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Tuesday Miscellany (On Going to the Gym, Pillow Forts, Trust and Change)

Last June, I decided that I had reached that stage of life where some changes to my routine were going to be necessary. I had injured my knee a few years ago, and due to a perfectly calibrated combination of apprehension, apathy, and procrastination, I had not gone the surgery route. One day, a friend who had been through a similar knee-injury gloriously vindicated my indecision by saying, “Forget surgery, just hit the weights. You’ll be fine.” I very much liked the “forget surgery” part of this injunction. The “hit the weights” part? Well, not so much. But, you know, mid-life and all. I figured that I had reached a point in proceedings where some maintenance was going to be required to stay active and reasonably healthy. So, off to the gym I went.

I’ve been going 4-5 times a week for about six months now. I usually ride the stationary bike for a half hour (low impact for the knees) and then hit the weights for another half hour. And you know what? I feel absolutely…

Average.

(Didn’t see that coming, did you? You were expecting a euphoric paean to the glories of physical fitness! Ha! You’ll have to look elsewhere for that kind of propaganda!)

Yes, I do feel a bit stronger, but my left arm now weirdly hurts pretty much constantly. My injured knee feels more stable, yes, but now both knees have an interesting and irritating assortment of aches and twinges throughout the week. It feels good to work up a sweat on the bike each day, but strangely this hasn’t rolled back the clock twenty years and made me revert to the (average) hockey player that I once was. All in all, I was expecting rather more impressive results. I don’t even look that great in skin-tight lululemon workout gear.

(Just kidding about that last part. But you’re welcome, for the visual.)

I’ll still go the gym, however grudgingly. Christmas is coming and I’ll have to do something to deal with all the sugar I will inevitably consume. But I have to say I’m a little disappointed in all the “experts” who are forever extolling the virtues of physical activity. Some experts. Harumph.

***

amazon-echo-alexa-closeup-top-2-1500x1000Speaking of experts, according to a CBC article today, kids have trust issues when it comes to Alexa. Alexa, for those still mired pitifully in the dark ages of the early 2010s, is the “virtual assistant” developed by Amazon to sit obediently in our living rooms, silently surveilling us and collecting our data for future harvesting by big tech behemoths always at the ready to supply useful and reliable information on demand, and to enhance our lives by connecting us to whatever we want whenever we want it.

Except the kids aren’t buying it. At least kids aged five to eight. These children, it seems, are more prone to trust a teacher, parent, or even a peer than a virtual entity. This, despite the fact that said virtual entities have been engineered, at least in part, to eliminate all of the biases and messy ambiguity involved in human knowing and remembering and transmitting information.

Why? Well, according to Judith Danovitch, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Louisville, this is because children take time to learn who or what can be trusted, particularly in an era of information overload and technological change that seems to occur at hyper speed. In a world of fake news and doctored images and “deepfake” videos, how do you know what to trust? Who can possibly decipher between the endless sources of information out there? According to what criteria? Additionally, the disembodied nature of virtual assistants can be confusing to kids. According to the article,

Trusting another human, on the other hand, is hardwired into our brains.

That’s an interesting sentence to ponder, particularly as we enter the Christmas season, with its scandalous claim of God becoming human, and with its even more scandalous claim that questions of truth are ultimately more about “who?” than “what?”

***

5075119568_0a018e42cf_bSpeaking of information and the Internet, this morning I happened upon an article in The Atlantic with the click-bait-y title, This Article Won’t Change Your Mind. I compliantly took the bait. The article covers fairly well-worn territory—most of us know by now that the Internet has effectively walled us off into ideological siloes, safely insulated from any idea that might challenge our preferred ideologies or threaten our certainties. But the author, Julie Beck, evokes a memorable image or two along the way:

Outside of a lab, this kind of selective exposure is even easier. You can just switch off the radio, change channels, only like the Facebook pages that give you the kind of news you prefer. You can construct a pillow fort of the information that’s comfortable.

Most people aren’t totally ensconced in a cushiony cave, though. They build windows in the fort, they peek out from time to time, they go for long strolls out in the world. And so, they will occasionally encounter information that suggests something they believe is wrong. A lot of these instances are no big deal, and people change their minds if the evidence shows they should—you thought it was supposed to be nice out today, you step out the door and it’s raining, you grab an umbrella. Simple as that. But if the thing you might be wrong about is a belief that’s deeply tied to your identity or worldview—the guru you’ve dedicated your life to is accused of some terrible things, the cigarettes you’re addicted to can kill you—well, then people become logical Simone Bileses, doing all the mental gymnastics it takes to remain convinced that they’re right.

People see evidence that disagrees with them as weaker, because ultimately, they’re asking themselves fundamentally different questions when evaluating that evidence, depending on whether they want to believe what it suggests or not, according to psychologist Tom Gilovich. “For desired conclusions,” he writes, “it is as if we ask ourselves ‘Can I believe this?’, but for unpalatable conclusions we ask, ‘Must I believe this?’” People come to some information seeking permission to believe, and to other information looking for escape routes.

For some strange reason, after reading this article I found myself having a strange hankering for an article extolling the virtues of avoiding the gym or an exposé of why, despite what we’ve been told for our entire lives, the secret to shedding that pesky ten pounds is actually more chocolate and whiskey this Christmas. I’m sure the information is out there. Alexa, find me some convenient justifications for all my bad habits and self-serving ideas! Now!

Mmm…. These pillows are so comfortable.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mike #

    Great post,Ryan.
    Isn’t it interesting and fascinating how and why we come to believe something. I listened to the article in the Atlantic link you posted. Wow!!…that was a L O N G one! How the author could hold a thought that long all the while weaving in and out of sub-branch topics is beyond me. I wish I had that level of concentration. Fascinating stuff!

    December 17, 2019
  2. Excellent. You also confirmed my impression last time I saw you that you looked slightly tougher (read muscular) last time I saw you. So you definitely project a healthier ‘average guy’ look than you used to. Good on ya!

    December 18, 2019
    • 😜

      Thanks, Jake.

      December 19, 2019
    • Well…I just hope he doesn’t end up like Pat Boone, who when transitioning through mid-life decided to re-invent himself as a Heavy Metal Biker type which didn’t go over too well. 🙂

      December 20, 2019
      • I’m already a heavy metal biker 😉

        December 20, 2019
      • Paul Johnston #

        Little Richard, likely thinks it was an improvement over Boone’s impersonation of a rock and roll singer, earlier in his career. I would whole heartedly agree.😁

        December 22, 2019

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