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Entries in Technology (5)


You can't put the internet toothpaste back in the tube

I tried to read the book 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You. I saw recommendations for it, but I got bored about one-third of the way through, and I was generally underwhelmed. In the past few weeks, I've read articles by people talking about how to use their phones less because of what it's doing to their concentration, relationships, etc. I totally get that. I have a husband who is a news junkie, and having news at his fingertips thanks to a smartphone is the answer to all of his news loving prayers. Yes, I get that.

I don't like reading on a teeny screen. Now that I have an iPad, when I want to use Pinterest away from my desk top, I use my iPad. I use my phone as a phone and for texting my kids and friends. Why would I want to read a book on a dinky little screen? I don't play video games, period, so something like playing games on my phone is not an issue. Yes, I could live without a smartphone, but I do like to know that I have the capabilities it offers when I really need it. I don't have any problem at all with leaving my phone in another room and forgetting where it is; until it rings, of course, and then I am running.

I can't say the same thing for using the Mac on my desk, though. One morning, during the school year, I was awake (courtesy of the Beagles who live here) by 5:30 and ready to work. I decided to check the student platform at school to see how I'd done on a Greek quiz. That meant getting online and signing in. Well, I was already online, so I figured I would check my email. And then, when I saw the emails in my "promotions" tab, which featured a new book, I was distracted to that site. I wasted thirty minutes. And where was my phone? Upstairs, charging.

Is the problem really the phone? Aren't the same distractions an issue with any device we use to go online? As long as we conduct much of our lives online, it's always going to be a struggle to stay off, whether we use a phone, watch, or reading device. I have to go online to check my progress at school. I have to go online to register for my classes. If I want to contribute to paperless billing with my hydro provider, I have to go online to find out what my monthly bill is. You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube, so learning to use it without a mess is the goal.

I can't say that my husband's tendency to spend too much time reading the news began with the smartphone or even online news providers. It was there when we were married thirty-one years ago. And manifested itself in paper. Everywhere. Magazines. Newspapers. Well, I have to admit that I'm glad that is gone.

Don't blame your smartphone for being a distraction. If it wasn't that, it might be something else.


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?


Intersecting thoughts about writing and unplugging

My daughter is home for a few days.  She's in the landing zone of her Master's, having one more paper to complete by June 29th.  Yesterday, after church, we were talking outside on the deck, and she mentioned that there is a convention in October where she hopes to present a paper.  This is an academic convention for English professors and students, and would involve her reading her paper aloud.  She's already completed the paper; it's just a matter of whether or not the organizers of the convention believe her contribution would be suitable.   They have an abstract, and will let her know.  If it's accepted, she will have to pare down the original, which was a submission for a seminar this past semester.  She said, if asked to present, she would have to make the original short enough to be read in fifteen minutes.  Her original was fifteen pages long, and would need to be trimmed down.

Fifteen pages.  That's a whole lot more than 1,000 words.

When was the last time I ever wrote anything of substance that was fifteen pages?  I think even when I was in university, the longest I ever was allowed came out to maybe eight or ten.  It takes a lot of concentration to research and write a fifteen page paper.  But that's what she does.  One thing she does not do a lot of is use the internet.  She does not have Facebook, uses Twitter only occasionally, and says she doubts she'll ever have a blog.  We chatted about how we feel the internet has caused people to be more distracted and unable to concentrate.

I read an article in the June issue of Tabletalk later which actually articulated some of our thoughts.  It's entitled "Christinaity Unplugged," by Scott Oliphint.  His opening question is "When was the last time you withdrew?" meaning, withdrawing from anyone else, like Jesus did when he went to pray.  Oliphint goes on to discuss our current society which is always plugged into something, and then described the brain's plasticity, "neuroplasticity:" 

The brain is kind of soft and supple clay.  Like clay, it can be formed and conformed; but like clay, it can gain a rigidity over time, once formed in a particular way.  If we train the brain to be distracted, it will "learn" that distraction is its normal mode of operation.  It will also "learn" that contempletion and thinking are foreign to its practice.

That's kind of a sobering thought in a world where most 16 years olds text, skype, listen to music, play video games, do homework, and Tweet simultaneously.  Will our kids grow to be people who know nothing about contemplation?

I'm not saying I will ever produce a 15 page paper, although I love the idea of that kind of dedicated writing, something where I'm immersed in the topic.   I just want to have the capacity to concentrate on something well enough to produce fifteen pages, even if it never sees the light of day, and remains on my computer.  More than that, I'd like to be able to dedicate my concentration to my studies of the Word of God to that degree.  There was a day when I could concentrate for longer periods of time when I study.  Now, I admit to getting distracted much more easily.  Sometimes, I think a laptop would be better than a desk top, because then I could put it somewhere where it didn't distract me while I worked.

As a Christian, I need to be able to withdraw.  I like how Oliphint closes his article:

A Christian who is serious about growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ will make technology a resourceful servant, not a mind-numbing master, and will commit to making a habit of withdrawing from it all in order to mold the mind, more and more, in conformity to the depth and truth of the Christian faith.