Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Death, Deliberation & Technology

In ninth grade biology class, we had to dissect a fish. I was fairly squeamish and my partner, a boy, noticed my weakness. By the end of class, one boy was holding my hands open while the other put fish eyes into my hands. I was furious. I insisted they be sent to the principal's office to be disciplined for assault. They saw it as a prank. Our teacher reluctantly sent them to the office. I can't say I have improved much over the years. I still hate to touch dead animals though admittedly I do eat meat more than I should considering my strong feelings. However, those pieces of meat come wrapped in cellophane or freezer bags removed from the skins and eyes that elicit my panic. If I had to kill the chickens like my great grandmother did, I wonder how much chicken I would eat?

My husband is in the hospital tonight, doing better, but of course this is the night a giant spider appears in the munster's room just as I get them into bed. I know I have to keep it together, but still I get the creeps with anything moving around. I tried convincing them to go to sleep, and it would go away, but that was a no go. I got "Mr. Freeze" which is a can of gas that is negative eighty-five degrees when you spray it. You have to get kind of close to freeze a bug.

I chase the spider across the top of the wall with a trail of freezing cold spray, then we hit the corner, and he becomes an ice cube except he is now frozen to the wallpaper. I can't do it; I can't remove it. The clock ticks, minutes go by, the munsters beg me to remove the frozen spider. Finally, it drops to the floor. I tell the munsters I cannot pick it. The Moose says, "Mama, face your fears!" I reply, "I can't do it Moose. Can you please do it?" Brave Moose that he is, he does it. The Mule offers to open the toilet lid for him; it is an excuse to get out of bed. I call out, "Say a blessing to send the spider off!" The Moose says, "There is pee in the toilet!" They laugh then the Mule says, "Poor spider!" They flush the spider with the pee back to the primal source of all life, water. One creepy crawly and I am done in.

I listened to a podcast from On Being on my drive to the hospital today. Krista Tippet interviewed Shelly Turkle, a professor from MIT who discusses technology and Social Science in a show called "Alive Enough?" Ms. Turkle talked about how children define something as alive from Piaget's work using bicycles, stones, dolls, and clouds, and stretched this into her work with robots and computers and how children see them as alive. The focus of their discussion was about integrating technology into life. I was interested in their concerns for what is left behind, the legacy, and some issues about how we use technology: there will be no letters in the basement, no pictures stashed in a box, nor piles of books to sort through that reveal an inner life; people tend to be more positive on Facebook; and we are watching our gadgets and not our children. Ms. Turkle says, "you can be too busy communicating to think." She talks about reacting to inputs (email) versus being in your own head and having thoughts. They discuss using technology "deliberately" to gain meaning- politics in the Middle East and in web discussions where all are equal versus conference rooms where most hold back. The book is Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.

The Moose asked me tonight while he was staring at the map from a Johnny Thunder Lego set, "Are there gold TVs buried in treasure boxes?" I laughed and tried to explain that TV is relatively new so back in the ancient days of Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks, there were no TVs. My kids' idea of watching TV is really watching Youtube videos- mostly Legos Youtube videos. The Moose's current ambition in life is to make a Legos video. I just don't have the energy to put into making it the way he wants. I would have to learn stop something animation and spend time editing it on the computer. There is not enough time for that. I want him to write the stories; he wants to skip the whole learning process and go straight to the movie.

I love that I can lie in my bed, look up things I can't remember on the web, write something in solitude, and share it with anyone in the world who chooses to read it thanks to technology. I love that I can watch and listen to podcasts of events I would either never have gone to like the TED Talks or shows like On Being that used to play only on my radio at a set time on a set day of the week. However, I am not one who walks with an iPod in my ears. When I notice myself thinking about writing something instead of living it, I try to jot a note for later or simply to let it go. I did sit at my sleeping husband's bedside today and do some internet shopping. It felt strange. I also stared out the window which overlooks the water. You have to have real stuff in order to not be overwhelmed by the unreal- visit real people, chat face to face, watch the clouds drift....

In 1982 my family moved from Florida to Spain. We made tape recordings to send home once in a while, but phone calls were expensive, email nonexistent, the letter was the standby, and there was no TV in English. Living abroad has certainly gotten easier because of technology. Now I have a voice over internet phone, email, Skype, the web, Facebook, and the postal system to help me stay connected. Sometimes, I am glad I am out of the loop- no political ads blaring away, few of my neighbors can bend my ear since I don't speak Japanese, no one really calls but immediate family, and I shut down at the end of day more and more. I want to be by myself for a period of time. My desperate cry was, "I just want to have one single uninterrupted thought." My children are maturing and so the emergence of mama time has begun in small chunks. I have time for thoughts again, perhaps lacking the depth of time I would like, but they are starting to flicker to life.

From the Alive Enough? show's transcript:

Ms. Turkle: ...I think the greatest gift you can give your child is to walk out of the house without your phone. I mean, to pick up the newspaper, to pick up the bagel, to go out for coffee. Don't take your phone. Show your child what that looks like, that you're willing to step out of the house not open for communication. In the place on the Cape I live in Provincetown, there's these beautiful mudflats that, again, one of nature's wonders. And people now walk them with their kids and their phones, and that's a very powerful message to a child that we're walking them with our phones.

You know, I'm not like a romantic or I don't have like a crazy nostalgia for, you know, an unplugged life, you know in cabins in the woods, not at all. I'm just saying that we have to ask ourselves really what is served by having an always-on, always-on you, open-to-anyone-who-wants-to-reach-us way of life? Because in my research, I've found that it actually cuts off conversations as much as it opens out conversations. So, for example, you can be too busy communicating to think, well, to think.

Krista Tippet ends the show with, "Sherry Turkle quotes Thoreau writing about his two years of retreat: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately … I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear …" "Thoreau's quest," Sherry Turkle writes, "inspires us to ask of our life with technology: Do we live deliberately?"