#Lastman and the Value of Forced Ignorance

Everyone knows everything. At least that’s the way it seems any more. The connection between social media and knowledge is inarguable to anyone with a smartphone and the ability to hit the “@” key. When breaking news happens in the world, Twitter is now the place to be. When a severe thunderstorm rolls through, why watch the news when you can get by-the-second reports from people detailing what’s going on and exactly where they are? Keith Olbmermann remarked on a recent episode of the Jonah Keri podcast that his first major scoop (the Gretzsky trade) was kept quiet for SEVEN WHOLE HOURS until he reported it.  If that trade happened today, the meme videos and HOT TAKES would already be around the world and back.

And it’s not just sports.  Mark Cuban described his view of this year’s Presidential race as, “We don’t find the news.  The news finds us.”  Now, I don’t know if I agree with Cubes’ idea that the ‘majority’ of people get their political information from their social media feeds (Twitter also thought that Sharknado was this major cultural event, and the ratings didn’t play that out…the echo chamber is strong), but I agree that the number is much bigger than what most people think.  The BIG change that Cuban nails is that information is dynamic.  Back in the day, the newspaper would lay on your front stoop until you picked it up.  Whether you read it or not was up to you.  Today, information chases you.  It buzzes and notifies and flashes.  It’s relentless. You can’t get away from it.

I think this is why the concept of #lastman is so foreign, and at the same time so attractive.  #lastman, in case you haven’t heard of it, is the attempt to be the last person on the face of the earth to know who won the Super Bowl.  There is a short set of rules to the mental exercise, found here, but there are no prizes, no cash rewards, and no publicity to be gained.  If you try to explain this to someone, they most likely won’t care or understand.  When Jimmy Kimmel heard about it on his show recently, he thought it was ridiculous.  And if he said it, most of his audience agreed.  The Super Bowl is a cultural event.  It’s a yearly JFK assassination without the tragedy.  Everyone knows where they’ll be during the Super Bowl, who they’ll watch it with, and even what they’ll eat.  So to divorce yourself from that is the definition of being countercultural, without the ironic beret and pocket watch.

I played #lastman for the first time this year.  In past years, I was a neutral observer of the game because I couldn’t imagine not watching the Super Bowl.  But a magic combination of things came together this year.  Mrs. FDT was out of the country on business, so it was just me and Li’l FDT for the week.  I knew I wouldn’t be back from the gym until right before kickoff, so there weren’t any parties.  I also knew that Li’l FDT’s bedtime would fall right in the middle of the third quarter, so I would miss a substantial portion of the game. And finally, I didn’t care about either team or the result.  I thought it would be great for Peyton to win his final game, but that’s it. So I went for it.  Our evening was filled with pizza and Good Eats episodes on Netflix, and once the game was over, the running began. I turned off all of my notifications on my phone, edited my TweetDeck so I would only be able to do work and nothing else, and began.

The world did not end because I didn’t watch the Super Bowl.

In fact, it was fun.  I learned how reflexive my finger is on my phone…stopping myself from hitting that Twitter button at least a hundred times in 24 hours.  I learned that newspapers are not nearly as ubiquitous as they used to be…multiple planned trips to gas stations were harmless, and I’m not sure they sold papers inside at all.  And, when I “died”, I learned that my health insurance website felt the need to post the final score of the game in their news, and last I checked the Super Bowl doesn’t have much to do with health insurance.  I was proud that I made it almost 24 hours without finding out.

But I learned one other thing:  sports will maintain its value even when news won’t stop chasing you.

It reminded me of when we got our first TiVo…the original DVR.  It would record 15 hours of programming in standard definition, and we thought Christmas had come early.  Of course, I thought this would be of immense value when it came to sports.  All of those games that I didn’t have time to watch…well, now I could record them and watch them on the weekend whenever I wanted!

But…it didn’t work.  It never has.

You can’t do that with sports.  You can record anything else…sitcoms, movies, anything, and watch it later.  But you can’t “forced ignorance” live sports and maintain the same sort of value.  Much of why sports drives the “cord-cutting” discussion today is because of this value: you HAVE to watch the game WHILE IT HAPPENS, or else it loses value and becomes an event you read about rather than experience.  And that’s the real difference.  Sports is an EXPERIENCE.  You can’t read about Disney World and decide that you don’t need to go:  you have to walk down Main Street of the Magic Kingdom and BE there to understand.  And, when you KNOW that the game you’re watching happened hours or days ago, the suspense is lost.  There’s always part of your mind that reminds you that what you’re watching is somehow not real…that it’s not REALLY sports if it’s already over.  So you have to be there, in your seat, in front of your TV, at the appointed time.

Sports waits for no one.  You can run from it, but being there is different.  And that’s why we like it so much.

#Lastman and the Value of Forced Ignorance

Chasing The Meta

I was the worst non-sports sports kid there was.

When you think of the way that teenagers talk about sports in classrooms and hallways, you see the sporto-jock stereotype…the kid in the letter jacket reeking of Axe body spray going on and on about whatever game happened to be on their TV the previous night.  I wasn’t that kid.

I was the kid who got shoved into lockers by that kid.

I was the band kid, the math nerd, the academic award winner.  The only sport that I ever “played” at that time was tennis, and even that didn’t go great…both of my seasons were cut short by injury, although my varsity doubles win (singular) still ranks as one of the best athletic achievements of my life.  But I was watching the same games that they were. I was listening to my AM radio (anyone under 30 please ask your parents about this) to find out what faraway games would hit my receiver that night.  And I had opinions.  Boy, did I.  But no one ever heard them.

Fast forward to today:  now EVERYONE has an opinion on last night’s game.  It’s called the Internet.  It’s called Twitter.  It’s called sports talk radio.  From sea to shining sea, anyone can tell thousands what they think about Thursday night’s coaching decisions….from Sully in Bawston to Sarah in the Bay Area.  And they do. Loudly.  But there’s more to the conversation than that.  People like Bill Simmons and Kyle Whellston (look him up if you don’t know) have spent years crafting and perfecting the long-form articles that have created markets that don’t have to be attached to a big-name network or a local yokel to gain traction.  What used to exist solely in the pages of Sports Illustrated and books (again, kids:  ask your parents) can be found all over, where sites such as The Cauldron and Grantland (RIP) drive water-cooler conversation among those in the know.

Which brings me to the premiere of Five Down Territory (FDT).  Why another site?  No, I’m not writing because I think I’m smarter than you, although if I can get you to think differently for three seconds of your day than you have before I’ll consider it a success.  I picked Five Down Territory as a title because I was always outside of the picture in the world of sports.  No, I do not have “insider access” you don’t.  No, I don’t go to a lot of games live…but I’m guessing you don’t either. Not that many do, after all…just go look at @EmptySeatsPics and realize that the in-stadium product isn’t really the product.

Five Down Territory will live in that reality.  FDT aims, as the name suggests, to live outside of the normal view of sports.   In other words, I’m looking for the “meta”.

This deserves explanation.  One of the things that I’ve suddenly become enamored with as means of mental exercise is a card game called Magic: The Gathering.  And I don’t even play it.  I used to, when I was in college back in the day when dinosaurs roamed the earth and the basketballs were square and filled with sawdust, but not any more.  My sudden re-discovery of the game has to do with the chase for the meta.  “The meta” is a term that gets used in M:TG to describe the game outside of the game.  See, it’s one thing to win a mano a mano game against another person.  But how can you manipulate the rules of the game WHILE YOU’RE PLAYING IT to make it more likely for you to win?  How do OTHER people try to manipulate the rules, and can you use this knowledge of the game outside of the game to your advantage?

In other words, the meta is real.  And that’s what I’m chasing at FDT.  I want to write about the game outside of the game.  I want to write about the things that interest me, but do so in a way that brings together Tim Ferriss, economic theory, and the state of the LA Clippers…that relates the Old Testament to why people (apparently) dislike Cam Newton…that shows why bad teams should be way more concerned with the status of their AD and Netflix than the guys wearing the uniforms.  Will I be influenced by rooting interests?  Of course I will…I’d be naive to claim otherwise.  But I’ll aim to do it in a way that can be understood by anyone, fan or no.

So that’s it.  I appreciate you reading…the Internet is a big place, so for you to get this far is saying something.  The game’s over, but it isn’t over.  Welcome to Fifth Down.

Chasing The Meta