High Tech, Low Tech, No Tech?

Posted January 25th, 2019

I bought a new car recently (blame the distracted driver who rear-ended me while I was at a full stop.) My new, certified used car is essentially a computer on wheels—not the replacement car I had in mind. However, of all the used cars the dealer had in stock, this one was in the right price-range. Turns out, all the newish makes and models are loaded with tech.

high-tech car dashboard

The sales person was thrilled to let me know the car was equipped with Bluetooth (what?), could be linked to my cell phone (huh?), and gave me the capability to view films while driving—as if I were honestly interested in splitting my attention between, say, Mission Impossible and the road before me. No. Thanks. As for Bluetooth, I won’t be using that, or most of the other tech goodies available. I find them all too distracting from, you know, Driving. The sales person was especially disappointed that he wouldn’t be able to link my car to my smart phone because—gasp—I don’t have one.

I’m strictly a flip-phone woman. Yes. You read that right. That means I can’t surf the Internet or check my emails every two seconds, but I don’t need to, anyway. Who does? (Well, being able to search for nearby restaurants could come in handy when I’m hungry. Still.) My flip-phone allows me to make and take phone calls, send and receive texts, and access messages. What more do I need? “Apps!” you say. Well, apps might be fun, even useful at times. But necessary? Vital? I don’t think so. Call me crazy, but I actually manage to navigate the world without apps.

My shuttle driver tries to shame me into getting on the smart-phone bandwagon. I’ll ask her something like, “What terminal is my flight leaving from?” Since getting me to the right terminal is part of her job, this is information I expect her to have. Instead of just telling me, however, she launches into, “If you had a smart phone, you could find out yourself, because there’s an app for that.” Really?

I get that the new tech is convenient, but there are a myriad of ways to get the information I need without casting myself off the high-tech bridge and getting caught in the whirlpool of apps, games, and social media connects on-the-go.

I came late to the digital party, kicking and screaming all the way. I’ve found much of it useful as a promotional tool for my business, but I’m also painfully aware of its time-stealing potential. Let’s face it, the Internet is addictive. I waste enough time on social media at home, as it is. Must I now also take it with me on the road? I think not. Beyond the basic cell phone, I don’t need tech that follows me out of the house. Limits must be set.

people using smartphones

What disturbs me most about all the new tech, though, is its negative impact on social interaction. Too often, I’ll walk into a room where two people, seated a few feet apart, are connecting with each other (you can’t really call it communicating) via their devices. The same is true of people on lunch and dinner dates. The parties might as well be seated at separate tables, for all the genuine connection being made. They’re all too busy slavishly checking their phones between bites of food they aren’t taking time enough to fully enjoy. What is the point? What ever happened to conversation? I miss conversation. And eye contact. And having a companion’s full attention. Sigh.

I know a good many people who feel quite overwhelmed by constant waves of new tech lapping at the shore of human imagination. We forget that there are shut-off switches, that no one is holding a gun to our heads forcing us to use the latest app dropped into the digital universe. Those who feel overwhelmed complain that they don’t have enough time for their art, for their spouses, for their children, for—fill in the blank. But if they weren’t constantly plugged into their various devices, playing games, exploring the latest new app, checking email and mindlessly scrolling through social media newsfeeds several times a day, they’d have more of the time they crave. How do I know this? (Behind on a deadline, anyone?) As I’ve already admitted, I’m scrolling right along with the rest of the crowd! It’s a habit I’m determined to break.

High tech, low tech, no tech—whatever we choose, it’s a trade-off. We can choose more convenience and connection, but the cost is less security, and less opportunity for genuine, interpersonal communication. If we choose less convenience and less broad-based, or abbreviated connection, we multiply the time we have for deep personal communication, for mindful living, for art, for greater awareness of our surroundings.

It all comes down to time, the most precious commodity we have. How we use it, and how much of it we have to use, is very much bound up with the choices we make concerning high tech, low tech, or no tech. Take your pick. It really is a choice.

I look up all the time. I notice the clouds dance across the sky, the Magnolia blooms spilling their vanilla scent, the rash of mushrooms following a rain, the hummingbird nuzzling a rose. Do you?

Lessons from Charleston

Posted June 22nd, 2015

Bronx MasqueradeAn unarmed black person dies at the hands of, or in the custody of, white policemen, and we run around as if our hair were on fire, screaming, “What can we do? What can we do?”

Nine black souls are massacred in a house of worship, in a state where the Confederate flag, symbol of hatred, flies proudly, and we run around as if our hair were on fire, screaming, “What can we do? What can we do?”

I won’t claim to have all the answers, but I certainly can suggest a few, the most important of which has nothing to do with gun control, and everything to do with empathy. We need to teach our children empathy. It’s a lot harder to murder someone you have empathy for than someone you don’t.

The perpetrator of this latest atrocity was not mentally ill, as some wish to suggest. (Please don’t insult me by suggesting every white person who kills a black person is mentally ill. I grew up with a parent who was genuinely mentally ill, so I, for one, know the difference. Oh, and, I should note: she didn’t kill anyone.) Nor was this perpetrator born with hate in his heart. No one is. Hatred is a seed that must be planted, watered, fertilized, and nurtured. The ugly fruit of hatred is not produced in a single, sudden moment. Rather, it ripens over time. It is not inevitable. I repeat: race hatred is not inevitable.

As a seedling, hatred can be uprooted early on. Or, it can be left untouched in its own environment and allowed to produce a head and heart both poisoned, and poisonous. While children are yet children, and still under our care, we adults get to influence which of those two things happen.

Instead of looking the other way while hatred takes root in young hearts and minds, why not try this: Plant the seeds of empathy. Teach the young to feel the heartbeats of races and cultures other than their own. Replace any possible fear of the unknown, with knowledge of the knowable. Teach them the ways in which we humans are more alike than we are different. Teach them that the most important common denominator is the human heart. Start with a book.

Give young readers books by and about peoples labeled “other.” I’m not talking about one or two books, here and there. I’m talking about spreading diverse books throughout the curriculum, beginning in elementary grades, and continuing through to high school. Why? Because racism is systemic and teaching empathy, teaching diversity, needs to be systemic, too.

You say you want to change the dynamic of race relations in America. Well, here is a place to begin—unless, of course, you’re not really serious. In that case, by all means, keep running around like your hair is on fire, screaming, “What can we do? What can we do?” every time an unarmed black person is killed by a white policeman, or a group of innocent black people is massacred. Just don’t expect me to keep listening. I’ve already told you where to begin.

The Gift of Story

Posted October 21st, 2014

A recent blog by Sally Lloyd-Jones got me thinking about a question we authors hear some version all the time: Where do you get your ideas, or how do you come up with ideas for your stories? The question would suggest that there’s a treasure trove, somewhere, packed with stories ready for the taking. Or that there’s a place one could go, a repository one can simply dip into, at will. But, the truth is, story ideas are more elusive than that. Their source is far less predictable, more a matter of magic, or of serendipity. An idea might spring from a period of fasting, or flash of insight during a meditative state, or result from literally tripping over an object that brings that idea to mind. No matter the origin of an idea, or the vehicle that brought it to you, that idea, that story, is a gift.

Chasing FreedomI’ve been thinking about my newest title, Chasing Freedom, releasing in January 2015, and trying to trace it’s origins. The initial idea came to me while I was busy working on something else. The something else was a series of dramatic monologues for a theater production to be performed in China, in 1988. The theme of the show was American History, and so I chose as my subjects Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Susan B. Anthony. In the midst of researching their stories, and crafting their monologues, I became excited to learn that they not only lived at the same time, but all knew each other. One day, while thumbing through these histories in the stacks of the Doheny Library at USC, I suddenly thought, “I wonder what it would be like if Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony sat down for a talk.” That notion was the seed that eventually led to my writing Chasing Freedom. I wasn’t looking for an idea, mind you. It simply arrived of its own! A gift.

Words with WingsI turned my thoughts to Words With Wings, a novel-in-verse about daydreaming, and I tried to trace the origins of that story. This task was more difficult, because the genesis of the idea was much less straightforward. Over the years, I’d read or heard comments by teachers about the importance of nurturing the imagination; read or heard Steve Jobs bemoan the fact that children are no longer encouraged to daydream; read or heard nameless others comment on this subject, in one way or another. Somewhere along the line, this train of thought stuck, and I began thinking about my own childhood, and how important daydreaming had been in my own formation, and later success, and I realized how much I wanted that for the children I serve through my work. Out of this thick soup of essays, articles, off-hand commentary, and personal memories grew the idea for a novel about a daydreamer. So there.

The origin of the idea for my next book, Poems in the Attic, out next spring, is a bit clearer, but not much. I watch the nightly news as much as anyone, and I’ve noticed a barrage of stories about our military over the recent years. With troops in Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq, especially, this last decade has produced miles of videotape about soldiers. I especially noticed the preponderance, of late, of images on television of soldiers returning home, snuggling with their children after long tours away, images of both fathers and mothers in uniform, nearly wrestled to the ground by children so excited to have them home, again. These images stuck. Then, there was the show Army Wives, which brought these themes into my living room weekly. Besides the above, there’s the fact that several of my friends regularly share childhood stories of growing up as military brats. At some point, a couple of years ago, I started thinking about the increasing number of children who have to negotiate the uncertainty of life with a parent in the military, and I wondered if I might offer some small collection of poetry that would speak into that. Hence, the story-in-verse book, Poems in the Attic.

The answer to the question of where stories come from is rather random, isn’t it? It’s mysterious. It’s magical. It’s simple: a story, and the idea that gives birth to it, is—a gift. Yeah. That sounds about right.