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08 January 2009

Blink... and Paintball

For JC's birthday I asked for and received many books that I had been looking for at the library, but had never been able to locate. Apparently libraries are growing in popularity.

Anyways, I read Blink in a little over a day. It's a book by the ever popular and quoted New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell. This is his second book. The first one being The Tipping Point and the latest being Outliers. Both of which I plan on reading after my current slew of books.

It was a good book, not amazing but pretty good. None the less I find myself talking about it a lot. The concepts he talks about are very applicable to everyday life. Namely, the snap judgments we make and how they can be good or bad. Many of the research studies were famous psychology experiments that I was familiar with, but the extra factor that I had never been aware of was all the product development cases he wrote about. Money for experiments flows to the areas where the most profit can be made... so naturally a lot of it goes to product development.

Then an issue was brought up that I think about all the time but never know how to contextualize or really just do anything productive about; firearm fire fights. I always wonder if all those years of playing paintball has taught me anything with a real world application (outside of the whole Randy Pausch head fake theory). To be honest I'm not sure that anyone really knows for certain. I don't know any former professional players who have or would even consider joining the military, police, etc. And I'm not talking about warfare. Just small groups of people shooting at each other.

Gladwell posits that people enter a state of "temporary autism" when put in such a situation. That is, they focus intently on one thing and other stimuli such as noises and time get blurred or entirely erased. It's funny because there are all these cops' stories about shooting a bad guy, and they all say the same (predictable) things, "time slowed down, I don't remember the shots, etc." I feel in some ways like it's wrong of me to chime in. After all, I've never been involved in a shooting of any sort. Nor do I really wish to be, but some things about paintball have always been true for all its participants.

No matter who you are and how level headed you normally are, after a game of paintball you breath heavier, you're all jacked on adrenaline, your sense of time is screwed up, and you're about 100 times more likely to yell and get in a fight (I'm constantly embarrassed by this). In short, you kind of lose your mind and go on some primitive autopilot. This is what Gladwell attempts to explain. It's also worth mentioning that that feeling you get when playing subsides over time, but never goes away entirely. It's like that part of Fight Club when Edward Norton says that being in Fight Club turns down the volume on everything. Nothing seems like as big of a deal. It takes more to rattle you. But is it really fair to say that playing paintball a lot is in some way really similar to being involved in a fire fight or going to war?

I think, to some extent, yes. I just never know what to do with this idea. It's something that paintball players think a lot about, and something that most military and law enforcement officers will be quick to deny the merit of. Even though their training in actual combat situations or real life experience is severely limited. Blink is essentially a book about how informed people can make snap judgments in their fields of expertise and perform with remarkable accuracy. This is something we can all attest to. Most of us are extremely proficient at at least one thing. It's the nature of our specialized worker society. One of the things I'm really good at (relative to the general population) is paintball. Paintball is a relatively new sport. There aren't a lot of terms for moves, positions, and styles of play. Beyond the basics it's also really hard to teach people how to play it well, and even when you are really good it's hard to explain why you're so good (a similar concept is talked about in the book).

What I'm trying to say is that I think certain professions could get some really cheap and effective training by using paintball as an instructional tool and hiring professional players to help guide them. We're all poor and willing to work cheaply! At the very least it's a good work out and it'll teach its participants to think calmly under pressure. The ability to remain semi-calm under pressure is the biggest plus. This is what should make paintball appealing to a variety of people. Hell, one of my paintball friends trained with a bunch of Navy SEALS and scout sniper teams and Camp Pendleton in CA. Three paintball players (1 old pro, 1 field ref, and probably the best player in the world) against 12 of America's top badasses... all veterans. To be fair he said they were great marksman and learned really quickly, but in the end it was an ass kicking all day by the paintball players. But how is that surprising? Most military personnel are only in for 2-4 years, and most of that time you aren't running close quarters combat simulations. Now compare that to a bunch of kids who grew up playing paintball 2 days a week for several hours for 5,7, or 12 years (for me by the time I was 23). It just seems like a huge waste to not tap some of that talent.

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