The content on this blog is my personal opinion and does not reflect the views of the Department of Defense or the US Navy in any way.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

On Finding Something to Talk About

... If not for this post, I would be missing my second week in a row of blog posts. Given that this blog has lain dormant for months in the past, it's not like this is a new problem to have. This time, though, as I considered topics to write about, discarded them, wrote and re-wrote opening sentences, and otherwise got exactly nothing done, it occurred to me that doing a bit of self-reflection on what makes this difficult might be an interesting blog post on its own. So here we are.

Finding topics I feel strongly about usually isn't the problem. I can think of two or three right off the top of my head, and I think the people I've interacted with in debates can agree that I don't like to abandon an argument. Also, given that each draft I've got in my blog's list represents something I thought might be interesting to write about, the fact that I've added plenty of those in recent days supports the thought that I've got topics to write about.

Then again, that increasing number of incomplete drafts I have lying around suggests that figuring out how to properly express my thoughts may be part of the problem. It's a bit of a balancing act between worrying about the mistakes or misinterpretations I'm leaving open and worrying about making the whole thing too elaborate and hard to understand (never mind the inconsistencies that show up when I start being elaborate). It's great for thinking about my ideas, but tends not to produce anything I want to show to other people.

Not much for that but more practice and more confidence, though. Hopefully I'll have something to show for it next week.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Entertainment and Value

So far today, I've basically wasted all of my time bouncing around my favorite corners of the Internet - checking all of my favorite blogs, reading a couple webcomics, refreshing my Facebook page incessantly, etc. So a pretty standard weekend morning with absolutely no hint of any useful work done, right?

Well, one webcomic for today (Schlock Mercenary) indirectly refers to a nice little philosophical question about the nature of one's self, consciousness, and death. So maybe that's not quite so useless as far as interesting material to ponder is concerned. One of the blogs (Ask a Manager) focuses entirely on work-related questions and has a lot of useful advice for managers or really anyone dealing with interpersonal issues at work. So that's probably helpful too, in the long run. And, of course, there's still plenty of ranting on my Facebook page both for and against the Electoral College, and some people are referring to some pretty good articles and posts on the topic. That's probably also an important question to consider...

I've addressed this point before, of course, but moments like this only reinforce my conviction that if you can't think of the value derived from a given activity, the problem probably isn't that the activity is useless; it's more likely that you've failed to figure out what the benefit is. There are some activities for which that's not true, some activities that don't provide any benefit, but they seem to be the exception to the rule.

Of course, inevitably people will claim that you're not correctly judging the benefit, or that it costs too much, or that there's a more efficient way to get the same benefit, and so on. Some of these claims are valid. Many of them are not, though, and there are two major pitfalls that they usually run into.

One is comparing the efficiency of a given activity to some theoretical ideal without considering the costs of reaching that efficiency. Yes, I probably could become a better philosopher faster by taking college courses or joining a discussion group instead of reading webcomics. But given the effort it'd require to set the former activities up, are they really a realistic option for me? If the choice is between doing something to keep my brain active and doing nothing, then the benefit is a lot easier to see, and it makes quite a bit less sense to blame me for doing what I can.

The other is using the wrong standards to judge the benefit of an activity. There are plenty of college degrees that rarely pay for themselves on the job market, for example. Then again, when you read a work advice blog, you run across plenty of stories about people that are getting massively overpaid for crappy work, or massively underpaid for great work. Or we could just reflect on the value of good journalism and the impact the news media has on the world, and ask ourselves how many people are willing to pay for it. So it seems fairly clear that there are other ways to think about what value something has, and it seems fairly shortsighted to dismiss something as valueless because it fails only at one metric for determining value.

I'd encourage everyone to take a step back, think about something they see as useless, and ask themselves whether they're really made the right call there or not. If nothing else, finding more ways to get value out of your everyday life is something that anyone can benefit from.