Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Coffee will either kill us, or turn us into superhumans

There were times when I thought my 17 years as a journalist would eventually take its toll on my health.
Missing? A bottle of scotch.
Before I go any further I must say every stereotype you’ve ever heard about journalists is true.
§  We eat horribly. Probably half a journalist’s meager paycheck goes into the vending machines in the break room, our freezer is filled with microwavable boxes and election night pizza is the greatest gift to mankind.
§  Our desks are examples of what not to do when company comes over. The only thing messier than a journalist’s desk is a town after a tornado. And there is food on that desk covered in notes from a months old city council meeting. It’s probably still good.
§  Given our penchant for correcting grammar, we’re not fun friends to have on social media. We publicly mock those we barely know for using the wrong form of “there,” and feel good about ourselves after, until we get punched in the nose.
There are plenty more correct stereotypes – don’t even get me started about hygiene. Please, don’t – but those are minor compared to the two most glaring stereotypes ever exhibited by journalists from the likes of Mike Royko to Hunter S. Thompson (if those names don’t ring a bell insert Perry White and Lou Grant).
I said that was my last beer. Back away.
The first is booze.
Many writers drink. Edgar Allen Poe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, the list of whiskey-hounds is too long to finish, so I’ll skip to Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway wasn’t just a writer; he was a journalist and never met a bottle he didn’t empty, usually before noon.
But as romanticized as boozing journalists have become, journalists drink something a lot more often than alcohol ­– coffee.
According to the UK’s Guardian newspaper, 85 percent of 10,000 journalists surveyed claimed to drink at least three cups of coffee a day, and 70 percent of them “admitted that their working ability would be affected without a daily mug of coffee.” Journalists, the study found, drink more coffee than do cops.
That’s a lot. Enough to be dangerous?
Over the years coffee has been blamed for an increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and schizophrenia-like symptoms. Although coffee has recently been removed from the list of Items that Cause Cancer, Cardiovascular Disease and Other Things Nature is Trying to Kill You With, it still messes with your brain.
According to livescience.com, people (journalists count as people) who drink three cups of coffee a day are “more likely to hallucinate.”
We all feel like that behind the keyboard.
But that’s not the good news.
A recent study of 27,793 coffee drinkers over a 10-year period showed drinking three cups of coffee a day (enough to make you see things that aren’t there) protects your liver, the one thing many writers and journalists have been trying to destroy with booze all these years.
So coffee turns writers and journalists into some kind of supermen.
Did journalism give me bad heath? I think not.

Jason Offutt’s parody survival guide, “How to Kill Monsters Using Common Household Items,” is available at amazon.com.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Dear Young People, Look Up From Your Phones

Dear Telegraph. Why shouldn't I be vexed? (It's British. They
wouldn't stoop to the word "upset.")
The essay by the 16-year-old British girl was upsetting. No, it was more than that; it was as annoying as that obnoxious guy who uses a semi-colon in the right place.
The essay, that appeared in the London Telegraph, was entitled simply, “Dear old people: why should I turn off my phone?”
Excuse me?
Well, if you weren’t too busy taking selfies in the bathroom mirror (please close the lid) I’d tell you why. While you’re at it, get off my lawn. Wait she’s British. Get out of my garden.
Geez, I sound old.
"Dear old people" author Sally Parker in a
selfie. Stop making fun of me, Sally.
“I often hear,” the girl, Sally Parker, wrote, “that my generation is absorbed in our phones and unaware of what is going on in the world. These kinds of opinions come from, unsurprisingly, people aged 45 and above – that is, the people who were not born into the world of the Internet and are used to a life without it.”
OK, Sally, I’m with you so far. We old farts are out of touch. I get that. But do you really need to take pictures of everything? No one cares what you had for lunch. And really, are you going to watch that video of the rock concert you attended, or would you remember it better if you’d just watched it?
I don’t know. Let’s ask science.
Psychology professor Maryanne Garry from the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand said in an NPR interview that seeing the world through a smartphone makes people pay less attention to what’s happening around them.
"I think that the problem is that people are giving away being in the moment," she said. "They've got a thousand photos and then they just dump the photos somewhere and don't really look at them very much."
Linda Henkel, a psychologist at Fairfield University in Connecticut, agrees. She discovered what she calls the Photo-Taking Impairment Effect.
"The objects that they had taken photos of – they actually remembered fewer of them and remembered fewer details about those objects…rather than if they had just looked at them,” she told NPR.
Then there’s the Internet.
“Another myth this pre-Internet generation has come up with,” Parker wrote, “is that we are just mindlessly scrolling on our phones. When you see a teenager with a friend, one on their phone and not talking to the other, you have no idea what they are doing. The one on their phone could be looking up an article they read on the Conservative party conference.”
Or they could just be playing Candy Crush.
Parker defends her generation’s use of the Internet on their phones because they use it for research. Problem is, they probably aren’t learning anything.
Hint: Not me, ever.
Adrian F. Ward, a researcher at the University of Colorado and Matthew Fisher of Yale University discovered in different studies that most people using the Internet to answer questions (59 percent of those studied) were only in it for an answer, not knowledge. Fisher found that students became overly confident of their understanding of a subject just because they’d looked it up on Google.
"In that Internet mindset, you think you know things," Fisher said. “People are more inclined to remember where the information is stored than the information itself.”
Although I am in Sally Parker’s “aged 45 and above” category, I do understand one thing. This world is one massive solar flare away from losing all our communication satellites. If that happens, I might just read a book, or take a walk. And if I take a walk, I’ll try not to step on anyone younger than me who’s curled into the fetal position because their phone doesn’t work.

Jason’s parody survival guide, “How to Kill Monsters Using Common Household Items,” is available as an e-book at amazon.com.