Adolescence and the Pings, Not Pong
Adolescents have been offered a license to post without any accompanying ethical framework. Is it fair to blame teens for misusing tools that didn’t exist in our childhood? If I had been given a phone with an ability to take and post pictures when I was thirteen, I would not have photographed many things to be proud of. What kinds of public mistakes would I have made if emboldened by this new possibility?
We are now all engaged in what sociologist Erving Goffman calls “the arts of impression management.” Thanks to social media, adolescents are often forced to grow up in public at earlier ages and stages. They are embarking upon an ancient challenge, to know thyself, while broadcasting each awkward step along the way. Is it fair to criticize the young for not acting more maturely? Today’s pings are just a more sophisticated version of Pong. As one of the original video games, Pong was slow, methodical, even predictable. And yet we loved it. Pong didn’t require much sophistication.
The speed could be shifted, but the rules remained the same. Hit it back. The game could be locked in place, stuck in an endless loop. One could walk away for a while and nothing would change.
Take an eye off the screen, a hand off the controller, and one may not even lose a point. Today’s teens are playing ping, not Pong. Pings are those beeps and blurps that tell us we have a new message, a new update, a new headline to consider. Pings are the notifications that float across our screen all day long. They are rooted in instant messaging and constant connection.
A 12 Million Dollar Education
Tom Watson, Sr., is the man who founded IBM. You can imagine the money, the investments, the experiments, this man, and his multi-billion dollar company have made through the years. Once, years ago, when a million dollars was still a million dollars, Watson had a top junior executive who spent $12 million of the company’s money on a venture that failed. The executive put his resignation on Watson’s desk saying, “I’m sure that you want my resignation.” Watson roared back:, “No I don’t want your resignation. I’ve just spent $12 million educating you. It’s about time you get to work.
In her aptly title book, Being Wrong, Kathleen Schulz describes just how difficult it is to be wrong:
A whole lot of us go through life assuming that we are basically right, basically all the time, about basically everything: about our political and intellectual convictions, our religious and moral beliefs, our assessment of other people, our memories, our grasp of facts. As absurd as it sounds when we stop to think about it, our steady state seems to be one of unconsciously assuming that we are very close to omniscient.
The End is Nearish
PRESS RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 1, 1993
We didn’t make a mistake when we wrote in our previous releases that New York would be destroyed on September 4 and October 14, 1993. We didn’t make a mistake, not even a teeny eeny one!
PRESS RELEASE DATE: APRIL 4, 1994
All the dates we have given in our past releases are correct dates given by God as contained in Holy Scriptures. Not one of these dates was wrong . . . Ezekiel gives a total of 430 days for the siege of the city . . . [which] brings us exactly to May 2, 1994. By now, all the people have been forewarned. We have done our job . . . We are the only ones in the entire world guiding the people to their safety, security, and salvation! We have a 100 percent track record!
Press releases from Neal Chase, representing the religious group Baha’is Under the Provisions of the Covenant, in “The End Is Nearish,” Harper’s, February 1995, 22, 24.
His Legacy Lives On
In South Florida several years ago, there was a skywriter who occasionally spelled out happy messages about God—things like “God loves you.” Often, on a clear morning, you could step out and see the pilot’s handiwork.
One morning, as I started my workday as a morning-show host on a local Christian radio station, I read a news website that reported his death. He’d been killed in a plane crash near the Fort Lauderdale airport. I made the announcement on the show, and the response was immediate and overwhelming. People jammed the phone lines, crying and recounting one story after another about how the pilot had encouraged them deeply at just the right time.
Stuff like, “I was headed to the hospital for more tests one morning, wondering if God even cared, and I looked up in the sky . . .” and “I asked God if he really loved me while I was driving home from my night shift, and I looked up, and . . .” They were very emotional. It was moving. Yes, it was tragic, but this was also some very compelling radio I was doing. I leaned into it. I changed some of the songs and played emotional ones.
More tears. More people calling. Lines jammed. I hadn’t planned on it, but I decided to make my whole show about it. It was amazing radio. Midway through the morning, I got a call. “This is incredible!” a young guy told me on the air, fighting back tears. “Someone has picked up his mantle, and now they are writing ‘God loves you’ in the sky!
This is beautiful!” Sure enough, more callers. “He may have died, but his legacy lives on!” “This is amazing!” “Wow! I can see it now!” More emotional music. What a show. There was only one problem: He wasn’t dead. Turns out it was him in the sky, trying to prove that he was still alive, because he couldn’t get through on our busy phone lines.
He knew his friends and neighbors would be panicking, and he wanted to show he yet lived. At 5:30 a.m., for an apparently brief time, the website had it wrong. I didn’t ever double-check. I didn’t know he was alive until my show was over.
When my manager told me, “Hey, I just saw something online, and I think that guy isn’t that guy,” I wanted to teleport to the surface of Saturn. It all ended well. Sort of. I mean, it ended as well as hosting an entire show about the death of a man who hadn’t died can end, I think. I had to do a lot of apologizing to listeners and to the skywriting guy himself. He said it was frustrating but oddly interesting listening to his own funeral on the air. (My new Brant Hansen Show motto idea: “Frustrating but Oddly Interesting.”)
Mistakes More Valuable than Discoveries
Perhaps the history of the errors of mankind, all things considered, is more valuable and interesting than that of their discoveries. Truth is uniform and narrow; it constantly exists, and does not seem to require so much an active energy, as a passive aptitude of soul in order to encounter it.
But error is endlessly diversified; it has no reality, but is the pure and simple creation of the mind that invents it. In this field, the soul has room enough to expand herself, to display all her boundless faculties, and all her beautiful and interesting extravagancies and absurdities.
Benjamin Franklin, Report of Dr. Benjamin Franklin, and Other Commissioners, Charged by the King of France, with the Examination of the Animal Magnetism, as Now Practiced in Paris (1784)
On Asking the Wrong Questions, from the Pink Panther
Clouseau: Does your dog bite?
Hotel Clerk: No.
Clouseau: [bowing down to pet the dog]
Nice doggie. [Dog barks and bites Clouseau on the hand]
Clouseau: I thought you said your dog did not bite!
Hotel Clerk: That is not my dog.
From the Pink Panther, © 1963.
On Changing your Mind
Joseph Lister was a British surgeon and the founder of anti-septic medicine. That may sound incredibly boring, but the effects of his discovery were profound. Prior to Lister, surgeons had virtually no awareness of the importance of their own hygiene around the body, with surgeons coming straight from the bathroom, or the lunch room right into surgery, no washing of hands, with utensils that were often not washed from previous surgeries.
The results of this were devastating…some 45% to 50% of surgical patients died from bacterial infection after the surgery…after Lister’s discovery, that percent fell to about 15%. Just think about how many lives were saved from that discovery alone. The problem for Lister, was this, almost no doctors believed him, not at first…many reveled in their lack of hygiene. The reason I know all this, is because of a wonderful book called “Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President” which chronicles the rise of two young men…one would become the president, James Garfield, and the other a madman, who would eventually shoot Garfield, which would ultimately lead to his death.
Now what is so interesting about this book, among other things, is the way in which Garfield was treated after the shooting. His doctor, like many American doctors at the time, had rejected Joseph Lister’s theory of sepsis and stuck his unclean fingers right into the wound in an attempt to locate the bullet. Garfield cried out in terrible pain, with the doctor failing to find the bullet. After 3 months, Garfield died. What makes the story so heart wrenching is that the bullet itself was most likely not a fatal gunshot, but the constant poking and prodding by the doctors did him in as the bacterial infections worsened over the last few months of his life.
Over time of course, Lister’s theory of sepsis would become accepted in all countries where modern medicine was practiced, but if it had only been accepted sooner, if only doctors everywhere would change their minds on the issue of bacterial infection and the importance of sterilization…so many lives would have been saved, including the most important one, or at least the most powerful one in the United States.
By Stuart Strachan Jr.
Still Looking for inspiration?
Consider checking out our quotes page on Mistakes. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!