Category Archives: Old Media

My Digital Blindspot

I have never been a fan of the digital immigrant/digital native comparison. I’m reasonably old in technology years, having grown up with cabinet televisions, rotary telephones and “hi fi” systems to play records and later cassette tapes. We continue to store lots of music in those so-archaic-they-are-coming-back-again formats. We’re ready for the 21st century vinyl revolution!

But I am finding my place in the world of media proliferation and overlap. I understand that content has become disconnected from its traditional hardware and timelines. Listening to the radio now probably means listening to radio content rather than tuning in on a traditional receiver. The one radio I still use is in my car, and I listen to my local public broadcasting station.  At home, my live listening shifts to Alexa who is able to provide access to multiple radio stations with the content I want so I may be listening live but to a station on the West coast. I also time shift the content, using the NPR One app to access recordings of both “real” radio programs and separately produced podcasts that have never been broadcast over the radio airwaves. I listened to the BBC News story about Norway switching off FM over an FM radio station being streamed through my Alexa.

So, I’m no stranger to the digital content revolution. But, late last year, I discovered my digital blindspot. I am a Gilmore Girls fan and was excited when Netflix announced the new series. I marked its debut on my calendar.  In my mind, they would debut like a broadcast television series or movie, probably around 9 PM or so. At some point during the debut day, I logged into social media to see reviews appearing from people who had obviously already watched all four episodes. How, I wondered, did they get early access? It took a minute or two before I realized they weren’t special: just smarter. Netflix isn’t a television station; it offers simultaneous access to television shows and movies. So, it wouldn’t be broadcasting the Gilmore Girls’ episode at any special time but simply making them live. And clearly, they had already done that. I fired up the tablet and sure enough, there they were.

I suppose now is when I say I chuckled ruefully at my digital native folly but mostly I just was glad I could watch earlier rather than later as 9 PM is starting to be my bed time.

It’s anytime, anywhere, (almost) any content,and I think I’m getting the hang of it.




One Perk of Commuting

I spent nine years doing a long commute back and forth to my middle school. Two hours in the car each day. I didn’t mind too much: I loved the job and I had discovered what, in those days, were literally books on tape. (CDs arrived sometime during those years as well.) I checked them out from the library, and with 10 hours a week to devote to listening, I moved through them pretty quickly.

Now, I work from home. I don’t miss commuting, but I do miss those two hours a day devoted to listening. I will still cue up a podcast or two at home, but it’s not the same as I’m usually doing something else while I’m listening so don’t always get the full story. So, I sort of look forward to days like today: I’m heading to Fredericksburg for a meeting. I’ll have three hours in the car. I’ve downloaded more than that many hours of podcasts. There’s a Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me episode, two hours of tomorrow’s Science Friday, an interview with John O’Donohue from On Being, a Kacey Musgraves Tiny Desk Concert, and two Fresh Air sessions about Lily Tomlin and David Foster Wallace.

So MUCH content! So LITTLE time! Now the only decision is what to listen to first.

A Birthday Reflection

I turn 48 years old today. When I was born, the Vietnam War was just heating up, the Summer of Love was still five years away, and Kennedy was in the middle of those glorious thousand days that came to be known as Camelot. I am on the far edge of the Boomers and can even claim Generation X status when I get annoyed at what I think is the sometimes smug Boomer culture. All that Boomer optimism had faded by the time I came into the world and those of us in the 13th generation grew up in a much more cynical age. I have a good friend who is on the other end of the Boomers and when we play the Boomer edition of Trivial Pursuit she knows all the answers to questions about Howdy Doody and the Beatles. I get the ones about Watergate and the war.

There have been some positives over the past five decades…such as a focus on environmental conservation. But it doesn’t always feel like things have gotten much better. I lived just 30 miles from Three Mile Island when it melted down and am now sick over the oil gushing into the Gulf. Earth Day began when I was seven because things had gotten so bad that rivers were on fire and whole communities were being poisoned. Now, we regularly see bald eagles flying over head. But we still haven’t figured out how human beings can live without destroying everything else.

And, then there’s education: A Nation at Risk was written in 1982 and I am watching its influence play out now, nearly 30 years later. That report was all about what students didn’t know and that’s what we are busy trying to test now. There was little concern for what they could do or whether they could think and how schools could foster more critical, creative problem solvers. I wonder how long it will take to see any influence from current reform efforts as the slow educational pendulum continues its eternal swinging?

Technology was not absent from my classroom when I started teaching in 1988. They were very old school: film strips, film reels, an overhead projector and an oft-used record and cassette player. I did have a computer in my room…an early macintosh that was used with a laser printer to desktop publish the school newspaper. It was hidden away in the back room. There was no Internet, just the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature, most of which we did not have access to. Yet, we learned together with the materials we had. Much of the technologies supported my presentations as a teacher. But they also provided creative outlets for my students. My students used the analog video camera to make public service advertisements. After cleaning the strips in chlorine, they used pens to draw their own film strips. We listened to music as part of our poetry unit and watched the movie versions of Shakespeare’s work which added an interactive element to what was often a text-only approach to literature. I didn’t really think about it as “technology,” the way we talk about digital technologies today, but was glad to have choices related to how I could present and have students interact with information.

The excitement today, I think, is what students can do with the technology. Creating film strips and analog videos seem like cave writing in comparison to digital videos and interactive web sites. My worry? That all this great technology is still mostly being used to enhance teacher presentations and kids don’t get much chance to do their own creation and interaction. I was glad to see that several of my pre-service teachers this semester adopted Google Maps for their lesson projects and allowed students to do the creation. You could argue that it’s not that innovative since teachers have been doing map work with students forever. But what a step away from the flat views with their colored pencil hatch marks. Add markers, draw lines, zoom in and out, check out the terrain, the possibilities are endless.

I’m a huge fan of Google Maps as a great example of the interactivity that I think is really the innovative part of digital technologies. I used it recently to plan and execute my recent walking tour of Denver. I created the map on my laptop, pulled audio from the Denver Story Trek website, and then moved everything to my phone. (Don’t get me started on my phone…I really am in love with my Droid.)

View Denver in a larger map

It’s been an interesting time to be alive. Technologically, watching the world move from analog to digital must be a similar experience to the generation that went from horse-drawn wagons to automobiles. I’ve seen great cultural shifts as well particularly in terms of individual rights. The landmark civil rights legislation was signed when I was a toddler. And while it didn’t pass, the Equal Rights Amendment was part of the milieu as I came to adulthood in the 70s. I’ve grown up surrounded by conversations about race, gender, and sexual orientation and while we are a long way from answers in any of those areas, we’re moving in a positive direction I think as we learn to think of each other as individuals first and then members of particular groups second. We’re complex beings whose identities are woven from disparate threads.

I’ll close with the weirdest thing about being this age: the President of the United States is my age! And, I graduated from William and Mary with John Stewart. My generation is moving in to the leadership, joining but also changing the establishment while the next generation breathes down our necks.

Post Pencil?

Sharon has been writing eloquently about Sherry Turkle’s book Simulation and Its Discontents, which I also read as part of the “choose your own reading” part of the course. Go read Sharon’s posts, particularly the one about socks, and then come back…no, really, go…

Turkle’s book is a microcosmic look at experience of the analog to digital transition. I am part of the generation that is living through that transition. Like Turkle’s engineers and architects, I face the fundamental question: As technology replaces so much of what we do “by hand,” what analog practices do we want to keep around? I know that some of my colleagues would probably say none, having developed digital lives for themselves.

But, as I face the transition, I find that there are certain things I like to do with a pencil in my hand and the digital alternative is simply not as satisfying. The main one: my to do list. I use it, in conjunction with a print calendar, to map out my months, weeks, and days. It’s the way I’ve always done it and I have yet to find an online alternative that satisfies me. I begin my day by jotting down what I want to accomplish and still get a thrill when I can draw a line through it at day’s end.

I also prefer using a pencil and paper for brainstorming and drafting. Like Turkle’s folks, I sometimes feel as though word processed text looks too complete and the highlighting and commenting tools do not provide the same level of contact with the text in order to complete detailed editing. Of course, my advisor and I used these tools to pass drafts of my dissertation back and forth but my own work on the draft often include lots of handwritten work from outlines, to diagrams, to chunks of text. My spiral bound notebook is included in the archives of the project because much of the thinking about themes was concocted in its pages. At some point, I tried using a digital graphic organizer but somehow the technology got in the way. I wanted to scribble, to draw wavy arrows, to circle words, to jot pictures, to create messiness, and the software seemed to demand neatness and order. I wasn’t creating for someone else but instead trying to dig into my own thinking and the pencil was more inviting than the mouse as the tool to facilitate that process.

While these activities seem mundane compared to Turkle’s folks who are grappling with the meaning of simulations for their very work, they illustrate in a very practical way the decisions we make each day about our use of technology. I think it’s important to consider these decisions and provide opportunities for kids to understand them as well, lest they become like the younger designers who see no value in the old ways and rely, sometimes too completely, on the simulation.

140? We Used to Do it in 8!

I had a funny, when-I-was-their-age moment. I had found my way to this Teachers Network website and saw this headline: IF U CN RD THS U CN LRN TO RITE, which linked to an article about adding a twist to the typical “what I did this summer” essay by having students start with texting their responses. For some reason, I flashed to an old, rainy day worksheet I used to have that gave a list of vanity license plates that the kids had to decipher. Maybe they represent the original text messaging, and a little googling showed that having students create personalized license plates for themselves or other characters was a popular lesson plan. Everything old is new again, this time around with a few more characters allowed.