Tag Archives: technology

But what are we changing into?

Yesterday I talked about coming to grips with the rapid pace of technological change. But today I’ll take a step back and ask: what are we changing into? What are we gaining? What are we losing?

Our brains are changing. Scientific American recently published an article, “How Google is Changing Your Brain,” pointing out that quick access to the cloud is changing the way we think. We use the Internet to get information we used to get by asking friends and family — essentially, as an external hard drive. Yes, indeed. I bought a Kindle Fire because my kids keep asking me questions, and although I don’t know the answer, I can get it in just a few seconds. Yesterday my daughter asked me what a Rube Goldberg device was. It was right at bedtime, so I gave her the accelerated version with hand gestures: “Ping, ping, roll, crash, clatter clatter pop — ding!” But then, once their teeth were brushed, I googled it, read Rube Goldberg’s biography, and showed them two youtube videos of Rube Goldberg devices.

Whoops! That violated our house rule of “no screen time just before bedtime.” And sure enough, bedtime was late and everyone woke up groggy. Screens are so very tempting.

The kids use computers way more than I’d like them to. Sure, I set limits, but they’re higher than mine were when I was a kid, and it’s easy to slide. Even easier if I’m on the computer when I didn’t mean to be. The temptation’s higher, too. When I was a kid, “screen time” wasn’t a word. It was “TV.” And it was broadcast TV, which meant that it had a predictable beginning and end. When the Muppet Show was over, we turned the TV off.

On the flip side, what the kids are doing with their screen time is a bit mindblowing. They’re playing Minecraft, a game that’s a lot more than a game. At its core, Minecraft is a 3D building program. They make buildings, trains, you-name-it. Their spatial skills probably already exceed mine. And very likely, they’re learning stuff they’ll need in tomorrow’s world. They’re also programming in Scratch, a language designed especially for kids.

But what’s being lost? Easy. Exercise and reading. Exercise was already in trouble, because most kids don’t roam the neighborhood freely. Too many cars and too many parents afraid of child molesters. But screen time is so tempting, they get even less. As for reading, my kids read, yes, but not as much as I did.

In fact, I don’t read books as much as I used to. I read blog posts, Facebook entries, and links from the Facebook entries. This gives me less opportunity to just cuddle down with a book and lose an hour in pleasant concentration. In fact, when I do have that opportunity, my mind races a bit. It’s used to speedy browsing. I have to always remind myself to slow down, unplug, enjoy the life right in front of me. And teach my kids to do it too.

There’s some kind of balance to be struck here, but I don’t know what it is. How can I? Our world, and the people in it, are changing. Into what?

I don’t have an answer. Do you?

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On entering the 21st century

I’ll admit it: I’m having some trouble coping with the proliferation of doodads in the twenty-first century. Smartphone, Iphones, Ipods, Ipads, bluetooth, PS3s, Xbox 1s, Kinect, cams, blueray, thumb drives, kindles, Android, chargers of every make and model, cigarette chargers for the ipod, battery packs for phones, charging, running out of batteries, charging, losing your phone, cameras locking up, ipods locking up, miskeying phone numbers, screens going black unexpectedly, GPS vertigo. You know? I’m the sort of person who hangs on to old technologies (paper and pencil, for instance) with my fingernails, while the future grabs me by the waist and pulls me forward. I still own the old cell phone I bought eleven years ago, under protest.

It wasn’t always like this. I was one of the very first people to use computers, back in the olden days. My dad, a computer programmer, used to bring me into work to play Adventure on his company’s mainframes. Big, big, enormous things! They had to have their own room and their own air conditioners. And I was one of the first people to use a modem. My dad brought it home, cradled our telephone on it, and we listened as it squeaked and squawked and blipped into the line, speaking to the mainframe on the other end. We used it to play Pong. I loved it all. And I loved my first scientific calculator. I read the instruction manual front to back and learned all about exponents, sines, and cosines. And I loved my first VCR. Again, I learned it front to back. (Is it any wonder I became a technical writer?) In college I learned how to do all sorts of things on UNIX (precursor to Linux).

The new technologies were fascinating, exciting, and took a lot of brains. But compared to the devices that are coming out now, they were downright straightforward. I miss that. Everything is happening so fast, and the graphical interfaces keep changing, and I’m thinking that in five years we’ll need to be rocket scientists just to keep track of which charger goes with which device.

However . . . the times, they are a-changing. And so must I! I’m married to a programmer and have two children who are increasingly tech-savvy. I can grouse all I want, but I’m going to have to learn to type on a cell phone keyboard even though it looks patently impossible for my huge finger to accurately tap the tiny keys.

I got an Ipod Nano for my birthday, and I’ve been gradually poking around with Itunes, figuring out how to do this and that. Over the weekend, I figured out how to check out a digital audiobook from the library and put it on the Ipod. Score! And yesterday, I very nearly figured out how to subscribe to a podcast. I clicked the “Subscribe” button, and it said I was subscribed, but it downloaded nothing. Off to do some google searching, I guess. I finally managed to download one episode and listen to it. It was fabulous! I picked Verity Podcast, a Doctor Who podcast in which six women from around the world natter on about Doctor Who. I am now listening to Episode 32 – “Doctor Stew is Required.” All six are having a blast dissecting the Christmas Special, “Time of the Doctor.” Everyone has different viewpoints and insights. Just lovely.

Future, here I come.