Friday, April 8, 2011

Curious Publicity

It is amazing to me what some people publicize about themselves. If you watch the Today Show on NBC, for instance, you can see some curious and sometimes bizarre signs that people who gather outside the studio in New York City hold up. There are the birthday, wedding, and engagement signs, the signs that announce where the person holding the sign is from, the birth announcement signs, the greetings to friends and relatives, etc. The other day a child in the front row held up a sign that said “I broke my collar bone.” Now that is something we all need to know and we should be grateful to a nationally televised program to bring it to us.

That incident reminded me of the time my family and I and some friends were taking a walk through a residential neighborhood in State College, Pennsylvania. The neatly groomed lawns in front of the upper-middle class houses were terminated by a sidewalk that traversed across successive driveways. In one of the driveways a boy of perhaps four or five years of age was riding his tricycle up and down and in circles. As he saw us approach his driveway he wheeled about sharply and headed in our direction, his face aglow with joy and excitement. As he was peddling furiously toward our little group of strollers he shouted with obvious glee: “I've got diarrhea!” We didn't know whether to pity him, congratulate him or just ignore him; we did the latter. I wonder if his parents ever took him to Rockefeller Plaza to watch the making of the Today Show – with a sign.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Technology – Blessing or Curse?

In no way do I consider myself “technology-impaired.” In our household there are several TV sets, two computers, four cell phones, an iPad, an MP3 player, a GPS navigator, and of course, a video recorder, a DVD player, and several CD players. I have written three apps for the iPhone (I didn't do the programming) and I have written numerous computer programs throughout the years. I maintain a blog, a web site, and I connect to the internet multiple times per day. I think I'm pretty well up to date.

So what's the problem? Well, I have the feeling that I am struggling to keep up with the newest developments in technology. I know that one can find restaurants and all kinds of other places using the smartphone, and the other day I heard that at Starbuck's you can pay for your Latte with a smartphone, and now they are working on the ability to pay for all kinds of other products and services with that device. No wonder that this is the trend: on TV the other day, a college student in an interview said that she often leaves home without her wallet, but never without her iPhone!

Isn't all this great? Yes it is. But, I wonder if in the future anybody will have to know or remember anything at all, all they will have to be able to do is to know how to use their smartphone or its successor. Think of it: multiplication tables, historical dates, Presidents' names, the Gettysburg Address, the Constitution, etc., all at your fingertips! Future generations won't even have to know that such a thing as the Gettysburg Address exists, they will be automatically linked to it from some other piece of information. For instance, the other day I was listening to Mark Knoepfler and James Taylor singing “Sailing to Philadelphia,” a song about two Englishmen with the names Mason and Dixon. Of course I had heard of the “Mason-Dixon Line,” but when I “googled” the names Mason and Dixon I learned something about American history which I hadn't known before because I was linked ever further into the depths of the reasons for the two gentlemen's endeavor.

All the knowledge of the world soon will be in the palms of our hands by way of smartphones or whatever even smaller and more intelligent devices technology will bestow upon us. That is the blessing. But, I wonder if there isn't a downside: will we stop carrying things in our heads, such as a tune to hum or the image of some pleasant scene from the past? Will we have to check our smartphone or its equivalent to be able to come up with the proper etiquette or behavior in various situations? Will we read a person's bar code to be able to call them by their name? I hope it won't come to this. For the time being, the new technologies seem to be a blessing, yet I wonder about the future. Formal education in the future may consist solely of learning how to use our electronic devices.