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In Search of Time Lost to WhatIfSports

Posted By Carson Cistulli On November 23, 2012 @ 2:56 pm In Big Idea | 6 Comments


The nominal ace of the Burlington Aristocrats, Pedro Garces.

It is typically the practice of the present author to perform, at some point ante meridiem, a sort of bastard version of what’s known as Lectio Divina — that is, to dedicate about an hour or two to some combination of reading and writing with a view to letting the mind enjoy itself. Contemplation in various forms has been shown by capital-S Science to have beneficial effects on the brain. In my experience, my own practice nurtures a certain flexibility of thought and also cultivates a healthy perspective on some cares and worries that might otherwise have taken a more prominent place in my life.

Over the last two days, I’ve sat down each morning with the intention of performing this morning ritual. In each case, I’ve taken a place at my in-laws’ dining-room table with a cup of coffee, the sort of green-papered and narrow-ruled notebook for which I particularly care, and a pair of improving texts (in this case, Daniil Kharms’ Today I Wrote Nothing and Nancy McPhee’s The Book of Insults) for further consideration. Instead of diving headlong into Pure Thought, however, what I’ve moreso done is to reach for my iPhone and to spend the time previously designated for Careful Introspection — to spend it acquainting myself with a team of fictional baseball players of which I’ve recently become, after the surrender of 25 decidedly non-fictional dollars, the general manager.

The team, which I’ve renamed the Burlington Aristocrats, is part of a league operated by internet baseball writer Aaron Gleeman as part of WhatIfSports’ Hardball Dynasty game. The game is “addicting” for reasons upon which I’m not qualified to expound, but which most likely concern the brain’s reward system. I don’t believe I’m telling any tales out of school when I say that the brain is programmed to incentivize learning by coupling it with the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine — which, in turn, creates a pleasant sensation that the individual learns to associate with the act of knowledge acquisition.

Presented with an entire, and always changing, universe of pure information (such as the Hardball Dynasty game provides), one is given constant opportunities for learning — and just as many opportunities for the release of dopamine into the brain. As such, Hardball Dynasty makes a convincing and ever-present case for the attention of the individual — such that said individual might abandon other, seemingly more “important,” activities in its favor.

In some minds, this sequence of events might prompt a feeling of guilt or anxiety, a sense that more important considerations have been overlooked in favor of this virtual one. In at least one of those minds (ahem), what the individual will do is to publish a brief meditative piece — peppered with references to Proust, several Latin expressions, and other self-important maneuvers — with a view, all of it, to justifying time lost to an activity that’s, in reality, no more meaningless than the rest of everything else.


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