Patience Needed – Now!

Windows Vista dialog box

In these Bluetooth-enabled, bullet-pointed, increasingly-digital times, I’m worried that we’re losing something truly vital — patience. It appears that we’ve all but lost the ability to delay gratification and recognize that some things really are worth waiting for. Our society is so focused on the now that we’ve forgotten about the value of later.

What’s especially scary about that loss is scientists now believe there’s a link between delayed gratification and intelligence. At the very minimum, it’s a given that tolerance & patience are key indicators of emotional & social maturity—and we’re presently in very short supply of those much-needed qualities.

Gimme Credit!

So I happened to be thinking about layaways recently. For those not old enough to recall, this used to be a way to purchase an item when you didn’t have enough money to buy it outright. You’d take your merchandise to the “Layaway Counter” at the store, where the clerk would set your item back and take a down-payment. Then you’d go back from time to time to make additional payments until you had the item paid off. Only then did you get to take your new prized possession home.

But now just about anyone with a pulse can get a credit card, regardless of their ability to repay the lent money. So, people find some goodie at the store, swipe their plastic, and away they go with the new prized possession—with little or no thought about whether they can actually afford (or need) the item.   Sure, we all like the immediacy of getting some great new thing right now, but at the same time, maybe something’s lost when we succumb to those impulses. (We’ve certainly seen the mess that credit can cause with the recent financial crises.)

But my point isn’t whether people should have credit or not—it’s about self-moderation and the value of delaying gratification. Deferring a purchase can give you a chance to evaluate “want” versus “need” and once you’ve distanced yourself a bit, often you’ll find that the need just isn’t there. Back when credit cards weren’t so prevalent, anticipation made the end result all the more rewarding.

Picture This!

And do you remember when you used to have to snap a roll of photos, drop off the film canister for development, then wait days to get the prints? The immediacy of digital cameras—click the button and take a dozen shots, then just toss the ones that don’t make the cut right into the bit bucket. Take the best of the lot, tweak &; crop the image, and blast your masterpiece to the nearby printer. But here again, maybe there’s something lost in the instantaneousness of it all.

I’m not ready to forgo my digital camera and revert back to film, but I do believe that the expectancy made the experience all the more rewarding when you finally pulled those prints out of the little envelope and saw your handiwork for the first time, days (or even weeks) after the shot. Certainly, we were much more judicious about snapping photos then, knowing that even the crummy ones would cost.

Listen Here!

Have you noticed that as music has become easier to acquire, it’s also become far more disposable? Count the number of truly great albums you’ve heard in the last year and compare that to maybe 5 years ago. With the immediacy of digital music, it seems consumers are at the same time more demanding, yet less discriminating. That is, why bother buying an entire crappy album when you can just cherry-pick the 2 individual tracks that are good? Many artists are feeding into this mindset by focusing on quantity rather than quality, a kind of scattershot approach.

And while a new album used to be something special—you anticipated the release for weeks, eager for the day when you could finally go to the store and plunk down your cash for the new record or CD—I wonder if we’ve lost some of the significance now that music is just a quick click away on the Internet. Music used to have a tangible quality as well, with the album cover and liner notes adding to the overall experience. I thoroughly enjoy listening to my iPod & MP3s, but at the same time, music downloads just seem somehow less substantial, slightly less meaningful than their old physical predecessors.

Hold Up!

Increasingly, there’s a startling lack of patience and everyone’s clamoring for instant gratification with very few people noticing the consequences, It’s a nasty Catch-22 loop—we want something right now, but the meaning or significance is often lost because of the immediacy and we just end up wanting more all the sooner. Or upon following that “get it now” impulse, we discover that it really wasn’t all that desirable or special after all.

Each successive generation seems to be coming down the pike expecting more & more immediate gratification. I don’t necessarily think technology is to blame, but the one-click immediacy of the digital world is certainly an unbelievably fertile breeding ground for the “gotta have it now!” mentality that’s pervading society.

What do you think? Anyone else noticed how impatient people are becoming? Is our society experiencing a massive breakdown of self-control or am I just having a massive case of nostalgia?

TMI NTN *

I’ve recently read a number of blog posts referencing a new survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which suggests that cell phones benefit families by allowing them to stay more regularly in touch even when they are not physically together.   But I just don’t know…

baby using a cell phoneIsn’t this just another case of today’s parents falling into that "My kids should have it better than I did" snare?   I’ve mentioned before that I think our society is carelessly immersing our children in needless technology.   Sure, I want my child to have every advantage possible, but the thing is, I’ve yet to see anything that convinces me that more technology equals better learning or a better life for kids.   In fact, the hyperactive and tech-laden lifestyle that’s prevalent these days could actually be breaking down the family unit and hindering the quality of our childrens’ lives.

I tend to believe that cell phones actually rob children of their independence & rationale.   Kids today are no longer prompted to think about or mentally map out what they’ll be doing for the remainder of the day as they head out the door.   Instead, they wander aimlessly off into the day, knowing that they’re never more than a button-press away from Mom or Dad who’ll swoop in and rescue them at the last minute.   Rather than having to figure out problems on their own — and in the process become self-sufficient — kids simply "text" Mom and get an immediate answer.   Cell phones are stripping away any need for children to reason through and try to resolve their own situations.

Prior generations of children grew up healthy & happy without all of this instantaneous communication, yet everyone now seems to feel that they "need" constant connectivity just to survive.   What’s your take on this?   Do you (or will you) provide your child a cell phone?   Do you worry that this is just another symptom of helicopter parenting?

* Text-Message Translation:   Too much information, no thinking necessary
 

Photographic Memory

A few months ago when my Mom passed away suddenly, we were confronted with the daunting task of sorting through decades of stuff in her house.   Along the way, we uncovered a treasure trove of old pictures, many of which we’d never even seen before.   Ruby & Rich wanted copies of all of those old photos and I agreed to work on scanning them so we could get reprints done.

To scan a picture or two is no problem, but when you get into large batches or whole photo albums, it can be incredibly laborious process that quickly bogs down to a crawl.   Dede & I had wondered why there wasn’t someplace where you could drop off your photos and get them scanned by some high-speed, automatic machine.   Then she discovered DigMyPics.

Scott & Annette Crossen’s DigMyPics is a home-grown company located in Arizona that, for as little as 16¢ apiece, will scan your photos and send the high-resolution uncompressed TIFF or JPEG image files back on either CD or DVD in about 2 weeks.

  Their imaging professionals handle your pictures with the greatest care and use FedEx shipping to return your original photos quickly & securely.   Once you get your disc(s) of photos, you’re free to use & distribute them anyway you please.   It’s a cheap way to ensure that your family’s memories will still be around for future generations to explore.

The only real downside to all of this is that once you’ve pulled all of those old photos out of albums & frames, it may surprise you how much smaller the collection can seem with it all bundled up for shipping.   It’s a little hard to see decades of memories reduced down to a few small piles that easily fit into a small FedEx box.

Well, okay there is one other downside.   You might find yourself wishing that some of that old incriminating evidence had remained forgotten…

Funny O’Daniel family photo in Tijuana (1974)
Click the image or this link to view the embarrassing full-size photo.

Digital Daze Ahead

The date for the end of civilization as we know it is set.   At the stroke of midnight on February 17, 2009, millions of TVs across America will go blank.   Cars will cease to run.   Cell phones will go dead.   Rampant hordes of people will roam the streets in a zombie-like daze.   We’ll be plunged back into the Dark Ages and the survivors will be forced to scavenge for food like packs of wild beasts.

Okay, okay, that’s mostly not true.   But that date does signal the end of one thing:   Per congressional mandate, over-the-air analog TV broadcasts will cease as of February 17, 2009.

Why The Switch?

The primary reason for the switch to digital television (DTV) broadcasting is to free up portions of the old analog transmission spectrum for public safety & emergency services broadcasters like police & fire departments.   This will also allow the auctioning off of other parts of the analog spectrum to companies like AT&T to increase wireless broadband technology for faster wireless use.   retro television showing a nuclear explosionAdditionally, DTV offers far better picture & sound quality and switching to digital gives broadcasters the ability to deliver enhanced technology services to the public with greater efficiency.

(By the way, on September 8, 2008, the lucky folks in Wilmington, North Carolina will serve as a pilot market for the digital switchover.)

Does This Affect Me?

But what exactly does that mean to you & me?   Honestly, probably not too much.   If you have satellite or cable service, your existing setup should keep on serving you just like always.   And that’s even if you’re still only using analog cable.   However, be mindful that while the switch to digital broadcast won’t affect analog cable subscribers directly, many cable provider companies will probably use this as an opportunity to strongly encourage their analog customers to make the transition to digital service.

Ah, but what if you’re still relying upon the old "rabbit ears" or some other antenna to pluck a free TV signal out of the ether?   Then you definitely will be affected.   But even then, unless you have an incredibly ancient TV with no line-in options, all you should need is a digital converter box.   What’s more, your Uncle Sam will give you a $40 voucher towards the purchase of a digital converter box.   (You can call 888-DTV-2009 or go to www.dtv2009.gov for more details.)   And if you’ve bought a new television since 2004, you’re probably already covered since most newer TVs have a digital converter inside.

Does DTV Equal HDTV?

But wait a minute… Don’t you still need a "High Definition" television (HDTV) to handle the digital signal?   No, not at all.   Your TV does not have to be HD to receive digital broadcasts.   Certainly, there are some HD channels in the digital lineup that will take advantage of a HDTV, but the singular, simple truth is that even if you’re still clinging onto an old-school, tube-based television from two decades back, it should still work fine — you do not need a new TV to receive digital broadcasts.

However, this basic truth isn’t going to stop Circuit City, Best Buy, Wal-Mart and every other retailer from doing everything possible to cash in massively on the public’s misconceptions & fear.

Starting with "Black Friday" sales after Thanksgiving — if not sooner — these opportunistic retailers will profit handsomely off of the perception that most older TVs are going to go dead in February.   And of course, there’ll also be the post-Holiday "we didn’t bleed you dry enough already" sales frenzy in January and continuing right up to D-Day.   So for the next several months, you’re almost certain to see rampant hordes of zombie-like neophytes roaming the aisles of stores with a crazy twitch in one eye and nervous shake that intensifies when a salesperson draws near.

Get Set?

So we’ve established that you don’t need to kick that old TV to the curb for the sake of the February deadline.   Your old TV will most likely keep right on working just fine.   But while your older analog TV can handle a digital signal, either via cable or a converter box (and look better than it did with analog broadcasts) it won’t display high-definition resolutions with a converter box.   So, if you’re itching for a TV that can display "High Definition" (HDTV) — or just want a big, new, widescreen, flat panel plasma or LCD TV with all the trimmings — you’ll need to make the move to a newer TV.

If you’re ready to shop around for a new TV, you’re bound to find some enticing deals in the coming months.   So this might be just the right time to be in the market for a replacement for your old set.   But before you join the ranks of those living dead scrabbling through sales fliers and hopelessly trying to rationalize dropping a grand or more on a new TV so you can get it home in time for the next season of American Idol & NBA playoffs, take a deep breath and spend a little time seriously considering "need" versus "want."   Don’t let the paranoia & hype surrounding the looming digital broadcast switchover deadline pressure you into a costly move if you’re otherwise happy with what you’ve got.
 

What Lies Beneath?

If Robert Ballard’s enthusiastic presentation Exploring the Ocean’s Hidden Worlds featured on TED doesn’t rev you up about the possibilities that lie beneath the surface of the world’s oceans, well, you may not have a pulse.   Or maybe you just never had an aquarium as a kid or marveled as Jacques Cousteau plumbed the depths of the amazing underwater world on TV.

Anyway, Ballard is an oceanographer, marine geologist, & shipwreck explorer (he led the teams that discovered the wrecks of the RMS Titanic in 1985, the battleship Bismarck in 1989, & the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown in 1998).   In this talk, he passionately discusses oceanic exploration as a better, more sensible (and probably far more profitable) alternative to space exploration and brings up a lot of interesting questions about why we aren’t devoting more resources & energy to exploring some of the largest (and largely uncharted) features on our own planet.

Particularly interesting is the contrast between the budgets of the 2 U.S. exploration programs — NASA, tasked with exploring space, and NOAA, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration — and the striking remark that the funds from just one year of NASA’s annual budget would fund NOAA’s budget to explore the oceans for 1,600 years.   But the even more surprising comment made during this presentation is:

50% of America lies beneath the sea and we have better maps of Mars than that 50%.

At a time when the U.S. is up against greater international competition than ever, I think Ballard makes an especially compelling case for radically-increased exploration, mapping, & mining of our oceans.   Watch the video and please post a comment with your thoughts on this:

Shut Down For a Day on Shutdown Day

Shutdown Day banner

Shut down, switch off, unplug, disconnect, go offline, go analog, jack out — No matter how you say it, sometimes it’s really a good thing to get away from technology for awhile.

Shutdown Day is a non-profit Canadian organization founded by Dennis Bystrov & Ashutosh Rajekar to help raise awareness of the increasingly excessive use of digital media (TV, computers, game consoles, cell phones, MP3 players, etc.) and how technology can interfere with real world social interaction.

The idea of this global experiment is simple — just turn off your PC on Saturday, May 3rd, for the entire day and involve yourself in some other activity:   go outdoors, play sports, get together with friends & family — whatever, the point isn’t to reject our wired culture, but just to take a brief technology vacation and re-engage with the real world.

Maybe this also serves as a good opportunity to reflect & consider:   Are we too wired?   What do you think — can you survive for 24 hours without computers, email, & Internet?   Are you willing to take a technology vacation for just one day?   Do you think there’d be any benefit to doing so?

Note:   (I first mentioned Int’l Shutdown Day quite a bit earlier last year.   Dennis & Ashutosh explained that the annual event was shifted from its original March 24th date to May 3rd for the sake of warmer weather and a tree-planting event that’s to be held in Quebec.)
 

Media Meanderings

Y’know how quite often you begin reading about one specific thing on the Internet and you end up meandering all over the place?   Next thing you know, you’ve hyperlinked & explored across the Web — reading blogs, watching videos, & listening to streaming audio stuff — and couple of hours have suddenly vanished?   Well, that’s exactly where this post originated…

Jamendo logoA relatively new site called Jamendo that offers more than 5000 free music albums in high-quality DRM-free MP3 format.   You can save individual tracks or use your BitTorrent client to download entire albums in a jiff.   This is an excellent way to discover emerging new artists & music!   All music on Jamendo is licensed through Creative Commons, making it legal to copy & share, and even modify.   Some of the musicians even allow for the use of their music in commercial products or to be redistibuted as part of other projects.

And that’s how I came across Deus and try^d.   French electonica musician Deus’ captivating track called "Nothing Is Impossible" had been used in The Machine is Us/ing Us, an excellent video by Michael Wesch & the Digital Ethnography students at Kansas State University.

Internet-based electronica group try^d’s "Waltz Into the Moonlight" is featured as the soundtrack to a cool new video that I discovered last weekend, thanks to Michele Martin’s The Bamboo Project Blog.   Prof. Wesch has produced another thought-inspiring video, "A Vision of Students," that summarizes some of the most important characteristics of students today — how they learn, what they need to learn, their goals, hopes, dreams, what their lives will be like, and what kinds of changes they’ll experience in their lifetime.

Go With the Flow

Recently, I’ve been thinking…   The widespread acceptance of digital music has probably caused album artwork to become much less important since so much music is being bought electronically now.   And even of the CDs you might’ve physically purchased in the past few months, what was the last one you bought that featured a truly memorable cover design?   Can you even recall the what the album covers from the last 4 or 5 CDs you purchased looked like?

I believe that’s all about to change…

Cover Flow screen shot

Cover Flow, the 3-D interface that iTunes & the new iPod lineup features for visually browsing through your digital music libraries via album covers, was created by independent Mac developer Jonathan del Strother and purchased by Apple back in ’04.   It’s a gorgeous, intuitive, & fun way to peruse your music collection — almost exactly like flipping through stacks of vinyl LP record albums back in the old analog music days.

The more I see of the visually-stunning Cover Flow interface, I’m convinced that its popularity — thanks in no small part to Steve Jobs’ miraculous iPhone — will spark a revitalization of the previously-withering art of album cover design.   Since thumbing through your music collection’s cover art is the coolest way to find stuff on all of the new iPods (except the display-less iPod Shuffle), I think we’re about to see the visual aspect of music get a serious kick in the pants!

And I don’t think the impact of Cover Flow ends there.   No sir, not by a long shot!   Similarly-styled GUIs are going to spring up left & right — not the least of which is Leopard, or Mac OS X v10.5, the sixth major release of Apple’s Mac OS X operating system due out in October ’07.   It’s a safe bet that we’re seeing the next paradigm shift in user interfaces.

What do you think?   Will Cover Flow revitalize album cover design within the music industry?   And will it become as imitated as the iPod’s venerable click wheel?
 

OLPC Teaches the Birds and the Bees

OLPC notebook PC being shown to childrenOh yeah.   The MIT wonks gushed over the educational potential of their One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program, but somehow, I don’’t think this is quite the "educational opportunity" they had in mind…

Via Gecko & Fly, I read a Reuters news article reporting that a pilot group of Nigerian schoolchildren who received some of the first OLPC notebook PCs have been caught using them to explore pornographic sites on the Internet.

Well, sure enough, that is educational…

An OLPC representative pledged that the computers will now be fitted with content filters.   Of course, installing safeguards to ensure that these PCs cannot freely browse adult sites with explicit sexual materials is vital — and I’m baffled how this was overlooked to begin with.   But there are core-level, big-ticket issues that’re far beyond this embarrassing incident.   For me, there are two separate but equally important concerns:

First, should we really be in such a hurry to place computers in Third World childrens’ hands when basic survival needs have not first been met?   While I appaud the good intentions & ideals behind this project — namely, to provide educational opportunities for children who’ve not had them before — I’m still convinced that the money would be better spent establishing self-sustaining agriculture, sewage & water systems, and/or disease prevention & cure rather than on PCs.   I’m not advocating quick-fix handouts – I’m talking about helping these people build infrastructures needed to become self-reliant.

Second, as I’ve wondered before, (or life) for children?   As a parent-to-be, I’m nervous about how computer-use skills are being made a priority for very young kids.   Are we wise to so casually rush to acclimate children – impoverished or otherwise – to the digital world?   And in doing so, are we robbing them of real world learning opportunities?

What’s your take on the OLPC project?
 

The Machine is Us/ing Us

Although not exactly new since it’s been circulating around the blogosphere for several weeks, there’ve been a few friends who drew a blank when this was referenced, so Dede encouraged me to post an entry about this video.

Ethnography is defined as the study of the origin, characteristics, and distribution of different cultural and ethnic groups.   An ethnographer’s job is to immerse himself in the social scene being studied and participate in order to get a better understanding of that culture.   Professor Michael Wesch & his students in the Digital Ethnography group at Kansas State University have done just that with their The Machine is Us/ing Us video.

Considered a crash course on Web 2.0, this fascinating presentation neatly dissects the dizzying social impact of the Internet, where people are more plugged in than ever before, creating, collaborating, discussing, & sharing virtual worlds.   The web is a machine.   It’s a tool.   It’s home for many of us.   Or to paraphrase Prof. Wesch, the web is us

Did this video strike a chord with you?   Does the whole "Web 2.0" thing leave your head spinning?   Leave a comment & let us know what you think!