. Or, as Parker put it this week: “If you’re looking for Eureka–as in the Aha! moment–you probably won’t find it while following David Gregory’s Tweets. Or checking Facebook to see who might be ‘friending’ whom. Or whose status has been updated. George Orwell is . . . More likely, the ideas that save the world will present themselves in the shower or while we’re sweeping the front stoop.”

Or, in the words of Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby when we’re, “gone fishin'”:

Posted in Education, History, Media literacy, Personal, Video, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »