The Adolescent Age of Information

the brain with a matrix-style overlayIt might seem like the Information Age has been fatally corrupted with the election of our current POTUS, but I’m here to say that even though we have taken a few (okay, several) steps back, the work is far from over, and the future remains bright. What we as a culture suffer from now is the inability to deal rationally with the trove of data that is released upon us at every moment of our waking lives. Like children struggling to navigate the new responsibilities of independence, we have not yet figured out how to regulate our impulses in favor of deliberation and sound judgment. We give in to spontaneous reactions to “breaking” news without having all the facts, then vehemently defend our ill-conceived opinions due to the devastating effect admitting a mistake would have on our pride and self-perceived identity. Plus, it’s just easier to lump every headline under umbrella categories for which we’ve already formed opinions. And while there is no stopping the information (short of self-quarantine, which I do endorse in regular doses), we will get better at processing and evaluating what we hear. We will adapt. Reading and learning is hard. As adults, we are (will be) more willing to take on the challenge.

If this sounds like a problem we have faced all throughout history, it is. We humans have always been a gullible folk, and we believe whatever is easiest to believe. The difference today is the pace at which we encounter new information. Instantaneous global communication has created such an anxiety that careful consideration seems antiquated. Pause is no longer efficient, there’s just too much to take in. And, by the way, this is a problem for people at both ends of the spectrum of impressionability – those who don’t believe anything, and those who too willingly believe everything. Neither group has a healthy relationship with truth, although at least they are easy to spot, each often castigating the other for their polarity. We would do well to avoid both.

What you know best becomes what you know to be the best. Maturity has never been easy and won’t be now. Beliefs and opinions are often dependent upon incidence by default, and this bias is extremely difficult to overcome. You are very likely to identify with the political party and the religious denomination of your parents because you’ve had more exposure to those ideas than any others. This is already well-known to be true in the general terms of politics and religion, but what about more nuanced categories, such as science, media, education? Your level of exposure to an issue has enormous bearing on your ability to decipher the news and filter the fake from the real. If you have limited knowledge about a topic, your natural inclination is to find some association with knowledge you do have, basing your judgment on a larger theme of discourse. This coping mechanism is not without merit, for our understanding of one realm does and should inform our understanding of another. However, we should be sure to appreciate complexity and the consequence of unique variables. And now more than ever, we have access to the tools necessary for objective judgment. Listen to those who spend their lives working on an issue, look for consensus, and be willing to admit ignorance.

The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. This brings me to a primary lesson I keep coming back to in my studies: humility.  It takes far more courage to admit when knowledge is lacking than to scream in protest when your stance is contested. We just haven’t yet found the courage to learn rather than scream. This makes our present situation all the more difficult, but we’ll get there. Slowly, perhaps painfully, knowledge will eventually win out. It always does.



Road food

Holiday travel for us means long road trips. About 2,500 miles or more, depending on the year. Spending an obscene number of hours driving means that we also consume more than our fair share of road food. I’m not particularly fond of fast food chains, so we avoid these. This certainly makes finding a meal on the road a bit more difficult, but thanks to the modern marvel of the smart phone, we research local restaurants on the fly, usually gravitating toward barbeque. A decent pulled pork or brisket sandwich beats a mcwhatever any day of the year.

pig-silhouetteSome people have very strong feelings about barbeque, but there are so many styles to appreciate that digging in your heels about any particular one means you miss out on some pretty awesome tastiness. There is some variety in meats and cooking styles, but the distinguishing characteristic tends to be the flavor imparted by a primary ingredient added to the meat either during the cook or as a condiment. There’s the molasses of Kansas City, the dry rubs of Memphis, the vinegar of North Carolina and the mustard of South Carolina, the white sauce and coleslaw of Alabama, and the hot sauce of east Texas. I enjoy it all, so long as it’s given the proper love. I must admit that not all barbeque joints bring the love; in fact, we tend to bat about .500, but most of the mediocre ones are still better than fast food and the best ones are extraordinary finds that we try to hit again and again. Guides on the various styles of barbeque can be found all over the internet, if you’re interested in that sort of thing. To me, the important thing is to know how to find a place to stop while traveling, adding as little extra time as possible. To that end, I’ve outlined a few steps that will make it easier to avoid the fast food chains and find some good grub.

First, and this goes without saying, you have to plan ahead. Billboards are sometimes helpful, but you can’t expect those exit-sign food listings to offer much guidance beyond fast food. Try to take the time to locate some possibilities before setting out, a necessary step if you’re traveling alone and don’t have the luxury of doing research on the phone while driving. If you’re like us and always running behind schedule then you might end up looking for a spot in an unforeseen area anyway, so this is where you get to enjoy the true thrill of the hunt, finding good food within a reasonable distance, well before the hangry sets in. Start looking for spots by location based on WHEN you’d prefer to eat, but no less than a good half hour down the road. Cities are easiest, but by no means does quality of the food equate to the ease of finding it (as evidenced by the ubiquity of fast food). Smaller towns or even the boonies often have the gems that are worth visiting more than once. Make sure they’ll be open when you’ll be passing through – don’t count on any place to serve past 9 pm, and many places in the Bible Belt are closed on Sundays.

Once you’ve found a good candidate, check the reviews. You should never allow one or two bad reviews to dissuade you from trying a place, nor should you commit based on one or two great reviews, but you can get a feel for a spot’s food and service by reading through what other people have to say. Keep in mind that it takes a certain kind of person to post a review at all, plus it may be that only the most memorable (for better or worse) food compels the most comments, but this step could save you from wasting your time. If you see that a place receives several complaints about any specific thing, find somewhere else. This is especially true for the service, as food tends to be more subjective than attention or attitude. You can afford to be a little picky since there are usually several options to choose from.

Most places now have a menu available online, and you can use this to order ahead to save time. Barbeque is usually ready for pickup in about 15-20 minutes, but you can always ask them to have it ready at a specific time. Still, people forget things, so I wouldn’t call more than about 30 minutes ahead of your arrival. Consult your GPS. And yes, you might have to drive a mile or so away from the interstate, and one of you will probably need to get out of your car, but calling ahead will get you back on the road quicker than a chicken on a junebug.

Finally, ordering barbeque. You’re almost guaranteed to see a pulled pork sandwich on the menu, and you’ll definitely want to order it since this is usually a signature item. You can tell so much about a restaurant’s priorities, methods, and standards from just this one item. For future reference (for both the restaurant and your personal preferences), consider the bread, the chop of the meat, the seasoning, the sauce, and any toppings. If any of these things are sub par, the rest of the menu will be, too. Common sides we enjoy are fried okra, baked beans, mac&cheese, and coleslaw. Try any unique items you see, such as corn fritters, fried pickles, and Brunswick stew. And be sure to distinguish between poor quality and personal preference. Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean it’s poorly made, but it’ll be helpful for you when ordering the next time.

Finding good food on a road trip is not all that difficult, plus it’s an enjoyable activity for what can often be a monotonous journey. Even if you’re not into barbeque, there are lots of local restaurants that serve all kinds of things, and most of my general recommendations apply broadly to these as well. The main thing is that you don’t need to feel obligated to eat fast food from a mega-chain. Not that I’m saying you shouldn’t eat the mcwhatsits. I’m just saying you can do better.

Noteworthy BBQ locations from our recent trip(s):

Bradley’s Pit Bar-B-Que & Grill in Sweetwater, TN – We’ve been here a couple times now, and everything has been good. Try the pulled pork sandwich and the sliced beef brisket sandwich, especially.

Three Li’l Pigs Barbeque in Daleville, VA – They offer several varieties of BBQ, so this is a good place to try if you want to sample a few different types.

Painting hanging over the bar inside Three Li’l Pigs Barbeque in Daleville, VA