WORDAMENT® AND THE ART OF TIMESUCK
David C. Hughes
I shall always begin, start, initiate, take the first step, and/or write the first word, when I get around to it.
–“The Procrastinator’s Creed,” Article 10
I love Wordament, just love it, even though it exasperates the heck out of me. Ever since the gym girls at the Texas Tough gymnastics meet introduced me to this very Boggle-like online game last April, I’ve played it at least once or twice a day during my “quiet time” in the bathroom, or while I eat lunch. Or when I should be doing something else more productive, which is turning out to be more often than I realize as deadlines are falling faster than Euterpe precatoria. And when I say “once or twice a day,” I really mean “once or twice every two or four minutes.”
Okay, I admit it: I’m addicted. Yes, I’ve given control of my life over to Microsoft. Again. Dang it! Just when I started to use Google Chrome as my default web browser, Microsoft hooked me with yet another one of their products. And on an iPhone, no less. Ugh! And to think the experts claim K2 is the new drug of choice. Nope, not at all. It’s Wordament. It’s sunk its orthographic talons into the meaty part of my ambition, and I’m having a devil of a time yanking it out.
Used to be, in the old days (in other words, before nine-year-old gym girls introduced me to the dark side of installing Microsoft products on my iPhone), I’d sit down for my “quiet time” in the bathroom, pluck a dog-eared Writer’s Digest or Newsweek from the magazine basket, and read. Yes, read, dammit! After my legs had fallen asleep and I’d placed the magazine back in the basket, I could truly say I’d at least made the effort to educate myself. Alas, not any more. I play Wordament.
I don’t even know why I play it–I’m not that good at it. Oh yes, it’s fun–a blast, I tell you!–but it’s also frustrating because I can’t seem to get past what I call “the wall of 10%”: no matter how hard I concentrate or how fast my fingers highlight the words hidden in that four-by-four matrix, I manage to score about 10% of the maximum high score possible. The first time Hannah, my six-year-old, played Wordament, she spelled fifteen words in two minutes. The best I’ve ever been able to accomplish in this two-month long addiction is 37 words. My best ranking is 291. My highest score is 444. My name appears in the “Results near your rank” with individuals from India, Russia, and Kazakhstan, in other words, anywhere in the world where they speak English as a second language and their alphabet isn’t derived from Latin. As an English-speaking American with no second-language skills, it’s freakin’ embarrassing. As a writer, it’s downright unacceptable. It makes me feel . . . unworthy. And it blows me away to see number-one ranking scores above a thousand, and word counts upwards of 125. Achieved by folks living in Singapore. I can’t move my finger that fast, and if I could, I can’t move it that accurately.
One day I played a Wordament game whose “long word” was CHRYSANTHEMUM. Chrysanthemum, for goodness sake! Even if I’d recognized the word, it would’ve taken me over two minutes to slide my finger around the screen in the correct order to scrape that one out. One slip-up and I would’ve had to start all over again. Or get flagged for “guessing” (yes, once the game actually told me flat out, “You’re guessing.” Bite me). I mean, holy cow, chrysanthemum? The words I find are more like BEE, SAD, and PONY. When I score a six-letter word I get so excited that the additional sweat oozing from my fingers messes up the screen’s capacitive distribution circuitry and I can’t even spell BALL no matter how hard I pound, uh, I mean, tap the display.
Despite the weird combination of fun and frustration, however, I’ve come to realize my addiction to Wordament has become truly that: an addiction. Okay, okay, granted it may seem benign, almost trivial, but isn’t giving something control over your life the definition of “addiction?” I find myself sneaking Wordament hits when my wife is out of the room. Instead of spending a few minutes of quiet time with my nose buried in a book or magazine, or just simply praying or meditating, my right index finger trembles and I lick my lips repeatedly until I snap up my iPhone and tap the Wordament app logo. And the craving isn’t satisfied until I’ve outscored someone from the United States, Canada, or the UK. That doesn’t come often . . . .
“Clever gimmicks of mass distraction yield a cheap soulcraft of addicted and self-medicated narcissists,” Dr. Cornel West once said. Although I don’t consider myself a narcissist in the least, I have to admit Dr. West’s quote rings true in that I’ve allowed myself to be pulled in by a clever gimmick of mass distraction, namely electronic media. I’m convinced the pervasiveness of distraction nowadays can hobble creativity, flatline spirituality, and hinder the creation and maintenance of healthy interpersonal relationships. That’s why Mary and I limit Hannah’s “screen time” to no more than an hour on any given day–I’ve observed how even a relatively safe game like Minecraft can suck young minds into the depths of The Nether (my take: the world of electronic brain rot). In a small way I’ve tasted what the hands of diversion can whip up in the mixing bowl of indolence. The devil’s workshop is certainly in full production these days, cranking out unproductivity.
Many years ago I would hand type poems and short stories on my Brother electric typewriter and submit them to magazines and contests in a rectangular pouch called an “envelope.” An establishment known as the “United States Postal Service” would deliver my manuscripts using something called “the mail.” If I wanted to look up information, I headed to a building called “the library” and researched topics using an “encyclopedia” and a nifty invention named “microfiche.” I enjoyed focused writing time, my butt planted in the chair, scribbling my serial-killer script into a college-ruled notebook. The phone was plugged into the wall, and if it rang, I could choose not to answer it even though I had no clue who was calling. My television sprouted rabbit ears, Atari and Nintendo ruled the video game world, and I would walk to school in the middle of a blizzard, uphill. Both ways.
When I got back into the writing craft after a decade-long hiatus, the literary landscape had not only changed, it had been bombed, bulldozed, and redeveloped into a world revolving around the internet. Suddenly I found I had to construct a “writer’s platform,” and it wasn’t made out of two-by-fours and a coat of paint. I was told that, to be successful, it was imperative to build and maintain a social media presence. I had to “friend” Facebook, learn how to blog, build a profile on LinkedIn. Suddenly email and texting became the primary mode of communication, even if the person I wanted to chat with lived next door. Or was sitting in the next room. I bought an iPhone, which led to downloading apps, which led to using those apps, which led to using those apps a lot. Which led to Wordament. And the art of timesuck. Now “finding the time” to do anything has become a challenge, even though I receive the same 24 hours a day, seven days a week I received ten years ago. I complain about being busy, but what am I busy at? Sometimes nothing productive. So I realized that to regain control of the clock I had to relinquish the timesuck toys and re-embrace the lost art of self-discipline.
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?” the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:24 (NIV®). “Run in such a way as to get the prize.” And to receive that prize, to earn that prize, I have to train, focus, practice. I have to proceed with self-discipline. I have to become serious again while maintaining my sense of humor and my joy. I have to want it. Badly. And it’s vital I don’t allow distraction to cause me to stumble. When it comes to timesuck, it’s imperative to draw the line and guard it with my life. Because it is my life!
Indeed, all of us, in our own callings, would do well to take a step back and inspect the track, from start to finish, for debris strewn across our paths. Put your phone or tablet up to your ear and listen for the slurping sound of wasted time. And the next time someone suggests downloading the latest game app, just turn to them, smile real big, and tell them, “No thanks. Those things suck.” Molon labe!
Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes