Hi, I'm Charlie, and I'm an Olympic addict - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Hi, I'm Charlie, and I'm an Olympic addict

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Charlie Bowen Charlie Bowen
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    Robert N. Hart
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Charlie Bowen is a writer, teacher and web designer. He lives in Huntington.

Obsessions are among the things that unite my wife and me. 

Over the years, our manias have been many, though, fortunately, none has scandalized the neighborhood nor attracted the attention of law enforcement. (As a rule, the authorities don't round you up because of your all-consuming passion for … oh, geology, genealogy, gardening … and that's just the Gs.) 

In fact, when Pamela and I met nearly 50 years ago, one thing that led me to obsess about her was her hunger to learn everything she could about any of the many subjects that caught her attention. 

These were pre-Internet days, when feeding such fires was hard. I was impressed by the intensity with which she scoured newspapers and magazines, by her diligence in finding opportunities to attend specific concerts, lectures and demonstrations and by how she kept the information flowing in by forever signing up for new mailing lists and newsletters that would fill the mailbox in the months ahead. 

Pamela has taught me that research and planning enhance almost any endeavor. When we vacation, we travel with carefully culled lists of must-sees, might-sees, could-sees and don't-sees. When we go to a movie, we have background information on the director and stars as well as critiques from our favorite critics. We regularly find new books, new TV shows and new musicians, all because Pamela's well-tuned ear is to the ground. 

The arrival of the web decades ago took our data-diving into the deeper end of the pool, of course, but that was fine. In Pamela's world, there is no such thing as too much information. 

Usually. 

However, that proposition is severely tested every two years by the mother of all our obsessions: the Olympic Games. 

We are, by anybody's definition, Olympics nuts. Winter Games. Summer Games. It makes no difference. We love them all. We've sat up until 2 in the morning watching hockey or volleyball. We've rearranged our schedules to see the compulsories in ice dancing. We've been glued to the tube to follow the fates of favorite sprinters or speed skaters, downhillers or relay runners. We've ignored phone calls — and even friends actually knocking at the door — calling to see if we're still breathing, all because we want to hear Al Troutwig narrate cross-country skiing or to check in with Andrea Joyce down at the gymnastics venue. In other words, during those two and a half weeks, we see a lot more of Bob Costas than we do of friends, neighbors and family. 

As much as we can, we watch The Games "live," but this spectacle is huge — Olympian, if you will — so we have to use recorders to time-shift some of the events we want to see. 

And there is the rub. During the Olympics, we run our own kind of slalom, desperately trying to dodge the spoilers. 

After all, stories are what draw us to The Games, and we don't like knowing the narratives' endings in advance. Don't tell us who won; we want to see it ourselves. 

In the early days of our Olympic obsessions, it was easier to play the don't-tell-me game. 

 

  1. Avoid the evening TV news. 
  2. Read the newspapers a day late. 
  3. Don't hang out at the water cooler with the office sports fanatics. 

 

Nowadays, though, the notion of a 17-day cone of silence runs counter to everything our data-rich world holds precious. Just try not knowing something today. 

 

  • Log in to check your email and on the way, a screen sidetracks you with a shout-out: "Michael Phelps Finishes 4th!?" Doh!
  • Turn on the TV to find out the weather, and some disembodied voice purrs, "Usain Bolt has done it again. He's still the fastest man alive." Drat!
  • Even your car radio can ambush you. "Apolo Ohno? Oh yes! He's done it!" Damn! 

 

At every turn our heels are nipped by roving packs of sound bites. 

But, truth be told, we bring some of this frustration on ourselves, because our dogged devotion to The Games collides with another of our obsessions: gadgets. We do love the digital toys we get from the App Store for our iPhones and iPads. Oh, and there are some super ones to use while watching for the Winter Games in Sochi. 

In fact, Jessica Van Sack, writing recently in "The Boston Herald," noted, "If the 2012 Olympics in London were the first-ever ‘social games,' then Sochi's festivities (are) the first ‘mobile games'."

Here is a trio of my favorite Winter Games apps, each available for iPhone/iPad and Android platforms:

 

  • Team USA Road to Sochi is a pretty app that lets you add your favorite competitors to a list so that their results, recent videos and more are at your fingertips.
  • The Olympic Athletes' Hub goes even further, with thousands of social media profiles of Olympians. It also will tell you what's trending on Twitter, including the latest controversies. (Hey, it's the Olympics; there are always brouhahas.)
  • Sochi.ru 2014 features information on every event and a seriously cool interactive map of the Olympic village. 

 

Does use of these and similar Olympic apps mean we're ambushed even more often with spoilers? 

Of course. Face it. It's the way the world of news now works. These days, almost all breaking news comes to me first on my smartphone. A bulletin is pushed to my phone's screen by an app or a website. Increasingly, I don't go to the Internet for my news; the net comes to me, seeking me out wherever I am and discreetly beeping me to attention.

Does this threaten to undermine our obsessions?

Of course not. We were obsessed with the games (and with gardening and genealogy and gadgets) long before the web (even before recording devices for TV), and our obsessions have not only survived but thrived, in part because they have adopted and adapted to new technologies as they've come along.

Consider that the very idea of "time-shifting" didn't exist for us until we had the capabilities for easy recording. That's why, ultimately, I'm more excited than frustrated as I wonder what new concepts will arise as we embrace these ever-more-powerful technologies.