Sunday, November 21, 2010

Digital Dummies

A review of Ivana Lowell's Why Not Say What Happened? from this week's NY Times Book Review.
Last week, the CBC ran a documentary called Digital Dummies. I'll link it below, but I have a feeling that the CBC in their righteous need to keep everything Canadian in Canada, won't allow people outside this country to see it. Shame. It's very interesting.

Basically, the idea is that technology, especially BlackBerries and I-Phones are dumbing down society because they're preventing us from focussing on anything for more than a few seconds. I try to embrace technology when it's useful. I like to write and read blogs, I use email... so I'm hope I'm not a hypocrite when I say that I think the documentarian has a point.

Yesterday, I took my son uptown to get some classroom posters laminated. I had phoned earlier in the day. The man at FedEx sounded like he was multitasking. He told me they could laminate on the spot. When I got there, he told me that the laminating machine had to warm up and to come back in half an hour. I happily agreed. When we came back, he told me that his test run left bubbles on the paper. I told him I didn't mind a few bubbles. Then he told me that they'd run out of the laminating plastic and that they'd have to send them out. Long story short - I have to return mid-week to pick them up.

Fast forward to our trip home. We were walking through a very crowded Eglinton subway station. Duncan was running ahead of me. I notice a woman texting behind him. She's oblivious to everything. He stops on a dime. She smashed into him. Three other people were fiddling around with their gadgets and bumped into us before we made it to the subway platform.

At a birthday party for one of my son's friends last spring, a mother sat in the living room with other parents and spent the entire time checking her messages or updating her FaceBook status or whatever. It was incredibly rude. I gave up the notion of trying to start a conversation...

This morning, I was reading the NY Times Book Review. (It's been coming free with the Sunday Star). I began reading a review of Ivana Lowell's incredible life. I'd never even heard of her before, but I couldn't stop reading. She was born into English aristo-dom and her beautiful mother (see the above picture) was a complete disaster as a mother. Poor Ivana received burns to over 70% of her body when a hot kettle of water fell on her as a girl.

The review got me thinking about the time I worked at a book store. People would come in for their papers and I'd see them in the coffee shop across the street, nursing a cup of tea and generally lost in news and feature stories. I know people still read and buy books. I just think that everything in society has sped up so much that we're losing the plot, so to speak. I hear upper-grade teachers at my school talking about the fact that it seems natural for students to Wiki information and copy and paste references without considering the source.

I want to slow down. Whatever we're obsessively texting as we come out of train tunnels - is it that important? Am I just being an old crank? I don't know. I just feel like a little balance is needed before everything we read is reduced to the amount of characters allowed in a Tweet.

What do you think?

Here's the preview clip.


  1. you're just an old curmudgeon! (and i'm right there with you)

    but seriously. i so value the written word. i know, i know, i'm lower case here but there is a story behind that (which i explain on my blog). i think things are definitely changing with technology, there is certainly an addictive aspect to it, as well as that whole short attention span nature of things. we click through a link and if it takes more than 3 seconds to load, we press that back-arrow and never return. too much to see, too much to do. remember when games used to take 1/2 an hour or longer to load onto the computer? you'd press "play" on the tape deck, go have your dinner, then come back and play a game :)

    but i try to see the positives to technology as well, because -- well, it's here. there is no fighting it, and it can be a very positive tool. there is so much more available to us. there is far more writing out there, and some of it quite good! self-publishing and e-publishing has allowed many to express themselves and have their ideas and voices heard, without having to wait for the nod of approval from giant publishing houses first. i think what it comes down to is our own personal approach and use of technology, and our attitude towards it (and how we teach our children, as parents and teachers, to use this tool). i think you can get just as much out of it as you want. but as a society as a whole? well, i think we'll have to wait and see where we are in a generation or two. perhaps we'll grow a third blackberry thumb ;)

    thanks for your always interesting posts, erin.

  2. Ana - I mean ana - I love reading your comments. I think we're like virtual next-door-neighbours. Hmm, that sounds odd in context of my post. Yeah, I think you're right. I remember always being on the phone with Dave, my first boyfriend. The phone was purchased at Consumer's Distributing. Remember that store? It seemed high tech at the time and the numbers made a chirping sound when you pressed them. I'm sure if I were dating Dave now as a teenager, I'd be texting him all the time unaware that eventually he'd be texting me to tell me that he'd just been making out with Alexis and that it was over. "LXS is ht, yr nt - dmpt!" Something like that. Oh those good old days.

    I think your lack of a shift key makes you a bit of a Luddite, so rock on!

    Love the third thumb. It could be coming.

  3. oh, here, sit down. how do you take your coffee, neighbour? i do remember consumer's distributing! i pined over the barbie and was given "sandy the ballerina" instead. which i still have and love. and i think we had that same phone. sometimes, the buttons would stick.

    i had a good giggle at your texting. do you know about my pathetic texting skills yet? oh, you'll need another coffee for that story.

    "I think your lack of a shift key makes you a bit of a Luddite, so rock on!

    i think i'll be quoting you on that one. if i may?

  4. "...(and how we teach our children, as parents and teachers, to use this tool)..."

    The problem is it is such a brave new world, I don't think parents and teachers have a full grasp of the extent of what all that technology can do and the reach it has. It is all evolving so fast, we're all constantly experimenting with it.

    The other problem too is the fact that the latest generation of parents seems so self-entitled (like that parent at your children's party who thought she was so important she spent the entire time texting instead of socializing face to face, making you feel like what you had to say was not important) and they're passing this sense of self-entitlement on to their children by not disciplining them in the least. We ate lunch at Harvey's on Saturday. We sat in a booth and a kid at the other half of our booth, which was separated by a partition, spent the entire time kicking his seat and driving us crazy. I would never have allowed that with my children but the mother just sat there oblivious.

    It just seems to me that people weren't that bad 20, 30 years ago. Has all this technology prompted the demise of basic good manners and common courtesy?

    Yes, I know, I'm an old curmudgeon too, lol!

    Erin, see how you gave us so much to ponder so early in the week?

  5. I'm right there with you. I read the same book review and was struck by what a long time ago, it seemed, that world existed. I think as a people we're much the less for everything and everyone being so accessible. The beauty of a book isn't contained simply in it's words but in the whole--it cover art, etc. The idea that such beautiful things are slowly going to disappear is beyond sad. On the subject of manners--we're just as guilty if we don't at least hold the line. I absolutely refuse to talk to people who text while we're holding a conversation. I'm showing my age.

  6. Oh yes girl we're on the same page! I'm an old party pooper too :)

    Every body I know is on Facebook, yet I resist because I spend enough time at my laptop as it is and I feel it would be like giving access to underwear drawer to the whole planet!

    I know I know you can set the security high....But no.

    A good book is the best way to spend some time


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I'm a slightly off-beat Toronto-area teacher who enjoys writing and photography. I come from a family of collectors and now I'm dragging my own family around to yard sales. It's just a bit of fun. Enjoy the scenes.