Monday, July 26, 2010

Technology & Simplicity

I'd like to think that this blog is evidence that the two titular ideas can coexist. Yes, I think machines are sometimes used for evil, but they can also be used for good in a way that no manual task can rival.

Still, there's something that's just not right about it all.

I watched another documentary (I'm way more into real life these days than fiction) called Digital Nation*. It's one from the PBS Frontline series. I watched it when my class was discussing the impact of technology on community. While most people are past the initial fear that the internet will Google-handedly send the world to hell in a handbasket, and while research suggests that social networking does not in fact make us socially inept in the "real world," I cannot escape the disgust I feel when I see two people having dinner together, both on cell phones. I cannot help but make awful faces when I see groups of students (the same students who would probably say that they wished they knew more people on campus) with headphones on, sitting next to each other, not saying a word.

I mean, there is something wrong with that, isn't there? I don't want to be an old fart, and I don't want to be hypocritical either (as I plunk away on a keyboard to a faceless audience), but my instincts tell me that we're missing out on something when we spend so much time plugged in. Mostly, that thing we're missing out on is the ability to appreciate real life. Of course the internet and cell phones and iPods are part of real life, but it's gotten to a point where those gadgets aren't just a part of real life; they are our lives or at least they are our way of life.

What happens when we are faced with the decision to play around on a bright screen with buttons, music, and people who care about our mundane lives or to clean the house or cook a meal or plant something? I know what I choose all too often. It's an addiction, an addiction of ease and self-centeredness. Just like drug addicts will say that real life doesn't give them the high that drugs do, I believe we're getting to the point where things without screens are ceasing to give us joy. The more we get away from the physical world, the emptier we feel, and the more we turn to the internet to stimulate us.

Again, I'm sure this is about finding a balance and using our modern technology to enhance, not govern, our lives. However, it seems that our world demands us to overuse technology. If I leave Facebook, I will not have as much contact with my friends, and some might even be upset with me. It's unrealistic to say that I could just remove myself from all this technology, and it isn't particularly smart of me to do that anyway because I would not be very well equipped to live in today's world. So, how do I find a balance between digital stimulation and real-life stimulation when the scales are tipped? This is a rhetorical question, but it's one that needs asking.

*There's a really interesting part in this program about multitasking. I started to go into it, but it's probably just better if you watch it yourself.

Friday, July 23, 2010

So this is what it's like... have your working life reflect the values of your home life and to have a life that feels continuous rather than compartmentalized.

My summer class is over. This class made a significant imprint on me. I've never taught a condensed (6 weeks instead of 15 weeks) course like this, and while I always enjoyed them as a student, I was unsure how I would feel about them as a teacher. It turns out, I feel even better about them now.

One factor that sets summer classes apart from other classes in general is the motivation coming from the students. First of all, they have motivation. Most people in a summer class are either catching up or getting ahead. Either way, they have a clear reason for being there, and that changes everything.

In regards to what I started off saying about compartmentalizing, this is something that came up during class. We talked about farmers, their connection to physical places, and the cyclical nature of the agrarian lifestyle. The writer-farmers that contributed to our textbook talked about the way that everything in their lives is challenging and fulfilling. They don't make a clear distinction between "work" and "home." It's all the same thing. I thought, "Wouldn't that be nice?" "Work" wouldn't have to be a place where you struggle to find satisfaction; it would just be a place where you continue being you. Likewise, of course, "home" would come with its own obstacles and efforts.

My life, of course, isn't what I would consider an ideal cycle like this, but this summer I was able to take something I want to learn more about and have an enthusiasm for into the workplace. For an entire semester, my (personal) life philosophy of simplification combined with my (professional) philosophy of empowering my students. I never felt like my values of one arena conflicted with the values of another. It was peaceful.

Many students in this class told me they enjoyed the class. Now, I've heard this before, but honestly, it always felt like they were saying, "We liked you." And that is nice. It is. But this semester does seem different in that I believe they actually enjoyed the class--the subjects we explored, the dynamics of the discussions, the occasional documentary, etc. The theme was community, and while we could argue over whether or not we are currently facing unique challenges with interacting with one another (or if it's been happening over time), the fact remains that students at a community college are or should be trying to figure out what roles they want to play in their communities. I don't think we ever came to any conclusions about anything, but we did all leave with something to think about and possibly even to do.

After just 6 weeks, I find that I'm truly sad to say goodbye to my class, but I am also thankful to have experienced it.

Monday, July 12, 2010

On planning

It's not a new thought to me that simplicity requires planning, but I'm becoming more keenly aware of it as I try to simplify.

Example: If I want to hang my clothes out to dry on the clothesline, I must plan to start the laundry so as to get the clothes outside by 11am; otherwise, they will not dry before dinner*. I must plan on doing laundry on nice days, and if the weather is cloudy but not rainy, I have to get the clothes outside earlier in the day.

Example: If I want to ride my bike into work, I must plan on changing my clothes or at least my shoes and pack my bag accordingly. I must plan on riding on days when I am not going to be carrying anything terribly heavy (a stack of essays or one extra book is crucial when most of your weight is perched on a bicycle seat) to or from work. I must plan to style my hair in such a way as to avoid getting it messed up from a bike helmet. I must also plan for the extra time it will take to get to/from.

Example: If I want to cook at home and eat more cleanly/simply (buying local produce, preparing healthy meals, etc.), I must plan a meal and buy groceries. I must plan for hunger so as to avoid making impulse fast-food purchases.

These are just a few. Like, I said, I'm not saying anything new here, but what I'm faced with is, again, a conflict between what I have come to value and what our culture values. We live in a "have it now" world thanks to the automobile, factories, strip malls, the internet, McDonald's, and plenty of other factors that give us instant gratification and make us crave immediacy. In general, if we want something, we like having the freedom to just hop in the car and go to the nearest Wal-Mart to get it.

Of course, what we have sacrificed for immediacy is long-term satisfaction. We are forever chasing quick-fixes to problems that were caused by quick-fixes.

This is something I have to remind myself when the planning gets irritating. Easy does not mean simple. Fast does not mean simple. And neither of these means happy.

*Often, the days that I hang clothes out to dry are also the days that Rich likes to BBQ, and I can't have the clothes hung up while the grill is producing smoke.