Friday, June 24, 2011

Time to work...ooh, look ...shiny

School is out. We already had several days in which the temperature climbed into the hundreds. The solstice occurred on Tuesday. The Royals are in last place. It’s official. Welcome to summer.

Summertime is often equated with laziness. I fully agree that summer should be used for revitalization, but without anything too vital because it’s hot outside. I made a new year’s resolution against sweating.

I’m an elementary school principal by day so the summer brings a dramatic change in tempo. If I can sit at my desk for thirty minutes to concentrate on one task and one task alone during the regular school year it must be after 4 o’clock or a weekend. I have been known to whine about the frequency of interruptions at work. Well, this week I have been able to spend extended periods of time focused on Common Core Curriculum and reading books about building better background knowledge for students so they can be more academically successful. Somebody, anybody, interrupt me, please. Is it possible for your brain to get nauseous? I think I intellectually threw up the last half of that chapter about data analysis for continuous school improvement. (With apologies to Mr. Coleridge – Data, data, everywhere and boy I need a drink.)

Don’t get me wrong (especially if you are a member of the Dodge City Public Schools Board of Education), I want to enlarge my knowledge base. I want to get better at my job. I genuinely enjoy learning new things about how the brain works and how educators can better serve the students in our charge. However, the sheer volume of stuff I don’t know gets a tad overwhelming at times and summertime affords me the time to more fully examine my dearth of knowledge. It’s depressing, worse than sweating.

It is possible my difficulty climbing the mountain of ignorance is made more problematic by the trend in society for short bursts of superficial information. It is very hard to describe a process designed to enhance direct instruction of vocabulary for elementary students in 140 characters or less, but that is more and more what I am used to. My bosses did not assign me to “follow” any educational gurus on Twitter or “friend” them on Facebook. They gave me a stack of books about a foot tall to read. My attention span is going to be stretched to levels I haven’t attempted in a while.

Truthfully, I had a healthier attention span when I was a kid. So often in the media you hear folks complain that kids today don’t have an attention span longer than your typical Hangover II preview. I say nay. My 13-year-old son can play a game on his Nintendo for a timeframe longer than it takes bread to get moldy. He can also get lost in a book for hours on end. I can’t do that anymore even if I am reading a spy novel for mindless entertainment.

There is tons of research out there about multi-tasking, the pros, the cons, who does it well, who doesn’t. My problem is not that I have deficiencies in the multi-tasking department. My problem is I have epic, downright Herculean, skills when it comes to multi-procrasti-tasking.

Multi-procrasti-tasking is my own word for one’s ability to do two or three OTHER things at a time rather than what one really ought to be doing. When I was a college student my apartment was spotless only when I had a deadline for a big paper. (Go to the library or clean the grout? Hello, scrubbing bubbles.)

A major contributor to this phenomenon is the fact that so many of the tools we use for productivity are built to do many different things. If a phone only made phone calls it would be easier to carry on a conversation. If I really wanted to stay on task while writing I should use a typewriter. This computer makes it too easy to wander, a lot.

Why, just in the time between writing this sentence and the one before it I have checked e-mail, read a few tweets, went to to see how the Royals are doing (they’re behind), googled three different tidbits of information of zero importance and watched a video clip from last night’s Colbert Report. I did all this instead of writing the next sentence and writing this column is of one of my favorite things to do. Just think how I can multi-procrasti-task when I don’t want to do something.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Twitter-Tweet and Twitter-Dumb

The other day my daughter Alice said something I found very astute. “If there is so much technology why are there still so many stupid people?” Granted, her choice of words may sound harsh but when you think about it she’s right on target.

With the continuous growth of the internet and the tools available to anybody with a computer we have access to more information than ever before in history. If you are missing some tidbit in the personal encyclopedia residing in your brain it only takes a modicum of perseverance and know-how to fill the gap. Why, just now, in a matter of seconds, I was able to find out the rainiest month of the year for Bora Bora is January when they average 18.6 inches of rain. Will I ever truly need to know that? Probably not, but if it is that easy to obtain a fact so obscure there really shouldn’t be any excuse for being ignorant about things of most any kind.

At least that is the way it should be. There is still the problem that not only can anyone with a modem find information on the World Wide Web but anyone with a modem can also put information on the World Wide Web.

(Short digression: Have you ever noticed it takes longer to say the abbreviation of World Wide Web, www, than it does to say World Wide Web? Saying the initials requires nine syllables while saying the actual words requires just three. My personal best saying “World Wide Web” is 0.8 seconds while my best for “www” is 1.2 seconds. Yes, I timed myself.)

I was once told there are more distinct pieces of information being created each week than would have existed in a decade at other times in human history. The thing to remember is many of today’s distinct pieces of information pertain to Kardashians.

I was once given advice by someone in the entertainment industry saying I just needed to get my stuff on YouTube to get discovered. My response was they make filters to keep adult material off your screen but not to shield you from sheer junk. Being on YouTube does not guarantee being discovered when the discoverers have to wade through thousands of hours of cats being painfully cute and skateboard dudes being painfully pained.

I guess the answer to my daughter’s question lies in the fact that no matter how advanced and amazing technology gets it is still used by human beings and we are very flawed creatures.

As a person who refers to himself as a humor columnist I would be drummed out of the corps if I didn’t spill a little more ink in the matter of Anthony Weiner. Here is a man who had gained the respect of many caring, intelligent people. I didn’t always agree with him but I really liked his passionate fighting for what he believed in. How does he use one of the most immediate and pithy ways to communicate? Does he re-state the battle cry of his political raison d’etre? Nope. Does he call to task the others in the legislature for their short-sightedness? Not so much. He uses Twitter as a purveyor of puerile pornography.

While I am not in Mr. Weiner’s league, my use of technology isn’t all that venerable. I do not use the vast amount of technology at my fingertips for high aesthetics and/or contributing to the greater good. Mostly I just want to be entertained. All the favorites on my internet browser are either sports or humor sites. I have a Twitter account, but the only things I have “tweeted” are musings and whinings. The people I “follow” with interest are Steve Martin, Albert Brooks, and Alec Sulkin (a writer for Family Guy) who use their 140 characters to be funny and not much else.

One of my very favorite technological tools is really one of the most basic, e-mail. E-mail is perfect for the timid. It is a way to communicate with or ask questions of others without being face-to-face or even very insistent. If I call you some contraption on your desk or in your pocket makes an interrupting noise and requires your attention right now. E-mail allows the recipient to respond at his own convenience. This also means I am at his mercy. One person I e-mail with some regularity answers in one of three timeframes, either within the hour, at the end of the week when catching up on all correspondence or never.

Christopher Pyle loves the self checkout technology at grocery stores because it removes one more human interaction from his life. You can e-mail him (he’ll probably answer) at