’30’ after 30

All done after 30 years of journalism at The Oregonian and OregonLive.

All done after 30 years of journalism at The Oregonian and OregonLive.

On my last day of work, I got up as I usually do a little after 5 am. Got dressed, packed my exercise bag and headed to the gym, anticipating a sweaty workout on the elliptical.

The door was closed. I’d forgotten they wouldn’t be opening until 8 am today on New Year’s Eve.

No problem. That left me time to come back home, fix breakfast and ruminate a little about what lies ahead.

As I write this, a noon appointment looms with Mandy in the Human Resources Department, at which time I will receive my final paycheck, turn in my company-issued laptop, ID badge and power cords — the symbols of today’s digital journalism.

This afternoon, after 30 years at this place,  I’ll walk out of The Oregonian/OregonLive newsroom for the last time as a staffer. If this were a news story written in the print era, I’d be signing off with the numeral “30.” Newspaper reporters used to type those two digits to signal the end of their story.

Nowadays, not so much.

***

Picking up where I left off this morning…

What once seemed surreal — the end of my career as a working journalist — is now real. I’m writing the rest of this post as an ex-staffer.

People ask me: How does it feel? What do you plan to do?

Honestly, it feels great. Liberating, in fact. No resentments or regrets that I’m retiring a couple years ahead of schedule.

What gives me perspective is this. I went out this morning to Southwest Portland to visit with Susie Reimer for one more news story. She’s the hard-working owner of the Humdinger Drive-In, a restaurant she’s been running for 35 years.

As a high school dropout, she’s done remarkably well to keep her modest little restaurant going all these years. But as I wrote in a profile of her this summer, all those long hours haven’t paid off in the way she hoped. At 63, the same age as me, she has no retirement savings, just like half of all retired Baby Boomers.

Burger stand owner Susie Reimer typifies the plight of too many Americans who have little to show after a lifetime of long hours and hard work.

Burger stand owner Susie Reimer typifies the plight of too many Americans who have little to show after a lifetime of long hours and hard work.

How ironic that my own retirement comes just as I’ve finished writing the third of three major articles on the U.S. retirement. In addition to Susie, I wrote about the plight of older workers — people who for financial reasons must keep working beyond traditional retirement age. Some do so because they’ve been laid off late in life or hammered by major medical expenses. Others because they need to help support parents, children or grandchildren.

Another piece is due to be published next week exploring the racial gap in retirement. That is, the enormous inequality in net median household wealth between whites, African Americans and Latinos.

As I write the stories of fellow Oregonians who face steep challenges in retirement, I know I am damn lucky to have enough resources — not to mention a loving, reliable life partner — to quit working now.

***

So what do I plan to do?

Nothing immediate, other than to chill for at least 30, maybe 60 days. I want to adjust to whatever new rhythms present themselves, think about what might engage me, and entertain possibilities that might drop in my lap. I’ll do all that while doing a little more hiking, biking, blogging and exploring in general.

Laptop is gone ... and so is George from the newsroom.

Laptop is gone … and so is George.

I’m grateful for the 30 years I spent at The Oregonian in various reporting and editing roles, as well as the 10 years before that in Salem, Bend and Milwaukie.

I’ll  reflect on my career, on newspaper economics and more in the coming year.

For now, it’s time to say “30.”

VW, Reimer photographs: Kristyna Wentz-Graff, The Oregonian

 

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Rough and Rede II: 2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

In the spirit of sharing and transparency, I offer this summary to regular and occasional readers. Who would have guessed this humble little blog would be read by people in 94 countries? Yes, 94, ranging from Algeria to Argentina to Australia. (I love alliteration, can’t you tell?)

Other highlights:

— 3 of the top 5 most widely viewed blog posts were written by yours truly (that’s a change from previous years).

— The post attracting the most comments was “Dear Boomers,” an open letter from a millennial to her parents’ generation. (Thanks, Lilly Mongeau!)

— The five most active commenters were …

Well, you’ve have to check out the full report to find out. There’s a link below along with a cool excerpt about total views.

Happy reading!

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 18,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Finding hope in despair

I read about 10 novels this year and there were some marvelous writers among them: Jhumpa Lahiri, Adam Johnson, Jess Walter, Anne Hillerman.

Those four authors alone transported me to wildly different places like India, Korea, Spokane and the Navajo tribal lands of the American Southwest. In those places, they sketched interesting characters facing varied challenges in their fictional lives.

mccann book coverAs I wind up the year, it is with a feeling of deep satisfaction and appreciation after reading Colum McCann‘s masterful novel “Let The Great World Spin.”

At a time when I find myself worrying whether the United States can rise above the callousness and insensitivity that characterize our politics and the way we relate to each other, along comes a novel that restores my hope. Granted, it’s a 6-year-old work of fiction but it’s one that leaves you thinking maybe, just maybe, there’s a chance we can do better.

Set in August 1974, as the World Trade Center was being completed, and published in 2009, eight years after the Twin Towers fell, the book was widely perceived as a post-9/11 novel. But that’s not exactly right. McCann himself told an interviewer that while the book represents his own emotional response to 9/11, it could also be “just a book about New York in 1974.”

To understand the events of that terrible September and all those that followed, he realized he needed to go backwards. “Wherever we are now is wherever we once were,” is how he put it.

***

The book begins with a real-life event: the re-creation of Philippe Petit’s audacious tightrope walk between the towers on August 7, 1974. The daring feat — an incomprehensible one, really — captures the attention of New Yorkers on the ground and becomes a thread for the next dozen chapters as McCann introduces various characters and somehow connects them, one by one, to each other. An improbable feat in a city of more than 8 million people, for sure, but one that he makes plausible.

It’s a masterful narrative, executed seamlessly. McCann takes the reader from Ireland to the Bronx to Park Avenue and back and forth again. He writes compellingly about a priest and prostitutes, a judge’s wife and military moms, among others. About blacks and whites, rich and poor, young and old, streetwise and otherwise.

He writes about life and death, poverty and wealth, arrogance and humility. Not in a sociological way, but through his characters’ words, actions and inner dialogue. It’s through their interactions with each other and reflections on their own lives that connections are made, insights are gained, truths are revealed, empathy occurs.

And it’s in the telling of those individual stories — and the stitching together of all of them — where the novel soars. Just when you think we can’t sink any lower in the way we treat each other in real life, McCann’s motley cast of characters gives you something to feel good about.

***

It always astounds and delights me when a foreign-born author writes with such intelligence and insight about American culture. McCann, born in Dublin but living and working in New York City for years, clearly does in this novel.

colum mccann

Colum McCann: His novel “Let The Great World Spin” is dazzling.

As I made my way through the book, I shared a sentence or two on Facebook to give a sense of his vocabulary and his writing prowess. I’ll share just one excerpt here from the perspective of a character named Gloria:

“I was happy enough the day my second husband found himself a younger version of the train he was riding into oblivion. His hat had always been a helping too large on his head anyway. He upped and left me with three boys and a view of the Deegan [an expressway through the South Bronx]. I didn’t mind. My last thought of him was that nobody ought to be as lonely as him, walking away. But it didn’t break my heart to close the door on him, or even to suck up the pride of a monthly check.”

One reviewer seized on the symbolism that also occurred to me as I read of the solitary tightrope walker above and the dissimilar but now-connected lives on the ground:

“Brilliant…a reminder to look up — and to look into one another’s eyes.”

McCann deservedly won the National Book Award for “Let The Great World Spin.” I’m sorry I missed his recent appearance in Portland, but I fully expect I will be reading more of him in the new year.

Read an interview with McCann about his new book, “Thirteen Ways of Looking.”

Photograph: colummccann.com

22 thank yous

 

Thank-You-message2A week after I revealed that I would be taking early retirement at the end of the year, my heart is full and my head is still spinning.

The dozens — no, hundreds — of you who commented on or liked my blog post about “Life in the middle lane” overwhelmed me with your kind words and good wishes. I was truly touched.

After today, just four days of work remain until I walk out of the newsroom for the last time as an employee of The Oregonian/OregonLive.

I offer my thanks to each and every person who took note of my leaving. And I offer a special thanks to the following people, who each played an instrumental role in putting me on my career path or helping me along:

1 and 2. Catarino Rede and Theresa Flores. Neither of my parents had the opportunity to attend high school, but both made it possible for me to attend college and both encouraged me to pursue a career that required brains, not brawn.

3. Wanda Wilson. The high school teacher who picked me out of a first-year journalism class as a junior and steered me to my first job as a part-time sports writer. In my senior year, she entered me in a regional news-writing competition that resulted in my winning my first journalism scholarship — a tremendous boost of confidence for someone who was first in the family to attend college.

4. Roger Amaral. My first boss. Sports editor of the News-Register in Fremont, California. Roger hired me as a stringer after I passed a tryout — covering a night prep basketball game and writing a deadline story that would land on people’s porches the next morning.

5. Rich Gohlke. My second boss. When the News-Register folded (Fremont really wasn’t big enough to support two daily papers), Rich hired me at The Argus, also in Fremont, giving me a place to continue writing  as well as a source of income that helped me pay my way through college.

6. Roger Budrow. Faculty adviser to the Spartan Daily, the student newspaper of San Jose State University. He had my back during my first two semesters on staff, as a reporter and managing editor, during my junior year.

7. Larry Snipes. After Budrow retired, Snipes stepped in as adviser. Following a summer internship as a copy editor at The Washington Post, I returned to the Spartan Daily as editor-in-chief, working closely with Larry, and vowing to focus on the newspaper and my studies during my senior year. But then…

8. Lori Rauh. A first-year Daily reporter from San Francisco with long brown hair and beautiful green eyes caught my attention. We went out for pizza on our first date Jan. 6, 1974, and we’ve been together ever since. Over the course of our marriage, now at 40 years and counting, she picked up and moved with me a half dozen times as I moved up the ladder.

george-lori-sjs

George and Lori in 1974.

9. Bob Chandler. The late editor and publisher of The (Bend) Bulletin hired me for my first full-time job at a professional daily. Gruff but widely respected, he made a practice of hiring young, ambitious journalists who typically spent two years there in Central Oregon before moving on with his help to someplace bigger and better.

10. Steve Bagwell. When I left Bend for Salem, my goal was to cover state government and politics in Oregon’s capital city. I got that opportunity at the Statesman Journal and worked closely with Steve, who not only massaged my copy as government affairs editor but often gave me a ride home after last bus has left downtown Salem — at 6:30 p.m.

11. Graham Hovey. As program director of a mid-career sabbatical program based at the University of Michigan, Hovey had a role in selecting me as one of 12 U.S. journalists for a year-long opportunity of seminars and self-directed study. A retired editorial writer at The New York Times, he was genuinely welcoming to me and my young family, erudite, charmingly forgetful and unfailingly courteous. The sabbatical was a life-changing experience, during which I veered away from political coverage, embraced a broader approach to the news and traveled to Japan with other Michigan journalism fellows.

12. Bill Hilliard. A few months after I returned from Ann Arbor to Salem, this mild-mannered man who overcame discrimination early in his career and became the first African American editor at The Oregonian was the one who hired me at the newspaper. He personified dignity, perseverance and class.

13. Bob Caldwell. A Bob Chandler protege and a fellow alum of The Bulletin, Bob was the metro editor when I joined his crew of assistant city editors. He gave me wide latitude and let me learn from my mistakes as I moved from the night city desk to dayside to regional to Sunday editor. Nearly 20 years later, I would work with him again, he as editorial page editor and I as editor of the Sunday commentary and op-ed pages.

Stanford-Chen-Pic-2

Stanford Chen, a friend, mentor and fellow diversity warrior.

14. Stanford Chen. Stan was someone everyone loved for his cheerful  personality and commitment to newsroom diversity. Known for his Hawaiian print shirts and his dedication to young journalists, he invited me to join him as a fellow editor at an annual summer program for minority journalists on the University of California at Berkeley campus. Stan died in 1999 at the age of 51, but his legacy continues as namesake of an Asian American Journalists Association internship grant fund to support college students.

15. Dinah Eng. Through Stan, I met Dinah, who was then a Gannett News Service editor and columnist. Working alongside her at the Berkeley program and other student projects, she offered gentle encouragement and a gracious model of how to treat and lead others. Dinah was founding director of an executive leadership program established while she served as AAJA’s president.

16. Sandy Rowe. Succeeding Bill Hilliard upon his retirement, Sandy became the first woman editor of The Oregonian. She hired me as the paper’s first newsroom recruitment director and years later chose me to serve as the Sunday Opinion editor — the two best jobs in the newsroom, in my opinion. I got a great inside view of how this talented, smart woman thinks and a platform from which to help diversify the newsroom like never before.

17. Peter Bhatia. Sandy also appointed me to a committee to recommend whom she should hire as the No. 2 editor in the newsroom. That was Peter, who would serve in that role for many years before becoming editor himself. Working with Peter even more closely with Sandy, I marveled at his suite of skills, both journalistic and organizational, and the breadth of his professional networking. As a South Asian journalist, Peter’s commitment to diversity and industry connections were vital to our recruiting achievements.

sandypeter

Sandy Rowe and Peter Bhatia, named 2008 Editors of the Year by Editor & Publisher magazine.

18. Joe Grimm. The best recruiter of them all in my book. When I launched as The Oregonian’s recruiter, no one provided more counsel or made more personal introductions than Joe. I always thought I had an advantage wooing job and internship candidates because I could talk about quirky Portland and our innovative newsroom. Joe, on the other hand, had to lure people to Detroit, whose harsh winters and battered civic image made it an unappealing choice for many. Even after leaving the Free Press, Joe has maintained his fervent dedication to newsroom diversity.

19. Jill Geisler. Blessed with the opportunity to attend professional development seminars over the years, I met Jill on one of my visits to the Poynter Institute in South Florida. She is simply the best at teaching and modeling leadership. I got a chance to spend a chunk of time with her in Portland as well when we invited her out to help us with middle management training.

20. Cynthia Coleman. The communications professor at Portland State University who hired me to teach a couple of mini-courses on the blogosphere in the days before social media became a staple of modern life. More than anything, prepping for that course gave me a solid grounding in the subject and prodded me to launch my own blog nearly six years ago, way back in February 2010.

21. Bruce Hammond. My current editor. When I came back downtown a year ago to return to full-time reporting, it meant giving up the autonomy I’d always treasured as recruitment director, Sunday Opinion editor and suburban editorial writer. There could not have been a better match than with Bruce. A consummate professional, he is collaborative and positive, cool under pressure, and a gifted editor. If you read a story of mine that you liked this past year, you should know it most likely went through Bruce.

22. Lori Rede. Yes, her again. The fellow journalism major I was lucky to date and then marry 18 months later. My partner in life is not just the mother of our three adult children but the heart and soul of our family. Without her love, understanding and patience (yes, I know I’ve tested it way too many times), I could not have enjoyed this long, enjoyable run as a journalist. Frequent traveling during the years I was the newsroom recruiter meant she was often a solo parent when I was away from home.

AsianKitchen

Lori and George on Orcas Island in 2013.

Through all the newsroom changes and technological challenges of recent years, she has been supportive, curious and caring. Soon I will be in a position to begin a long period of payback, where I’m the one doing more household chores, spending more time with our pets, preparing more dinners during the week. it’s been a long time coming to ease the burden of my beautiful wife, who plans to continue serving a loyal base of clients as a personal trainer and independent business owner.

A sincere “thank you” to all on this list and an extra special one for Lori. Couldn’t have done it without any of you.

Image: rosannadavisonnutrition.com

Photos: Asian American Journalists Association; The Oregonian

Life in the middle lane

walter_baker_sports_center_lap_pool

Like life itself, an empty swimming pool beckons with many choices.

When I arrived at the gym this morning a little after 6, I opened the door to the lap pool area and was surprised to find it completely empty. Nothing but placid water and three empty lanes.

What a perfect metaphor for the next phase of my life.

Word has been trickling out, so maybe you’ve already heard. The Oregonian Media Group, publisher of The Oregonian and OregonLive, recently made a buyout offer to qualified staffers intended to trim payroll costs going into the new year.

I’m among the 18 veteran journalists who’ve taken the offer — an early retirement package that sends me out the door with continued benefits and several months of pay based on my 30 years of service with the company.

This post isn’t the place to reflect and reminisce. There will be plenty of time for that. Likewise, I have a few other ideas in mind that will allow me to look back at the path I traveled, the people who influenced me along the way, and the possibilities that lie ahead.

Like an empty swimming pool, the choices are enticing.

Which lane do I choose? Left, right or center?

How do I want to get my laps in? Breaststroke, backstroke, freestyle?

And in life…

How do I want to fill my days in retirement? More hiking? More biking? More time at coffee shops? More travel?

Is this finally the time to join a book club? Do I want to work? Which nonprofit programs would I like to serve as a volunteer?

All are exciting prospects and I’ll be in no rush to decide.

For now, it’s enough to focus on what’s immediately in front of me.

Two weeks from today, December 31st, will be my last day. Counting tomorrow’s scheduled day off,  I’ve got eight days of work left.

Between now and then, I’ve got a couple of appointments set up with the human resources department to go over details of my severance package. Dozens of professional contacts to notify about my leaving. And a handful of stories to finish reporting, writing and posting.

I enjoy my work. I love being around my newsroom colleagues, so smart, talented and dedicated. I would have been just fine working another couple of years. But the timing of this offer is right. And the financial terms are sufficiently generous that it was an easy choice to apply for the buyout.

A new chapter awaits. I’m eager to dive in. Into the middle lane, as I did this morning.

Photograph: wikimediacommons.org

 

 

In the holiday spirit

gospel2

The Northwest Community Gospel Choir performing with the Oregon Symphony.

When I think about the end-of-year holidays, it’s music, food, friends and family that come to mind.

Sure, there’s canned Christmas-themed music everywhere you go. And who hasn’t seen the TV commercial of a delighted family rushing outside to see a big red bow atop their gleaming new Mercedes SUV, parked in a spotless driveway somewhere in a universe far different from any that I know?

But those are minor annoyances.

This past weekend was a good one for putting me in a proper frame of mind for what’s to come. Each day allowed me to indulge in some of my favorite things with some of my favorite people. And for that, I am grateful.

Friday night: Lori and I took in the annual Gospel Christmas concert at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, preceded by a tasty dinner at a nearby Japanese restaurant.

gospel1

Gospel music makes you feel good, no matter what your beliefs.

For 17 years, the Northwest Community Gospel Choir and the Oregon Symphony have collaborated to present a program of stirring vocals and first-rate musicianship. Under the direction of guest conductor Charles Floyd and music director Gary Hemenway, the set list ranges from the slow and stirring to the hand-clapping, leave-your-seat, sing-along  variety.

The program struck the right balance of religious references and secular  reminders to embrace the spirit of the season, to treat each other well and to overcome the recent events around the globe that lately have darkened our days.

One word sums up the music and the feeling it inspires: Joy.

Saturday night: We joined two other couples for dinner as part of a regular rotation of hosting a meal at one of our homes in Northeast Portland.

Call them The Fearsome Foursome: Ed & Renee and Joe & Irma.

dinner

From left: Renee, Irma, Joe, Ed & Lori.

Each get-together is seemingly more fun than the previous one, owing to free-flowing wine and conversation — where no topic is taboo — and a delicious home-cooked meal for all to share.

I met these fine people through Lori, who was seeing both Renee and Irma as personal training clients and agreed it would be good for me to meet them and their husbands, who were already good friends. Turns out that not only do we all live in the same ZIP code, but two of their boys are now attending Grant High School and the third one is likely headed there in a couple years. That’s where two of our three kids went to school, as well.

Not only do we have a good foundation for understanding where they are as parents, but they can listen with amusement or mock horror as we share stories of our three munchkins and their decidedly different passages from adolescence to adulthood.

All the talk is made more enjoyable by the host’s choice of music. In this case, Joe busted out some James Brown, Madonna and Sly & The Family Stone. Nice.

Sunday morning: Speaking of munchkins, we met up with Nathan & Sara and Simone & Kyndall for brunch at Oso Market + Bar, a far cry from the greasy spoons I’m known to seek out.

The occasion? To hear about and see pictures from Nathan & Sara’s recent trip to Thailand. They were there for about 10 days or so and were full of stories about Bangkok (New York on steroids) and Chiang Mai (gorgeous, mountainous area in northern Thailand).

brunch

From left: George, Lori, Nathan, Sara, Simone & Kyndall

Their stories were spiced with great anecdotes about the people (chill), the food (fabulous and spicy), the traffic (insane) and the climate (sweat dripping down your back).

Coincidentally, Simone & Kyndall also are headed to Thailand, having planned a trip there themselves before realizing Nathan & Sara would be headed there before them. Sounds like the ladies will have quite a different experience, with plans to stay for several days on a couple of remote islands.

I love the spirit of adventure in our kids and their partners and I’m happy for them that they are able to do this. If nothing else, we get a vicarious thrill seeing all the photos and hearing their stories.

So, yes, this was a fine weekend combining all these things. Bring on the holidays. Let this 2014 Gospel Christmas put you in the spirit:

The breakfast club

fat city outside

With a name like this, you can’t go wrong.

I’ve lost track of when we started, but my friend Tom and I years ago established a nice routine of getting together once a month or so to catch up with each other over breakfast.

It’s not exactly Guys’ Morning Out — too early for alcohol — but it is a good way to check in and keep up with what’s new in our lives and those of family members.

tom and george

Appetites are whetted and the world’s problems are solved when Tom and George get together for breakfast.

Tom and I go back to college days in California. Our wives were roommates. Within a year of graduation, each of us couples moved to Portland and got married. In time, we would each have three children — all born close enough together for each Guiney kid to have a Rede peer.

Anyway, I’ve always looked forward to getting together with my fellow Bay Area refugee. It’s good to have a framework for sharing experiences, opinions and memories during my favorite meal of the day.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of our two-man club is trying different breakfast joints around the Portland area. This week it was Fat City Cafe in the Multnomah Village neighborhood.

fat city inside

Christmas decorations made Fat City Cafe even more eye-pleasing than normal.

It was my first time there, though Tom, as a nearby resident in Southwest Portland, has been there before.

As the name suggests, Fat City Cafe falls into the greasy spoon category, though I say that affectionately. It’s not very big, just a few booths and a diner-style counter. And it’s decorated with plenty of kitschy items — road signs, T-shirts and license plates from around the country.

It’s family-owned, the service is friendly and the big, laminated menu has all sorts of enticing choices if you’re into omelettes, hashes and breakfast meats.

geezer.grub

Gotta say this item didn’t go over too well. Whaddya mean “geezer”?

Everything else aside, Fat City Cafe occupies a place in local political history. It was here in 1987 that a former mayor, Bud Clark, met with police chief Jim Davis to discuss an upcoming audit of the police department and wound up giving him the ax.

As they settled into a booth and ordered coffee, Davis told the mayor he had the authority to send a memo to the city auditor requesting information, without consulting the mayor’s office.

To which Clark famously replied: “Read my lips. You’re fired.”

 

One thing at a time

addicted-to-distraction

Too much time on the Internet leads to diminishing attention span?

I’ve turned the music off and set aside the iPhone. Nothing in front of me now except this screen.

Time to focus. Time to concentrate. Soak up the morning silence.

In another hour or so, I will most likely dive in again. Checking personal email. Work email. My Facebook feed.

At work — heck, on the way to work — I will toggle among all three as I add another layer of information: a quick scan of stories on different websites. If I also send or receive a text or two, that won’t be anything out of the ordinary.

In our hyperconnected world, I don’t imagine I’m much different from anyone. But is this the way it’s supposed to be? What are we losing when we give in to the constant need to check this email account or that status update?

Two recent pieces in The New York Times caught my attention.

In “Addicted to Distraction,” author and consultant Tony Schwartz says he was horrified when he opened a book and found himself reading the same paragraph half a dozen times, unable to focus. He was, he confessed, spending far too much time checking traffic numbers for his company’s website, shopping for colorful socks when he didn’t need any, and clicking through photo galleries with titles like “Awkward Child Stars Who Grew Up To Be Attractive.”

In an engaging essay, Schwartz introduced me to terms like “compulsion loop” and “cognitive overload” in understanding what pulls us to the digital fire hose of text and images we know as the Internet.

“The brain’s craving for novelty, constant stimulation and immediate gratification creates something called a ‘compulsion loop.’ Like lab rats and drug addicts, we need more and more to get the same effect.

“Endless access to new information also easily overloads our working memory. When we reach cognitive overload, our ability to transfer learning to long-term memory significantly deteriorates. It’s as if our brain has become a full cup of water and anything more poured into it starts to spill out.”

prop1-phone-web_oIn another piece, “Can’t Put Down Your Device? That’s By Design,” business reporter Natasha Singer pulls back the veil on software engineers and tech companies that feed off our digital obsession.

“(D)igital life keeps us hooked with an infinite entertainment stream as its default setting. Tech companies often set it up that way,” Singer writes.

“There’s Facebook beckoning with its bottomless news feed. There’s Netflix autoplaying the next episode in a TV series 10 seconds after the previous one ends. There’s Tinder encouraging us to keep swiping in search of the potential paramour.

“And then there are the constant notices and reminders — a friend liked our photo or tweet; a colleague wants to connect with you on LinkedIn; and Evite awaits your response — which automatically induce feelings of social obligation. You damn yourself to distraction if you respond, and to fear of missing out if you don’t.”

The industry even has a term for experts who continually test and tweak apps and sites to better hook consumers and keep them coming back: “growth hackers.”

Just about everyone I know is addicted to some degree to their handheld device. In my case, it’s partly a function of my own tendencies and partly a function of what is expected from a journalist these days in the age of Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.

For better or worse, digital addiction also has become socially acceptable in many situations, even as it reinforces self-absorption in the presence of others. For instance, driving to dinner the other night, we passed by a couple of folks waiting at a bus stop — a young woman in her 20s, an older guy most likely in his 50s. Sitting a few feet apart from each other, they had their heads down, looking at their little screens.

Reading these two pieces reinforced my understanding of what makes us behave as we do in the face of the bottomless news feed.

I appreciated Schwartz’s calling himself out. Only by admitting to his Internet addiction could he begin to change his behavior and work toward a goal of “the best possible balance between time online and time off.”

Likewise, Singer’s piece was useful in coming face to face with the website practices that dangle one sugar cube after another in front of consumers, hoping to entice them into one more click and just one more after that.

I’m not setting any specific goals here, but I am resolving to move forward with greater presence of mind about my own Internet habits. As entertaining and informative as it can be to be online, it’s the offline life that matters more.

I love music. I love reading. I love writing. I love conversation. Sometimes it’s best to focus on one activity at a time. I know that already. I just need to practice it more often.

Illustration: Yoshi Sodeoka

Illustration: Delaney Gibbons

Tokens of an active life

After years of service on running trails, basketball courts and the gym floor, these glasses have given up the ghost.

After years of service on running trails, basketball courts and the gym floor, these glasses are toast.

First, it was my eyeglasses. After years of use during active exercise, they finally literally fell apart.

Next, it was the bar code on the little plastic card I use to access the gym. That too was peeling away.

Then, it was the palm-sized spiral notebook I use to record my exercise, day after day, week after week, year after year. I’d filled up another one, dating back to the start of 2012. (I’ve got four others going back to 2006.)

Altogether, these tokens told me I’d been pretty active, maintaining a regular routine of running, swimming, lifting weights — and even adding yoga nearly four years ago. Call me obsessive, but I like seeing where I’ve run, how far and how fast, as well as recording how many laps I’ve swum, etc.

As November ended, the month-end tally showed me I’d followed through on a pledge to do more weights and less running and swimming while keeping up my Sunday morning yoga commitment with Lori.

So, how ironic is it that as a new month began, I caught a cold?

Here I was patting myself on the back, thinking I’d breeze through December with a perfect record — 31 days of exercise. Instead, as I write this, I am at the tail end of a mild cough and sniffles — a reminder to stay humble.

I’ll get back to it soon enough. When I do, I’ll have a new pair of sport glasses (picked ’em up yesterday), a shiny new gym membership card, and lots of blank pages to fill in my newest exercise log.

Compulsive? Maybe just a little.

Heck, maybe even anal-retentive, judging by these two criteria:

  • You don’t just sort the money in your wallet by $1, $5, $10, or $20, but also sort the bills by wear-and-tear so that you get rid of the bills in the worst shape first.
  • You look up anal-retentive to see whether it needs a hyphen.

Want to see the top 5 signs you are anal-retentive? Check out the list: http://bit.ly/1Q4uSLF

Meanwhile, get out there and exercise!