TIME psychology

What Makes Something Funny? Can Humor Improve Our Lives?

Funny cat
Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Ever notice that we take our comedians seriously and we think our politicians are liars? Is something wrong there?

Chris Rock, Louis C.K., and Patton Oswalt not only make you laugh but they usually have you nodding your head thinking, “Yeah, life is like that.” Meanwhile, you take everything an elected official says with a grain of salt.

Research is finally starting to catch up to what you’ve known for a long time.

Why do you find things funny?

Humor is the brain rewarding us for finding errors and inconsistencies in our thinking.

Via The Boston Globe‘s review of Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse-Engineer the Mind:

Hurley and his coauthors begin from the idea that our brains make sense of our daily lives via a never ending series of assumptions, based on sparse, incomplete information. All these best guesses simplify our world, give us critical insights into the minds of others, and streamline our decisions. But mistakes are inevitable, and even a small faulty assumption can open the door to bigger and costlier mistakes.

Enter mirth, a little pulse of reward the brain gives itself for seeking out and correcting our mistaken assumptions. A sense of humor is the lure that keeps our brains alert for the gaps between our quick-fire assumptions and reality.

This is why you think good comedians are also telling the truth about life. They’re pointing out the inconsistencies and craziness, the errors we take for granted until they’re pointed out.

You know the old saying “it’s funny because it’s true”? It’s correct. We laugh more when we feel the jokes are true. The more error correction, the bigger the reward.

Chris Rock’s humor about how men and women relate is so accurate it’s been written up in scientific papers. Tina Fey’s Palin imitation changed how people voted.

All forms of play are about learning.

Via Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul:

Play creates new neural connections and tests them. It creates an arena for social interaction and learning. It creates a low-risk format for finding and developing innate skills and talents.

Most animals stop playing and learning once they reach adulthood. Humans are unique in that they have the capacity to play all their lives. Why? Nature designed us to be lifelong learners:

We are designed to be lifelong players, built to benefit from play at any age. The human animal is shaped by evolution to be the most flexible of all animals: as we play we continue to change and adapt into old age.

So making laughs and guffaws sounds a lot more impressive now, huh? It probably doesn’t surprise you too much to hear that funny people are smarter than average. Students who are playful do better in school:

Playfulness was associated with better academic performance (i.e., better grades in an exam). Also, students who described themselves as playful were more likely to do the extra reading that went beyond what was needed to pass the exam. This can be seen as first evidence of a positive relation between playfulness in adults and academic achievement.

Why do women always cite “sense of humor” as something they find attractive in a man? Because humor is a hard-to-fake sign of intelligence. (In fact, you can predict how many women a man has slept with by how funny he is.)

Humor can improve your life

Humor isn’t just an entertaining distraction. It improves many facets of life and we’d be better off with more of it.

Couples who reminisce about shared laughter are happier. In his book Just Kidding: Using Humor Effectively Louis Franzini presents research that salespeople who use humor close more deals.

A fun workplace was more attractive to prospective employees than compensation or opportunities for promotion. Researchers believe that humor can help teams bond, as well as increase the quantity and quality of communication while building trust.

Via Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries:

A host of studies indicates that humor creates positive group effects. Many focus on how humor can increase cohesiveness and act as a lubricant to facilitate more efficient communications, like Bob Petersen’s story team. Researchers have developed a general view that effective humor can increase the quantity and quality of group communications. One reason for that is that humor has also been demonstrated to increase trust.

Humor improves our mood because it makes us think, which interrupts negative emotions. (Jokes can actually mentally disarm us because the brainpower required to process the laughs can take away from critical thinking during an argument.)
People who use humor to cope with stress are healthier.

Via Richard Wiseman’s excellent book 59 Seconds: Change Your Life in Under a Minute:

People who spontaneously use humor to cope with stress have especially healthy immune systems, are 40 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke, experience less pain during dental surgery and live four and a half years longer than average…On the basis of the results, the researchers recommended that people laugh for at least fifteen minutes each day.

What’s interesting — and something we often forget as adults – is it seems we all may need fun in our lives:

Via Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul:

But when play is denied over the long term, our mood darkens. We lose our sense of optimism and we become anhedonic, or incapable of feeling sustained pleasure… There is laboratory evidence that there is a play deficit much like the well-documented sleep deficit.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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You want to laugh? Here are a few of my favorite bits of “error correction” (all NSFW):

-Louis C.K. on turning 40 and children.

-Patton Oswalt on why AA meetings are better than Weight Watchers meetings.

-Eddie Izzard on World War 2.

-Lewis Black on America and milk.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Humor

I Spook People on Halloween for a Living

Jack-o-lantern
Getty Images

Life in the Scare Zone

I always knew that writing and visual arts would be unpredictable career paths. But I’ve discovered that there is one thing that I can always count on: dead bodies.

As the art director for the “Scare Zones” at Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights, I oversee the zombies and ghouls that overtake sections of the park every October. I was just 18 when I started working at Universal. In the fall of 1980, I graduated from high school in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles and was trying to find a job. My sister heard the theme park was hiring so I went in for an interview. Later that same day, I was being fitted for a costume for a full-time job playing the Phantom of the Opera.

It was a perfect job for me: I grew up on horror movies and made haunted houses in backyards and basements with my childhood friends. Over time, my character resume grew to include the Wolfman, a mummy, and my crowning achievement, Beetlejuice.

Over the years, the park grew and so did the creative opportunities. I started building props for the performers and created a few small street shows. At the time, we had a lot of classic Hollywood look-alike performers. So my job could involve finding a giant rubber fish for “Laurel and Hardy” or enlisting park guests to do a screen test with “Humphrey Bogart.”

A seed for my current work was first planted in 1996 when I saw an Ed Kienholz exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art downtown. Kienholz was an installation and assemblage sculptor who took found objects—car parts, broken dolls, damaged furniture—and reassembled them into works of art. He relied on a screw gun, not a paintbrush. That was a concept I could wrap my hands around. I started to create my own assemblage work.

By the early 2000s, I was a part of a small department at Universal called Entertainment Production that creates special displays and events in the park. No event is more special than our annual Halloween Horror Nights, where I have the opportunity to scare up to thousands of people a night.

In addition to the usual rides, weekend nights in October feature mazes based on movies or TV shows, such as The Walking Dead, Alien vs. Predator, and An American Werewolf in London.

There are also five Scare Zones that act as “warm ups” to the mazes. Scare Zones are dimly lit, fog-filled streets overrun with actors who have one job and one job only: to scare the crap out of you. And it’s my job to ensure that happens.

That’s where the dead bodies come in.

In mid-May or so, I meet with the event’s creative director and the head art director to hash out ideas. They oversee the creative content for all the mazes as well as the Walking Dead Scare Zone. As with the mazes, our first options are films or television shows related to the studio, which is one reason why New York Street has been overrun for the last two years by crazed mobs inspired by the Purge films. Occasionally our marketing department plays a role in the process: Halloween fans got to vote on a theme for our French Village Street this year. Sometimes I’ll do Internet searches on the history of London, disasters, notorious criminals, or ghost stories to get ideas. This year, the overwhelming favorite zone was an idea I pitched: “Dark Christmas.” Evil elves, Krampus (the half-goat demon who frightens children into being nice), and a scary Santa Claus all ran amok down our version of London’s Baker Street.

My budget is tight so I reuse a lot of stuff year after year. For example, I once repurposed some killer clowns into zombie hookers. Some of our dead bodies are brand new, but we also have “veteran” bodies held together with tape and hot glue. There is nothing you can’t accomplish with a screw gun, a roll of gaff tape, and a bag of zip ties.

I often work high-art or folk-art flourishes into the designs. The concept that received the most audience votes for French Street this year was “Mask-A-Raid”: a horde of cannibals masquerading as French aristocrats. I arranged French aristocrats at a massive table laden with fruits, vegetables, and human body parts in the spirit of 17th century Dutch still-life paintings and the grotesque tableaux of contemporary photographer Joel-Peter Witkin. A string quartet of skeletons is playing violins and cellos behind them. In 2010, I created a Scare Zone inspired by the Mexican folk legend “La Llorona,” the “Weeping Woman” who is searching for her dead children.

This year’s Halloween event is winding down. All I do now is periodically walk through to check for damage and readjust the lights. I can relax until November when it all gets packed up for next year.

Patrick Quinn is a mixed-media artist living in Los Angeles. More of his art can be seen here. Universal City’s Halloween Horror Nights continue through Nov. 2. He wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Humor

Smile, You’re on Candid-Photoshop Camera!

Watch what happens when one Photoshop magician, one bus stop and lots of hidden cameras are combined

lost-at-e-minor_logo

This article originally appeared on Lost at E Minor.

Here’s an example of technological self-awareness taken to a whole new level. It could be seen as either terrifying or hilarious, but frankly, I think we can do with more interventions of this kind. So let’s follow Mr Johansson’s lead and think up some pranks.

TIME technology

Watch Key and Peele Perfectly Capture the Dangers of Misunderstood Texts

It's all about how you interpret the other person's tone

Texting is, overall, a great thing. It allows us to communicate without actually having to speak to one another, which is a huge blessing. But, as this hilariously spot-on sketch from Key & Peele reminds us, communicating solely through text messages has its pitfalls. Watch as a simple exchange between friends goes totally awry, all because they’re completely misinterpreting each other’s tones.

Also, if anyone can let us know where to get a pizza sweatshirt like the one Peele is wearing in this sketch, that would be awesome. Thanks.

TIME Business

Are You a Type A Personality? 5 Life Hacks for the Competitive Champ Inside of You

Notes on computer
Jamie Grill—Getty Images/Tetra images RF

Do you freak out if you waste time? Can't relax? I feel you

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

I’m the definition of a Type A personality: not happy unless I’m unhappy, ridiculously competitive, cartoonish in my impatience and probably raising my chances of heart disease with every stressed-out feverish keystroke I type.

A brief history of Type A if you’re not familiar: Cardiologist Meyer Friedman wrote in his 1996 book, “Type A Behavior: Its Diagnosis and Treatment” that three symptoms define this glorious creature: (1) hostility that is generally “free-floating” and can be triggered at the drop of a hat; (2) a level of urgency and impatience and irritation that is informally known as having a “short fuse”; and (3) a drive for competition which results in perpetual stress and an achievement-/success-/goal-oriented workaholic mentality.

Sounds like a blast, right?

During a nine-year study of Type A men in the 1950s between the ages of 35 and 59, Friedman and cardiologist Ray Rosenman discovered that being classified as Type A (versus Type B which is easy-going, reflective, creative and not bound to pathetic markers of status and success) actually doubles the risk of heart disease in otherwise healthy people. Yay.

But let’s be all Type A about this Type A article: This neurotic super-stressed personality type is known for being frighteningly organized, overly sensitive, deadline driven, nauseatingly proactive, terrified of wasting time and beyond annoyed with ambivalence. Do you like this article so far? MAKE A CHOICE.

I’ve come to accept who I am. I like how my drive drives me, and when I think of times in my life where I’ve tried to mimic all those grinning Type B-ers, I feel like I’ve lost myself. Oh look, there I am, going with the flow. Hey check me out, not totally wracked with guilt and incapacitated with self-hatred for having done nothing all weekend. I feel like a cat pretending to be a dog. It’s not me. And if it’s not you, here are some of my favorite ways to life-hack your Type A world:

1. Say “No” To Meetings And Ignore Your Black Hole Of Never-Ending Emails With People Who Want, Want, Want.

It’s not rude. It’s Type A, and this is who you are. You don’t like to waste time, and if you’re being successful in the whole workaholic thing, then there are a lot of people asking to meet with you or wanting a piece/a minute/a second of your time. Instead of saying “yes” so often, write back: “I’m focused on finishing a big project right now, but I can answer one or two short questions over email.”

Or use email auto-reply. Here’s one from an author friend of mine who is more productive than anyone I know: “Thank you for writing. In an effort to focus on writing the next book and spend more offline time with those I care about, I am no longer checking email. However, your email has been forwarded to my ace assistant. She will be reading all my emails, and responding.” Speaking of getting good help around here…

2. Get A Damned Assistant.

Try TaskRabbit or FancyHands to hire the freelance assistant of your dreams, double your productivity and keep yourself accountable. (Are you going to slack when you’re paying for a helper? Probably not.) Want to try a virtual international assistant? I’ve heard good things about TasksEveryDay. At the least you’ll get a good cocktail party anecdote out of the experience.

3. Deal With Human Beings, Instead of Time-Wasting Robots When You Need Customer Service.

Know how some companies have seemingly impossible-to-locate customer service numbers? Here’s a great life hack for fellow Type A’s: GetHuman will lead you to real-life human beings who can make an actual difference in what you need to get done. I can speak from direct experience on this one. Amazon was terrific to deal with once I finagled the phone number and stopped waiting for an email reply. Results!

4. Send Emails When People Will Actually Read Them.

Own that short fuse: I am impatient! I like results! I am not going to be ignored, Dan! So try Boomerang and you can write your emails ahead of time but get them scheduled to be sent when people will be most receptive to reading them. Nothing reeks of desperation quite so much as a rambling late-night “please, please, please” email instead of a short, cool, confident note that pops up at 11:34 a.m. on a Tuesday when your boss has accepted the fact that it’s no longer Monday, has a coffee or two in her, is enjoying picking out her lunch from Seamless and settled into her work routine. Emails are little burdens. They’re little shoulder taps. So if you’re going to be tugging at people’s coats to get their attention, do it in the strongest way possible.

5. Network Like a Boss.

One of the better Type A qualities? Being incredibly proactive. But there’s proactive, and then there’s TYPE A PROACTIVE. Here are a few of my favorite hacks: Try Newsle, which scans the top news sites and then lets you know if someone in your network comes up in the press. People notice when you send congratulations and “I’m so happy for you” emails. People notice when you are there in the good times and there in the bad times, not just the “I need a favor from you” times.

Here’s another killer trick. Meet someone at a party but didn’t get their card — or perhaps you have the impressive chutzpah to try a cold email? If you guess the person’s email correctly—here are the most common configurations:

  • firstnamelastname@nameofcompany.com
  • lastname@nameofcompany.com
  • firstname.lastname@nameofcompany.com
  • firstname@nameofcompany.com
  • lastname@nameofcompany.com
  • firstinitial.lastname@nameofcompany.com
  • lastname@nameofcompany.com
  • firstinitial@nameofcompany.com
  • firstinitial-lastname@nameofcompany.com

—and then plug that email into Rapportive, check to see if the profile comes up. Did it work? Then, kudos, you’ve guessed correctly. You can also determine if the email is valid with: mailtester.com. Fool around with these two sites, and see what I mean — and I swear you’ll be impressed. Boom. You are hereby never helpless again.

It’s fun to embrace who you are, right? So what are your Type A life hacks? Or Type B life hacks? Or most annoying Type A person in your life? Is it me? I’m sorry if it’s me.

Mandy Stadtmiller is Editor-at-Large at xoJane.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME The Awesome Column

Here’s What Happened When I Outsourced My Entire Life

One of the two new Awesome Column logos I got for just $5.

It turned out pretty well actually

Recently, I decided to contract out the only thing I still do myself: write this column. You probably know about services like Uber, Amazon Fresh, and TaskRabbit that let you get Downtown Abbey-style service at budget prices. Now, through the magic of income inequality, web site Fiverr.com offers millions of services people will do for just $5.

Things went slowly at first—to read about my experience click here. But, eventually, like a robber baron eyeing a boat full of laborers, I really started making it rain $5 bills: I got a logo, a press release, a ukulele jingle, 500 copies posted around the University of Chicago, a translation into Chinese and a rap song by J.P. from L.A.

Here’s just a sample of what you can do in the new new economy:

Not one, but TWO Awesome Column songs

The Awesome Column Rap, Released: 2014.

The Awesome Column Jingle, Released: 2014.

Some Awesome Column in Chinese

外包曾经是你只从大公司所做的事情中听到。你可能会听到“我们刚外包到我们的服务支持台了”,或“我们需要和外包公司谈一下我们的设计工作。”

我没有写那一段。因为,在新经济中,对我来说没有必要努力做任何事情。当一个美食博客邀请我去一间很酷的中国餐馆时,我想通了这一点,当时她告诉我不要担心排队,因为她已经“TaskRabbits”了。这意味着她已经在TaskRabbit.com的网站上付了某人$35在外面排了2个小时的队,这样她就不会浪费她发美食博客的宝贵时间了。

在那一刻,我瞬间就明白了,革新很快就要到来了,我公开在冷压果汁里冲浪,不如就使用一下TaskRabbit好了。我付了出租车一半的价钱给Uber司机,让他带着我绕城一圈,通过亚马逊,$4小费可以其他人为我采购食品。我还有一个园丁,清洁工和一个保姆,这些都是《唐顿修道院》版本的仆人文化。现在,要感谢那些收入差距,我可以去另外一个叫“Fiverr”的网站,它提供百万种服务,并且只需要支付$5。这可能看起来比较奇怪,因为当列出所有付$5我就肯做的事情,其实与那些我完全可以免费做的事情完全相符的。

An Awesome Column press release

PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

TIME MAGAZINE COLUMNIST OUTSOURCES WRITING OF COLUMN

Joel Stein Hires Fiverr Writer to Help Pen Column on Subject of Gig Economy

New York — Sept. 15, 2014 — Time Magazine humor writer Joel Stein wanted to tackle the subject of the “gig economy” in his weekly piece “The Awesome Column.” The gig economy is a term used to describe the increasing number of professionals opting to pursue freelance work rather than 9-to-5 jobs in the wake of the Great Recession.

Stein decided it would be fitting, in a column about the gig economy, to outsource the job of writing the column to a freelancer. So he turned to Fiverr, an online marketplace through which freelancers of all stripes offer various services for $5 a job.

But because finding a worthy writer on Fiverr was work in and of itself, Stein outsourced the job of finding a writer to another freelancer via the website TaskRabbit. That task was outsourced to actor, writer and jack-of-all-trades MacLeish Day, who helped Stein locate the Fiverr content writer Jeff Butts.

Stein didn’t just stop at one Fiverr gig. After hiring Butts to write the first paragraph of his column, he decided to order other Fiverr gigs and “make it rain $5 bills” on Fiverr freelancers.

In the column, Stein details his misadventures purchasing a variety of additional Fiverr gigs, from editing of the column to pictures of Serbian model Ivona Vračević holding a sign that says, “The Awesome Column by Joel Stein,” an original Awesome Column jingle by Orange County-based ukelele player and songwriter Ryan Heenan, and more.

Even this press release was a product of Fiverr.

“I believe, per amount of work I put in, this is my best column ever,” Stein said.

Stein’s Awesome Column on the gig economy will appear in print edition of Time Magazine on DATE. All of the outsourced work can be viewed at LINK.

Read Joel Stein’s Awesome Column at http://time.com/tag/the-awesome-column/. Follow Stein on Facebook and Twitter.

And, of course, an entirely outsourced Awesome Column

Outsourcing used to be something you only heard about big companies doing. “We just outsourced our help desk,” you might hear, or “We need to talk about outsourcing our design work.”

Recently, though, it’s become almost common for individuals to outsource their own work. Got some shopping you want to do, but just don’t have the time? A site like TaskRabbit can help you find someone else to handle it for you at rock-bottom prices. Need to find someone to fix that leaky toilet? Once again, TaskRabbit to the rescue.

If your needs are more design or technical oriented, that’s not a problem, either. Freelancers hire themselves out on sites like Fiverr, where you can get a 500-word blog article written or a graphic drawn for just five bucks, less than you might spend on lunch at McDonald’s.

What does it mean when you can outsource your own work for much less than you get paid to do it? It becomes pretty lucrative to have someone else write that report for you, freeing you up to do other things. However, how fair is this for the freelancer who is doing that work for what seems like pennies?

I could even hire someone from Fiverr to write this column for me, if I really wanted to. Would that be fair to the Fiverr seller, though, since I’m getting a salary here and that seller only makes 4 bucks off the article (Fiverr takes 20% of the price for their own pockets, leaving sellers with 4 out of 5 bucks.)

Fiverr freelancer clefmeister says that it isn’t all that bad. “Most of the things I do for $5 only take me ten or fifteen minutes to do, so I’m really making 20 bucks an hour,” he said. He also said that it can be interesting, the kind of things people ask him to write about.

“I’ve got one gig right now asking me to write about premature ejaculation. I don’t know what it’s for, though. It’s too early to tell,” he quipped. Too early, indeed.

While a site like Fiverr advertises that you can get anything for a five-spot, sellers can earn the right to charge more. “I have gigs that net me as much as a hundred bucks, with Gig Extras,” clefmeister told me. He pointed out that it takes time to build up to being able to charge that much, but there are ways to turn selling on Fiverr profitable.

This ability to outsource our work to others is a different twist for the economy. Many of the sellers on places like TaskRabbit and Fiverr are 100% freelancing, either because they prefer it or because they can’t get a job in today’s economy. Some, though, just do it for extra cash.

Also, there are the freelancers signing onto the site from other countries, where $5 American is actually a hefty salary. Whether it’s a fair price or not really depends on how you look at it. If the freelancers are willing to do the work for so cheap, why not take advantage of the opportunity?

TIME Television

Watch Gisele Bündchen Teach Jimmy Fallon How to Plank

He nails it, kind of.

After Jimmy Fallon admired Gisele Bündchen’s beach yoga skills on The Tonight Show, the supermodel and Under Armour spokeswoman offered to show him how it’s done.

But Jimmy said he couldn’t hand a headstand (and Gisele’s outfit wasn’t right for such a difficult pose) so they opted for a plank instead.

Jimmy actually keeps up with her pretty well– he even does a leg lift and a push up before he collapses under the weight of his non-supermodel body. But watching him try not to look down her shirt is the best part.

MORE: Watch Gisele Bündchen Kick Butt in This New Under Armour Commercial

TIME Humor

Watch Jon Stewart Roast the Congressmen Who Called Gillibrand ‘Porky’

Because they're ugly, he says

Jon Stewart weighed in on Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s revelation about the sexual harassment she faced from her Congressional colleagues on Tuesday night’s Daily Show, and the resulting segment is priceless.

First of all, he says, the Senate is full of uglies. “There is a certain irony to being judged on one’s physical appearance by a group of men who, if you squint, look on a good day like a bowl of dried fruit,” he said. “I’m not going to name names, but our Senate is filled with people who look like balls.”

Then Stewart launches into cat-call culture, and ends with a priceless imitation of a “classy” cat-caller. Watch it here:

TIME Business

Knees Need a Defender: There’s No Excuse for Leaning Back on an Airplane

Passenger With His Knees Against a Sleeping Businessman's Chair on an Aeroplane
Digital Vision/Getty Images

'If you try to move that seat back again I’m going over the top of your chair and strangling you'

Nobody over six feet tall is surprised that a couple of passengers got into a fight on a United flight from Newark to Denver over the use of a gadget called Knee Defender — two small, wedge-like devices that prevent the seat in front of you from reclining. The passenger using the device, a guy seated in a middle row, refused to remove it when the woman seated in front of him tried to recline. Words were exchanged; then a cup of water was hurled aft. The flight was diverted to Chicago, and the two were removed.

Me, I’m with Knee Defender guy.

I don’t travel with a Knee Defender, but I do travel with knees. Just being an airline passengers makes everyone cranky to begin with. Being 6 ft. 2 in. and long of leg, I’m in a near rage by the time I wedge myself into a coach seat. And now you want to jam your chair back into my knees for four hours? Go fly a kite. It’s an airline seat, not a lounge chair. You want comfort, buy a business class seat. What’s surprising is that there haven’t been more fights over Knee Defender. Or perhaps these incidents haven’t been reported. I’ve gotten into it a few times with people in front of me who insist that the space over my knees is theirs, as if they have some kind of air rights. And I’m sure I will again.

United says it has a no Knee Defender policy, although the device is allowable on other carriers. My own knee defense is this: As soon as the seatbelt sign goes off and people are free to annoy me, I wedge my knees against the seat in front of me. Any attempted move back is met with resistance. (Very good exercise, too.) At first, the person in front thinks there’s something wrong with his chair and tries again, meeting like resistance. Then there’s that backward glance, and the dirty look. I smile and say: “Sorry, those are my knees. And I’m not moving them.” Secretly I am saying, “If you try to move that seat back again I’m going over the top of your chair and strangling you.” Did I mention that flying is infuriating?

This has led to some very unfriendly exchanges on the friendly skies of United and elsewhere. And should my adversary, during an unguarded moment, manage to intrude into my space, there’s always the opportunity to resort to 8-year-old mode, accidentally kicking the chair every once in a while. If I’m not going to be comfortable, you’re not.

Yes, it’s not the most civil behavior, but United and other airlines brought this about by treating us like cargo. Consider the situation on Flight 1462. United runs 737s, among the smallest in the Boeing fleet, out of Newark to distant places. It’s four hours to Denver from Newark. The coach seats are 17.3 inches wide. The pitch is 31 inches in Economy and 34 inches in the so-called Economy Plus, where the dueling pair was sitting. Economy Plus used to be called by another name, Economy, until the carriers started adding rows and squeezing the space. This fight started because the guy was trying to work on his laptop. You can’t use a laptop when the seat in front of you is in your lap. And it’s only getting worse when you realize that the proportion of flights longer than two hours that now use commuter jets is growing.

Personally, my policy is to not recline, even if the seat does. I’m trying to respect the space of the passenger behind me. So please respect mine, or be prepared for a bumpy ride.

TIME Crime

This Guy Posed for His Mugshot Wearing a T-Shirt Featuring His Previous Mugshot

Mug Shot T-Shirt
This Aug. 8, 2014 booking photo released by the Somerset County Sheriff’s Department shows Robert Burt, of Pittsfield, Maine. Somerset County Sheriff’s Department—AP

Too meta, or just meta enough?

Back in June, 19-year-old Robert Burt was charged with driving under the influence. When the Pittsfield, Maine, resident showed up to begin his two-day jail sentence this month, he wore a shirt one of his co-workers had so generously made for him following the arrest. That shirt featured Burt’s original mugshot.

Upon arrival, Burt had to pose for a booking photo, resulting in one marvelously meta moment.

Sadly, the second mugshot does not show the entire shirt, which includes a second photo:

We thought Macaulay Culkin was the Meta T-Shirt King, but Mr. Burt here is really giving him a run for his money.

(h/t The Smoking Gun)

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