Tom Shakely


I'm a social entrepreneur, and write daily on culture, community, causes, and life. I'm executive director of the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network and author of Conserving Mount Nittany. Try my weekly digest.

Your feelings

Molly Worthen’s “Stop Saying ‘I Feel Like'” has been making the rounds:

The imperfect data that linguists have collected indicates that “I feel like” became more common toward the end of the last century. In North American English, it seems to have become a synonym for “I think” or “I believe” only in the last decade or so. Languages constantly evolve, and curmudgeons like me are always taking umbrage at some new idiom. But make no mistake: “I feel like” is not a harmless tic. George Orwell put the point simply: “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” The phrase says a great deal about our muddled ideas about reason, emotion and argument — a muddle that has political consequences.

Natasha Pangarkar, a senior at Williams College, hears “I feel like” “in the classroom on a daily basis,” she said. “When you use the phrase ‘I feel like,’ it gives you an out. You’re not stating a fact so much as giving an opinion,” she told me. “It’s an effort to make our ideas more palatable to the other person.” …

Yet all this equivocating has started to bother her, and now she avoids using the phrase. Jing Chai, a senior at the University of Chicago, said: “I’ve tried to check myself when I say that. I think it probably demeans the substance of what I’m trying to say.”

Yet here is the paradox: “I feel like” masquerades as a humble conversational offering, an invitation to share your feelings, too — but the phrase is an absolutist trump card. It halts argument in its tracks.

When people cite feelings or personal experience, “you can’t really refute them with logic, because that would imply they didn’t have that experience, or their experience is less valid,” Ms. Chai told me.

It’s a way of deflecting, avoiding full engagement with another person or group,” Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, a historian at Syracuse University, said, “because it puts a shield up immediately. You cannot disagree.”

John Shakely, my grandfather, was a history teacher at Central Bucks West High School in Pennsylvania for most of his career. I remember him talking about the tendency of students to speaking about their feelings on a subject or in a paper rather than about their thoughts. When a student would start with “I feel like…”, he would sometimes respond, “That’s fine, but what do you think?”

“I feel like” is a close cousin to up-talk—you know? That tendency to raise the end of every sentence into a high-pitched question mark? These things are a class of language that asks for affirmation more than ventures a point.

Everyone has feelings. But few, other than our loved ones, really care what they are.

This might sound harsh, but I feel like it’s true?

First history of Penn State

Chris Buchignani, friend and leader of The Nittany Valley Society, writes in Town & Gown about our experience publishing Erwin Runkle’s “The Pennsylvania State College 1853-1932: Interpretation and Record:”

Over its 161 years, Penn State has twice sanctioned books chronicling the university’s history, once in the 1940s and again with an updated version in the 1980s.

1467429_28015While history professor and Penn State historian Wayland Dunaway’s 1946 “History of The Pennsylvania State College” was the first official account of Old State’s history to be published, it was not the first to be written. More than a decade prior to the creation of Dunaway’s text, Erwin W. Runkle, Penn State’s librarian from 1904 to 1924 and Dunaway’s predecessor as the school’s first official historian (you may recognize the name from Runkle Hall), compiled a complete record of the institution from founding to the present day. …

I initially encountered “The Pennsylvania State College 1853 – 1932: Interpretation and Record” amidst the emotionally raw days of Fall 2012. I found rare comfort in Runkle’s meticulously constructed account of Penn State’s turbulent first 50 years, which included a true existential crisis over Pennsylvania’s allocation of Land Grant Act funding. Knowing that Penn State had survived and thrived, despite teetering more than once on the brink of total dissolution, gave me confidence that the University could survive what no longer felt, at least not indisputably, like the worst period in its history. Speaking to me from the past, Runkle’s gifts were context and perspective.

For a select group of Penn Staters with certain tastes and interests (namely, a high tolerance for heavy reading), Runkle’s book will provide a similarly edifying experience. Many others will buy it simply to display on their bookshelves, and that’s fine too – I don’t blame them; the cover art is gorgeous.

Our monthly Town & Gown columns are great. They’re one of the things that Chris has spearheaded that I like most about The Nittany Valley Society, and the way it’s “fostering a spirit across time.”

Practice the future

Peter Bregman writes on the present and future:

If you want to be productive, the first question you need to ask yourself is: Who do I want to be? Another question is: Where do I want to go? Chances are that the answers to these questions represent growth in some direction. And while you can’t spend all your time pursuing those objectives, you definitely won’t get there if you don’t spend any of your time pursuing them.

If you want to be a writer, you have to spend time writing. If you want to be a sales manager, you can’t just sell — you have to develop your management skill. If you want to start a new company, or launch a new product, or lead a new group, you have to spend time planning and building your skills and experience.

Here’s the key: You need to spend time on the future even when there are more important things to do in the present and even when there is no immediately apparent return to your efforts. In other words — and this is the hard part — if you want to be productive, you need to spend time doing things that feel ridiculously unproductive.

West Chester SEPTA station

The potential for SEPTA to restore service to West Chester has been talked about for years. Candice Mongolian reports that a feasibility study will be underway soon:

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), in the middle of laying out its five-year financial plan and 2017 budget, is planning to do a feasibility study about restoring rail service to West Chester. …

West Chester’s last commuter train ran in 1986, even after the Market Street station was demolished in 1968. …

Currently, SEPTA plans to restore three miles of track to Wawa in Delaware County, which will be the new terminus for the line. The project, budgeted at $150.6 million, will begin construction in 2017 and should be completed by 2020.

The tracks from Wawa to West Chester run 9.4 miles.

The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) estimates the restored service would attract almost 2,000 passengers for weekday trips by 2035 and capital cost estimates by the borough believe it would range between $100.3 million to $111.9 million.

Restoring SEPTA service to West Chester and reconstructing a station there is one of those things that’s so obvious it should have been started years ago.

I bailed on driving to West Chester from the city last night mostly because I wanted to avoid the 1.5 hour round trip, and didn’t want to lose that time driving instead of reading/working. SEPTA can change that.

Will it happen before we can take an autonomous Uber pool there instead for nearly the same price?

iPad-first computing

Steven Sinofsky writes on his transition to iPad-first computing:

Unlike many “use a product for month” tests this is not an experiment. For me this is a deeply held belief that the rise of smartphones (specifically starting when the iPhone launched) would have a profound impact on the way we all use “computers”.

The transformation spans hardware (thinner, lighter, smaller, cheaper, longer battery life, instant on/off, touch, sensors, connectivity, etc.), operating systems (more: secure, reliable, maintainable, robust, etc.), and app software (refactored, renewed, reimagined, etc.). It is the combination of these attributes, however, causing a change as fundamental as the leap from mainframe to workstation, from character-based to graphical OS, from desktop to laptop, from client/server to web — perhaps equal to all rolled into one shift if for no other reason than the whole planet is involved.

Sinofsky and Benedict Evans go through the nuts and bolts of this in a recent A16Z podcast which is worth listening to if you’re curious about making this leap.

If you doubt those changes are happening now, then consider how much of your work life/process/culture has changed by the introduction of smartphones. Tablets just took longer because they are not just additive but substitutes.

Sinofsky’s “OK, Some Things Were Much Easier” section echoes my experience. When I got the iPad Pro, I got the model with built-in cellular with my T-Mobile plan. It’s an extra $10/month for unlimited service on the iPad, and it’s the single best aspect of using iPad as my secondary device after iPhone.

No more hunting for and struggling with WiFi networks or wondering about their security. Always-on connectivity. Simple.

Passing along knowledge

College communities, somewhat like airports, are transitory places. An enormous number of the people who dot the Penn State landscape today will be gone tomorrow—or next year, or in three years.

The transient nature of student life is both a renewing force in a college town, ensuring freshness and vibrancy, at the same time that it is a corrosive force, quickly breaking down and wiping away personal and institutional knowledge about who and what has become before.

In the spirit of combating some of those corrosive aspects, the Penn State Media Association exists to sustain and share a bit of institutional knowledge for the benefit of each new generation of students. That’s what these “Public Archives” are about. These archives contain a bit of the history (including documents, photos, video, and audio) of The LION 90.7fm and its predecessors dating back to 1912. These archives are—to put it mildly—incomplete. But they’re what we have at the moment. They’re a start.

I encourage anyone to get in touch and share whatever materials from their era that belong in these archives, especially if they are likely to benefit the knowledge and decision-making of the next generation of students.

Moving a mailbox


When The Nittany Valley Society launched its Nittany Valley Heritage Walk a few years ago, it was with the goal to preserve the iconic Inspiration Mural in Downtown State College, while also creating and beautifying a new pedestrian and visitor-friendly place.

We’re making progress with the Nittany Valley Heritage Walk; paver stones are starting to sell and the first major section of the walkway will be installed later this year—resulting in a large section of unremarkable concrete being replaced by striking, beautiful red bricks.

Along with these improvements, a thorn in my paw since The Nittany Valley Society decided to take this special project on has been this rusting, unattractive U.S.P.S. mailbox. It has sat for years directly in front of the most iconic part of the Inspiration Mural—the section featuring Coach Paterno. It’s placement makes it nearly impossible to take a photo of the entire Inspiration Mural directly from the front. It just detracts from this unique downtown spot, and would limit public appreciation of the space as it continues to transform in the years to come.

Thankfully, it won’t be there much longer. I got word yesterday that the postal service has agreed to move it elsewhere. This will eventually enable new, low-profile benches to be installed along this stretch of sidewalk. And more importantly, it will help the Nittany Valley Heritage Walk be a more distinctive part of the State College landscape.

Moving a mailbox is certainly not something I ever expected to spend time on (and I didn’t have to spend much), but glad I was able to encourage its removal to a less important area.

And look at that thing. It just looks terrible.

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