Posts Tagged ‘technology’

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

My senior year of high school, I vowed to get in shape. At that point, I had been playing the role of “fat kid” since at least 5th grade, and I was tired of being uncomfortable in my own skin thanks to the teasing and invisibility to girls.

I decided to workout each day after school. I would go home, say hi to my mom, and then disappear into the basement, where I would lift weights and run tiny 25 foot laps across the room for 30-60 minutes.

I had always been athletic despite my weight, but the chubby kid will always get picked last for teams in gym class regardless of his abilities. My short basement laps weren’t just to get in shape; they were also to prove a point and train for a specific goal. Thus, my fitness coming out party was the day in gym when we had to do the PACER test (or “Beep Test”), which has everyone lineup on one side of the gym and run to the other end to the sound of beeps that set the pace.

Pacer test

Children being tortured by the PACER test.

It was back and forth in bursts, just like in my basement. As the test goes on, the beeps increase in frequency, and most people cannot keep up. Once a person fails to make it across the gym before a beep sounds, they are eliminated from the test. After more than one hundred beeps, the handful of runners remaining were typically stars on the track, cross country, and basketball teams.

Beep Test

Normally, I dropped out around 30-something beeps. But this time, I finished the entire test with the other fit kids, to the shock of everyone in the gymnasium.

I kept running for a while after achieving that goal, but I found it hard to stay motivated, because running was hard to measure on my own. We didn’t have a treadmill at home, and there was no track near the house, so measuring time, speed, and distance was difficult. I tried to make up arbitrary courses to time myself on with my handheld stopwatch, like running down the street around the cul-de-sac and back in the fastest time possible. It worked for a time, but ultimately it felt unsatisfying. I tried driving over to tracks to run, but it all seemed too complicated.

I fell away from running for almost a decade, and when I got back into it, one of the biggest motivators to help me succeed was my smartphone and MapMyRun app. Suddenly, I could run anywhere I wanted and know how fast and how long I was going. It also tracks all my data, so each time I went out to run, I could push myself to run a little faster and farther than before. In no time, I went from someone who dreaded running a mile or two, to someone who was running half-marathons. I could have always been running outside, but the app was that extra little push to motivate me.

Technological innovations that inspire and motivate us aren’t new, necessarily – they just continue to evolve and improve. For example, like many people, my fiancee is currently obsessed with her FitBit. There have been days when I find her walking circles around our kitchen table so she can make her daily goal of steps. The device’s accompanying app allows FitBit users to compete in daily steps challenges, and during her first challenge against family members, I thought she might attempt walking to the moon in order to claim victory.

fitbit-logo.jpg

That FitBits are so popular seems odd when broken down to its most simple function: it’s a pedometer, which is nothing new at all. But the FitBit is a fancy, elaborate, 21st century pedometer that will get someone like my fiancee to demand we go for a walk at night in freezing temperatures just so she can win her FitBit challenge.

Likewise, last week, I downloaded an app called “Productive” that is intended to build habits. Users input what habit they would like to form – such as exercising daily – and the app delivers notifications to encourage the behavior, as well as tracks data like successful/unsuccessful days and streaks of successful days.

I have five habits in my app, including exercise and writing. For writing, I felt I had fallen off the wagon pretty hard in recent months. Now, within five days of downloading the app, I have written and performed a nonfiction story at a local live lit show, penned an Op-Ed article that I submitted to the New York Times, and wrote this piece for the Flaneur’s Turtle. I’d say the free app has been worth it so far.

Of course, all of the apps and devices can only work if we support their missions with our own willpower and action. No app can do the exercising or writing for me; well, not yet, at least. There are also plenty of arguments that can be made that technology is making us lazier and more dependent, rather than self-motivated and independent. (See: Wall-E.)

wall-e-2.jpg

I understand the satire, but I still kind of want a floating chair…and a soda.

Yet, sometimes it takes only the tiniest spark of motivation to spur us to keep pushing forward with our goals, and if that spark is a notification on our smartphones – a device we all have in front of our faces at all times – then it’s all the better and easier to be inspired.

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By Ellen Mannos, Career Management Faculty/Curriculum Chair. 

Dear Students,

In ancient Greek times, learning existed in the streets  of Piraeus where you would have found Socrates roaming around encouraging youthful inquiring minds to think, question and argue. A more modern day version of this collective gathering would have existed,  for example, during the 60’s and 70’s where a cluster of  students could be found sitting on a floor outside an overcrowded classroom, or standing in the back of that  classroom at Loyola University. There, students would have been listening to a certain Professor Szemler, sans PowerPoint, notes or book, preaching of Ancient and Medieval  History and his own personal flee from Hungary in the 1950’s; executed in mesmerizing, operatic, and lyrical non-stop fashion fully armed with historical knowledge;  in live performance never to be duplicated through podcast. He may have opened with something like, ”ladies and gentlemen, what is the etymological meaning of the word Pleistocene”, after which you knew you were on a wild adventure. Intense discussion  would have taken place afterwards across the street at Connelly’s Bar over freshly brewed beer accompanied by cage-free organic hard-boiled eggs.

Today, you can now “toadie” on up to suite 624, circle on to your left and head east slowly toward the desks of Professors 25197_1299799297567_2935835_n (1)Michael Stelzer Jocks and Peter Stern for yet another kind of adventure.  Just follow the smells of the ”specials of the day” coming from either Stelzer-Jocks’ organic cumin infused home grown barley-quinoa dish, or Stern’s leftover bone-in boutique cut veal chop with wild dandelion greens! (and the Michelin award goes to….)

Ah, but listen carefully – so put down your smart phones, please! You’ll hear them discuss the WW2 Battles of Kursk, Normandy or Stalingrad, or observe them watching some old photofootage of Russian Cossack’s,  accompanied by a background of a Fredrick Chopin piano concerto which captures  the then reality of historical pain & suffering.

Periodically, of course,  Professors Stern and Stelzer Jocks would get up from their seats, stretch a bit and  head  due west to Professor Paul Gaszak’s desk for an impromptu discussion on sports where you might hear something as exhausting as listening to Wagner’s “Das Rheingold” , only  the topic would be  – “Das Deflatable  Football”.

So, whoever said a liberal arts education is dead has not meandered up to Suite 624. But, ya gotta’ put your smart phones down, dear students………or you’ll miss the performances. Oh, and bring your lunch. There’s  plenty of soft seating, tables, kossaksand ottomans; and you just might learn something about the “Ottoman Empire”, listen to a little Chopin in the background, watch the Cossacks on video crossing over to Istanbul, hear the discussions, friendly disagreements; and yes, even professors inquire about things they don’t’ know.  After all, is not learning that which you do not know or question?

So put down your smart phones – please!  Oh, and forget the elevator and take the stairs! If you question what all this has to do with your degrees in computer networking, sports fitness, medical assisting, pharm tech, etc., then you’d better run up those stairs. Come on, be a Spartan!

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty.

I watched a lot of movies over the holidays. I went to the theater, visited Redbox, logged onto Netflix, and watched DVDs and Blu-Rays I own. However, there is one thing I didn’t do:

I didn’t go to a video store.

Whenever I visit my parents out in the Chicago ‘burbs, I pass by Orland Video. It’s the video store my family would go to when I was a kid, and it’s one of only two brick and mortar video stores I know of that are still open.

Whenever I drive by, I wonder how – or even why – it is still open. With on-demand digital content and video rental kiosks, who are the customers that are keeping this store alive? Even my parents, who admittedly dislike technology and were the last people I knew who still went to video stores, migrated to Redbox years ago.Orland Video

Yet, the video store is still open, with its same yellow sign glowing at the end of a stripmall – a symbol of different, older times.

I first tried Netflix during my college days. Back then, Netflix mailed out physical copies of DVDs. It was a slow and obnoxious process. Netflix had some perks, but it was still far easier and faster to drive over to the video store. When Netflix first started offering streaming services, technology hadn’t quite caught up with the concept yet. Internet speeds weren’t fast enough – at least they weren’t in my house, or anyone else’s I knew. The movie would take a dreadfully long time to load, then about ten minutes of the movie would play, and it would go right back to the loading screen. Trying to watch a 90 minute movie was more of a three or four-hour process.

However, anyone with common sense knew that as soon as streaming content got faster, the old ways – the video stores – were going to die. And this was before Redbox emerged, adding just one more nail in the video store’s coffin.

These advancements in movie-viewing technology are great: they’re easier, cheaper, and more convenient than the old ways.

Still, we’ve lost something with the demise of the video store. They were more than just a place to rent movies and video games.

They were a part of the family. On Fridays, once the school week was over, my dad and I would go to the video store to wander the aisles. I could rent movies or video games, and he would rent a movie for him and mom to watch. He’d notoriously pick anything that was labeled as “Funny” on the box, my mom wouldn’t like it, and he’d defend himself by saying, “But the box said it was hilariously funny.” The weekend was then coming to a close officially when someone, usually mom, would ask, “Did anyone remember to return the videos?”

Video stores were a part of the neighborhood community. At their peak, videos stores were everywhere, so each drew from the neighborhoods immediately around it. Thus, there was always a good chance of bumping into neighbors and friends. Also, the employees and owners would get to know all the regulars. The video store was a place for familiar faces.

Video stores were a hangout for friends. Especially in my teens, I made countless trips with my brother and his friends, or with my friends, to the video store. The trip wasn’t just about picking a movie – usually a B-movie that we suspected would be so bad it would be good. The trip was about being together, discussing movies, arguing over what to pick, and figuring out who could rent the movies since most of us had late charges on our own accounts that we didn’t want to pay.

With the rise of smartphones, there are plenty of people and studies that bemoan how the technology – which is incredibly beneficial – has led to a decrease in social interaction. I, like most anyone else, wouldn’t give up my smartphone, but it’s hard to ignore some of the negative effects the technology has had, especially for those of us who lived before smartphones were in everyone’s hands.

Similarly, video stores are another, less-often cited, example of a decline in community due to an increase in technology.

Just as I wouldn’t give up my smartphone, I wouldn’t opt to go back to the old ways of the video store. At its most basic function, the video store was to rent movies, and we now have better, faster, easier ways to do that.

But, whenever I see that old yellow sign on the video store, I can’t help but get a bit nostalgic about the fun times that have been left behind with our technological step forward.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

I recently got my first Smart Phone, a development that stunned my friends, some of whom thought I’d never get one. I didn’t really even decide to get a Smart Phone; my cell phone plan expired, and I was eligible for an upgrade. I’m certainly not a Luddite, so I’ll take any upgrade available. The phone is nice, certainly new and shiny. I am still determining how it works, and suppose I will be for some time. However, I never expect technology to “change” my life; at best, new technology might be able to provide tools to simplify tasks and augment human capacity (of course, technology has been known to serve the opposite purposes, too).

I like my Smart Phone just fine, and the newness of it means that the camera performs better than the digital one I’ve had for at least a decade. When comparing Smart Phones before purchasing one, I prioritized the authenticitycamera because I love taking what I call “Fun Family Photos,” posting the best online, and printing out the truly great ones to fill magnetic frames on my refrigerator or to give as gifts to friends and family. For as many pictures as there are online, the scarcity of printed photos seems rather odd, and I do my best to preserve the tradition of displaying pictures of loved ones in my home. New technology does not require abandoning old ways.

I don’t invest much time or money in technology. There are two primary causes for this peculiar behavior. First of all, I don’t have much discretionary income. If you’ve been told that academia is overflowing with high salaries and annual bonuses, you were misinformed. Thus, in large part, the small number of technological devices I own stems from a lack of purchasing power, and also a desire to use my limited funds for things I consider more valuable, typically travel and visits with friends.

More fundamentally, I don’t gain much from the time I spend online. In the essay “Is There a There in Cyberspace,” John Perry Barlow addresses the often unmentioned limitations of the online world: “missing entirely, [are things] like body language, sex, death, tone of voice, clothing, beauty (or homeliness), weather, violence, vegetation, wildlife, pets, architecture, music, smells, sunlight, and that ol’ harvest moon. In short, most of the things that make my life real to me.” Interacting with people, for all their messiness and complications, is central to my well-being, and my relationship to the natural world informs a spiritual awareness of my place in the universe. Authentic experiences are my priority.

I like to limit my screen time, essentially because I’d rather be doing something else. I use Facebook, but not every day, and usually with the intention of maintaining and developing connections with the people in my life. I update my status to share the highlights of life with people who care. This is not to say that the way I use Facebook, or technology as a whole, is the “right” way and everyone else has it wrong; rather, it is the right balance for me. The brilliant Sherry Turkle, founder of MIT’s “Initiative on Technology and Self” and author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other has proffered the notion of a “digital diet,” which involves taking an honest assessment of the amount of technology that might be reasonable in each particular life. Naturally, a computer programmer ought to expect to spend a lot of time in front of a computer while a forest ranger should anticipate spending far less, though still some. For the most part, I need only spend time in front of a computer at work, thus alleviating the necessity for a home computer.

screenjail(1)My concerns about the excessive use of technology arise primarily from the amount of time my students spend texting friends, checking social media, and browsing images online, all while they are supposed to be paying attention in class. Again, I am not suggesting that these activities in themselves are wrong, but the pervasiveness of the behaviors troubles me. Many of my students simply don’t seem capable of turning away from their devices. When I am in class teaching, my phone is always off, locked in my desk. Naturally, I have plenty of friends I could contact, but what I can do and what I should do are different things, a reality of adulthood that an over-reliance on technology tends to undermine. In class, I need to focus on the lesson, the students, the time and space we have together, and what we can accomplish together. I use technology in the classroom, but in a way that supports our joint purpose: to develop intellectual capacity. I’m also a proponent of online course materials because printing out copies of a ten-page syllabus isn’t necessary. However, I absolutely believe that paying attention to the people who populate our world (classmates, colleagues, neighbors, and family) is a fundamental human activity. We must not allow technology to distract us from the people in our midst.

When I see my students (or friends, or myself) turning to online social networks or texting to fill a void, I sense the vibrations of a wordless cry for help, subliminally broadcasting the central human need for connection, but in a dissociative way. “Entertain me, distract me,” we beg of our machines, oftentimes because engaging with what is in front of us, be it people or problems, requires more effort and investment. See Louis CK’s insightful and heart-rending rant. Sadly, technology can facilitate a turning away from one another, making us all feel more alone.

I try to resist the technology trap. I seek to be a constructive, critical user of advanced technology, endeavoring to master technological skills that can enhance my professional and personal life and support my relationships, never permitting technology to master me.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Texting-on-a-Date

In my ‘Comparative Worldviews’ class, I enjoy asking my students if they think the story of humanity is one of progression, or decline.  A simple, but incredibly broad question to be sure.  Usually students will reply with some excellent nuanced answers, pointing out that such a simple dualistic question glosses over the complexities of our modern world.  Most point out that humanity has progressed, and continues to progress in areas such as medicine, science and technology.  Though surrounded by it their whole lives, my students appreciate how quickly technology is advancing. However, some rightly point out that progression in one area of life, can lead to decline in another.  It may be surprising to those who don’t interact with ‘millennials’ on a daily basis, but I find that most students feel that the progression of information and communication technology they have lived through has had radically negative social repercussions.

The above staged photo encapsulates the problem my students have with information technology.  I have heard the majority of young adults I teach argue that, though modern, handheld computers provide us a deluge of instantaneous information, they are ‘also killing human interaction’.  In this belief, they are by no means alone.  It is almost becoming a cliche to state that cell-phones, texting, social media and constant internet access drives a wedge between humans, causing all sorts of existential threats. Texting causes a loss of spelling and grammar rules! Cellphones destroy interpersonal communication! Social media increases the opportunities for lying and narcissism! Cell phones destroy human empathy!   Humanity is evidently doomed if we keep going down the road we are travelling.

And yet….let’s look at a couple more pictures.

ReadingCouple

Two elderly couples reading newspapers

Now, what do you think of when you look at these two photographs?  I am going to make an assumption about your conclusions.  These pictures provide generally positive emotions, correct?  The photo of the young couple enjoying a leisurely read outdoors  seems relaxing, and romantic.  The picture on the right, with the two elderly couples, has a timelessly quaint aura.   Perhaps these husbands and wives have had this ritual of sitting on a park bench, reading the daily newspaper for years, if not decades.  What could be more traditional; what could be more human?

These two photos are the antithesis of the top photo, right?

Not at all. These three pictures are more similar than different. Two people sitting at a table on their separate smartphones is wholly similar to the old couples sitting on a the bench reading their respective papers. All of these people are socially isolated with an individually hand-held communication tool. What difference is there if the loving pair in the grass have a couple novels, or a couple iPhones?  The quality of their reading material may be the only thing; and even then, with e-readers, this may not even be the case.  Both are lost in another world, one digital, the other paper-based.

And, yet, we do see a difference; on an emotional, visceral level, it just seems different.  But, why? Why is the first photo seen as dangerous and distasteful for the future health of all humanity, while the second is sweet, charming and heartwarming?  When I asked my students this question, one young woman stated that texting requires technology, and hence, the top picture is different.

But, wait!  Books are a technology as well.   The written word itself, is a technology.  Neither are natural; they are both human cultural inventions. Mass produced, hand- held books are only 500 or so years old.  The written word is about 10 times older. Over the centuries, these technologies have changed, but usually quite slowly; this change has seemed organic, and glacial to someone living in our times of radical technological advancements.   But, go back to any year before Gutenberg’s press, and you will discover a world of communication that is almost unrecognizable. After the radical invention made books a mass-produced commodity, you will find ‘Chicken Littles’ predicting doom as a result.  Such warnings were even applied to the written word. Plato tells us that Socrates, who never wrote anything down, warned that the written word was dangerous since it,

will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.”

I assume that in 50 years, if cellphones are still with us, pictures such as the one found at the top of this post will be seen as quaint and charming. There will undoubtedly be a new communication technology invented that will be blamed for the inevitable fall of all human interaction, or Western Civilization….or something. I kind of can’t wait to see wait to see that new technology.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

One of my goals this summer is to spend one day without my iPhone. While smartphones are incredibly useful and have revolutionized how I (and many people) do things, they can also be soul-sucking, obnoxious burdens. I want one day when I can’t receive phone calls, texts, and e-mails.

However, there is an overwhelming positive to having my iPhone on me at all times that ties all the way back to childhood.

From the age of five, I wanted to be a writer. As a result, I was gifted lots of journals. Apparently some people believe that writers want nothing more than a quiet prairie, a shade tree to sit under, and a journal in which to write their deepest thoughts about puffy clouds and butterflies.

Amazon: You're not helping the stereotype about writers and readers.

Amazon: You’re not helping the stereotype about writers and readers.

The problem, however, is that I hate writing by hand. It takes too long. My handwriting is awful. I can’t save, copy, cut, paste, click, or drag a piece of paper. Mostly, I can just fold paper eight times, stick it in my pocket, and then pick the shreds out of the dryer a week later.

Almost all of my creative writing has been done on technology, going all the way back to DOS prompts and floppy disks. Now I use my laptop and my iPhone.

My predilection for technology presented some problems in the pre-smartphone era, which for me included my college years and most of graduate school. Way back then (all the way at the start of the 2000s!) technology wasn’t that portable, even laptops. This meant any writing I did on the fly was handwritten, presenting all the same problems, including that I would eventually want to transcribe it into a computer anyway.

This is one of the photos I took on the trail.

This is one of the photos I took on the trail.

These days, life is easier. This past weekend while on a hike, I came across a bridge on a forest trail. The image intrigued me and, in less than a minute, I took multiple photos with my iPhone, opened my Google Drive app, created a new document in my “Poetry” folder, and wrote a stanza. Rather than shoving a piece of paper in my back pocket to be forgotten, that file is now saved, sorted, and accessible from any device with internet access.

Turtle Hall of Famer Tricia Lunt sent me this photo recently after a discussion we had about remembering to actually experience the world around us.

Turtle Hall of Famer Tricia Lunt sent me this photo recently after a discussion we had about remembering to actually experience the world around us.

Of course, as useful as technology is for writing, it has its drawbacks. One of the largest goes right back to a reason I want to ditch my iPhone for a day: sometimes we are so busy communicating and documenting our lives via text, e-mail, websites, and social media that we fail to – ya know – experience the world around us. And in my quest to scribble notes and take pictures with my iPhone, I may sometimes be robbing myself of the best writing material of all.

Ultimately, the positives heavily outweigh the negatives in terms of how the smartphone has revolutionized my approach to creative writing. It has significantly increased my organization and productivity. So, now I save handwritten creative writing for meetings at work. My colleagues think I’m taking notes, but I’m actually writing about puffy clouds and butterflies.