April 7, 2010

Technology Bites

My daughter Emma's grade 8 French class was given an assignment last week, which required, and therefore assumed their being in possession of, a video recorder. The students had three days to complete a short video with a clear picture and good audio. Each student was paired with another, perhaps with the idea that at least one of them would have access to said piece of digital equipment, as well as a computer for downloading the video and some means of storing and transporting it such as a flashdrive, a CD Rom, etc. Fortunately, Emma saved up her own money last year and bought herself a good quality digital camera with video capability. She and her partner worked hard on the video, taken mainly at the stables where they spend a good part of their time, downloaded it last Sunday evening onto our last remaining CD Rom (after it proved too big a file to be emailed from our aged computer to the teacher's - another option) and handed it in on time on Monday morning. The girls didn't need my help, except for some feedback on the final video, so for much of this process, I sat back and wondered. My daughter was fortunate enough to have all the necessary tools at her disposal (and a dad willing to help her find a way to store and transport the video), but was it right for the teacher to assume this?

In our society, most people seem to be on a high powered conveyor belt, content to be carried along by technology's rapid progress, accepting that the constant upgrading is a matter of course. I fully admit that I am a reluctant passenger on this conveyor belt. I own a computer, of course, but it is, as the sweet kid at Future Shop told me recently, practically from the Middle Ages. We bought it in 2004, and have added memory, updated graphics cards, and an external hard drive. Until my local pharmacy stopped developing film and it started costing twenty dollars a roll to develop in the nearest city I was fairly content to keep on using my old fashioned Pentax camera. Mind you, when I would take a photo of the little boys I used to look after they would always ask, "Can I see it?" thinking there would be a screen on the back of my camera just like their parents'. I held out on buying a CD player until the movies I wanted to see were no longer being released on VHS. My husband and I have toyed with the idea of buying a video camera, so we can record our children's musical performances, but every time we get close to the carrying out of this plan, we back out of it and spend the money on something else we need more. I don't have a cell phone of my own, but my husband is issued one through his work. I have thought of aquiring one for myself for work, but I just can't seem to feel the need for one urgently enough. I don't own an ipod because I don't like to run with music, and those earbuds bother my ears after a while anyway. I see the benefit of recording my favourite shows on an HDTV with TVO, but while I can still use my old VCR for taping shows I just can't miss watching on my Sony Trinitron tube tv I don't see why I should rush into buying this 'must have' set-up. I suppose I'm like the old farmer who, when asked by the travelling salesman if he would like to try the gas-powered tractor as an improvement on his horse-drawn plow, moves the stem of wheat to the side of his mouth and responds, "Now why would I want to do that?"

Perhaps my reluctance to buy into all this technology for myself is part of an innate deeply held belief that it is unnecessary: I just don't want to spend the money when it could be used for other things like books, coffee and scones at the cafe, running shoes, or a family holiday. My children, on the other hand take technology for granted, as if they had been born plugged in. They all have ipods of some kind, my girls each have a digital camera, and my second son recently bought a Wii gaming system, the first of its kind that his dad and I have allowed into the house. We were really strict on that point. We always believed that the computer and the television provided enough screen time, and the week when, several years ago the son in question was loaned a Gameboy by a friend, cemented our determination all the more. He has always been a goal-driven child and so could not leave the thing alone until all the games he was loaned had been conquered. Every free minute was spent in frenzied button pushing until he beat the last level. It drove me crazy. We live in a mild climate and I wanted my children to take advantage of that by spending plenty of time out of doors. I also told my second son when he would beg me to let him have a game system that I wanted him to develop all the real world interests he had outside of video games first, and when those were well established (he plays the violin beautifully, likes to run, to draw and paint, to read and play board games) then he would be able to keep the video game thing in perspective. So far, so good, but even at fifteen he lacks awareness of how much time has passed during a session of adventures in Zelda's world.

So here I am, at the computer, walking the tightrope between two worlds. Embracing technology one minute and disdaining it the next. I love having a blog. I thoroughly enjoy connecting with bloggers from different parts of the world, with friends and family on Facebook and by email, and I really like the immediacy of my daughter's digital camera, something I will buy for myself before long. I also like how my children can watch great music videos on YouTube and that my husband can keep up with his favourite soccer teams in the English Premier League. On the other hand, I am annoyed by the guy in the suit with the Bluetooth on his ear, talking business at full volume while he shops. I regret that I have not the time to read all the blogs I am interested in keeping up with and feel guilty when I either spend too much or too little time trying to do so. I understand that when it comes time to buy a new computer I will marvel in its features, its speed and its megamemory, but part of me will still look at it like it is just another elaborate toy in the grand scheme of things. I grew up in an age when the computer was just beginning to be useful to the average person. It was my far seeing mother who convinced me to take typing and a course called 'data processing', both which have proved incredibly useful.

The high school that my children attend just purchased brand new Windows 7 computers for their computer lab. My daughter thought this incredibly wasteful, especially when they are having to lay off teachers. "The computers we had were only two years old. They were just fine!" she said. Perhaps I'm rubbing off on her. I can't help wondering if, in a few years time, the school supply lists will include, beyond the required scentific calculator for Math, a digital camera, a laptop, and a GPS. One can only hope, if that happens, these pieces of technological equipment will have dropped in price like the calculator. When I was in school, electronic scientific calculators were ten times the price they are now. If I hold out long enough, maybe someday I'll be able to buy a camera for fifty bucks and a new computer for a hundred. I might be willing to wait that long, but I don't think my family will.
The image is from The Cupcake Tent


  1. 'til very lately when I upgraded to my Parker 51, for letters I used a pen and nib rather than a ballpoint. Nevertheless I was very aware of the changes in IT and have used PCs since School when we used Basic.
    But you are correct there is a sort of general insanity liken to a shoal of Parana when something new is offered, this totally regardless of its usefulness.
    Now I'm all for the 'build it and they will come' attitude. Except when you have that feel of being fleeced by a cartel.
    Oh, are you on about a camera with all the bells and whistles "I'm off to work for the National Geographic" sort of camera. For the slip in your packet 90Euro point and shoot is here for a few years now.

  2. You can get a camera for under fifty dollars. You won't get published in the National Geographic, it is true, but you will take lovely pictures. I want an upgrade, but I am still using a $30 point and click digital for all my blog photos.

    I love my computer. It is my portal to the world. But at the same time, I wish my life were slower and quieter. I guess it is all balance.

  3. Vince: Are you serious about the pen and nib? Did you do your letters in calligraphy?
    Did you notice how I name-dropped technological terms through the whole post? I was trying to make the point that even though I am slow to jump on the bandwagon I am immersed in a culture that speaks that language, so I speak it,too. My son has an itouch and says the new ipad that is all the rage is just a big itouch and therefore not very impressively groundbreaking.

    George: :)

    Tracey: This is Canada. British Columbia = expensive. I could only get a child's version of a camera for 50 bucks. I can get a decent one for $150 though, I just have to get around to it.
    Balance is what I try to achieve every day. Sometimes I'm successful, sometimes I fail, but I do try.

  4. Oh yes very much so, on the pen&nib. The last one was a present sent from Maine by a then GF.
    And I did not disagree. My comment was about some of the stuff being rubbish or have little staying power. I think the day I bought a CD-Walkman thingy in 2000, they went and started the mp3 players.

  5. Which is why I have yet to embrace BluRay over DVD, because I have to see if it has staying power, as you say.
    That's cool about the letters written with a nib.

  6. 'So here I am, at the computer, walking the tightrope between two worlds. Embracing technology one minute and disdaining it the next.' I really like how you put this. Intelligent use of technology, like this blog, is heralded.

  7. 'So here I am, at the computer, walking the tightrope between two worlds. Embracing technology one minute and disdaining it the next.' I really like how you put this. Intelligent technology use, like this blog, is heralded.

  8. Paul: Thank you! I've never been quoted back to myself before :)

  9. Excellent blog post! And I agree, I don't think the teacher should have made the assumption every kid has access to a digital video camera!


  10. It's possible the school has cameras the kids can use if they don't have their own. We had a similar assignment recently. The ESL and Spanish students had to record interviews with native speakers of the languages we were studying. When your daughter continues on to college, I imagine she'll be getting a lot of these assignments, so this is good preparation. Things have changed a lot.

  11. I took that "data processing" course too! Did you keypunch, wire panels and learn COBOL? :) I'll have to check back on one of my past post about my life as a computer programmer to see if you left a comment.

    Anyway, I can totally relate to what you've said. I was just speaking to someone yesterday about the bittersweetness of technology; how it makes things easier and faster, but then we get more gadgets to "save time," which kills the time it gave us.
    Currently, I have at least five items that I am only minimally using because I haven't taken the time to sit and read instruction manuals and experiment with all the capibilities. I ask myself why I have this stuff and not use it to it's fullest. *sigh*

  12. Jen: I don't think you or I have to worry about my daughter keeping up. She's right on it - it's me that has to worry about ME.

    Anita: You hit the nail on the head! It's the constant learning how to use these items that causes my reluctance. Technology can be the 'black hole' of time.


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!