07 Aug

Aaahhhhhhhh!; OR, How It Wasn’t the Internet That Kept Me Up Last Night (a break from the Amateur Internet Sociologist stuff)

I awoke to a high-pitched chirping and a cat’s aggressive “Raow!” last night, sure the two cats had caught a mouse and were torturing it. But the “Raow” had me a little baffled: as far as I know, mice are more like toys than hiss-inducing adversaries. Still, once I found a flashlight and tiptoed carefully out of the bedroom, I kept my eyes glued to the floor and any sudden movements. The cats scattered when I got into what we call the red room of our house, which is kind of like a foyer (pardon my French). I turned on the light and combed the area for signs of a crippled rodent. But then something fluttered silently through the air, nearly colliding with my face. I hit the deck. My heart rate shot up about 50 beats per minute. Bat!

Now at the cats’ level, I could see them tracking the movements of the animal like spectators at a tennis match. I opened the front door (which leads to a porch) and then crawled across the floor and closed the bedroom and bathroom doors. The bat circled the red room and then flew into the guest bedroom since I hadn’t yet closed that door.

I racked my brain for methods of directing it toward the porch and remembered the old tennis ball trick. If you’re ever outside at dusk, when the bats are flying around your yard eating bugs (at a very safe height of 30 feet in the air or so), you can throw a ball up there and watch them follow its descent a ways before deciding it’s not edible and fluttering back upwards.

We had several tennis balls on the porch, so I crawled out there and grabbed four of them. Back in the red room, I kept low and tried lobbing some tennis balls just inside the doorway of the guest bedroom. Each ball hit the floor with a thump and bounced to a dead, impotent stop.

I whispered the F word.
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06 Aug

The Technophobes’ False Dichotomy: Real Life vs. No Life; OR, When Does It All Get Too Disturbing?

When I teach my Science Fiction course to high schoolers, inevitably the question arises whether technology is harmful or beneficial. It’s an overly simplistic question meant to spur debate, but I’ve noticed in the past five or six years that fewer and fewer kids find technology disturbing. And so, I tend to lean that way in discussion, citing things like pollution, global warming, genetically modified foods, sounding the alarms about how we’re all headed toward a metaphorical Matrix. And if none of that works, I start talking about the joys of being in the wilderness and the fact that contact with dirt makes people happier.

Where the discussion really gets interesting, however, is when we delve into virtual reality territory. There are those who claim that living in the Matrix wouldn’t be so bad — like Cypher in the movie — except their argument isn’t that “ignorance is bliss”; their argument is that virtual worlds can be more fun than the real world.

I’ve seen what these kids are talking about. When I was in middle school, I had a Sega console. Not the Sega Genesis. The original Sega. And there were a few games called role-playing games, which usually involved dungeons and towers and grassy meadows that you rode your horse through. One such game was called Ys; another was Golvellius; and there was a third one called Phantasy Star which had really cool dungeons on multiple planets, no horses. Actually, according to wikipedia, Phantasy Star was the first “story-drive” RPG released in the United States, but whatever. The point is that these were all role-playing games and as such, required the player of the game to become the main character of the story unfolding over the course of the gameplay.

Don’t all games do that? Well, yes, to a certain extent many of them do. But from what I can tell, RPGs differ in how much they suck you in. An RPG is a time vacuum. And when you finally force yourself to turn it off at 2:00 in the morning, you don’t necessarily feel a sense of satisfaction. Maybe here’s where I should stop talking in second person. I don’t necessarily feel a sense of satisfaction. In fact, I’d often feel quite the opposite — a sense of having been duped, of having spent a lot of time and having very little to show for it.
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05 Aug

Telescopic Story

I just finished putting together a very short story utilizing telescopic text. It’s inspired by a guy named Joe Davis, who did one about making tea. It works like this: there are occasionally words with a light gray background that you can click. When clicked, those words will reveal more words. So a simple statement like “I made tea” can become “I made myself tea” and then “Yawning, I made myself tea” and so on.

I wanted to make one that began with vague characters who gained dimension and shape as more of the story is revealed. Though my end result is nothing award-winning, I think it succeeds in shifting the expectations of the reader. It’s also a pretty cool example of how a writer’s revisions to a simple piece can change it dramatically.

Here it is: “He Looks at Her” by me.

04 Aug

Me vs. We: The Sociological Ramifications of Being Raised by the Web

In recent years, along with increased talk of Web 2.0, there’s been talk of the “We Generation.” What does this mean? And is it a fair label?

First, a quick review. We’ve heard various appellations for recent generations: Generation X, Generation Y, the Millennials, Echo Boomers, Generation Z, Generation C. You can’t really get a straight answer on what’s what, but most sources I’ve looked at say that Generation X follows the Baby Boomers and includes those born between 1965 and 1981. It’s actually 1980, but everyone says give or take a few years, so I did (just to get my wife, born in ’81, in my generation). Us Generation Xers are relatively small (48 million in the US); Gen Y, which follows us and which we’ll say is from 1982 (exactly) to 1995 (give or take five years), numbers about 71 million. They’re sometimes called the Millennials, too. But when they end and the next generation starts is a little up-for-grabs.

It’s also a little up-for-grabs what to call this most recent generation. Some have, quite unimaginatively, dubbed them Generation Z, and there are plenty of other names floating around, but many of them center around the idea that these kids (born circa 1995, we’ll say — just to keep it simple) are products of the Digital Age. Hence names like “The Google Generation.”

My current high school students are straddling the fence between Generation Y and The Next One. They have had cell phones around their entire life; same with the internet and email; they’ve never had a rotary phone; the Soviet Union has never existed in their lifetime; they have only known two presidents; the Berlin wall hasn’t existed. The list goes on.

But in terms of media use, I’m seeing some very different trends in my current batch of students from those who were in high school a mere five years ago. Consider that YouTube was created in February of 2005. The blogging craze took off in 2004. The very first iPods came out in 2001. Google became a publicly traded company in 2004. MySpace was founded in 2003; Facebook was founded in 2004. Web 2.0 was labeled as such in 2005. Wikipedia was launched in 2001. The first commercial camera-phone in the U.S. was available in 2002.
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