When Did My Luddite Parents Become Skypers and Texters?
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
(photo: Lars Ploughmann/Flickr)
A few weeks ago, my dad crafted his first-ever text message. He was with my sister, who was on the brink of becoming a mother. His text is classic Dad, a singular mixture of humor, complaint, and anxiety:
"Well we’re here in the hospital waiting for [your sister’s] turn. She’s very calm, which I am not. I don’t think I’ll be able to have lunch until it’s over, which is OK since the soup in the coffee shop doesn’t look too good anyhow. I think it’s kale and it doesn’t look very hot. We’ll keep you apprised about the soup situation and about the baby too. Love, Dad"
Since my baby niece’s entry into the world, I’ve received scores of digital pictures — more than were ever taken of me or my sister during our first week of life. I’ve been experiencing aunt-hood from a geographical distance. But with technology in the mix, I’ve been able to interact with my niece as a pixelated being in ways that weren’t possible when I was a kid.
Now my parents are eager to learn how to Skype! To my amazement, a digital revolution is unfolding in the suburbs of New Jersey as monumental life changes inspire my parents to use technology in new ways.
Has this kind of thing happened to you? What changed in your life that inspired — or forced — you to turn a corner with technology?
I wish there was a website where non-profits could ask for what they need and people could work for them from home.
An image of wooden prayer tablets in Japan made me think of this virtual suggestion box, of sorts, where people can petition their “prayers” for the future of technology. The quotation above was one of those submissions, which I liked because it suggests using technology to serve and connect.
The Internet Wishlist creates a space for people to share the holes and needs in their complex lives where apps and websites could do them some good. Start-ups and developers, pay attention to these missives! The pedestrian longings of today could lead to the technological advances of the future.
If you’ve got an idea to contribute, simply post your idea on Twitter and include the hash tag #theiwl.
by Susan Leem, associate producer
A Twitterscript with Sherry Turkle, Founder of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self
by Susan Leem, associate producer
For 20 years Sherry Turkle has asked unusual questions about the human side of technology. She wants to know how our relationship with devices affects our psychology, and why it is that “we no longer care if we are among life.” She’s referring to our love of gadgets, robots, and the way we obsess over email and smart phones, ultimately giving them highest priority in our social interactions.
We live-tweeted highlights of this 90-minute conversation, which we’re aggregating and posting here for those who weren’t able to follow along. Check out our Twitter stream next time at @BeingTweets.
- "There’s a phenomenon where people feel their phone ringings when they’re not. It’s called the phantom ring." - @STurkle
- "Just because we grew up with the internet we think that the internet is all grown up." @STurkle
- "I get very discouraged that we don’t seem to have a taste for stopping and asking how can we make this work for us?"-@STurkle on technology
- "What is intimacy without privacy, what is democracy without privacy?" - @STurkle, author of “Alone Together” - http://bit.ly/cJxjOQ
- "If you don’t teach your children how to be alone, they’ll only always know how to be lonely."-saying in psychology via @STurkle
- "You don’t want to be alone because you can’t think by yourself, you can’t feel by yourself." - @STurkle on growing up with texting, etc.
- "It’s teenagers who say ‘My parents text at the dinner table.’" @STurkle on how children also want sacred spaces.
- @STurkle on rules for adults to create sacred spaces in family- put down the phone at dinner, moment of school pickup and on the playground.
- "The greatest gift you can give your child is to walk out of the house without your phone. Show your child what that looks like!" @STurkle
- "We have to ask ourselves what is served by having an always on, always on you, open to anyone who wants to reach us, way of life."@STurkle
- "I love uses of technology that are positive and hopeful and exciting." - Professor @STurkle author of “Alone Together.”
- "In a human conversation I’m talking to another person who understands the arc of a human life cycle." -@STurkle
- "I don’t need to be right, but I do need to feel as though people understand what I’m trying to communicate." -@STurkle on conversation.
- "Whether or not we want robots caring for our elderly will be one of the most humanistic conversations we’re going to have." -@STurkle
- "This is a corporation, it isn’t your mother, and I think people forget that." -@STurkle on Facebook
- "There’s a whole kind of robotics that’s really going to change the way people see the world." -MIT professor @STurkle
About the image: Sherry Turkle (photo: Peter Urban)
A Necessary and Vital Moment for Jon Kabat-Zinn and Being Mindful in All of Our Senses
by Krista Tippett, host
» audio-only download (mp3, 51:09)
I’m listening with new ears this week to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s practical approach for calming ourselves, and also being a nourishing presence in the world. Before this interview, I had read and heard of Jon Kabat-Zinn for years. But I hadn’t really grasped that he is first a scientist — a molecular biologist — and second one of the world’s leading experts on meditation. And it was when I listened to talks he’d given at Google and MIT that I really wanted to have this conversation with him.
He is the real thing — a teacher — with a personal combination of erudition, warmth, wit, and wisdom. As we began to speak, he told me that the seeds were planted in his earliest life with his microbiologist father and painter mother to pursue the nature of the human condition in its fullest sense.
In more than three decades of work at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Jon Kabat-Zinn has contributed mightily to demystifying meditation — taking it out of a box that says it is only for Buddhists or special practitioners, then studying its effects clinically and bringing the fruits of his research into life-changing work with the ill and dying, with leaders, and with Olympic athletes. He has followed a conviction that began to grow in him after he began to meditate while a doctoral student at MIT in 1966: that if the deepest insights behind mindfulness meditation are true, they must be true for everyone, in every circumstance. That is, the facts of impermanence and imperfection as a commonplace part of life apply to us all; we all struggle to live gracefully with those realities, and we all create suffering for ourselves and those around us as we resist and deny them.
The real challenge that defines our humanity is this: how do we take on reality as it unfolds, navigate it, and truly stay awake and alive in this moment of life, whatever its contours. And here is the silver lining, if you will, of Buddhism’s frank insistence on suffering as a feature of life: a parallel insistence that equanimity and even joy are within our grasp in every moment, without anything at all needing to change. The stakes for getting this right are high. As Thoreau said, in one of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s favorite lines, “Only the day dawns to which we are awake.”
He also points out that our wondrous, seductive, addictive new generations of technologies — at once liberating and stress-inducing — are themselves changing us. And they will force us to re-examine the deepest meaning of what it means to be human. Part of this work, surely, will be in living into our understanding of that second level of knowing that we know — of sovereignty over our minds, of awareness that encompasses “thinking” but also transcends it and can galvanize it towards greater sanity, creativity, and healing.
There is a paradox here that I love, and that I explore with delight with Jon Kabat-Zinn in this conversation. That second level of knowing — being mindful — is not about being in one’s head, just as meditation is not about sitting with one’s thoughts. It is first and foremost about rooting in the whole of experience. In the first instance, this means rooting ourselves in our own bodies, in all of our senses, in breath, in the mind itself as a “sense” and not just a cognitive realm. There are a couple of minutes in this hour in which we hear Jon Kabat-Zinn conduct an introductory meditative experience for employees at Google, which we also partake of by way of radio. This spiritual technology or way or living, however you want to name it, is immediately effective and at the same time an engagement for a lifetime. It is about “coming to our senses” in the fullest sense of that phrase.
The Ceaseless Society
Shiraz Janjua, Associate Producer
I’m not going to lie. I’m really enjoying Jon Kabat-Zinn. His Google talk introduced me to some very simple techniques that I’ve been using lately to help me fall asleep faster. Bedtime is when my mind is freed from all restraints, unfortunately. That’s when the hamsters go nuts, and it usually takes me an hour to fall asleep, on average. But just breathing the way Jon Kabat-Zinn shows has helped me bring my ETA to sleep down to about 15 minutes. Joy.
He jokes about how, in the 1960s, while some Westerners were heading off to forest refuges in India to learn to meditate, counterintuitively, he discovered meditation at perhaps the most accomplished technical institute in the world, MIT. Here he is back at MIT in 2006 to talk about the increasingly hectic pace of life in the 21st century. (He gets on stage around the 18:00 minute mark.)
In his conversation with Krista, Jon Kabat-Zinn talks about one aspect of that hectic life: our 24/7 networked reality and the difficulty it poses. In some sense, I think this is going to be a generational thing, a matter of conditioning. But one worthwhile question he asks is, “Who are we going to be without the technology?” I’ve been thinking about this alongside my recent discovery of Ray Kurzweil and his thoughts on the future of human evolution, A.I., and digital networks. I’ll be set to retire around the time the singularity happens in 2045, and by that time, apparently, we might be living in some kind of Matrix society (i.e. lots of trench coats and sunglasses?).
Here I am blogging on the Web about how networked we all are and will continue to be. Well, fine, I can’t escape. The machines have me. OK, time to take a breath. I could choose to be paralyzed by the immensity of the big problems of civilization or the little ones in my life, or I could just…whew…relax a little bit, stop freaking out, and start each day fresh.
A Culture of Availability to Everybody But Yourself?
by Trent Gilliss, online editor
Perhaps this TEDtalk gets at the heart of the matter. In the second half of our upcoming show with Jon Kabat-Zinn (first available in podcast on Thursday morning), he argues, to some degree, that the accelerated pace of technology and its significance in our lives doesn’t allow us to be mindful, to live in the present. All this communication and digital connectedness actually creates an inner dissonance — a disconnectedness with our own selves.
One memorable moment in Krista’s interview: Kabat-Zinn describes a person viewing a sunset. Instead of simply taking it in, he says, we either are thinking about how we might write about it (or perhaps tweet or blog it), or, that certain somebody standing next to you actually has to gab away and tell you how gorgeous it is — which completely removes you from the moment of recognition and contemplation. In other words, we have this compulsion to do something with the moment in order to make it meaningful. We are not being mindful.
In the video above, the presenter includes a couple images that capture something that Kabat-Zinn is getting at. In one photo, a girl is actually extending her arm with her camera while kissing her boyfriend. But, it looks awkward, inauthentic, dispassionate because you can tell her real interest is in telling the later story. Her body, her eyes, her lips are oriented more toward the iris of the lens than the irises of the boy. And, in another intimate setting of a public nature, a crowd of onlookers are almost all holding up their devices capturing the moment while the Obamas stand on stage in celebration.
I’m guilty of both, and then some. You?
Renny Gleeson wraps it up quite succinctly in his post-event blog post:
With all this connection comes the danger that in our mad rush to be everywhere, we end up nowhere. That the technology we use to connect, actually separates and isolates.
Kabat-Zinn isn’t necessarily gloomy about the technology onslaught though. He notes that the steep learning curve in learning how to deal with and incorporate this availability into our lives will be achieved. We, as individuals and as a society, just may have to bottom out first in order to create the balance within.
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
Each month I look forward to ripping off the plastic wrap of the latest issue of some of the smartest, wittiest, snarkiest writing in magazine format — that’s right, in the tech rag Wired. But, it isn’t the paid contributors that I turn to first. Oh no, the real sass and verve come from its readers — the ones who fire the opening salvo showcased in its Rants section.
And, who should be one of the headliners but Father Columba Stewart, whom Krista recently interviewed at home base of St. John’s University in upstate Minnesota. We tentatively have this upcoming program scheduled for broadcast some week after the glitterball drops. Father Columba’s letter to the editor, cleverly titled “Geek Orthodox,” gives you an idea of this man’s savviness and how dialed in he and his brothers at the Abbey are. They’re progressive agenda in preserving and digitizing ancient manuscripts (watch our video) from India, Ethiopia, and Georgia (not the state) for a centralized repository is exciting and, dare I say, sustainable. And it’s hard not to admire Columba Stewart’s humorous approach to all his pursuits, including reading pop culture periodicals:
In "When Tech Attacks!" (Start, issue 16.09), you say “Christian theologians denounced the printing press as the work of the devil.” Whoa! It wasn’t so simple. Remember, the monks of the Dark Ages preserved classical civilization by copying its texts, making possible the technological discoveries of later centuries. And monks welcomed the printing press. Gutenberg’s most famous project was a Latin Catholic Bible, and you can almost hear the relief in the cloister: “You mean we don’t have to write it out by hand anymore?” As a Benedictine monk working with the world’s largest archive of digital and microfilm images of old manuscripts, I have strong feelings about both the preservation of ancient culture and the benefits of modern technology. Whatever you might say about other neighborhoods in the Church, we Benedictines have always been in the technological vanguard.
(photo: Colleen Scheck)
The Rapture of the Geeks
Andy Dayton, Associate Web Producer
I recently stumbled upon a link to the latest issue of technology magazine IEEE Spectrum, which has a special report on technological singularity (often referred to simply as “the singularity”). In his article "Waiting for the Rapture," Glenn Zorpette describes the basic concept:
"The singularity is supposed to begin shortly after engineers build the first computer with greater-than-human intelligence. That achievement will trigger a series of cycles in which superintelligent machines beget even smarter machine progeny, going from generation to generation in weeks or days rather than decades or years."
What’s interesting to me is that much of the rhetoric around this subject seems to sound more like prophesy then scientific hypothesis. A lot of the discussion focuses on the transcendent possibilities of “the singularity” — imagining a time when human consciousness can become downloaded and stored by advanced technology, eventually leading to immortality (that is, until somebody trips over the cord).
I can’t help but try and relate this to my current relationship with technology — one that seems to alternate between embracing and rejecting the newest tools and toys. There’s a short distance between the exciting and the invasive when it comes to this stuff: while I’m still hesitant to broadcast my every move through something like Twitter, but I have no trouble broadcasting my every other move on Facebook.
Maybe this is something to consider when thinking about such extreme models for technological development; even if innovation happens at a breakneck pace, how quickly will we be willing to let technology invade our physical — and perhaps, eventually — spiritual domains?
(image: “Dante Cyborg,” a digitally manipulated version of Botticelli’s “Portrait of Dante” by Roberto Rizzato, via Flickr)