Archive | June, 2012

Baseball Has Not Been Berry Good to Me

26 Jun


It’s  high summer and according to my calculations we are approximately 40% through this year’s professional baseball season.Perhaps its un-American, but I have never been much of a baseball fan. Sports psychologist Rick Grieve from Western Kentucky  University says that  the main factor  in becoming a   fan  is the socialization  experience. He believes that people become fans through exposure to a sport through family and friends.  Grieve also asserts that fathers play a key role,  as children   gravitate to the sports their fathers watch or play.   I  have always blamed my lack  of interest in sports on  my father,  to whom sports were always highly suspect. I don’t think he could ever comprehend the value of working up a sweat, without actually performing some practical work. Why bother swinging a bat, when you could just as easily swing a shovel and get something useful done.

Another factor may be that any mention of baseball triggers a lot of traumatic memories of my  dismal childhood baseball career. At school games, I was always one of the last kids picked for a team. It’s funny how other kids instinctually know who stinks at baseball.  In elementary school it seemed like the better you were able to read, the worse you were at baseball. I, myself, was an outstanding reader.

The summer I turned eight  I signed up for  Sav-More Market’s   new Little League team. I loved my new  leather baseball glove and my red and white uniform, but I was  constantly terrified of  getting  hit  by the ball.  I saw some  of my friends  hurt playing sports and it didn’t  take very many protruding bones, busted lips,  and  broken noses to make me  want  to reconsider the whole baseball thing. Whenever the ball was thrown or hit to me,  my first impulse  was always to get out of the way. Likewise when I batted, I jumped  about a foot back with every pitch, which didn’t make me much of batting threat.   The coach threaten to put my feet in  a bucket,  to make me stay in the batter’s box. 

I played outfield, although due to my frequent  left-right confusion, I couldn’t say which one.  I just ran out to  the empty one. I  liked playing deep in the outfield, since most of  the time I didn’t have to worry about balls being hit that far.  My attention would immediately wander from the action in the infield and I would spend most of my time fiddling with my hat, shoestrings,  or staring  at dandelions.  In the unlikely event that a fly ball was actually hit into the outfield, the aggressive dyslexic  in the adjacent field would usually run over, push me aside,  and catch  the ball.

One time all our team’s pitchers were either sick or injured and in desperation, the coaches gave me a  try-out as a  hurler. After a dozen or so wild throws, one of which hit an umpire, they banished me back to the outfield. I guess they finally decided that I was too dangerous to be allowed to pitch. We ended up forfeiting  the game.

As the season progressed,  our team started actually winning some games and I soon found myself sitting on the bench most of the time, which was just fine with me.  I rationalized it to myself  this way, “Cool uniform.  Cool baseball glove.   No pressure or yelling.  And  best of all, no fastballs upside the head”.  I think our team finished third,  but I hung up my  cleats after that one season and decided that the summer was better spent bumming around on my bicycle.

After retiring from the game at the age of eight,  I considered myself a veteran  ballplayer  and like everyone else in my neighborhood,  an expert when it came to the   St. Louis Cardinals. This is the closest I came to being a baseball  fan and it only lasted a few years. It  was all due to peer pressure, media hype, and the proximity of the Cardinals,  just across the Mississippi River from where I lived.   I was at Busch Memorial Stadium the day it opened in 1966 and was listening  when Cardinal pitching ace Bob Gibson  had 17 strikeouts during the first game  of the 1968 World Series. I also leaned to despise  our archrivals, the  Chicago Cubs. While I  pretended to  like baseball to fit in with my peers, the only game I actually attended was  miserable  and as exciting as watching paint dry.  Once I left the St. Louis area, my interest quickly waned.

Although I don’t  follow major league  baseball  as an adult,  I recently checked the standings and  was annoyed  to see the Cardinals trailing Cincinnati, in the central division. This is especially egregious  since my son-in-law, Jeff,  is such a rabid Cincinnati Reds fan. His family visited  from Michigan recently  and  he went to three  Reds games in a single weekend weekend. Jeff is also playing on a softball team at his work.  That father influence seems to be  at work,  because this summer our four year old grandson is playing on a baseball team for the first time.

My wife Diane says that I was negligent with our own three boys, because I never took the time to teach them how to properly catch, throw, or hit. In my defense, I didn’t have  very good  skills or the knowledge to be a  good coach.   I did, however, work with our youngest son some, when he expressed interest in  playing on a team. Although he seemed to have the hereditary Stawar fear of being hit by the ball, he did learn some of the basics and was adorable in his uniform. In order to be competitive in baseball, however,  I think you  have to grow up playing  the  game. Just being cute isn’t enough. I’m afraid I produced a bunch of dandelion  gazing outfielders, like myself.

As for major league baseball today,  all I can say is, “Congratulations to the Giants’ Matt Cain on his recent perfect game. I’m sure  those lousy Reds  are bound to fade in the stretch  and  at least those despicable Cubs are in the central division cellar, where they belong.”   

First published in the Southern Indiana News Tribune.  


iEnvy: Some Observations on Technology Envy Syndrome

19 Jun


For a  few  years I have been wanting to try out an electronic book reader,  so  last summer I splurged on a basic  Amazon Kindle.  Until recently I have been perfectly satisfied with it. On Mother’s day, however, our oldest son sent my wife Diane, a brand new Kindle Fire. With its bright color touch screen and host of other features, the Kindle Fire makes my old one look both clunky and obsolete and Diane is not above rubbing it in. I tried to rationalize by telling myself that my old Kindle is much lighter and that you can read the black and white screen much easier in the sunlight. But no matter how you slice it, compared to the Kindle Fire, my old one is a hunk of junk. Worse yet my ten year-old granddaughter also has a Kindle Fire.

I like to think of myself as being on the cutting edge of technology, but when it comes to e-readers I’m getting shellacked. I did recently upgrade to an i-phone, but my daughter and her husband Jeff insist that their android system is better. Jeff and I always compare notes about computers and smart phones. Whenever I upgrade my computer I have only one criteria, whatever I get   has to be “better than Jeff’s”. I think he upgraded last, so I now lag behind in the laptop division.  I’ve  conceded a long time ago in the television and electronic game system categories. He has a television as big as all outdoors and I’ve lost count of the number of game systems they have. When we visit, our four-year-old grandson patiently explains to me how the video games work,  before he beats the pants off me. All the while his 3 year sister repeats after him, just waiting for her own chance to take the old man down.
I should, however defend myself from the accusation  of unkindness towards my son-in–law. Jeff was a standout athlete back in high school and is certainly not immune to the competitive spirit. When we have played darts, golf, or even horseshoes, he becomes tortured if he doesn’t win and immediately becomes obsessed with the sport and improving  his skills,  until he is able to blow everyone else out of the water.

Aristotle,  said that envy is pain at the good fortune of others. “Technology envy” then would be the discomfort felt when someone else has access to more advanced technology then you do.    

Such “technology envy”  is especially  common in the workplace. This January the Captivate /Office Pulse survey  of   580 North American white-collar workers found  that 30%  of respondents  reported being “very envious” of the devices their colleagues brought into the workplace. The most device-envious people tended to be lower paid  working moms over the  age 30, who have other little  technology hungry beings to consider.

In  the office setting, workers reported that they were most envious of their coworker’s tablets (39%) followed by e-readers (36%),  smart phones (24%), and HDTVs (11%).  At home  the pattern is almost identical, although with  slightly less envy.  The most envied   brand name products  were  the  iphone (73%),  ipads (80%), and  Kindles (50%).  That’s a lot of i-envy.

Australian Technology writer Graeme Philipson has described  what he calls  the Technology Envy Syndrome,  He says it is widespread, and is not easily curable, encouraged as it is by the planned obsolescence  within the industry.   He also questions  if it is only a  coincidence that the  computer  and illegal drug  industries are the only ones that call their customers “users”?

Over the years I’ve noted how the technology competition has advanced at professional meetings I’ve attended. At first phones and computers grew smaller and smaller, then there was a shift when smart phones started using their  screens for a variety of functions and then  tablets started  replacing laptops. The goal, of course,  was to be noticed  by having the latest and greatest technology. Just watch any group  of Information Technology workers compare their phones and you can see such envy at its zenith. 

I believe that, for the most part, technology envy falls into the benign rather than the malicious category of envy.  People are envious of a concrete  possession, rather than a more personal attribute and generally it doesn’t involve the harsh resentment that often accompanies malicious  envy. One exception might be situations in the workplace when a coworker is given access to better or newer technology and doesn’t seem to deserve the special privilege. In such situations it wouldn’t be unusual to want to see your coworker deprived of their unfair advantage, punished severely,  and forced to hand over the new technology   to a more deserving party, such as yourself. 

Psychologist  Sarah Hill from  Texas Christian University  and her colleagues explored both the positive and the negative consequences of envy. They found that on the positive side, envy   helps you   pay attention to people who have things that you want. Thus benign envy can help you better define your goals and see what it takes to achieve them.  On the downside malicious envy  seems to reduce the effort that people are able to  expend problem solving.

Evolutionary psychologists  believe that  envy, is  rooted in the biological drive  for survival.   Recent studies have confirmed that benign envy can actually improve people’s  cognitive  functioning–  increasing  mental persistence and memory. I can imagine that technology envy can lead to learning about, acquiring and mastering new technologies, which has obvious survival value. People who lack the ability to demonstrate any envy whatsoever, would lack this  survival advantage .

I suppose it is also rather shortsighted to envy the technological possessions of others and fail to see the worth and value of what you have been given.  In his description of the ultimate fates of perpetrators of the seven deadly sins, Dante portrayed  “the envious”  as plodding along under cloaks of lead with their eyes sewn shut, because  they are blind to  all of what they have been given. 

In envious comparisons, people tend to be very selective and narrow in what they choose to compare. Generally they tend to look at only the best that someone else possesses, rather than the whole picture.  In this way they cannot help but to fall short.

I have decided to take the first step and publically admit that I suffer from Technology Envy Syndrome. Perhaps with time I can learn to appreciate what I have, control my resentment,  and not care so much about what new wonders  that stinking Diane and Jeff possess.

First published in the Southern Indiana News and Tribune