Taking a Cue from Big Tobacco: Big Tech Introduces the iFilter!

I’m addicted to the Internet because it’s more interesting than people.
~ Dilbert

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A Father’s Day Christmas Appeal from a Dinosaur Dad

Randi Zuckerberg, Mark’s big sister, has tech street cred – and not just because of whom she happens to be related to. She put in her time at her brother’s firm, where she got Facebook Live up and running, but she has also gone on to accomplish lots of other stuff – like a tech blog, as well as a radio show, a book series, and a cyber-restaurant chain.

So it was with great pleasure when I read the closing line of Randi’s profile that appears in this weekend’s WSJ. “No invention, no technology, is ever 100% positive,” she said, “and that’s something no one could predict in the early days.”

Now, I’m not sure what she means by the early days – like, does she mean those poor primates at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey that start belting each other with bones? In Stanley Kubrick’s vision, they were nature’s earliest adopters, and they sure couldn’t predict anything about where their tech adaptations would take the world.

I’m going to assume that Randi was talking about the more recent tech boom – say, since the 1980s, with the cultural tsunami of personal computers and internet, and now mobile gadgetry beyond even Kubrick’s (and Arthur C. Clarke’s) wildest dreams.

Yet, I must demur. There must be scads of people who saw the handwriting on the wall back when IBM and Apple, Microsoft and Motorola were taking over the world. I’m no genius, and even I was able to predict the downside of that tsunami. It’s why I’ve never carried a cellphone, and I never will.

It’s become my calling card – at least among my former students. I’ve been teaching nursing for about 15 years now, which means that I frequently bump into graduates in hospitals and other healthcare facilities around town. It’s always gratifying to see them flourishing in their profession of caring, “RN” prominently displayed on their ID badges, and to know that I played a small role in shepherding them along the way.

After the usual exchange of pleasantries (their “Are you still teaching?” and my “What unit are you working on?”), they’ll sometimes reminisce about my professorial peculiarities. “Don’t judge me for my tan,” they might say, tongue in cheek – for they remember how I mercilessly hammered the foolhardy recklessness inherent in intentional tanning. “You know I will!” is my standard rejoinder.

Regardless of whatever other idiosyncrasies they might mention, the cellphone thing almost always comes up. “Still no cell?” they’ll ask.

“Nope – you know better than that!” is my comeback. “I’m holding out.”

Often, they’ll just grin and shake their heads in wonderment, but sometimes they’ll add a comment: “You’re probably better off.”

There’s no “probably” about it. I’m deliriously happy to be free of smartphone servitude, and, without judging anyone, I only wish that I could convince more folks to adopt a similar lifestyle – to shed their dependence on the constant tug of their bleeping, buzzing Beelzebubs; to jettison the distraction and dangers (behind the wheel); to discover the joy inherent in approaching cyber-connectivity as a convenience rather than a crutch. I get so worked up about it, I sometimes envision myself as a latter-day quasi-Luddite heir to Marx: “Apple and android vassals of the world, unite! All you have to lose are your chains!”

Yet, here I am, writing this screed on a computer, and I’ll be posting it online. “Hypocrite!” you cry. “Charlatan!” Well, maybe. I have email and blogs and a Google account. Send me a message on Facebook (during waking hours), and chances are I’ll be back in touch with you within hours, maybe even minutes. I share YouTube videos with my friends, look up stuff on my search bar instead of hunting it down in a physical book, and listen to my cheesy Pandora mix (basically George Winston + Gregorian chant) as I work.

So, what’s the difference?

The difference is that I’m not attached to all that at the hip – literally. There’s no question that I rely on computers and the internet to maneuver in the 21st century. They are incredibly powerful tools – amazing even. There’s no question that they’ve made life better on so many levels for so many people. Besides, there’s no going back – the world is wired. “Resistance is futile,” you might say, but I’m not resisting it.

What I am resisting are the genuflections inherent in carrying those powerful tools around with us at all times. Yes, I have an old flip phone in my glove compartment in case of emergencies, but I rarely take it out. What I’m stubbornly resisting is cellphone servitude and addiction. I’m resisting the disruption that those infernal devices bring to our relationships and social cohesion.

And, so, on this Father’s Day, I’m going to leverage my paternity and make an outlandish request to my kids: No cellphones for a day. Not just at dinner, not just in the movie theater, but everywhere and under all circumstance throughout an entire day – heck, I’ll even narrow that down to just sunup to sundown. Note that it’s a request, not a demand – a Father’s Day application of Paul’s plea to Philemon: “Although I have the full right in Christ to order you to do what is proper,” he scolded, “I rather urge you out of love, being as I am, Paul, an old man” (Phlm 9).

What’s more, I’m not even making the request for today – I’m not naïve! They’ll need time to prepare for this radical gesture.

No, I’m thinking ahead to Christmas – a mere 6 months away. Here’s how I picture it: Cookies in the oven, lights and greens being strewn about here and there, and all the traditional trappings of the season slowly, ever so slowly, making their appearance. The 24/7 Christmas station is on and has been since before Thanksgiving – and nobody cares that Bing Crosby’s version of that Hawaiian carol is on heavy rotation. Rushing here and there for last-minute gifts; travels homeward and warm greetings at the door.

And, on the appointed day, there’ll be a basket at the door. Maybe a simple wicker basket with tissue paper and tinsel, and we’ll all plop our gizmos and gadgets into it. I’ll even get my TracFone out of the glove compartment to throw in for good measure. It’ll be a belated Father’s Day gift to me, but I’d like to think it’d be a gift to the whole family. Imagine the conversations. Imagine the games we’ll play, the stories we’ll swap, the undiluted communion we’ll share. Imagine the interior sighs of relief to be free from constant distraction and mental noise. Presence as family presents all around.

Doesn’t that sound great? I know many other families do this routinely, so I want to give it a shot. I’m guessing everybody will enjoy it as much as I will. Maybe they’ll even follow my lead and swap their cells in for TracFones!

We’ll see. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Of Facebook, Transparency, and Pentecost

I see where they’re going with this.
~ Brian Regan

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