Monthly Archives: November 2010

Technology Rant II

The challenge was to get Natasha through the “Online Learner Workshop” in order for her to register for online classes.  The Workshop is intended to help students understand the modern virtual world of internet-based education.  It is a wonderful techno-service-friendly world in which we live!!!

After successive weekend attempts to help Natasha access her college Online Learner Workshop, I sent a very thoughtful note to the college help desk (yes, it was really objective and polite….really).  The “Off-hours Help Line” did not pick up after about 20 rings.  We had tried about three different varieties each of her user id, password, and student number, because different variations are required for the college “Blackboard”, “WebEducator”, and “Student Services” pages.

NOTE:  I am using thinly veiled pseudonyms for the pages and I am closely guarding the college identity.  I am a part-time employee and Natasha is a student.  We value those roles.  But I suspect the experience is very much the same at community colleges throughout the country.

Natasha and I were then called and emailed on separate occasions by multiple members of the college online services staff.  I was called at work by a pleasant woman who sympathized with our situation.  Everything was re-set and we were sent a 17 step instruction on how to gain access to the Workshop and proceed through the learning experience.

Flash back a couple of years ago and I was going through a similar experience to get access to the college system to work as an adjunct instructor.  Back then each user was required to take a 3-day orientation.  Let me restate that for effect…. 3, three, THREE eight-hour day, orientation….  That’s 24 hours!!!  This is required to access to a web-based education system that is intended to simplify the college education process.  I simply told the college I was not going to take leave from my day job for 3 days just to learn how to post my student’s homework to the internet.  It was a very wonderful woman with my department that made it all better.  And I am posting homework the old-fashioned way….  I hand it back to the students at the beginning of class.

Well, unfortunately, my Natasha does not have the same advantages now as I did then.  She is one student among thousands of others.  She is indistinguishable from the computer-illiterates meant to be weeded out by the benevolent Online Learner Workshop.  So, I suffered along with her this time around.

We finally got on the Workshop.  Three hours and about 180 questions later, Natasha had completed the Online Learner Workshop.  The questions ranged from recall of the value and utility of the Online Learner Workshop, to what a PDF file was, to how to attach a file to an email.  At the end, Natasha and I could not help but feel that after successive attempts to get access to the system, to the hours invested in the “education”, that we had both lost a good part of our lives….

There were two modules of the Online Learner Workshop dedicated to “Technology Knowledge” and “Technology Uses”….  What does the Workshop consider as “technology”?  You got it…email, internet, digital photography, word processing applications.

OK, folks, I am officially a grumpy old man.  If this is technology, and it is supposed to make our lives simpler, then I am going to go back to living in a cave.

The Online Learner Workshop taught me nothing and it taught my wife nothing that isn’t already obsolete….  And we won’t get that time back.  Whatever is invented that WILL get us that time back….Now that is technology!!!

Local Color and the Technology Pages

Years (actually decades) ago when I was struggling through college, I was taking a class in Operational Programming.  We were studying information analysis and among the topics we discussed was the concept of “Local Color”.  Without getting into the socio-analytical details, which I would be challenged to recall anyway, Local Color is a characterization of the observable indications of what a community considers important.

I will get to my point eventually…..  But first let’s do a little Local Color exercise.  If you were to walk about the streets of Baghdad sometime around 2004 you might see scores of suspicious looks from the natives, dark streets patrolled by heavily armed American soldiers.  During the day, the traffic would be stifling with multiple check-points, barricades, black-market deal-making, and the occasional improvised explosive device detonation in the distance (if you are lucky enough to be on the opposite side of the distance).  So what’s important in this community???  Survival.  Protection.  Silence.  Power.

Contrast that analysis with a quick look at the daily cruise schedule on board the “Voyager of the Seas” during Natasha’s and my honeymoon….  A dozen different meal options, para-sailing, talent shows, musical theater, shopping….  Oh, and a visit to an exotic island nation.  What’s important in our little ship-board culture?  Comfort.  Fun.  Relaxation.  Entertainment.  Eating.  Got the idea???

Back in class one of the quickest ways to sample Local Color is to take a look at the newspaper (this was back in the 80’s remember).  So, if I was to take a look at the modern version of the newspaper, perhaps the internet would do.  How about USA Today?  That might be a reasonable approximation of American Local Color.  I was curious what America thinks is important about technology.

Here comes my point….  Click on the “Tech” link of USA Today.  What do you see?  The headline on the Tech page of USA Today on November 20, 2010, is “Prevent the ‘holiday bulge’ with new fitness games”.  It doesn’t stop there.  A total of 13 out of 16 stories on the page are dedicated to either social networking, internet entertainment, gaming, or cellular phone features.  The other 3 stories….  One is about internet medical consulting, and buried at the bottom is detection of a new planet, and finally, dead last is the story “Scientists claim breakthrough in antimatter hunt”.

OK, let’s do our Local Color analysis.  If we accept that USA Today is a reasonable approximation for American culture, what is important to this community from the perspective of technology?   Entertainment.  Social connectedness.  Virtual physical fitness!!!  And ho-hum….anti-matter.  Remember, this is the “Technology” page…..

So, when exactly did technology become synonymous with computer gaming and internet surfing?  I thought technology had something to do with physics, transportation, manufacturing, medicine, oh yeah….AND communication.

Years ago futurists like Marshall McLuhan and John Naisbitt predicted an evolution from the manufacturing age to the information age.  I was ready for that.  I think we were all expecting America to become smarter — the designers, managers, innovators, communicators, and leaders of the world.  What have we done with all of this information age leadership?  We are entertaining, surfing, sharing, gaming, dissing, blogging,…… hypnotizing ourselves and the rest of the world.

It starts with what we teach our children about technology and science — about what technology really is.  It starts with planting ideas about what is NEEDED in our world.  It continues with government investing in big, bold achievements that inspire change in our priorities and values.  That creates opportunity for industry and entrepreneurs to contribute to the vision and look for new markets.

But, alas, we are focused on the new iPad.  It seems Apple has figured out how to host a bunch of really cool fitness game apps…

The Keen, New, Innovative, Uniquely American Idea!

I voted the old-fashioned way this evening after work. On Election Day. Yes, November 2, 2010. I got in line at the neighborhood middle school gym. I showed my identification and signed the roster. I had done the absentee ballot thing in years past. And I actually had an opportunity to do early voting a few days ago…..

Early voting…. I don’t get the concept. Seems like it was our responsibility as American citizens to get to the polls to vote for the candidates of our choice. Get to the polls!!! Sometime after the time they open and before the time they close. Have we gotten so lax that we must have several opportunities to vote at a time of our convenience???

Last week I was getting my car registration taken care of at the county annex. I was a bit irritated to see the parking lot full and a small crowd of people milling about a specific distance away from the entrance. They had signs. They had cupcakes. They had smiles as they offered the cupcakes and small cups of cold water. “Are you here to vote, sir?”

I glared back. I wasn’t ready for this. I was girding my loins for the DMV, not for kindly political soccer moms offering me cupcakes. “No,” I muttered as I rushed to the door to the DMV netherworld.

Then as my mind wandered in the DMV line, I thought….early voting….hmmmm….. Am I ready to vote early? No, not really… But, what if….maybe…. Could I get an absentee ballot and contemplate the choices in the comfort and convenience of my home? Now that’s American thinking! I had neglected to mail in my ballot request, but how could they possibly turn me down now that I was at the county clerk’s office? Especially with all this early voting hub-bub going on! Well, you would think…

I quickly took care of my truck registration and hopped over to the county clerk’s office. As I approached, the woman at the counter asked me, “Are you here to vote?”

Now I was ready for the question! I explained my keen, new, innovative, uniquely American idea…. “Could I just get a ballot and take it home???”

“But early voting is going on right now!”

“I understand, but I’d really like to take a ballot home so I can make some informed decisions.” Man, what a smart, responsible idea!!!

“Would you like a sample ballot?”

What was it this lady didn’t understand? I calmly explained that didn’t fit my keen, new, innovative, uniquely American plan.

“But, you need to send in your ballot request and the date has passed for requests and the completed ballots need to be post marked by tomorrow.”

She sounded like one of the adults on a Peanuts cartoon….Wah wah wah…. wahwahaaahhhh…. She just wasn’t grasping the keen, new, innovative, uniquely American voting scheme. I gave her a sarcastic smile and rushed off to put on my registration sticker.

The moral of the story? I wasn’t sure whether I was angry with “the man” for oppressing my creativity, or if I should be ashamed of my audacity for expecting just one more accommodation to exercise my voting obligation. I have since decided I was ashamed of myself.

What happened to everyone in America voting on Election Day? What happened to every employer accommodating their employee’s obligation to vote on Election Day? How can the latest poll results mean anything if half of the voters already voted two weeks ago? What about those sudden blizzards that throw the election out of whack in the Midwest states and offer the underdog candidate a prayer of a chance to pull off a win?

Bottom line…. I voted on THE DAY. If you didn’t vote, then you basically have run out of excuses. You had early voting, absentee ballot voting, and just plain ordinary voting. But don’t try doing any combination of those at the same time… That old-fashioned bureaucratic oppression still exists….for now!!!