Geezers, Learning Curves & Technology

learning curve.3 learning curve.2 technology

Technology, for anyone born after 1980, is part of your language. But the rest of us? It’s like learning to speak in tongues. And learning curves do not always move smoothly upward.

Suppose you grew up thinking a drop down window simply had a broken sash cord – if you’re born after 1980 you probably don’t know what sash cords are anyway – and right click was something you did with castanets? And your brain is wired to hit the return lever at the end of every line, but you’re suddenly supposed to know where the tool bar with the back button is, and you thought a back button was something that fastened to a loop at the top of your blouse? You get the picture.

Well, no, you don’t get the picture, that’s the problem.

Getting the picture onto the blog post takes us right back to the language issue: we know those free-use illustrations are out there, but where and how to find them and — more to the point — how to get them from Point A (wherever they are) to Point B (above) is hidden in the mystery language of WordPress and the internet. Friends, some born after 1980, try to help. They install PhotoBucket, they study Windows Live Photo Gallery, they try to explain Flickr or Paint or Pinterest. The learning curve flatlines.

Enter my techie friend Ryan. He may have been born before 1980 but not much before if so. Ryan speaks WordPress.

All you have to know, he explains, is to Google the topic, click on Images, make the magic Usage Rights appear by clicking on the Search Tools, save to your Desktop (which used to be a flat pine surface.) Then on your WordPress dashboard (which used to be in the car) click Edit on the screen below Title, click once on the photo, which brings up the magic pencil, which will lead you to the boxes, and more pencils and a few more choices. Simple. Of course.

Here’s the bottom line: I hope you like those THREE illustrations.

 

How smart is your phone, really?

telephone
telephone (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Is your phone smarter than you?

Smarter than both of us?

Gadget guru David Pogue‘s phone outsmarted the thief who unwisely lifted it on a train whizzing along the northeast coastline. Pogue, as reported in an interview with PBS NewsHour‘s Jeffery Brown, arrived in New York minus his phone, and immediately set to work tracking it down. With a little help from an app or two, he located it somewhere in Maryland. Then, with a little more help from Google maps and a million+ Twitter followers, he located the precise house where the hapless thief and his booty were holed up. A few astute policemen eventually heard the loud beeps that Pogue was instructing his phone to emit, scooped up their prey from deep in the grass of the back yard and started it on a journey home. The thief got off lightly — Pogue and cops all being more interested in bringing the whole interstate adventure to a close than in filing a lot of time-&-labor-intensive papers. But for a while he’ll probably stick to wallets.

My phone is not quite that smart. But I do, after intense pressure from friends and relations about the age of Pogue — whose grandmother is about my age I would guess — now have a smartphone. It may not be smart enough (or app-loaded enough) to help me find it if someone snatches it, but it is smart enough to do a LOT of things I am not smart enough to ask. Yet.

I bring all this up because I increasingly believe all that stuff about Boomers and geezers being incapable of adjusting to the age of technology is hogwash. Before becoming a smartphone owner, OK, maybe I believed. Now? Nahh. Now that I have successfully installed our new computer modem, reconfigured the router (take that, $89/hr Geek Squad) to get us back online a couple of weeks ago, fiddled around with the background color of this emerging blogsite and made a few moves with my smartphone……. all things are possible.

And anyway. David Pogue wasn’t smart enough to avoid getting his iPhone snatched. I don’t think he even has a BA in Art or an MFA in Short Fiction.

Is technology addiction messing with your brain?

my brains - let me show you them
Image by Liz Henry via Flickr

This is your life? Beginning at breakfast — or perhaps earlier, in the bathroom — one sizable screen with multiple streams of news, stock reports and data updates across the bottom; tweets in a box on the left; the iPhone nearby holding stacked up e-mails, IMs and calls that went into the mailbox? If so, you are not alone. As a matter of fact, it seems almost no one is alone, or disconnected from technological communications, any more. In the words of New York Times writer Matt Richtel, “This is your brain on computers.”

Scientists say juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information can change how people think and behave. They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information.

These play to a primitive impulse to respond to immediate opportunities and threats. The stimulation provokes excitement — a dopamine squirt — that researchers say can be addictive. In its absence, people feel bored.

The resulting distractions can have deadly consequences, as when cellphone-wielding drivers and train engineers cause wrecks. And for millions of people … these urges can inflict nicks and cuts on creativity and deep thought, interrupting work and family life.

While many people say multitasking makes them more productive, research shows otherwise. Heavy multitaskers actually have more trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information, scientists say, and they experience more stress.

Richtel follows a family of four through their technology-addicted lives: they go on an oceanside vacation, but soon are all on their electronic devices; one day at the beach is mercifully unplugged. But on routine days, few moments are unplugged.

“And scientists are discovering,” Richtel reports, that even after the multitasking ends, fractured thinking and lack of focus persist. In other words, this is also your brain off computers.”

“The technology is rewiring our brains,” said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse and one of the world’s leading brain scientists. She and other researchers compare the lure of digital stimulation less to that of drugs and alcohol than to food and sex, which are essential but counterproductive in excess.

Technology use can benefit the brain in some ways, researchers say. Imaging studies show the brains of Internet users become more efficient at finding information. And players of some video games develop better visual acuity.

More broadly, cellphones and computers have transformed life. They let people escape their cubicles and work anywhere. They shrink distances and handle countless mundane tasks, freeing up time for more exciting pursuits.

For better or worse, the consumption of media, as varied as e-mail and TV, has exploded. In 2008, people consumed three times as much information each day as they did in 1960. And they are constantly shifting their attention. Computer users at work change windows or check e-mail or other programs nearly 37 times an hour, new research shows.

The nonstop interactivity is one of the most significant shifts ever in the human environment, said Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco.

“We are exposing our brains to an environment and asking them to do things we weren’t necessarily evolved to do,” he said. “We know already there are consequences.”

We just don’t fully understand what those consequences might be. This space worries. Couldn’t we get our adrenaline the old-fashioned way?

Your Brain on Computers – Attached to Technology and Paying a Price – NYTimes.com.

So many pills… so little memory

If you’ve ever had a serious or chronic illness you know the routine: a line-up of all the little pills beside the breakfast plate, or maybe one of those little-old-lady boxes with a cubicle for each day, or perhaps a high-end color-coded wheel of medical fortune.

Now, it turns out, for a mere $100+ or so you can have a machine that does it all for you. Counts out the pills, spits them into a little cup, rings a bell when it’s time to pop another, calls your family if you skip something. When technology can address an issue, count on someone to perfect it. Even if its complexity boggles the mind.

Actually, for aging adults who must rely on a whole bunch of pills, these devices turn out to be a real boon. We learned this in a news release just out from the Center for Technology and Aging, through its Medication Optimization Position Paper, which is far more useful than its tongue-twisting name would have you believe.

The Center for Technology and Aging, a non-profit organization that was founded in 2009 with a grant from The SCAN Foundation (www.thescanfoundation.org,) is affiliated with the Public Health Institute (www.phi.org). It aims to find and advance technologies that help older adults stay independent and lead healthier lives — including technology for monitoring patients, for helping with tasks, social networking… and keeping track of pills.

It turns out, there are pill-counting wonders of every sort and price range. So if you can’t remember which vitamin comes before which super-drug, or you think Mom and Dad won’t remember, there’s a tech-app for that.

Texting as anti-social networking

A faithful reader of this space, among the several faithful readers enjoyed by this space, weighed in on the texting truck driver (see Sept. 27th below) to say I ought to write about the real problem: texting while conversing. Conversational texting may not be as lethal, except in terms of mortally wounded relationships, but it does indeed seem a growing threat to humankind.

We checked with several members of the Under Twenty generation (is there a generational designation for today’s teens and sub-teens?) who assure us they would never be guilty of such a thing but we’re not convinced they’re telling the whole truth. It is the Boomers and Beyonders, though, who have come late to this perpetual connectedness and pose the greater threat. Faithful Reader confessed to having a close personal relation whom she is about to disinherit because he will not stop surreptitiously, perpetually, rudely texting beneath the table while pretending to carry on a conversation. Or sometimes not even bothering to pretend.

In a former life I had a husband — I no longer have this particular husband — who was prone to walk into a room, immediately pick up the remote and click on whatever ball game happened to be in progress. Guests found this disconcerting; wife found it maddening. The message, similar to the message of incessant texting-while -supposedly-conversing is that something afar is infinitely more important than anything at hand.

If you are a reader of this space, you are surely too cultured and polite to commit inappropriate texting. But you are invited to e-mail it to any texting truckers or friends you may have, in the interest of general civility.