A Case for Slower Technology

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The tech world is all about speed.

When developing new software, your goal is to be the first to finish it and make it marketable. (And we can all agree you don’t typically get to be first by moving slower than your competitors.)

When the internet frustrates you, you’re probably complaining that it’s slow.

When a web browser or an app updates and it’s not to fix a glitch in the program, it’s nearly always an update to improve performance speed – installation speed, startup speed, page load speed, download speed. There are endless online comparisons dedicated to telling us what works the fastest. In today’s world everything has to be faster because when we want something, we want it now.

But what happens when we don’t want it now?

“I wish emails came slower,” my roommate said this week.

Now, I’m not normally one to request for anything to be slower. I was born a northerner and a city girl, which means I talk fast, walk fast, and get pretty frustrated when other people don’t do the same. But my vacation tech detox made me realize how much strain I was under because of the constant pressure of incoming mail. So when my roommate said she wanted email to be slower, I realized I kind of wished the same thing.

“The Internet has always been about getting to the information you need faster than you could in any other way.” – Michael Muchmore, PCMag

Technology has progressed to become not only faster but a more integral part in our lives than ever before. The appeal of an email is in its speed; you write what you want to say, send it, and it is in someone else’s inbox waiting to be read almost instantly. On the face of it, this action is great. Quick, easy communication – something we all want. Right?

Yes, until the inevitable conditioning to this technology happens. Because you can send an email so quickly, you begin to expect a response just as fast. And with the rise of smartphones, there’s really no excuse for that person you contacted to not get back to you almost immediately, is there?

It’s really a doubled-edged sword, the speed of this communication. You’re happy that it’s faster and easier to contact people in writing than to put your thoughts in a letter and send it in the mail. But the immediacy of the email has created a culture in which we feel compelled to respond to these correspondences in the same “timely” manner.

I personally find this immediacy stressful. I receive dozens of emails a day from work, school, and my internship that I have to take the time to respond to. When my email notification chimes, I sigh internally as I reach for my phone. The constant email-checking is frustrating, but it’s to the point where I can’t imagine a life without it.

email ghost

The trouble is I know when the tables are turned, I expect the same treatment when I send an email. No response within 12 hours? Did they fall off the face of the earth? Why haven’t they checked their email?

And with thoughts like these on both sides, what can I do but wish emails just came a bit slower?

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Disney bans smoking

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Disney recently announced a ban on smoking in its films.

The ban will prevent Disney and all of its affiliated production companies – Marvel, Lucasfilm, and Pixar – from showing anyone smoking on screen in films with a PG-13 rating or lower. Disney cites a Surgeon General’s report for the reason behind the ban, which states that children may consider smoking after they see others do so in films. There’s one exception to the rule: historical figures. For example, if Disney decides to make a movie about Abraham Lincoln, who was a smoker, they can show him smoking in the film on the grounds of preserving historical accuracy.

“In terms of any new characters that are created for any of those films, under any of those labels, we will absolutely prohibit smoking in any of those films.”

I’m conflicted about this development. On one hand, preventing kids from starting to smoke is an admirable goal. I think how strong the direct influence of film actions on childrens’ lives is perhaps questionable, but I can see where Disney is going with this ban. You don’t want to hear years later that some kids started smoking because their favorite character made it look cool.

wolverine cigar

On the other hand, as a writer I feel this ban cuts into the creative freedom of the scriptwriters. If you picture your character smoking, you should be able to write that.

But I think the bigger issue this ban brings up is the question of censorship and what we will and won’t allow on our screens. For instance, maybe we can all agree that underage smoking is bad, and maybe this even constitutes a ban. But then why aren’t we banning other on-screen vices – alcohol, violence, gambling, other drugs? Those things are bad for kids too, aren’t they?

I’m not saying we should be taking everything “bad” out of movies. That would be boring, not to mention impractical. My point is I don’t fully understand why Disney has taken a stance on this one issue, and I don’t see how they can justify banning the portrayal of smoking in their films based solely on its potential for encouraging bad habits in kids. Couldn’t kids just as easily pick up prejudices, violent tendencies, or otherwise worrisome traits from movie villains, for example?

Personally, I’d rather see Disney focus on portraying more diverse racial, ethnic, and sexual identities on screen than focus on cutting down on the number of cigars getting smoked.

Push notification

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And now, a case of a “push” notification, redefined:

A woman in Newark, New Jersey went in for a routine pregnancy check up when her water broke. This actually sounds pretty ideal in terms of surprise-water-breaking-scenarios – being already surrounded by medical staff when it happens – but Keyanna Rivera had another problem: her doctor wasn’t there.

When Rivera went into labor, her doctor was finishing a surgery in another facility a few miles away, leaving her with only a medical assistant who had never delivered a baby before.

Rivera’s husband came up with the idea to FaceTime Dr. Devalla during the delivery. Sounds pretty crazy, but it actually worked: Dr. Devalla was able to give instructions to Rivera and the medical assistant via the iPhone app, helping Rivera to safely deliver her son Rafael.

facetimeI think we often forget about how the technologies we take for granted can make a real difference in the world. If asked to pick a potentially life-saving iPhone app, your first thought probably wouldn’t be FaceTime. (I assume – I don’t use FaceTime, so maybe its regular users would be quicker to vocalize their support.) But this story is a great example of how we can push our communications efforts and the boundaries of our technology, not just by creating new devices, but by coming up with new ways to use the ones we already have.

Rivera was happy with her husband’s quick thinking and Dr. Devalla’s response and instructions, but she says she would not want to have to deliver another child via FaceTime. (Can’t say I blame her.)

My Vacation Mass-Comm Detox

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For the first time in my life I made Spring Break plans – a couple of friends and I took a road trip to Savannah and Charleston – and I was determined to make this a real vacation for myself. I decided to help my travels feel more like that vacation by doing a serious tech/social media detox for the duration of the week.

On our way out the door, my roommate saw my computer on my desk and told me not to forget it. I said I wasn’t bringing it with me. She looked at me like I had grown a second head and that head told her I now hated chocolate, kittens, and all things good in the world.

“I’m taking a real vacation,” I said. “No laptop.”

that's a terrible idea

I’ve come to think of my laptop as a sort of ball-and-chain in my life, tethering me to all the work I have to do for school and my internship. Sure, it can be for fun/meaningless internet browsing as well, but since I’m usually doing that to procrastinate from taking care of my responsibilities, even the fun part now has an ominous work-undertone. I knew if I brought my computer with me I would feel pressured to use it for work…so I left it.

I brought my cell phone with me, but I refused to let that dominate my time or pressure me to work either. I kept it charged for potential emergencies, but I didn’t let myself use it for any bored social media scrolling or work/internship email-checking. (Actually, that Heelmail outage was a great help. All I had to do was wait to reconfigure the email settings on my phone until after I got back to school, and I didn’t have to feel compelled to keep checking it on my vacation.)

I didn’t use Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube, or any of the other social media sites I normally frequent while on Spring Break. I only pulled out my phone to text family and friends when I was traveling from one city to the next. (Ok, and once or twice to use the GPS to navigate in the unfamiliar downtown areas.)

Overall this was one of the best vacations I have ever had, and I believe that had a lot to do with my mass-comm detox. I feel like my life is really wrapped up in work all the time – I have a Sakai message about a school assignment, an email from my internship about a new project, a text from my boss asking me to pick up a shift – to a degree made possible by our mass-comm technologies. Leaving the tech behind helped me leave work behind, which allowed me to have a much more relaxing vacation.

I highly recommend ditching the computer/tablet/cell on your next getaway.

Smart(er) cars

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At the beginning of the semester we did a quick write-up on how we predicted mass media and interaction would look in the future. I wrote that our media technology would become even more essential to our lives, becoming less about devices we carry around and more about the physical spaces we exist and interact in – namely, smarter cars and houses.

I’ve now got proof that my predictions were correct! At least in terms of smart(er) cars. I found this list of up-and-coming developments in auto technology. Here’s a few media and communications related developments:

1. Built-in Wifi

If you asked me to identify a single technological advancement that I thought would become a part of our near-future, I would have said getting Wifi in cars. Let’s be honest – it feels like the next logical step. If you’ve ever been on a long road trip, you’ve probably wished at some point or another you could get internet access to help you pass the time (I sure have). Maybe you’re stuck in an epic traffic jam, with no end in sight. Or maybe your GPS lost its signal because you’re driving out in the boonies. Internet in cars? Yes, please. Currently, Buick, GMC, and Chevrolet offer built-in 4G LTE Wifi hotspots in select vehicles, but I think this will soon become a universal feature across car companies.

2. GPS Traffic Analysis

Speaking of GPS, we’re getting a lot of advancements in GPS and traffic communications that come straight from your car, too. Many vehicles come with built-in GPS systems now, but the next step is the kind that comes with traffic analysis systems and real-time traffic information. Acura now offers a Real-Time Traffic feature with their GPS system that allows users to avoid accidents, bad weather conditions, and construction on their trip. There’s also a traffic light information system being developed which will alert drivers when the next green light will be – and how fast they have to drive to get there.

green light alert

3. Built-in Phone Access

Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay allow important phone information to sync and be displayed on car dashboards. These developments are great examples of responding to the public and consumer demands. People use their phones when they drive – even when it’s dangerous – so the companies responded with what the public wanted: easier access to their cell phones while driving. I’m not sure how much this truly increases people’s safety (seeing as they’re just shifting their focus from one screen to another) but the development has potential.

phone on dash

4. Voice Recognition

This is a pretty cool, sci-fi type advancement: UConnect, installed in a number of vehicles for Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, and Jeep, uses voice recognition software to communicate with drivers. For instance, you can ask your car “Where is the nearest gas station?” and the car will respond with directions, etc. It’s also worth noting that combining this voice recognition software with the phone-dashboard software from #3 could eliminate the dangers of fiddling with a screen while driving.

5. Crash Detection

An expansion of roadside assistance services like OnStar, the latest on crash detection software in cars can automatically dial 911 and dispatch help to the scene of an accident. Companies like Ford and GM use cellular connectivity to reach out to your personal emergency contacts as well. This could be a life-saving development for someone who is knocked unconscious or becomes trapped during an accident.

emergency

That’s the status on mass comm + smart cars for now, but I’d recommend looking over this entire list about the latest in car tech – there’s a lot of promising safety and convenience developments in the works, too.

Rewriting history

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Last week Oklahoma voted to ban Advanced Placement US History courses. (Well, officially it’s a bill that cuts funding for the teaching of the class, but the effect is about the same.)

The decision was based on a recent conservative movement against the course and its structure. Representative Dan Fisher, who introduced the bill, said APUSH emphasizes “what is bad about America” and refuses to highlight “American exceptionalism.”

But Fisher and the Oklahoma legislature aren’t the only ones complaining. The Republican National Committee petitioned Congress to withhold funding from College Board – the organization that dictates the framework for Advanced Placement courses – until the APUSH curriculum was revised to “accurately reflect US history without a political bias.”  The RNC also criticized College Board for using the course to present a “consistently negative view of American history.”

The class has sparked similar debates in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Colorado. The Jefferson County (CO) school board considered changing the APUSH curriculum to “avoid the encouragement of civil disorder, social strife, or disregard of the law”  – themes that run through the course, particularly with its increased emphasis on events like the civil rights movement. After two weeks of student walkouts and teacher no-shows, the Jefferson County board revoked their plans to change APUSH.

teach us the truth

In Texas, the chair of the State Board of Education, Barbara Cargill, said the APUSH framework has “a lot of emphasis on racial conflict and US expansionism and the excesses of capitalism, as opposed to the benefits of it.”

Here seems like a good place to stop and give my two cents on the issue. We’ll start with you, Ms. Barbara Cargill of the Texas BoE. First, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that even though you listed three things APUSH emphasizes, when you said you also wanted the course to include the “benefits” you were only talking about the last item on your list – because if you’re advocating for the benefits of racial conflicts, I don’t even know where to start with you.

I’ll cut to the chase: I have a problem with any approach to limit educational opportunities. When the anti-APUSH groups say they don’t like the course’s focus on things like racial conflicts or expansionism or any of the “negative” events of American history, to me it feels like they’re trying to cover up important parts of history because they don’t like what happened. I’m sorry if the fact that America isn’t perfect bothers you (I’m looking at you, Mr. “American exceptionalism” Fisher), but you don’t get to skim over the bad parts of our history because of that. For me historical education in America has always been problematic and that’s because we are constantly taught and retaught about the same events in a way that contradicts what we previously learned. (If you don’t know what I mean, think about how your views on Christopher Columbus changed from the time you were in grade school to now.)

history victors

I also take issue with this assertion that APUSH isn’t “patriotic” enough. Since when is the purpose of a history class to enforce patriotism? APUSH isn’t supposed to make us into patriots – it’s supposed to teach us about historical events. Taking a British History class isn’t supposed to turn me into a Loyalist. Why does an American history class deserve different expectations?

All I can say is I really hope that this movement dies out and other states have enough sense to keep teaching APUSH.