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Entries in Technology (6)


How technology spoils us

In recognition of Canada's 150th birthday, Via Rail sold tickets for $150 to young people 25 and under enabling them to travel anywhere in Canada for the month of July. I wish I could have been eligible for this ticket. My son, as a graduation present to himself, bought one. This month, he is traveling across the country by himself. This week he is on the east coast.

When he first mentioned this, I was hopeful it was just an idea he would forget. I didn't like the idea of him traveling alone across the country. When news stories come up on my feed saying that so and so has been missing from home for ten days, it doesn't help. He was home the weekend before his trip and there were jokes made about him being kidnapped, etc. He promised he would check in regularly, and he has been giving me updates and sharing photos on Instagram of where he's been. So far, so good.

I read Rebecca's post at Out of the Ordinary this morning, and when she mentioned that her son travels to places where there is no cellphone coverage, I realized things would be worse. And then I realized that when I was a 23 year old, if I had made that trip, I would have been able to check in only through a telephone. Have you tried looking for a telephone booth lately? It's like they've gone the way of the dodo.

On Canada Day, I listened to Gordon Lightfoot's "Canadian Railroad Trilogy," a song which was written in honour of Canada's 100th birthday. The song tells of the building of the railroad. Now, there was a risky venture. A young man who decided to join the crew of builders who put down the railway may have never returned east again. Mothers didn't hear where their sons were. Much of the history of Canada involves people picking up and moving west to start new lives. Mothers watched sons and daughters leave. They may have never seen them again. They would have relied on sporadic letters. And here I was getting antsy because my text message had gone unanswered for a while.

Technology spoils us. It makes us feel entitled. I feel I deserve these updates. I tend to worry, and it is so easy to have my worries soothed by an opportune text message or Instagram post. Rather than simply trusting God, I will rely on the promise of those updates. This is where technology can become a temptation. It gives us control, and when we have control, we don't feel the need to trust God.

I am appreciative of my son's updates. I looked with envy and joy at the selfie he took at Peggy's Cove. He was alive and well. But I can't rely on those to have a sense of peace. The month of July is not over yet. And even when he returns, I'll still worry. But I as Rebecca's post so aptly points out, our children are never beyond God's control. 


Digital vs paper: it doesn't have to be one or the other

I recently bought an iPad. I bought it mainly for school. Supplementary readings often come in the form of downloadable PDF's and for a bifocal wearer such as myself, it's easier to read the screen of an iPad than my desktop. It is very convenient to simply save PDF files to iBooks or Kindle.

Since buying my iPad, I've downloaded the Logos Bible Study app, which gives me access to books that come with Logos software. I also bought a NASB bible for my iPad, which is nice. I have had a Kindle for a long time, but don't own a lot of Kindle books. I'm very attached to my pencil and paper. Reading fiction on a digital device is okay, but when I'm looking at a commentary or a textbook, I do like paper. I did buy a commentary on Ephesians after buying my iPad and it is very convenient to have my NASB and the commentary open side by side on the screen. I can definitely make use of digital books.

This week, I began re-reading the book Rebecca, by Daphne duMaurier. I purchased a Folio edition of this book, splurging a bit by using some money I received with an award. Last night, as I read, I thought how much I love the feel of a well-bound, hard cover book printed on beautiful paper. This is a book bound for longevity. I don't think I would ever be able to go completely digital.

And why would I want to? I don't have to do one or the other. I like the freedom to buy a book for my iPad that I will, in all likelihood, read only once. But then there are books that I will re-visit; books I want to pull down from the shelf to check something out. Yes, I can do that with ease on an iPad, but ultimately, does it matter if I have to get up and look on my shelf or scan through my library on an iPad? How many seconds will I save? Am I so pressed for time that getting up to search for a book is a hardship?

And then there are the times when people look at our bookshelves and say, "Hey, can I borrow that book?" I like to be able to loan my books out. I like to have conversations that are inspired by someone looking at our bookshelves and saying, "Is that a good book?" I like to see someone who is visiting scan the shelves, take down a book, and open its pages. 

I can see myself buying more books for my iPad simply because shelf space is at a premium. But I can also see myself wanting a hard copy of a particular book. I'm not ready to dismantle my shelves and box up my paper books so that I can say I am 100% digital. I guess I still like the tactile experience of flipping through a book, and I definitely like being able to annotate in the margins of a book with a pencil. Note-taking in iBooks or Kindle is manageable, but it's not the same as seeing the words beside the actual text. 

It really doesn't have to be one or the other. There are books I will never consider buying unless it's for my iPad, and then there are others like these, which I need to hold in my hands.


The straddle generation and digital immigrants

A friend of mine shared an article recently that led me to purchase the book The End of Absence, by Michael Harris. Harris, a journalist, writes about the effects of being continually connected. He alludes to this as a "Gutenberg moment," drawing parallels and demonstrating differences between the effects of the printing press and the proliferation of information through the internet.

Specifically, he focuses on the fact that his generation (which is my generation) are the ones who know what life was like before the internet and after. 

If you were born before 1985, then you know what life was like both with the Internet and without. You are making the pilgrimage from Before to After. (Any younger and you haven't lived as an adult in a pre-Internet landscape). Those of us in this straddle generation, with one foot in the digital pond and the other on the shore, are experiencing a strange suffering as we acclimatize. We are the ditigal immigrants, and like all immigrants, we don't find the new world welcoming.

Harris's reserach and thoughts have brought him to the conclusion that all of this technology has created lack of absence, a principle which he will explore further in the remainder of the book. I'm only 23 pages in, and I'm hooked.

It is good that a book like this is written now. It's an interesting time. I think it's important for those of us who are in the pre-Internet age to record what our lives were like before this thing took over our world. When our generation is long dead, there will be no one who as Harris puts it,"speaks both languages."

One comment he makes really struck me:

As we embrace technology's gifts, we usually fail to consider what they ask from us in return -- the subtle, hardly noticeable payments we make in exchange for their marvelous service. We don't notice, for example, that the gaps in our schedules have disappeared because we're too busy delighting in the amusements that fill them. We forget the games that childhood boredom forged because boredom itself has been outlawed.

This is so very true. We may neglect to ask ourselves, "What consequences will this bring?" We run the extremes of completely dismissing any potential negativity and grasping on with both hands to the present time like a child grabbing onto his father's leg to keep him from going out the door. I have known both kinds of people, and have been both kinds of people. As always, somewhere in the middle is a lot better position to take.

I'm looking forward to this book. 


How technology affects Mother

I've been continuing to read Making Ends Meet. This may be a book about how farm wives' lives have changed over time, but it's instructive about the lives of women in general, and in particular with regard to technology.

One would think that new technology for the women would have been a good thing, but ultimately, it created more work. Take for example, the introduction of the cast iron stove. Prior to that, meals were prepared over an open hearth, so most meals were fairly simple. With the advent of burners where more than one item could be cooked at a time, meals became more complex. Of course when things are improved, the expectations increase with it. Women found themselves now juggling more than just a one-pot meal along with every thing else. It was a good thing, but it did increase the workload.

Harvest technology meant more work in the field, which meant women had to feed large threshing crews. While the increrased productivity was good for the family, it affected women profoundly. The lack of good refrigeration in combination with the need to prepare huge meals several times a day meant that a woman had to spend considerable time canning and preserving food; there were no frozen pizzas to drag out.

Garden work at one time was something men participated in, but as a man's work became increasingly in the commercial aspect, a woman ultimately took over the garden. I can attest to this reality. Though living on the same property, both my aunt and my grandmother had her own garden. These gardens were never considered the domain of the men. The only participation from my grandfather and uncle was driving the manure spreader over the garden in the fall and the cultivator in the spring.

The mechanization of domestic chores also meant that younger workers were not as able to be employed. For example, dairying was a woman's domain, and while the advent of the cream separator was a great help in the production of dairy products, they were complicated machines involving many parts, and a child could not operate it at a young age. The simpler methods could be done by a child, but not a more mechanized utensil.

The author says this:

While the purchase of household appliances, consumer goods, and commercial services removed the tedium of many tasks in housekeeping, it also reshaped the domestic work patterns.... Because these tasks required additional skill and care, they became the responsibility of women. Also, a larger work force, greater prosperity, and a desire for higher standards of material consumption increased the scope of domestic work.

I could not help but see the parallels to the technology we women of today have adapted to. Much of it makes our life easier: we don't even have to grind coffee beans or wait for the coffee to drip.  Just pop a little puck in and wait, and there's coffee, hot chocolate, or tea. We can time our ovens to start when we're not home. We can sign up for meal planning e-mails, complete with an ingredient list sent to our inboxes. Much of the new technology gives is time; time to work outside the home or time for leisure. I'm thankful for such technological advances, although I refuse to give up my Bodum coffee press, and I make tea with loose leaves.

However, as the passage suggests, technology means our expectations are increased. With the increase in technology, we want things to be better all the time, and that can lead to impatience or a lack of contentment. Another downside to this is how it affects children. They have so much free time, and they don't have a lot of domestic responsibilities anymore. Instead of helping with chores after school, are they just drowning themselves in social media (another technological advance that increases expectations) or video games? The work of the young mother now is how to keep this technology from being a negative impact on their families.

Technology makes society more complex, and that brings with it a whole host of consequences. It makes me want to find ways to simplify in other areas. I don't plan on giving up my washing machine or cook over and open stove, but it does make me think more carefully about how I use technology.


Dystopian ponderings

I read Margaret Atwood's book The Handmaid's Tale. I do not share Ms. Atwood's worldview at all, but this woman knows how to write a book that makes you keep turning the page. Yes, there are some unpleasant words in this book, so, if you don't like that kind of thing, don't read it. 

This book is about a society whose choices have seriously affected the ability to reproduce. The handmaids, which are a twisted response to a bad reading of Scripture, are there to repopulate society. The handmaids are "privileged" in a sense, because they are given food and health care so they can produce children. But they are little more than prisoners. This world Atwood creates is brutal. Yes, there are feministic overtones in this book. One must know that going into it.

One of the things I found most interesting is that women were no longer allowed to read and write. Food coupons did not have words on them; they have pictures. At one point, the narrator, a handmaid, is given a contraband copy of Vogue magazine as a sort of peace offering from the man to whom she is a handmaid. It's forbidden for her to have this.  The man keeps it because it is a piece of the past that he finds nostalgic.

Atwood wrote this in 1985; this is long before the days of social media and an image saturated world where people don't say, "I ate a doughnut," they put a picture on Instagram. We all have short attention spans; 1,000 words seems onerous. We don't say "I'm happy," we use an emoticon. While we are not forbidden to read, I thought this was pretty insightful element to the book that Atwood, of course, would understand: literacy is important.  A lack of literacy can imprison someone.

We are fortunate in this country to have accessible education. Even adults who have literacy struggles can be equipped through literacy programs. We ought to foster our literacy. We ought to avoid having our attention spans reduced so much that we'd rather put up a picture than use a word. I love books and stories well told. I loved them when I was a child, and growing up, I thought it was a sign of my maturity to read a book with no pictures.  It meant I was gaining in understanding. Do young children still think that?