Friday, December 31, 2010

The True Cost of Technology

It's hard to turn on a computer these days without hearing about the way technology is saturating our lives. We have unlimited knowledge in the palm of our hands every moment of every day.  Nowadays, instead of merely immersing ourselves in television, we're submerged in news stories, storefronts and a non-stop stream of social interactions.  I have no fewer than six actual keyboard-laden computers in my daily life. I use them to work, to play, to inform...and if they were waterproof, I'd probably even use them to entertain myself on my long walks across campus (instead, I use my Droid or my iPod or one of my other pocket-sized micro computers.)  I have no doubt that I'm trading previous intellectual handicaps for new ones, but them's the breaks, baby.  I'm always on and I want my world to be, also.

Critics call this technological engorgement unnecessary, maybe even harmful.  Bill Murray may just be showboating in this 1982 clip, but the perspective that he's spouting is no less relevant today.  People continue to fear what they don't understand and the fear is even more potent when kids are involved. What is this newfangled high-tech world doing to our youth?  What is the cost of introducing our children to technology?

UNPOPULAR OPINION ALERT!  Some psychologists claim that technology may be linked to ADD (or a more pleasantly named, Attention Deficit Trait - ADT.)  That is to say, instead of being an issue that can be treated, the need for a rapid stream of information to process becomes an intrinsic part of a child's character.  I won't dispute this, but I don't necessarily think we should prevent it.  Here's the part where I expect some discord: I think we should embrace ADT as a sort of mental evolution.  If our brains have the ability to work in a different manner, who is anyone to say that it's not the *right* manner?  Yes, I know, I know.  Elementary school isn't formatted for classrooms full of excitable, rapidly-thinking children.  Parent's aren't prepared to keep up with quizzical exploration and non-stop mental and physical activity.  The world isn't tailored to brains that function in this evolved way.  But maybe it should be.  This "trait" is currently identified as a "disorder" because it's inconvenient.  It's debilitating in our current system, but it's conceivable that it could become an asset.  THAT world, however, is mega-millions of manhours away, so I'll table this discussion for now.

I'm going to wrap up this blog with a completely different thought.  Instead of asking what the cost is of introducing our young children to technology, I'd like to ask what the cost will be if we don't.  Sure, we could save a few hundred dollars by not having that extra laptop to buy, which will undoubtedly be destroyed within it's first year of life, but what are we giving up in exchange?  The world where our children become grown-ups will be a fast-paced technical one, full of innovation and change.  As computational thinking becomes integral to our lives, so will jobs encompassing technology.  We're looking at an increase in the T-word in every feasible area: Nano-technology, environmental technology, biotechnology.  One day, technology will be associated with the rapid progression of advancements everywhere.  It only makes sense to allow our children the freedom to explore these necessary skills while their brains are still easily absorbing new information.  One bit of caution -- as with any powerful technique, guidance and responsible use are important elements if you want to create a healthy and happy future computer scientist.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Written in the Stars?

So, last week, I found out that my ex-boyfriend from Colorado (who had said that a long-distance relationship was just not right for him) had actually been seeing a girl from even farther away in Washington.  Not only was that enough to make me want to erase him from my life forever, it was also a huge source of liberation which allowed me to be okay with moving on.

I had just made up my mind to get back out there when I read this horoscope:

"If you had to put out a fire, you would search for the closest source of water. Time is critical when something is burning. Well, Aquarius, something is burning in your personal life. It may be an issue you have neglected, and now it is raging out of control. You don't have the luxury of time to be choosy about how you solve the problem. You need to look for the closest and most effective resource. Oddly, your timing is perfect, even though you procrastinated. If you focus now on solving a problem, you will get excellent results."

Sure enough, a date was immediately offered. I accepted and I had a great time.  You may be thinking "WOW! What perfect timing on that horoscope!" or "Just a coincidence." or any number of other reactions to the concept of looking to horoscopes for direction.  Whatever your reaction, you can bet I've heard something similar...but before I continue, let me back up.

I love fortune cookies.  Not for the cookie, but for the prophetic little slip of paper that you find when you crack that sucker open.  That cookie could have been selected by any random person and yet, it still holds power.  How?  Why?

Whether it's a fortune or a horoscope, I look at it the same.  It has less to do with the words being presented and more to do with the mind interpreting those words.  I think of these things as tools to assess our own life situations and highlight our true feelings by way of instantaneous association.  Just like dreams may be able to help us make sense of our jumble of daily details, "predictive" phrases can trigger hopes and emotions that might have been hidden in our conscious mind.  I'm not saying that fortunes and horoscopes are science or magic, but I *am* saying that they serve a legitimate purpose and should not be dismissed as fraudulent verbal snake oil.

Can a reaction to a prediction be taken too far?  Sure.  But if interpreted with a sane mind, a horoscope could also lead to good...well...fortune.  At very least, it could lead to a wonderful night out full of interesting company and great conversation. 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

To Ping or not to Ping?

For those of you who have not yet been introduced Ping, it's a social network experience for iTunes.  That means, you can share your musical interactions with followers in much the same way that you would share tweets, statuses and even Netflix activity. 

So, yes, I'm signed up with Ping and even participating a little, but I have to admit that I'm not so sure about it. This may surprise some of you, but I think that my music preferences are just too personal to share with the world.  "What?!?!" you might shout. "Aren't you on Facebook with, like, 4 different group pages, 4 separate twitter accounts and more blogs than you can even connect to your Google Buzz???" 

Okay, the answer to all of that is "Yes, but..."

Yes, but to me music is the most intimate external medium for sharing emotions.  It's poetry with rhythm.  It's a mood wrapped in an audible shell, sex through sound waves.  I believe that the mix-tape (or nowadays CD) is the most inspiring love note that you can present someone.  It says, "When I hear this, I think of you."  Creates memories.  Builds you up.  Breaks you down.  I deleted half the songs from my iPod when my love and I broke up.  I still can't listen to most of them.  I've replaced them with songs about determination, good-will and how awesome I am.  How can I possibly share that in bursts of "like" and rating with stars and comments about what I just purchased and why?  The more information I give you about why I'm listening to what I'm listening to, the more I let you straight into my heart - and that, my friends, is a reserved space.

In short, it may seem odd that I blog and tweet and paint and would share any one of those things with anybody who cared enough to follow, but I'm uncomfortable with Ping.  For now, I *am* using Ping, but I use it very deliberately and with caution.  How about you?