Archive for the 'Internet' Category

Science, Cell Phones and Community

Most of my time in college was spent in humanities and social science classes. I was a History major that had a propensity for wandering into all sorts of disciplines, mostly untrained. Usually it was the topic that drew me into a class (Anthropology of Food, Aesthetics, Bible as Literature to name a few) but, I was also interested in learning how to see things differently. Every discipline has its different lenses for analyzing the world.

I didn’t spend much time in traditional science classes. I took Physics for my gen-ed and ended up enjoying it more than I thought I would (I lucked out with a truly wonderful professor). It was around my sophomore and junior year that my interest in science began to reignite. Most of my interest was in a popular science reading kind of way but, you have to start somewhere. I was drawn to certain characters, like Richard Feynman, who introduced me to the wonder and the joys of science.

During my senior year I started to understand the value of being science literate and I made it a goal (and it is still is a goal) to become as science literate as possible. I started studying biology, astronomy, nutrition science and whatever else piqued my interest. In my quest to become educated I found that the more controversial and political topics are often fraught with bad science. I’ve briefly talked about my interest in food chemistry and the problems I encountered there. Another topic that also interested me was radiation.

Now radiation is kind of a vague statement. Worries and discussion about radiation began again after the earthquakes caused nuclear crises in Japan. With nuclear radiation on the front page it was clear that there was ignorance on radiation in general (I count myself among the ignorant). People started producing helpful infographics to help put things in perspective. Around this same time I was working with someone who was worried about cell phone radiation (and all sorts of electro-magnetic radiation) and it got me interested in what the science had to say about it. Cell phones and cancer is a very popular news item. In fact, not too long ago the IARC classified it as category 2b, which is possibly carcinogenic to humans (you’ll also find things like coffee, picked vegetables, talcum powder there). Spend a little time googling it and you’ll see lots of fear-mongering about the dangers of cell phone and electro-magnetic fields (EMF). So, how does one go about finding good information?

One thing I learned during college was the value of finding scholarly communities. Once you start spending time on a topic you start to see who the scholars are in a community, what general consensus is on a topic, scholarly criticism going back and forth. The more time you spend looking closely at claims you begin to see what is trustworthy and what is not. One of my favorite science-based blogs is Science Based Medicine and they did a wonderful break-down of the IARC classification of cell phones. While this isn’t a journal it is a good place for people to go to have complex ideas explained. The articles are written by people who work in various fields they write about (of course you can’t automatically trust credentials but, it doesn’t hurt). The articles cite their sources and are more than self-referential blog loving. One of the nicest features of it being a blog is that the comments are open and it is there you’ll find good discussions that allow for push-back and also clarification. I won’t explain in detail what science has to say about cell phones right now (go read the post and the comic below). Long story short there is currently no strong evidence that we need to be worried about cell phones. We don’t have any plausible mechanism for cancer (cell phones are non-ionizing radiation) but, science is rarely settled, so in the future we might see long-term effects or effects we didn’t expect (maybe super human powers?! probably not). At this point the most dangerous part of owning a cell phone is driving while using it.

When learning about topics, especially things I am unfamiliar with, I value finding the communities around the topic (those with good and bad reputations) and getting to know them. It makes it a lot easier to see the flawed arguments or it raises the skeptical senses a little sooner when you see certain red flags.

For your viewing and educational pleasure a comic from about cell phones and radiation:

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.

Am I Paying Attention or Reading Facebook?

There is often debate around whether laptops should be allowed in the classroom. While I am no expert, I can share my experience with laptops in the classroom.

So, what have I used my laptop for in class? To take notes. To have readings for class handy. Look up an answer to a professors question. To look up answers to related thoughts that pop in my head.

But that isn’t all, is it? I’ve checked my Facebook. Have Twitter open. Google chat open. Check my Google Reader. Worked on work for other classes.

Do I ever get distracted to the point where I miss what is going on in class? Yes, but that is almost always intentional.

If I am staring at the screen intently am I paying attention to what is going on in the class at all? Yes, of course! I could be doing a myriad of things from taking notes to checking my e-mail. I know that professors hate the whole “I can multi-task” argument, but sometimes it is true.

How would I quickly summarize my experience with laptops in the classroom? It has been a process learning how to use it in a classroom setting and what classes necessitate a laptop and which ones just need a pen and paper. I’ve learned how to not get distracted and how to take notes. Most importantly though, I have learned how to use laptops to expand my learning in the classroom and that has been the toughest and most rewarding part.

Most students have not had guidance on how they can utilize their laptops beyond a FB checking device. My unscientific hypothesis is most students see laptops as a way to get out of the classroom while still being physically present, or, as a way to take notes and do other school work. Maybe students don’t realize the potential they have right at their fingertips because no one has given them the inspiration to see it any other way.

Transistions and Change

The transition from high school to college is complex enough and recently I’ve been wondering if technology has made it easier or harder. I don’t have much analysis on the matter because it is more a problem I have been dealing with and have felt more acutely since being home. College has long been regarded as a time where you can start over and find out who you are but, how easy is it in this very connected world? In this transitional time where society is becoming more and more dependent on the technologies that make us connected is my generations college experience (or our lives for that matter) setting a new precedent?

For instance, cellphones keep you connected at all times and even screening calls is a little more difficult because people know you can see their missed calls. People even get upset if you are the type of person that keeps your cellphone off regularly (I used to be this type of person) because not being able to contact someone at every moment is just horrible, right? I’m not trying to put down connectivity because I have been enjoying the benefits of applications like Twitter ever since the Faculty Academy but, I’m wondering how do we go about disconnecting from certain things? Isn’t there a time when we need to move on or readjust our connections?

Perhaps I feel my worlds (yes worlds) are colliding (or will soon be) and I don’t know if I should put up boundaries or just let it be. Most of my family knows I blog but, I am still reluctant to give those who ask the URL. I can think of some family members I wouldn’t mind sharing it with but, others I rather not see it. The same thing goes for friends from high school and friends from college. My blog is out there though, isn’t it? I don’t make posts private and I really don’t talk about embarrassing personal stories that I wouldn’t want my mom to know but, I can’t help feel that there needs to be a separation. In an attempt to try to sort out who I am my thoughts often end up being showcased on my blog. A simple solution would be not to blog about it or limit it but, I don’t think I could really consider that option. Maybe I feel like I am under a microscope of sorts and because my generation spends countless hours on Facebook following people I fear if I shared my blog with peers I would be subject to that same watchful eye, especially since there aren’t many student bloggers. Maybe it is my fear of being known or maybe I just care too much about what others might think?

Today I googled my name and on the first page there was multiple links connecting people to me. It is becoming easier to find me and things I have said.


One of my friends recently left a post on my wall on Facebook and told me while doing a google search she found my blog.

Am I really afraid to fail and “fail gloriously”? Yes. Years of being subtly told failure is to be avoided and making a mistake is a sign of sloppiness, stupidity, or apathy. I’m struggling because I’m not sure I am really ok with making a mistake. When people are more likely to ask me what my GPA is than what I learned I cannot help but feeling failure needs to be avoided. People will try to put learning from mistakes in a shiny light but, more often it feels like it would have been better to have avoided making the mistake in the first place.

Here I am though, sharing this with the whole world. Although while I am writing this I am thinking about the people who read my blog and comment, more than I am imagining everyone on the web. A wise friend recently said to me it is “…interesting how the audience can call something out of us. We know that at least a few trusted readers will read it. Later we learn that many other folks will also love it–but it’s the trusted circle that calls it forth”. I think that is one of the reasons I continue to share and put this out there, it is these people who I can trust to respond with something meaningful to say. If I fail in front of these people I need not fear being ridiculed, these people embrace “making a mess”.

My life is the editing stages, preparing for a major mashup of my past and present lives. As my online life becomes more transparent and as I plan to purposely do this starting this fall (atleast that is what I am telling myself) I have come back to idea of connections. It is clear that not all connections are equal, some are more valued than others. So as I deal with feelings of anxiety and worry about how well things will come together I have to remember to take a deep breath. I am starting to realize I am not enslaved by these connections, in fact I may very well be in charge of these connections. This may just be a matter of asserting myself and taking risks but, that is an issue for another blog post.

Time Moves By So Slowly

Just a brief update from the Emerald Isle.

I haven’t missed the internet too much but, I miss having instant access to connection. I know there is so much going on and I don’t enjoy missing the action but, I needed a break from it.

We are staying in a cottage in Doneraile in County Cork and it is really out in the country. It takes us about 20 minutes to get to Mallow which is not even that big of a city. There are cows in the backyard and the roads are very narrow. I think I have determined that Europeans aren’t more environmentally conscious than Americans but, in actuality it would be a physical impossibility to drive a large car on the narrow roads.

I’ve gone through several batteries so there will be plenty of pictures to upload when I return. We plan on going to the Dingle Peninsula soon guess I need to buy more batteries, I’ve got to remember not to take a picture of every green hill, it is hard not to though.

Being disconnected from the internet (for the most part) has given me time to just write without checking out what everyone was doing every five minutes. When I’m not writing I’m reading some books I picked up in the Atlanta airport. More reflections to come when I get home, when I don’t have to pay for internet access.

The craic has been mighty.

Will my laptop finally be fixed?

Back in September my Toshiba laptop mysteriously decided it no longer thought its shift keys were useful and they promptly stopped working. I recorded my misadventures here and here and finally after all these months I’ve decided it needs to be fixed. Carrying around an external keyboard is not my definition of cool.

My original plan was to go back to the store where I purchased my laptop. I arrived at the store only to find that they were going out of business! I walked in and they recommended I call 1-800-CompUSA, well I wasn’t about to be bothered with that so I called up India, I mean the Toshiba Helpline, to see if they could give me the closest authorized dealer to fix my problem. Apparently the closest place is in Brooklyn and even though I certainly love my laptop, I am not about to drive to Brooklyn to get it repaired. So being the globalization savvy consumer I remembered that Toshiba has a program where you can go to a UPS store and drop off your laptop and they will take care of the rest. I asked the tech person about this and he transferred me to another department. On a side note, before I had called Toshiba I remembered the option of taking it to a UPS store, but I couldn’t remember if I had to call Toshiba first or just walk into the store so I did a google search and what do you know my own blog posts popped up (and yes I did have to call beforehand). I was given a service order and an address for the closest UPS store.

So with my service order number in hand I drove dutifully to the local UPS store, located right in my town. Apparently they don’t get a lot of Toshibas going out so it took them a few minutes to figure out the proper procedure, but we all took it in stride and we had it set to be shipped. It should take about 7 business days to get it repaired, but knowing my luck I’ll probably get a call saying that my laptop was swept away in a spontaneous flood, but they’ll send me two new shift keys free of charge!

For now I am stuck using the slower than molasses family computer. Thank goodness for online tracking of shipments, that way I can know when my baby laptop is coming home. I think I am already showing signs of withdrawal.

It must be true!

Found an article today, “Web 2.0 wave starts to take hold”

If BBC news says it, it must be true! Maybe they saw the pictures of Web 2.0 and could no longer deny it’s existence?

I’m still waiting for BBC to report on University 2.0…

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