Archive for the 'Ideas' Category

The Bubble

Bubbles are made up of the communities we inhabit both in the physical world and on the internet. Bubbles exist in the relationships we have with people and in our minds. We all live in a bubble of one kind or another. There is nothing wrong with bubbles really. Humans have thrived because of bubbles. We want to form tribes. We want to know what is right and what is wrong.

Living in bubbles means we run the risk of becoming an echo chamber and fearful of outsiders. This insularity can often be seen in internet communities (see Reddit for some fascinating case studies). While the internet is great for supporting a plurality of views it is very easy to situate yourself in a very specialized bubble.  On the internet you can set your life up in such a way that you only hear what you want and avoid real dissenting opinions. Additionally, you can have a whole community of people around you that support it.

When I catch myself sinking into black & white or groupthink I stop to take a look at my thought process. I try to emulate a professor I had in college who, when given an answer to a question that she had posed, would analyze and examine it without judgement. She’d ask for clarification, more probing questions and ultimately get the student to work through their own thought process and question their own assumptions. It amazed me every time she did it. So, during those moments I’ve sunk down into uncritical thinking I try to wrap my mind around an opposing viewpoint. I ask myself, “What is their thinking here?”. Not the straw-man argument that people argue against but, “what is their real argument?”. Most importantly, once I begin to answer those questions I refrain from drawing conclusions about that argument (a task that I still have trouble executing successfully).

This mental exercise is not necessarily so I switch my point of view but, it usually brings me back to a point where I can see that most issues are not black & white. There is a lot of gray area in life and I need to be ok with that. Once I loosen my grip on ideology and “being right’ and allow myself to doubt and question I find a lot more freedom. I find I understand people better too.

Procrastination: The War Inside Your Brain

“The future is always ideal: The fridge is stocked, the weather clear, the train runs on schedule and meetings end on time. Today, well, stuff happens.”

– Hara Estroff Marano in Psychology Today

Like nearly every other human being on the earth I suffer from procrastination. My procrastination is also coupled with perfectionist tendencies but, that topic is for another post.

I was reading a blog post on procrastination and it must be the first time I ever heard procrastination framed in such way that wasn’t related to organization and didn’t make me feel like a failure for not being able to fix it. This quote really drove home the point for me:

Procrastination is all about choosing want over should because you don’t have a plan for those times when you can expect to be tempted.

You are really bad at predicting your future mental states. In addition, you are terrible at choosing between now or later. Later is murky place where anything could go wrong.

Now on some level I knew procrastination was related to the inability to delay-gratification but, the article didn’t make me feel like a child for being unable to do it, it just made me feel human. As a human I hate to admit that I am incapable of choosing to delay gratification but, lets be honest that is something we all struggle with and it goes way back in human evolution to impulsively not delay things like sugar or using resources while they are available. So I admit it, I’m an instant-gratification junky. I have tendency to believe that in the future that somehow the conditions will be more suitable to get to work done but, as any procrastinator knows this is simply not true.

I now have a new mantra when I’m trying to get work done and I feel the urge to just check Facebook quickly or watch that one episode. I used to view my future self as someone better at work but my mantra goes something like, “future you is evil, do something while you can!!”. Now this seems a little ridiculous I know but, I’m amazed how it has worked. Especially when it comes to school work, as any professor I have ever had can tell you, I’m a notorious last minute worker. There are many reasons that complicate this but procrastination as a failure to predict my future mental states is one of the major contributors. Now it hasn’t fixed my procrastination completely but, I don’t want to fall into the fallacy of thinking that just because there isn’t an instant and easy change that it doesn’t work.

In addition, I try to no longer frame things I have to do as “I will” but rather as “will I?”. I wish I had the reference handy but, this article discussed how people are more likely to complete a task if they don’t make it something they have to do (I will) but rather frame it as a choice (Will I?).

Combining my new mantra (“future you sucks at work”) and framing my work as “will I?” has been helping me create a new model of approaching work in my head. Sometimes it feels a little ridiculous to go through these phrases and repeat them to myself but, as I have discovered sometimes you are just going to feel a little ridiculous in order to fix things.

Ascending On Beautiful Foolish Arms

People will tell you where they’ve gone
They’ll tell you where to go
But till you get there yourself you never really know

cc licensed flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

Thoughts have been flowing through my mind so rapidly the two weeks. End of semester, end of year, end of decade reflections. Life, perhaps slowed down by the winter chill, holds still for closer inspection. I see the grieving, joy, anger, peace and more that this semester, year, and decade has wrought. I do not live my life perfectly but, I strive to be better (don’t most people feel this way?). I’ve come to learn “all experiences can be positive if you learn and grow from them…no matter how bad they may seem at the time“. If you choose to learn from your experience it means being honest and taking the blame for what has gone wrong, maybe it is an age thing or a generational quirk but, this is a hard lesson to learn, “we tend to try to avoid pain generated by the knowledge that were not doing the right thing”. That pain is often felt when I take a look at my grades and is preferably ignored having my choice. Part of it is rebellion against all the years of formal education where all people ever asked about was my grade rather than asking what I learned. The other part of the pain is lack of focus and having to learn to suck it up and do what needs to get done even though I don’t particularly enjoy it (or agree with it). School is the irritating grain of sand in my oyster shell.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by bgblogging

I have had many patient Teachers in my life who showed me the way rather than shoving the answer down my throat. My stubborn nature thoroughly rebels against being told “how I should do x,y, z”. These thoughts always seem to bring me back to my father who “taught by his actions. He showed me how to live…He showed me how to work…He showed me how to die. He didn’t tell me how to do it, he showed me”. I am my father’s child. More than any other lesson in my life, the lesson of my father motivates me to demonstrate in action what I believe. And when I am not at peace I know it is because I am not living my life rightly. I often come up with excuses to avoid the truth but, as soon as I acknowledge the truth the peace returns. I know what I must do.

Sometimes I just want the answer but, like Dorothy, I know I must learn the answer for myself. You could tell me the melting point of wax but, I much rather have the tools to craft my own wings to fly towards the sun and discover the melting point of wax for myself. I do not aspire to fall from great heights like Icarus but, sometimes learning the truth for yourself includes broken bones. And maybe I have more broken bones when it comes to school. School magnifies my flaws. Succeeding in school requires several skills I have resisted developing  (some skills have been resisted for good reason others out of bitterness and laziness). I know what I must do.

Maybe I am just tired of a world that insists on giving me advice on everything, like horoscopes with their vague general statements, empty words. I am not discounting words of wisdom by any means but, I am overwhelmed by the myriad of talking points this world throw at me. I have to wonder, if we silenced the talk for one day what would we discover?

Dividual Learner

cc licensed flickr photo shared by Rob Shenk

A few days ago while sitting in my anthropology class, taking notes, I was struck by my professor’s description of how the Melanesians understand the person. In Melanesian culture people do not view themselves as individual but, dividual. For example, if an uncle brought food to your mother while you were in the womb then he is a part of you for the nourishment he brought to sustain your development. This idea goes beyond the genetics and even blood relations. To Melanesians a person is formed through the work and effort of people to nourish and develop a person. Like that favorite American saying, “It takes a village”.

What if we viewed learning as such an adventure? What if we went beyond learning to be better than the other students in our class?
Shifting our view of learning could very well change the way we approach many other aspects of our life. The educational system encourages a competitive solo journey and places emphasis on the individual more than anything. I’m not trying to say competition is bad but the danger is the isolating effects that can produce a “Us vs Them” mentality that pervades our thinking (do I have to really point out examples?).

We no longer live in small societies where the work of one person can make a difference. In these small societies it would be in your best interest to make sure your friend knew how to do a craft just as well as you if you wanted to be able to sleep in a safe shelter or eat dinner. Putting in time and effort to teaching someone meant that your quality of life would probably be increased too.

Today we live in an industrialized nation, we no longer inhabit small isolated villages. This change obscures how the actions of one person may not only benefit another but ultimately how your investment in one person will be repaid to you in one way or another. I’m not calling for a Thoreau-esque return to the woods but, I do think industrialized nations have fallen into the trap that allows the way we do our business and commerce to effect other aspects of our life, especially schooling.

This is another one of those posts that touches on such grand problems that they could not possibly be solved in a blog post. I’m more frustrated then anything with the way we teach students and at times the problem seems so large and monolithic I don’t see how we could ever get around it. Maybe acknowledging the problem is the first step towards change and the more people we get thinking about these issues the more likely things will change.

Or maybe I am just a dreamer.

Has That Always Been There?

Maybe my thinking has evolved since my freshman year (I hope it has) but, lately I tend to notice a lot more connections between classes. Something I am learning in one class will come to mind as I sit in another and I begin to see intersections between two different classes in two different disciplines. Maybe upper level classes are more conducive of such connections because they cover more specific areas? Or is my brain finally able to identify what was there all along?

It is the latter question that has me thinking lately. I can remember blogging in my freshman year how my classes seemed to exist in their own little bubbles and spheres, rarely intersecting. Now I find my brain going back and forth between my different classes and even forgetting what things I learned in what class.

Maybe some of you have gone through the same thing? It’s a genuine question that I have with no real answer, just ideas at this point. And different answers to this questions have different meanings or outcomes. I tend to lean towards the conclusion it has age that has allowed me to see these connections. If this is the answer though what has changed in my thinking, or, rather what was the process that led me here? Maybe I need to go through my old blog posts and follow the stream back towards the source.

I’m curious though what your experience with this? Has age brought you an ability to see these connections and how did you get to that point?

cc licensed flickr photo shared by daoro

It’s A Matter Of Approach

This morning Laura tweeted about an article by Danah Boyd. I was struck by this paragraph:

“I have become a “bad student.” I can no longer wander an art museum without asking a bazillion questions that the docent doesn’t know or won’t answer or desperately wanting access to information that goes beyond what’s on the brochure (like did you know that Rafael died from having too much sex!?!?!). I can’t pay attention in a lecture without looking up relevant content. And, in my world, every meeting and talk is enhanced through a backchannel of communication. This isn’t simply a generational issue. In some ways, it’s a matter of approach [emphasis mine].”

Besides surprising me with the little fact about Rafael (what a way to go, huh?) it reminds me of how I am a “bad student” too. The key thing to point out is that it has nothing, let me repeat that, nothing to do with being part of the “Net-Generation” (oh how I loathe that label). I had to teach myself to have the discipline to not goof off on my laptop and I had to learn to utilize the internet and its resources to better my education. I wasn’t born with this desire and I certainly didn’t learn it growing up. I learned it when I came to college and became involved with a community of people who loved learning and cared about the role of technology in learning. Being part of a caravan of life-long learners taught me a new approach to my education and it encouraged me to look beyond the basic things I used my computer for.

All of this reminded me of a post Martha recently wrote where she talked about the purple boxes that she had seen on the side of the highway. For her it was not enough to just take note of them, she needed to know what the heck they were. Martha said:

“And I had to know because I pretty much knew I had a way to find out the answer. I guess my point is that in this information-rich world, not knowing is simply not an option for me anymore. If I didn’t have access to the tools to find my answers, I think it would drive me crazy.”

This is the way I have certainly become and have been since high school. I’ve learned better ways to search on Google and if Google fails to help me I can figure out where to go next. While this may be true of me many of my friends don’t automatically think this way. I don’t know how many times I have to say to them, “Why don’t you look it up on Google?” and it is like the thought never occurred to them. These are students my age who aren’t taking this approach to the web, probably because they’ve never been pushed to think about it in that way before.

So can we drop the label “Net-Gen”? Or at least change the definition of it? If you call someone my age a Net-Gen kid you would be right in saying we grew up with the internet and probably spend a lot of time on it. I think it is wrong to say that just because someone grew up using it doesn’t mean they are tech savvy or think of new ways to use it. While the internet is radically different from a lot of technology in the past it is still a technology. Just because you might have grown up with a record player doesn’t mean you know how to work a turntable and DJ. Sure you know how to use a record player but, it doesn’t go much pass the basic. Just because someone grew up with the internet doesn’t mean they know how to make a mash-up or understand RSS; they can probably browse and create a word document though. That might be a poor analogy, I don’t know. I really wish we could forget the labels or actually think about what we mean when we say those things.

My learning has been augmented through the use of the web because people older than me pushed me to think outside my “browse the web & create word document-box”. Like Danah Boyd said, “It’s a matter of approach”. And personally, I have had to learn a new approach and make a concious decision to take responsibility for my education. I did not magically become this way just because I grew up with the internet.

Family History, Public History and Digital History. Oh my!

So earlier today I tweeted that I had talked to Jeff McClurken about an idea I have for an individual study. My family is fairly interested in our family history and various members have taken the time work on genealogies, recovers photos, and record other things. For some time now I wanted to create some sort of online depository to collect memories, photos, videos or whatever to create a kind of family history. A few weeks ago I started wondering if I could possibly work this into some sort of individual study. Although I knew it didn’t seem like the typical 400-level class idea I had already had a taste of one class that was quite unusual in our department, so I thought I’d give it a chance. As a side note, have I mentioned how lucky I am to be a major in a department that has someone like Jeff as the Chair? Well, I am because he entertains my craziness and has already pointed me in the direction I need to go. Being an amateur historian I still need that guidance and I am very thankful to have it.

First things first I need to figure out the methodology I will use to tackle this project. Obviously I couldn’t do this just about my family history, there needs to be some academic rigor involved with this too. One of my first tasks will be to research literature to assist me in my project. I will have to find text on family history, public history, and digital history so I can create a bibliography for this project. I will probably be enlisting the help of UMW’s very knowledgeable reference librarian Jack Bales, who has already helped me so much in my history research. I want to find some way to weave together what was going on in my ancestors lives and what was going on in the world too. There are so many questions I want to explore I don’t even know where to begin. A big component of this project will be the structure of the actual site and more than likely I will be using Omeka (oh, how I’ve missed thee!) and with a little help from Patrick Murray-John I’m sure we will kick code butt. There will surely be many more posts on this in the future.

One of the purposes for this project is not only to create a cool site for my family but, that I will create documentation so that others can create these sort of family collections and have my site as a sort of model for those interested in doing something similar. The internet has made doing family history research so much easier and because of that people have been increasingly interested in family genealogy and tracing roots. I would hope that whatever my project turns into that it will in some way enable others to do what I did so that they too can create a place to record family history. One of the greatest joys I’ve experienced during my time at college is knowing that some of the work I have done has been beneficial to others in some way.

This is still more to say about it and I’m only at the tip of the iceberg here. But I am excited to see where this takes me and if you, my dear readers, have any suggestions about anything I’d love to hear them.


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