Something Wiggly This Way Comes
(Aug. 26, 2013)
A Big Internet Controversy (BIC) is exactly what you suspect it is: Much ado about something you would not even know about had your best friend from the third grade not linked to it on Facebook.
Given the nature of our world, it’s quite possible to have a BIC for every day of the week, but this is summer. We’re lucky to get two or three.
Last week we had a nice one for about 36 hours, best responded to by the funny folks at Comedy Central, who tweeted: “Casting Ben Affleck as Batman sounds like something The Joker would do to create a distraction at the nerd bank.”
For a brief, glorious time, those of us who are merely human felt completely justified in heaping scorn on an Academy Award-winning actor and director for having the gall to don the cowl and cape in a movie, statistically speaking, most of us will never see. All in good fun.
What the Ben as Batman BIC did, as all good ones do, was push another controversy off the radar, at least for those of us who follow this kind of thing. I’m talking about the great 10,000-hour debate, but since it’s been a few days let me fill you in.
In 2008, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called “Outliers,” a huge hit for a writer who has a bunch of those. Subtitled “The Story of Success,” Gladwell looked at exceptional people from the Beatles to Bill Gates, examining the ways in which they differed from the rest of us.
Throughout the book, Gladwell mentions “The 10,000-Hour Rule,” a concept he squeezed out of studies and statistics and that quickly became part of the culture. The idea is simple – it takes lots and lots of practice to get really, really good at some things – but also only a generalization and an average gleaned from selective research.
Like other number-based generalizations (e.g., that we need to drink 8 glasses of water a day for optimum health; we don’t, although if you’re thirsty go right ahead), the 10,000-hour rule became a common rule of thumb, a simple idea that was easy to grasp if not practice. You, too, can become a tennis star if you just work harder and longer. And drink that water, of course.
The controversy came this summer when “The Sports Gene” was published, written by David Epstein. I haven’t read the book yet, but after listening to Mr. Epstein being interviewed and reading several articles about the subject, I’m fairly certain I’ve spent at least 10,000 seconds devoted to “The Sports Gene,” which means I can write about it and maybe fool some people (new rule).
Epstein’s book seemed to suggest that Gladwell used faulty research to come up with that magic number, and that there were innate, genetic reasons some people excelled, although after a little back-and-forth between the authors they seemed to shake hands and agree that it was pretty complicated and that Ben Affleck was way too tall to play Batman.
It did make me wonder about skills, though, and how we achieve them. I can’t think of anything I’ve deliberately done for more than 10,000 hours other than eat, and even then I still spill stuff on my shirt. I did teach myself to juggle, sort of, many years ago, and for a while I could play “The Maple Leaf Rag” on the piano reasonably accurately, but otherwise my skill set seems to be comprised of things I learned the hard way, by which I mean failing miserably until I failed a little less. Practice makes passable, in other words, which works for me.
But while many people achieve amazing skills, some have skill thrust upon them, and this, as it turns out, is my dilemma. In a few weeks, come rain or shine, no matter how many controversies I have to distract me, and regardless of my inattention, I will become a grandparent. And I don’t know how.
Let me stop you right there. Also there. I know.
I understand that this is the bonus round of parenthood. This is the second stage, in which responsibility is carried by the parents and pure joy is left for us, who had the good sense to procreate when we were young enough to ensure that a better day would eventually come, a day in which we would take many, many pictures.
It’s just that I haven’t spent a lot of time with grandparents since I was 12. I know plenty, of course, but I never see the details. I wonder how I’m supposed to dress. Do I need to get a haircut more often? Is there a vocabulary I’m supposed to brush up on? Will I have to change diapers again, after all these years, and have there been improvements in that activity I need to learn about?
And, most importantly, will I still be me? Or will becoming a grandparent, even at my remarkably young and lively age, immediately shove me into doddering irrelevance, in which my music is creaky, my favorite sport is napping, and I start addressing people close to me by just running through a list of names until I land on theirs?
Maybe after 10,000 hours of grandparenthood I’ll have a better idea, but it makes me nervous. That, and the idea that this grandson of mine will grow up thinking Ben Affleck was the best Batman. That one keeps me awake at night.