Digital Convergence

January 31, 2005

Minitiurization is creeping into everything, and with it, electronics has gained an insatiable urge for digital convergence, whereby we provide more and more functionality on a single device. Its not been so long ago that the basic land line telephone has given way to the cellular handpiece, slowly going to shrink to a thumbnail version of itself.

Its not just a phone anymore. We can use it to store music and files, emails, browse the web, instant message, keep our appointments, calculate mortgage payments, word process, build spreadsheets, play arcade games, take notes, store addresses, and act as an alarm clock (amongst other annoyances such as hundreds of ring tones). In fact these instruments are not even decent cell phones anymore. Half the time there is no service, which is why one needs all those hundreds of other features, to camouflage the fact that it just doesnt do what it is basically meant to do!

This is the big failing of digital convergence. It moves us from an instrument of reasonable economy and performance to one with poor basic functionality. Since the implementation of convergence has failed so completely, we end up carrying many multifunction devices, all of which fail to perform any one single function in an adequate manner. This probably explains why land lines persist still.

We are a nation of distracted people, due in no small measure to living in our electronic storm. All the gadgets, none of which work adequately, are driving most to distraction. Hence, we are doing “more” and yet remain as dissatisfied as ever. Even when we avail of the basic functionality of any electronic medium, the additional myriad function beckon incessantly, forcing us to pause and take in some of them for at least a little while, if not more. With land lines, after making a call, we did not need to also tap into the instant messenger and email. Every little additional time-consuming detail, no matter how insignificant, deleteriously extracts its piece of time, leaving in the end, nothing but a rushed, unaccomplished feeling.

Its all a waste of time, money and energy. When was the last time you used your computer to send one email, or check a movie time, only to also read all the email, respond to pop-ups, check the news, mail someone on an off thought, and end up shopping online? Sounds like something you did only yesterday? And usually 3-4 times a week? Sure, admit it, you are a technoslave. Fess up, you are unhappy about all this, but are unable to resist it.

The way I see it – there will be a polarization. Some of us will realize whats happening, and make a strong effort to resist the grasp of e-mindlessness. Others with less self-discipline will dive right in and swallow it up. One way to avoid the trap is to use instruments that are simple and tailored to the task. Ever used Google for search? Sure – and did you end up shopping or emailing after that? – Probably not. Google is set up for simplicity and makes no attempt to distract. Do the same thing on Yahoo and you will get sucked into all sorts of other sidetracks.

Another example, use Linux for work, and there is small chance of getting led astray. No beckoning popups, no multimedia fanfare, no viruses to keep working off. Windows is designed for the e-mindless, and there will always be a big user base for this. At the other end of the spectrum, will be those that want a computer for what it does, not for the social interaction. This is where the Linux boxes will come in handy.

Hence, lesson to myself: KISS = keep. it. simple. sanjiv. Pick gadgets to do one thing only. Use for that purpose only. Do not misuse. Keep the number of things to do small and simple, and they will be of high quality. Fail to do this and you will be just tired and unaccomplished even after running in response to loads of stimuli. Let that phone ring, especially if it has a custom ring tone.


Sow Now, Reap Later

January 23, 2005

There are many things in life that are unpleasant at first, and only after we spend time doing them that we realize they are a lot of fun. Likewise, there are many things in life that are immensely enjoyable, and become less so after a while, that is, if we are lucky.

Many times we receive advice about doing some things, but we disregard it, because it seems dull, tedious, and unappealing. These are precisely the things that are good for us. How many times has the doctor told you to get enough sleep and exercise, and how many times have you disregarded it? It turns out, most people hate exercise, and yet, we see some people who cannot get enough of it. Exercise is one of those things that, if done regularly, goes from being a boring chore to an invigorating part of one’s daily routine. Its good for you, but you have to give yourself time to see that. And thats the rub – most of us never do.

Television, on the other hand, has instant appeal. Who can resist the tube if there is nothing else to do? So, its an example of something that takes very little time to get used to, yet after a while, most of realize that its not terribly the best way to spend one’s time, and it comes with couch-potato related ailments, both mental and physical, so we eventually reduce our engagement. Too bad, a huge percentage of the population does not, and are badly afflicted with the disease, and sad to say, many are children.

Bad things are easy to get into and hard to get out of. Good habits are difficult to form, but once in place are also hard to get out of. I guess I just defined habit. Duh. But seriously, it only underlines the need to be careful about the habits one forms.

There are so many things we may think of that are good for us, but are resisted deeply. Take reading for example. Initially, most children resist regular reading – it requires mental effort and active engagement, which Good Friend of Passive Living TV does not demand from us. But once over the hump, children become voracious readers. No one needs to tell them its a good thing – reading has that quality within that makes children “know”.

Learning a musical instrument – it can be frustrating, as the initial period is also ego defeating. You are absolutely sure there is no musical bone in your body, as the musical instrument wails in pain at your touch. But eventually, time passes, the notes sound better and better, and you become a musician. From then on, you need a daily fix, some time to play, and it opens up a lifetime of satisfaction.

The simple good things of life are wonderful. They require some investment, but they always pay off. And the investment is often quite small relative to the bounty they bring. What else can be so rewarding – nothing money can buy.

The distractions in life pay off in the short term. Indeed, they feel like a free lunch, for with no investment, you get some pleasure. But in the end they take a toll on your life, and you realize, it was no free lunch, the payment was just back-ended.

It’s all pretty obvious, which is why I am left wondering why it took me so long to get it!

Burn Out

January 17, 2005

I think teaching has burnt me out. The other day I had this conversation with my inner self, which is okay, as this happens often. But it had never happened while I was standing in class teaching. Very odd. It went something like this.

Inner Self: “Did you not teach this topic to these same students before?” Self: “Oh God! Maybe I did.” So I ask the class – “Did I?”, and they reply, no, maybe, sort of.

Now, things are really bad when you teach the same thing too many times, and you have taught everything in your field there is to teach, and you go round and round with it in circles, not being able to keep it straight. No one should be allowed to teach too much. Inevitably, you begin to get bored with yourself.

There is a reason to teach a little and do a good job. It leaves time for research, which throws up new things to teach. There is a freshness when you do not teach things too often. The past few years I have been staving off the inevitable by trying to teach as many new things as I can, but there is only so far as you can go. This time, I decided to change my teaching style to keep from being bored, and so have been using Powerpoint, which I had solemnly committed to never doing. I must admit its made my prep much more organized, but has also escalated my in-class boredom.

I am also trying to cram awful quantities of material into each class, under the notion that if I do more, it may save me from dropping off while teaching. I can see this is taking a toll on students, who are running to keep pace. Slow down, slow down. Someone once said, prepare only half of what you think you can teach, and in class, deliver only half of that. Its best for students that way. Maybe its time for me to take this advice.

I guess the silver lining comes from the students – they are awfully alert and ask many good questions, saving me from complete meltdown. Many of them work all day and then come to class. So its time for me to get over the hump here. Fast.

Long time, and mundane

January 14, 2005

Its been a long time since the last post, and I feel like I need to get back to blogging more regularly. Just been busy doing nothing, which is another way of defining the holidays. Now that I am back teaching, I need to find distractions to keep from being mired in work. Blogging is perfect.

So I went to the MacWorld expo this week. Just terrific to see all the new products, quite uplifting. And the crowds are fun. Like everyone is so nice to everyone else. Beaming away at all the new cool products, just like we were all collectively responsible for them. Everyone from the same religion, children of the Mac, pleased as pink.

The Mac Mini is going to make a huge difference, there will be many new Mac users. As a regular addict, its pleasing to know the club will grow. But there is also the mild chagrin from knowing that the club will not be small, cozy and exclusive anymore. All these new members will be streaming in, with their bad habits brought from the world of windoze. But, with more and more users, people might write more software for the Mac now, and that would be cool.

This week my students (more than usual) have been asking for the deeper meaning of what they are learning. Curious – never ever got this sort of question before, and never more than once. “Yes, we get the math, but whats the point?” or “We get the idea, but the math is hard.” One or the other, so I am doing everything wrong or right. There is a deep human need to take all learning and squeeze into some perceived framework, which I wish everyone, including students will take great pains to avoid. Best to not reference the past when looking anew. Its like not looking in the direction one is going.

Resolve to never use a PC again, always Mac or Linux. That is the most productive thing I have done all day. Maybe need to think this out in the cold light of day tomorrow. So I give the decision a few days settle. Thats all for today. More soon.