is nature a cure for technology overload?

I often wonder, and I’ve heard others express the same sentiment, what did I ever do without computers?! I can’t imagine my life without them. My grandchildren have never known what life was like without all this technology. Thomas loves computer games. Vimmy loves music videos and recently discovered Google, which led to an interesting discussion with her mother after a typical 7-year-old meltdown: Visiby upset, she shouted with all the venom she had in her, You’re not my mother! Her mother of course, who for the record really is her mother, wanted to know how she came up with that idea?  I know because I googled it! And it said you weren’t my real mother! Interesting. As I said, you can find just about anything by Googling, whether it’s in support of or against your argument.

When you see the lips of the person in the cars beside you in traffic are moving, in the old days you would have assumed they were singing along with the radio. These days, they’re more likely talking on their cell phones, sometimes dialing before they’ve left their parking spots.

We acquired our first computer in 1985, while our two daughters were still in the middle and high school. We still relied on the networks for TV entertainment, and we didn’t have internet service until years later after the girls were both in college. It was the antiquated dial-up and we were thrilled. Without web service, that first computer really amounted only to a glorified word processor, but it was handy for typing legible homework assignments without developing writer’s cramp, and it was faster. I was taking University courses myself at the time, trying to learn how to write my own stories, so that first computer got a fair amount of workout. All this without constant erasing and applying whiteout paint.

Nowadays I feel  as though I’m glued to the chair in front of my PC monitor too much of the time. I seem to need it for so many things that interest me these days. If I want to know side effects of my prescribed meds or need to nudge the old noodle to remember who won the Oscar for that movie, what was it called? I Google or Bing it, it’s there somewhere. I want to know how to make a Tomatilla sauce. That one, indeed several versions, plus millions more recipes pop up quickly. As my interest in shopping declines, I depend on online shopping. If it’s not found locally, order online where it’s often cheaper. You save not just fuel and wear and tear on your car and your feet, you may not pay taxes on it either, and it will be delivered to your front door in a week or 10 days time, often for free! One day, after a long bout in that chair, I decided I’d take the time to organize my travel photos, and it suddenly hit me. I’m tired of sitting in front of a monitor most of day. So I decided to put the brakes on, hence my general slowdown in regular blogging. I needed to spend more time getting back to things I used to be interested in–art, music, reading books, sewing, etc., reconnecting with the me that I was before personal computers.

I’m startled to realize I was one of the pioneers of my age-group to jump into this new technology in my early 50s. Most of my friends refused to bother with it.  Not for long. After 2012 I read somewhere, half of all retired persons (or senior citizens for lack of a better word) create, share, and exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks. (I wonder what’s wrong with the other half). I still process words, I organize my digital photos, I blog in- between necessary old-fashioned household tasks, though my washer, dryer, and even the sewing machine, are computerized. When I can fit it in, not with any degree of regularity, I still blog as you can see, because–let’s face it–I’m addicted!

Hubby and I attended a lecture on Sunday about the current research of a University of Utah professor, David Strayer, with whom our son-in-law worked on a study about the effects of texting and talking on the cellphone while driving. Dr. Strayer suggests that a natural environment, like that in which our ancestors evolved, is associated with exposure to stimulus that elicits a gentle, soft fascination, (as opposed to the hard fascination of horns honking, telephones ringing, TVs and radios blaring) and is emotionally positive and low-arousing. The study suggests that exposure to nature engages in our brains a “default mode” of restful introspection implicit in the efficient task performance requiring frontal lobe function, while restoring cortex-mediated “executive processes” like selective attention, problem solving, inhibition, and multi-tasking. In other words, taking a hike or getting out in nature–away from all of the technological distractions–might be useful in helping clear our minds, restoring and refreshing our creative juices to face real life in a real world.
Hubby’s and my generation, and to some degree that of our daughters, straddle the shift from traditional industry to that of the industrial revolution or technology brought to us through industrialization. We can remember what it was like before computers and social networking. Thus we can appreciate the way they expand the world for us, yet we can function without them. While most of us would be loath to be forced to, we know we could survive if necessary without them. Our grandchildren, however, have watched their parents and grandparents play with and use computers their whole lives, and now they’re making their own discoveries. What about them? It will change them, but how? What kind of social adults will they grow up to be? Will they know more, make more discoveries, be even more productive, than we were? In my mind, it’s the perfect time for studies like these. We should know  the implications of all this technological overload. And will reconnecting with nature prove to be–not a self centered diversion–but a necessary part of the preservation of the human species?
In closing, Dr. Strayer shared a video the research team found on YouTube, and I share it here with my readers. It runs a minute 26 seconds so it won’t take much time, and I’m sure you’ll find it entertaining, if not–as I do–a little disturbing. A perplexed one-year-old,  obviously already exposed to an iPad, is a little confused that her finger doesn’t work on that weird magazine “thingie” with pictures and words on it. Funny. And a little sad, too.

baby ducks “quack me up” – how about you?

How’s the weather treating you where you live? There are signs of spring here in my neighborhood–people are out walking, trees budding and blooming–the daffodils and hibiscus really putting on a show. In one day’s time we’ve gone from  rain, hail, snow–one or the other every single day–to pretty close to perfect this week. I complained loudly just as most people around me were doing, because we knew that much of the country was faring far worse! So I’m giving in. Rather than continuing my India travelogue today, I’ll be outside enjoying the sunshine while I get my flower beds cleaned up and ready for planting, while I try to resist the temptation to plant too early. You just can’t trust Mother Nature this time of year!

Another sign of spring are the number of videos that feature baby ducks are cropping up. If you think you’ve had weather-related problems, consider the plight of this mother duck as she leads her troop to water during a heavy wind. An adult duck typically weighs between 8 and 11 pounds, so their babies probably weigh mere ounces.

I’m throwing in this one just because I adore watching babies learn about the world. These little ducklings would like to learn to yo yo.

You can watch them both in just 68 seconds, but I’ll bet they’ll make you smile inside all day. Here’s wishing all of you a sunshiny day.

learning to unplug

Are you “plugged in” to technology–iPads, iPods, iPhones, laptops, PCs and Macs–for the majority of your day? Think about it before you answer. I became concerned about my own “plug-in” problems a couple of weekends back. It was the Sunday I decided to pull the plug on my computer. The decision started with a concern for my physical health. I was experiencing a lot of neck stress, headaches, and my fingers were feeling stiff. It had been only a little more than two months since my last RA infusion; I’d hoped to make it at least six months, the average length of time between symptoms, before needing another, but each patient reacts his own way so the rheumatologist asked me to call him if I felt a flare before six months. Since chemotherapy last year that left my veins uncooperative (or what the nurses called “shot to hell”) we were hoping for at least six months reprieve between needle stabs. The only way to know if my pain was the beginning of flareup, or simply too much time in front of the computer, as I’d begun to suspect, I decided to pull the plug for 24 hours.

The next day there was a slight difference, but still a lot of neck strain. Then Hubby noticed I was squinting and looking upward, straining to see the computer screen through my bifocal. I decided to pull out some old computer glasses I’d had made a few years ago to use with the computer. Voila, after only a day or two I felt the difference. Experiment successful. I was really happy that it wasn’t an arthritic flare after all. But after that Sunday unplug, I had become aware of another, potentially much more serious mental problem that might require more effort to fix.

It was a lot more complicated than just the time spent keeping up with this blog. There was all that time I spent reading and commenting on other blogs. Much of that part is good, I’ve decided, as it leaves me with a sense of connection with the world. All day long on unplug day, I kept thinking of things I wanted to do that required my PC. Answers. To all kinds of things! I’ve gotten in the habit of running to my PC for every little nonsensical thought or question that occurs to me. I click Google or Bing, insert a few keywords and bingo, I have access to everything I want or think I need to know. Medical symptoms. Recipes. Movie reviews. You name it. It’s all there and then some.

Remember in the old days you’d wake up in the middle of the night with this burning question–really serious stuff. The answer would come to you, you knew that, so after you worried with the question for awhile you’d eventually fall asleep again. If you were lucky, the answer floated into your consciousness the very next day, or maybe several days later. But I don’t remember a time when the answer didn’t come eventually. Alternately, you’d run into a friend or co-worker who might know. They either would or not. But it wasn’t that important anyway. In my class on the neurophysiology of the brain the following week, I asked the professor if google could be injurious to our brains and our ability to remember. She admitted she didn’t know, and that she worried a little about that herself. There just wasn’t enough research yet to know. Another student suggested that the harm may be offset somewhat by the work our brains have to do to come up with the right set of tag words to get answers, suggesting we were still assisting the plasticity of our brains to keep them working better as we age. That’s a little of why I blog. To keep reaching for the right word to convey to meaning in my communications, I reasoned, would be a good exercise for my bain.

Back to the Sunday experiment. It hit me at some point that day that I could use my lazy Sunday afternoon to scan recipes from a library loaned cookbook so I could try them at will and go ahead and return the book. But no! That would require plugging back in–to two machines, my scanner/printer setup AND the PC to store them in an electronic file. Couldn’t do that until tomorrow. When I actually started preparations for dinner, at some point I needed to be close to the kitchen to monitor things, but make that time go faster at the same time. My office is right across from the kitchen, so I’ve gotten into the habit of sitting at my computer with an ear to the kitchen and play online cards. Long story short, throughout the day I was drawn like a magnet over and over again to my computer. But Monday morning I felt triumphant! I’d managed to go a full 24 hours without plugging in, not even to check email.

Which brings me to the video below. Last night, Hubby and I attended a lecture/movie at a local college. The movie by a San Francisco filmmaker, Tiffany Schlain, was entitled CONNECTED. It premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Using animation, archival film footage and much of her father’s writings, the movie explores the idea of how and why people are connected through technology. As in all of life, however, there’s always a balance to be achieved between the GOOD and NOT SO GOOD elements of every new discovery that impacts humanity.

Should you be interested in seeing CONNECTED, it’s available on video (to members) on Netflix. In the meantime, this 16 minute video interview with the filmmaker will give you many things to think about. Maybe you’ll have a clearer understanding, as I do, why we’re hearing “where does the time go” over and over again, even by young people. I understand that the majority of these YouTube sharings are rarely seen, but if you’ve ever wondered “where did my day go” or “is all this focus on technology good for me,” I think you’ll indulge me the nudge to watch. Maybe, like me, you’ll decide technology is good overall (perhaps, though the jury’s still out) but, maybe it’s good to unplug now and then.