Accepting Technology

2020 Lesson Number Three: Technology is not always our friend, but we can come to terms with it

I do okay with many technologies, though I would never say I was an expert. I regularly use instructional technologies. This past spring, I did okay as I simultaneously learned several different virtual meeting platforms. For me, the challenging technologies are GPS technologies that require me to relinquish control in order to follow someone else’s directions to a place I have never previously traveled to.

I am a firm believer in maps and atlases and relying on one’s internal sense of direction. When I get in the car and I am not sure where I am going, I like to have a map and directions printed out and at the ready—especially if I need to double-check my route. Lately though, have been using GPS more often, and it makes me feel adventurous, spontaneous, and carefree, like I am a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of girl. I am not. Nor am I yet an avid fan of GPS. But I swallow my pride and use it because it is convenient and it saves paper.

I drive, and my Google gal narrates my trip via her built-in maps that are, apparently, updated regularly. And this is great, really. Except when she gets interrupted or distracted by a phone call, as she did back at Thanksgiving. While I was on the phone, she remained silent. Then again, there wasn’t much to narrate at that point since I was traveling on the same highway for several miles. Thankfully, my phone call ended just in time for her to continue my journey. I followed her directions (exactly, point-by-point), but when she announced I had arrived at my destination—a grocery store where I was to meet my daughter to bring her home for Thanksgiving—there was no store in sight. In fact, I was in a questionable section of a town I didn’t intend to be in. My “destination” seemed to be the warehouse of a moving company with lots of large moving trucks, but not much else. And there was no one around. Anywhere. I pulled into the parking lot, reset my GPS, and headed to my true destination, still 20 miles away.

And despite the way it might seem, that experience was a good one for me to have with my Google gal. That experience humanized GPS technology in my mind. It allowed me to see that I was right in my desire to have a back-up plan in place. But it also improved my relationship with my GPS.

Now, I affectionately refer to her as, “Girlfriend.” When she gives me directions (“take the next exit onto Route 2 east,” for example) I respond with, “You got it, Girlfriend!” When I cross a state line, she welcomes me to the new state. “Thanks, Girlfriend! You too!” I reply.

We have a new comfort level, me and my GPS. She does her best to lead me to my destination, and I, in turn, recognize that I may… or may not… arrive where I am going. But now I accept that any journey could become a grand adventure in an instant.

{Photo by Ali Kazal on Unsplash}

What you wish for…

2020 Lesson Number Two: Be careful what you wish for

Remember all those times you thought you wanted to stay home from work? You might have had visions of how nice it would be to switch jobs so you could work remotely every day? How many times did your kids express an interest in staying home from school, “I’ll get my work done from home, Mom. I won’t get behind. Besides, we’re not doing anything today, anyway. Or maybe I could do online school…?”

At some point in recent years, some of our students began to ask if they could email their papers to us rather than physically attend a writing appointment. While we had the technology, at the time, we held to our position that if students attended in-person classes, they should come see us so we could have a conversation about their papers. After all, it is much easier to ask questions and carry on a dialogue about what is working and not working in a piece of writing when we are sitting side-by-side with the writer.

The other day, I was listening to an interview on NPR in which they were talking to students about remote learning and Zoom classes. One of the younger children they interviewed—maybe 10 or 12 years-old—was talking about how difficult it is to sit in front of a computer all day. He mentioned that he wanted to be with his friends and be involved in activities with the people in his class. He said, “It’s hard,” and his voice shook a bit as he began to get emotional.

Sometimes, we think we want something, but we lack deep knowledge about what that thing might actually look like. We simply have a thought that it would be better than our current reality. No doubt, we have all day-dreamed about working from home at one point. But sometimes, when we have an opportunity to live out that dream, we realize we are wrong. Very wrong.

This is one of the valuable lessons we can take from this past year. While it might be okay to work from home some of the time, it is also really nice to interact with our co-workers and friends. It’s nice to discuss ideas, to work through them, to engage in office banter, and to go for walks when we need a quick break. It is nice—and highly valued—to interact with people in real life. To engage in conversation and to connect in ways that can be challenging in scheduled one-hour virtual meetings. It is nice to be able to say to someone, “Hey, I’m going to the cafeteria. Do you need anything?” or “You look like you could use a break. Why don’t you step away from your desk for a few minutes?”

Sometimes, we forget how vital human connection can be–and not connection through an electronic screen. But when we are without it for too long, we begin to appreciate how very much we rely on others for simple things—a hello or good morning, a quick chat and a laugh or two, and a break from a tedious task—and we begin to appreciate how much of “normal” life we’ve been missing.

{Photo by my beautiful daughter}

Giving presence

My most important lesson from 2019: be present.

In recent weeks, I have spent a great deal of time observing life around me and considering the manner in which many people function in their day to day lives. I have bumped into people who were not watching where they were going (or rather… they bumped into me). I have had to engage in evasive maneuvers to avoid people who were texting: texting and driving, texting and walking, texting and pushing a grocery cart, texting and living.

Texting and living. Is that what we want? Sorry, I didn’t hear you. [I was distracted by my phone]. No matter where we go—the grocery store, a restaurant, the movie theater—people are on their phones. It used to be we went out to dinner at a restaurant so we could socialize and talk to our friends—those at the table with us. Now, the people at the table are busy texting the people who aren’t at the table. Hey, where are you? Look at this great meal you are missing.

I missed seeing you score your goal, kiddo. [I was texting my friend]. If you are going to take the time to attend your child’s game or go to dinner with friends or venture out hiking or go anywhere, really, do those things fully. Be in the moment. Take in all that your surroundings have to offer—enjoy the sights and sounds, experience the joys, and make the memories. By paying attention to each of the five senses, you can lock in amazing memories that will remain with you forever. Believe it or not, your neighbor’s post on social media will still be there when you return to Facebook/Instagram/Twitter in an hour or two. As will your friend’s text.

Sorry… I just have to respond to this [text, email, FB post…]. Because somehow, it won’t be there later. The message here is that the person standing right in front of you is not as important as what’s happening on your phone—the people who are elsewhere in your life, but texting you. As someone who grew up in the era of landlines without call waiting or voicemail, I can tell you with one hundred percent certainty that if someone wants to talk to you, they will wait for your response. Or they will text/call you again eventually. Why jump on each text, phone call, or post immediately? Our current world and technology have taught us that we can expect an immediate response. But why are we buying in to that?

Texting and living is not what I want for my life. My goal for 2020 is to take a lesson from the last weeks of 2019 and really work to be present in life. There is no better gift you can give to yourself and to those around you than to pay attention, listen, and be present for them.

{Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash}

Unexpected Hedgehog

This unexpected hedgehog landed in my house last night, a graduation present from my daughter’s homeroom teacher. At our high school, homeroom teachers work with the same group of students through four years, and my daughter had developed a jovial rapport with this teacher. The hedgehog thing had started out as a joke at a banquet last week and evolved into this little bugger, a wonder that will provide oodles of hours of entertainment in my house.

Throughout Monday afternoon, I heard there was a hedgehog coming with W, the only child still in school this late in the spring. Last night, I came downstairs to find a clear plastic cylindrical container cast aside on the table where J was eating ice cream, and C was inserting batteries into the hedgehog in question.

“Batteries?” I questioned. “What does it do?”

“Apparently, it talks,” he responded, setting it down on the kitchen table. The three of us watched it, waiting. For what, we didn’t know. C picked it up and squeezed it. Nothing.

“How do you get it to work?” I asked. The hedgehog vibrated on the table and made a whimpering noise.

“I don’t know,” C shrugged. “The instructions are in Chinese.” Again, the little guy vibrated, moving in a circle, and whined something unintelligible.

“It’s talking, but I can’t understand it.” Another quick noise emerged. We watched the cute little toy as if something magical was going to happen, all the while trying to figure out what it was saying.

“I don’t know,” stated C, and he started to exit the room. He turned around and looked at the hedgehog on the table. “Alexa!” he shouted jokingly.

The hedgehog danced in a circle on the table. “Alexa!” it replied back, an octave higher. I gasped, nearly choking on the grapes I was stuffing into my mouth. My jaw dropped as did the jaws of the two others in the room. We stared at the hedgehog.

“Alexa!” C shouted again, just to see if it was a fluke.

“Alexa!” the hedgehog said back. We all began to laugh.

“That is awesome! It really does talk!” one of the kids said, loudly enough that the little device could “hear” and easily repeat.

“…Awesome. It really does talk!” the hedgehog repeated with near perfect intonation, as it danced in a circle.

The kids tried out several more words and phrases, each time being met with a reply repeated in the hedgehog’s cute voice. Finally, we turned it off, still laughing at the experience of discovering the silliness of this toy.

“When you go to work tomorrow, I’m going to play with that,” I informed J. “I can’t wait!” I smiled and winked. Unfortunately, when J left for work today, C got to the hedgehog first.

But that’s okay. I have the whole summer to talk to this silly little toy!

 

Classroom Etiquette

As a teacher, I spend some time in the front of a classroom. Because of the nature of my full-time work—one-on-one academic support—I generally teach only one face-to-face class each year, but it is enough for me to track the changes in educational engagement through the years. Or is it?

As I stand in front of the class, with students working away on their computers, I (used to) make the assumption that they are taking notes or otherwise engaging in educational activities that will ultimately enhance their learning. That’s what I want to believe, so I create that reality in my head.

Fast forward to this summer, when I am taking a face-to-face class. This is the first time I have been a student in a physical classroom in many years, though I won’t say how many. I mean, I have attended various trainings (as recently as this past February) which mimic a classroom situation, but in those “classrooms,” it always seems as though people are interested in learning the material so they can bring it back to their own workplaces and put it to use.

This week was my second class in a summer-long Masters-level research class. I am not in a degree program; I am taking the class because I have research I want to conduct, and I don’t really know the best way to start. At this week’s class, one of my work colleagues was seated on my right. She and I were actively taking notes, discussing the topic, and beginning to get excited about our research projects.

On my left sat a fellow classmate, a young woman I have seen before, but I don’t know. She arrived right before the class started, took out her computer, and immediately picked up a message stream that she had left mid-conversation. To her credit, she also opened a document window where she could take notes during the 2+ hour class.

Class began, and she continued to occupy herself with messaging. Somehow this new generation of students hasn’t learned that they can say, “Hey, I’m in class right now. I’ll message you later,” and they don’t find it important to do so.

But this woman wasn’t engaged in class at all. Before 4:30, she removed a glass container from her bag and opened it on the desk. Inside was a nice looking dinner salad. She removed another container from her bag, opened it, and poured dressing onto the salad. Then she spent the next fifteen minutes crunching away on her dinner. (Did I mention this is a two-hour class? Have a snack before class, and you can have dinner at 6:15). When she was done, she dropped her metal fork into the glass container (not even attempting to be quiet), snapped the cover on, and put the container back in her bag. Then, she promptly returned to messaging her friend.

While I was trying to pay attention to the professor and concentrate on the material, I had developed a deep curiosity as to this woman’s non-stop in-class extra-curricular activities. Weren’t these activities just as effective when done from one’s couch in the comfort of one’s living room? Why would someone commit the time and money to a class when she wasn’t going to exert any effort beyond being physically present?

When I looked at her computer screen again, she was browsing the Crate & Barrel website, scrolling through dishes. The woman sitting to her left was commenting on the ones she liked best. In class. While the professor was lecturing. Clearly, taking a class means something different to these women than it does to me.

Perhaps I have an archaic notion of classroom behavior, left over from my student days long before the advent of portable computers. However, I don’t believe that respect for someone teaching a class has completely gone by the wayside. And I know for certain from all the studies I read that the best way to learn is to actively engage with the material.

We are only two classes in, and this experience has been eye opening for me. When I stand in front of my class in September—a class that is designed to help students make connections, discover how to learn, and serve as a foundation and resource for college life—I will tell my students that our classroom will be technology-free. Because sometimes, the best way to learn how to make connections is to disconnect.

Apps

“There’s an app for that.”

It seems there’s an app for everything these days. I have this growing list of apps that I’m supposed to check out because they are all the rage and using them will be life changing. Today, as I was cleaning off my desk at work, I came across a post-it note that had just one word: “Wunderlist.” So I spent a few minutes Googling Wunderlist and wondering what it was about this app that was so compelling. Like so many other apps that have been recommended to me, this one will help me organize my life. I can make lists, set reminders, create folders, share my lists, collaborate with friends….

It seems that these days, apps are designed to do everything for me except the actual tasks that need to be done. Like shopping for groceries, for example. And cooking dinner. Or finding a recipe or cleaning the house. An app that schedules these things, lists all my tasks, and reminds me to do them is not really what I need. After all, wouldn’t I have to spend the time to input the list into the app in the first place? That requires time spent not doing the actual tasks….

While I’m sure these apps are notable—as someone has recommended them to me in the first place—they are not what I need.

I don’t want to organize my life. I want to simplify my life. And by simplify, I mean I want to stop relying on technology to make my life easier. I want to interact with the people around me. I want to enjoy nature, climb a mountain, play in the tide. I want to be present as I live my life. I want to be mindful enough to observe what is going on around me. And I want to be reflective about who I am, what I’m doing, and who I am becoming.

Apparently, “There’s an app for that.”

Nope. I don’t think so.

Forbidden

I have all manner of items—ranging from helpful to slightly odd—stuck to my refrigerator with magnets. I have magnets with helpful information—the non-emergency number for the local fire department, the hours for the dump, my plumber’s contact information. I have photos of my kids when they were much younger, the rehearsal schedule for the high school theater department, information for an upcoming summer camp job, a small calendar, and various magnets and magnetic clips.

Some things have been on my refrigerator for so long that they have become invisible to me. For example, one day last week, I suddenly noticed I still had a 2017 full year calendar stuck on the refrigerator. It had obviously arrived as a Christmas card in 2016, and it hadn’t been moved since. Until last week when I re-noticed it.

But the most unusual item on my fridge—depending on your perspective—was brought to my attention over the weekend. C was home from college for spring break, and while he was waiting for his bagel to toast, he was studying the items on the fridge. I had gone to the basement to get something, and when I returned, he said, “Hey Mom?”

“Yeah?” I responded.

“What’s this note on the fridge with the phone number that says ‘Do Not Call’?”

I burst out laughing because something that seemed so harmless to me suddenly took on a much more ominous and taunting quality. A post-it note with a phone number that we were not to call. Perhaps I was provoking my kids to see if they would take the bait and call this forbidden phone number.

Really, that was not it at all. I had been at work one day when I received one too many robo-calls on my cell phone. I contacted my carrier, and they gave me the number for the national “do not call” list. I had called, but now my kids needed to call from their own numbers. I had scrawled the number on this paper, and carefully labeled it, so I wouldn’t forget, and then, I stuck it on the fridge, so it wouldn’t get lost.

But my son’s interpretation of this note has given me an idea. If you suddenly find a note like this around your house, it’s probably not the national “do not call” registry, so I would suggest you not call it. Just don’t ask me where the note came from….

Courage

I am at that point in my family life when my children are starting to wander farther, stretch their wings, and take on more responsibilities and adventures of their own. As I send them out into the world, I often think about advice I would like to give them. What I wish for them is the same thing I wish for everyone: the courage to take on the challenges they will face. And so, as you head out into the world, this week and in the weeks to come…

I wish you the courage to pursue your passions with persistence. Now, pursing one’s passion doesn’t mean being irresponsible. It’s important to go after what you want in life, especially if it matters to you. If your passion doesn’t [yet] allow for financial stability, you can still pursue it around the work that does bring the paycheck. Or better yet, you might work to figure out a way to weave your passion into your gainful employment.

I wish you the courage to be true to yourself. But in order to be true to yourself, you need to know who you are. That knowledge requires connecting with your very core. If you can connect to who you are on the core level, you will be able to connect with others in the most authentic way. And if you connect with people who know who you are on the deepest level and are okay with your core identity, the rest will fall into place.

I wish you the courage to stand up for the causes you believe in. I wish you the courage to step in when needed and step up when challenged. The causes you truly believe in will connect with your core identity and help to strengthen it. And hopefully, they will promote justice and freedom and peace—maybe on a personal level, but maybe on a global level. Either way, if you stand up for the causes you believe in, you will promote your authenticity and make way for a better, brighter world.

And finally, I wish you the courage to stay in the present. In this day and age, it is so difficult not to focus on the future at the expense of the present. And it is also difficult not to get caught up in electronics and devices and social media, so much so that you don’t enjoy the here and now and the experiences that are right in front of you. But if you don’t focus on the present, you may miss out on a valuable moment with those who mean the most.

As you head out to start a new week, don’t forget your courage!

Painfully Obvious

Yesterday morning, I awoke from an odd and somewhat unsettling dream. At first, I wasn’t really aware of what was unsettling, only that something wasn’t right. The dream was one in which I was interacting with people—one, a friend from childhood who I hadn’t seen recently, and the other, a woman I knew of but had never met.

I was sitting between the two of them. The woman to my right was wearing a bright sweater—striped in bold blues, yellow, and teal—and I noted that it was knit from the same yarn I had used to make a scarf. This fact intrigued me, and I got stuck on the bold colors and the coincidence. I listened as she talked, and I responded, but through our conversation, I never looked directly at her. Somehow, I just knew who she was.

As I looked back on the dream, I realized that I was unable to look at either of these two people, unable to see their faces. It wasn’t that they didn’t have faces in my dream. It was that I couldn’t look at their faces. This one small but important fact made the dream very unsettling.

As I moved through my day trying to process this strange dream, I came across an article in the New York Times that discussed Smartphone addiction and its effects on us and on our children. Sherry Turkle, a social scientist, “found that children now compete with their parents’ devices for attention, resulting in a generation afraid of the spontaneity of a phone call or face-to-face interaction. Eye contact now seems to be optional” (Popescu). If we are not making eye contact, if we are not looking at the people we are interacting with, we are not fully experiencing the moment, the conversation, the relationship.

And this article brought me back to my dream. No doubt, the dream emerged from the stress of adjusting to the hectic schedule of a new teaching assignment added to my other responsibilities. The need to juggle so many different pieces often takes away from my ability to be in the moment, experiencing interactions and relationships as fully as I might. This juggling ties me to my computer and keeps me connected to technology.

If we pay attention, our dreams can tell us things we didn’t already know, but sometimes they hit us over the head with the painfully obvious. The other night, I had one of those dreams and I woke up confused, but as the day wore on, I began to see how this dream fit into my life and the message I needed to gain from it.

I am a creature of habit. I do things because they work in some important way. Or maybe because they have worked at some point in the past, in some other iteration of my life. Perhaps, if I were to really examine what I have been doing, these things might not be addressing my current needs. They might not be feeding my soul. Maybe it’s time to reevaluate and restructure in important ways that will permit me to grow with the changes in my life.

And maybe it’s time we all recognize that by not interacting with others—over dinner, over the phone, standing in line, etc.—we are doing our children a disservice. It is up to us to teach them how to interact with us, with each other, and with the strangers they will encounter on a daily basis. Perhaps it’s time we recognize that technological connection is minimal and human connection… it’s everything.

Tools for Online Pursuits

As a mom, I feel it is my job to make sure my children know everything they need to know when I send them out into the world, but there are two problems with that. First, how could I possibly know all that they will need to know? And second, I can’t keep up with the ever-changing world to make sure my children are fully protected with an armor of knowledge. I can only give them tools they will need to build their own armor and change it as necessary. And the tools they will need are constantly evolving.

Take the recent situation of one of my students as an example. She did everything as she thought she should, yet she still got stuck in a situation that seemed a bit sketchy. Thankfully, she recognized enough signs of danger to seek advice.

I entered the situation as she was negotiating feelings of mounting unease around a potential job opportunity. She had responded to an interesting job posting she found on a professor’s course site, a seemingly legit opportunity because of where she found it. She applied, and—through communication completely via text message—was asked to attend an interview, which she did. But the interview situation was a bit off. First, the student was greeted by the father of a client (here is where age and experience are beneficial—those of us who have been in the real world for any amount of time know that a professional organization would never have a client greet a potential worker in the first interview.)

When the interviewer finally did show up, she was dressed in leggings and a t-shirt and made excuses about the work not being conducive to business attire. Both of these things caught my student off guard, and made her more attentive to her feelings about this job.

It wasn’t until the following week that she dug in her heels. The woman texted my student that she had scheduled an orientation session before the second interview—in fact, it was before she had officially been offered a job—and it would be that afternoon. The student was given an address and a time and told to bring her identification documents.

It seemed like an odd turn of events, and this is where I started asking questions: What is the name of the company? Where are they located? What will you be doing? When she could answer none of these questions, we sat down and did some research. We looked up the address that she had been given for her “orientation.” Google maps gave us a nondescript office building on which there was no company name. We Googled any and all information the student had, but we came up with no more answers than when we started. At that point, I advised her to forgo this particular job and look for something more certain.

A few days later, she and I sat with the Career Planning director to figure out where the job posting had originated and how best to deal with it. The director had the same advice that I had already given the student. Even if this was a legitimate job offer, the company was so unprofessional that she didn’t want to work there, anyway.

In truth, there is no way of knowing what might have happened if my student ignored her instincts and went to the orientation session. However, this situation got me to thinking about how best to guide my children as they navigate the tangled web of the “business” aspects of the online environment.

Teach your children—and any young people you are in contact with—to be aware of fraud and scams such as this may have been. Teach them to look for inconsistencies, to be alert to potential problems, and help them to determine when something is legitimate and when it is not. The fact that there was no searchable company information on this job posting was the first of many red flags.

Let your kids know that the rules of safety in social situations also apply to any other situation that is unknown—professional opportunities, buying/selling items off Internet sites, meet-up groups, etc. Bring a buddy, let others know where you are, check in, and meet in a neutral and public location.

If things don’t seem to add up, don’t pretend they do or dismiss any warning signs. It is easy to excuse one issue. Okay, the interviewer is dressed for comfort because the company works with children. However, when there are two things that don’t add up, three, or four, pay attention. The pieces don’t fit together because the situation may not be what it seems to be.

Encourage your teens/young adults to listen to their instincts. That “bad feeling” you have? It’s there to warn you. Too often, we encourage ourselves to deny our gut reactions to situations. Animals are equipped with instinct to protect them from harm. We, too, are animals, and if we pay attention to our instincts, they will help to guide and protect us.

Teach them to ask for help when they need it. If young people need advice about a situation, or they are feeling threatened, they shouldn’t hesitate to seek help—even if that means making some noise. And likewise, if you see a young person who seems to be struggling or needs some advice, step in and offer to help them out. So many young people are left to figure out the subtleties of life, of growing up, on their own, and they may welcome the guidance an older, more experienced adult.