Mental Break

Lake at Arboretum

Hi faithful followers. It might appear that I have lost interest in blogging lately. Au contraire. I have been morphing into a new career instantiation: that of librarian. I am now a full-time high school librarian, working on a Master’s in Library and Information Science. I find it fascinating to be studying the science of information per se. Of course I have been on a somewhat steep learning curve with regard not only to the job, but also the technology. And it’s all about the technology. A large part of my job is to help adolescents become informed information users. While I love the job, and I see the need to educate students in critical thinking and analysis, I find the concept of teaching these kids technology a bit ironic. Let me explain why. I just finished writing a 21-page research paper on how to make libraries essential communities for teens in the 21st century. All of the research was about how teens use technology and how they find information.

The truth is that this is the first generation to be “born digital”–the storied Millennials. They do everything digitally. In fact, I rely on them to teach me how to use technology. Just today I learned how to use SnapChat. Tomorrow, InstaGram. And then … the world! The irony lies also in the fact that now that now that Google and YouTube and Wikipedia can find and teach you anything you want to know, libraries are looking for ways to remain relevant to users. The Internet is disruptive technology. We are in a state of redefining what constitutes information, where it resides, who makes it, how we communicate it. This shakes the very foundations of our cultural institutions, libraries being a major one.

Lots of libraries are now creating “maker” spaces for the public in general, and adolescents in particular, where people get together and, well, make things. 3D Printers are becoming a popular item in libraries, partly because they fascinate with their novelty, and partly because they are fun. Partly, also, because they can replicate or create anything you can program them to “print”: machine parts, models, sculptures, dinnerware … I recently saw a TV program where a 3D printer was used to create a part to restore a headlamp in an antique car (which was then driven in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run).One of the justifications for owning a 3D printer is that patrons can use them to create things they need and might not otherwise be able to obtain (specialized parts for a garden hose, a toy, a machine). One young man who had suffered an injury that took away some of his fingers even found plans for a prosthetic hand and was able to print one out and use it. (Amazing!) So access to manufacturing things on a small scale democratizes the whole idea of consumerism.

The semester just ended in my master’s program, so I’m taking a mental break for a few weeks.

Look for my posts again when I’m more caught up on my sleep! 🙂

red poppies

Banished Adverbs

Burbles

I book floor sunburst ant across keyboard Pleistocene basement pomegranate son Louis noose. feelings place door cave rat magazine. Smiles hair toothboat wind. Drama detergent.

 

(The above composition was written in response to a WordPress writing challenge (Writing 101) asking for a story with no adverbs.)

Things to Do While You’re Alive

 

Detail of a lamp I created for a festival called "Blooming Boxes" at Westmoor High School
Detail of a lamp I created for a festival called “Blooming Boxes” at Westmoor High School ©2014 Anne Campagnet-Reed

“I’m getting old,” I moaned to my 19 year-old daughter, attempting to share my state of self-pity and disillusionment, as part of a larger existential malaise. “Well, you’re not dead yet,” she said, with trenchant insight.

You know, looking at things from the perspective that you’re about to die really gives you clarity about what’s important. And then, when you realize that a lot of people really are close to death, and possibly really depressed about it, you realize that your moping and dejection are really foundationless. You look up at the sky, take in a deep breath, and realize, “Yes! There is so much more I can do!!” There is time to chase my rainbow, to right (at least some of) my wrongs, to move forward into joy and meaning.

I have been looking for my career to be my inspiration and my solace. When I lost my job, it seemed like my life was over. A part of it is. The social interactions I had every day are gone. I am nagged daily by the “need to make money,” that ugly little mosquito that constantly threatens a malarial bite. Its uglier big cousin, the “Need to Define Yourself by Your Job” is lurking even more menacingly, just out of visual range; a true vampire waiting for the nightfall of my self-esteem.

It’s time to turn on the lights, stand up, and tell the Boogey Man to go away. My daughter is right. I’m not dead at all, dammit, and I’m going to continue my quest to be enlightened and to do good. Maybe I’m not sure how, yet, but I have confidence that my path will come apparent.

This thought liberated my mind enough for some global reflection on society for the past 75 years or so:

It’s all about communication. Letterpress newspapers and telegrams have given way to e-magazines, tweets and text messages. Google Glass is showing us that you no longer need a keyboard to look up a person’s data; you just need to literally look up at the person, and a stream of their personal data appears. Other interfaces soon to be invented will allow our thoughts to control devices and communications, making any 3-dimensional media obsolete.

I’ve always been wary of Facebook and its seeming disregard for any shred of privacy we once thought we had as individuals. More insidiously, the web crawlers and cookies that are scattered everywhere we tread (like the breadcrumbs Hansel and Gretel used to find their way home) track our every move, and seemingly even our thought patterns. I don’t have a Facebook account, but I know that every keystroke I make imprints another portion of my identity into the eternal “cloud.”

You know, I need to take a moment to demystify the cloud. Calling is a “cloud” gives it greater cachet and significance than it deserves. The “cloud” is just a collection of remote data servers, basically hard drives, located outside your computer or device. It does not share the heavens with the Almighty, but lives in scattered, sometimes isolated rooms, in buildings here on earth, fed by long, steel and fiber-optic cables buried underground and under the ocean. It is simply a system of remote data storage, and nothing more. Big deal.

Now back to my mistrust of Facebook. Young people don’t seem to share my paranoia.

The hate of the 1940s caused society in many countries to close itself off and compartmentalize, as a means of survival. Hiding from Nazis and other fascists, extreme circumspection, a lack of sharing of any kind of personal information, were frequently the only defenses against annihilation.

If you look at all of humanity as a huge, collective being, maybe World War II can be viewed as a period of disease in our collective body, brought on by self-doubt (the need to blame someone else for economic and other woes), resulting in self-injury (the brutal targeting and massacre of specified groups), and the consequent need to seal off the wound in order to recover (lack of communication and ultimately the Cold War). Sealing off from other people assured survival. Or at least it seemed so to millions of shell-shocked individuals.

Maybe the Millennium is finding out that being closed off to other people is not the answer.

Maybe we’ve learned something from that. Maybe it’s that by reaching out to others as part of ourselves, we are affirming ourselves and assuring our mutual survival. It seems that the most prosperous human beings are socially adept and enjoy working with a range of other individuals; sometimes to achieve a common goal, sometimes just to catch up, empathize, or exchange stories. This is what makes social media—a vehicle for connecting with large groups of individuals—so attractive.

The impulse to continue to fight and “win” (currently exhibited by more than one aggressive group on the planet) is really an inconvenient anomaly, like an illness, or a virus, and the rest of the collective “patient” (humanity) needs to be patient and optimistic while the disease runs its course. Can you imagine if your liver declared war on your stomach? Or if your hands decided that your feet were an inferior race, and rallied the rest of your body to eliminate them? How far along would you be then?

Glad I could put everything into perspective. What do you think?

Sexist Jokes and Social Dominance

Jokes have been around for a long time. They are defined in dictionaries as little stories culminating in a punch line that makes people laugh. Psychologists have studied what it is about jokes that makes people laugh—in fact, even the physiological laughter response itself has been analyzed.

Why do we laugh at jokes?

The researchers have decided that what constitutes humor in a joke’s punch line is the perceived incongruity between what was expected and what is then stated, followed by a sudden jump in understanding (which I’ll call the “get-it” moment)—a paradox that provokes a mental somersault which re-sets understanding to a different, unexpected level. The physiological response is laughter.

Laughing at a joke implies acquiescence with the viewpoint behind it.

Why do we tell jokes?

Alright, we know what jokes are. We’ve all heard them, and we’ve all had a laugh. What I find interesting is the lingering meaning that suffuses a joke’s intent. Why do we like and repeat certain jokes, and what do they mean to us? Further, how do jokes function to define and reinforce our personal and group identity?

People use jokes as a way to state, through implication, their beliefs, group identity, and social standing or power. Through jokes, they can reach out and recognize others with similar sentiments.

Conversely, jokes are also a way to get a picture of someone else’s beliefs or viewpoint. Jokes are a short-cut to get at how people really think, feel, or identify themselves. Judging the response to a joke (the “get-it” moment), the teller can get a good idea of the beliefs and social standing of the listener.

Unfortunately, jokes can also be used to bully people: to belittle, demean, or ridicule the recipient (or a third party), in order to assert a dominant social standing. Nasty jokes, whether they are racist, sexist, or just insulting, really do leave a lasting impression of anger and frustration with the person or group that they target.

Continue reading “Sexist Jokes and Social Dominance”

Chilling Church Embers


Burnt Church 4

A visit to San Francisco’s De Young Museum on a calm Tuesday revealed, as always, some intriguing discoveries. An unexpectedly poignant piece is an installation of the charred remains of an Alabama church, suspended on wires from the ceiling. On entering, you feel as though you have walked into a super slow-motion explosion scene from an action movie; time slows to a standstill, and as you watch the blackened wood fragments hover in mid-air, the devastation seeps into your consciousness. This was a Black Baptist church, burnt by arsonists.

The very personable museum worker pointed out a piece of the piano wires, here, and a section of a pew, there; he even pointed out a piece of blackened wood that resembles the hand of Christ signaling peace. The work, entitled “Anti-Mass,” was created by Cornelia Parker in 2005.