Saturday, July 26, 2008

"Proust & the Squid": Reading and the Internet

Dr. Maryanne Wolf is concerned about the generation who has begun its reading life looking at text delivered to them, often from the Internet, via a computer screen rather than the printed page. As the Director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University in Boston, she is doing high-tech research looking at the brain itself, to evaluate whether anecdotal reports about reduced attention spans and impatience with complexity are because our brains themselves are changing. Brains remain plastic throughout our lives. Are they physically adapting to a skimming style of reading? And if so, does this shift reduce our capacity to do what she calls "deep reading"?

She has written a book on this subject, called "Proust & the Squid: the Story and Science of the Reading Brain" (published in Canada by Harper Collins). Her work is also discussed in the Atlantic Monthly's "Is Google Making Us Stoopid?" which I discussed in my June 18 posting here: "An Article Worth Reading (All the Way Through)".

Her ideas seem to be getting mainstream attention. Last week, I heard an interview with her on CBC Radio One's popular "Sunday Edition". In the twenty minute conversation with Kevin Sylvester, she described how when she started writing "Proust and the Squid" her intention was to describe the "miraculous" deep reading process. When it comes to reading, she said, "the point of it all is to take what you read and then think and infer and gain insight. It is really beyond what a lot of people think about as 'just' reading. It's deep thinking .. and it takes place in one hundred to two hundred milliseconds. Over the eight years that she was writing the book "I had a completely different world on my hands". The effect of doing research using the vast amount of data streaming in from the Internet was resulting in a "skimming" reading style. "I was really beginning to worry that we were losing what we have. That it was trickling through our fingers ... not the older reader, but all that the younger reader was not necessarily going to do if their formation for reading was in the more superficial mode that is too often the case with the 'screen' kind of reading... By the end of the book I was filled with questions about what we don't know, and what we really need to be vigilant and do some very good and very sophisticated research on. What does that child who has really learned how to read as a 'screen reader'. What is the difference between that reader, and you, Kevin, who comes to the screen with a well-formed, critical, inferential reading kind of a mind?

"So I'm questioning whether the formation is going to lead us to have children who don't have the same kind of intrinsic 'pause button' that you and I have when we read and we know we have to go under the surface; don't assume anything; want to fill in the blanks; want to go back and check. There's a real critical -- and I use a term by a poet -- 'quality of attention' that we bring to reading because that's how we were formed. What I want to do is ... do research .. and see whether or not the strength of comprehension processes is altered... Reading is not natural in the sense that there is a genetic code that says it has to go this way. The Chinese reader is different from an English reader... [who]... is just a little bit different from a French reader ... So we certainly know we can form a different circuit. So my question and my concern ... is that we may be, without intention, giving rise to children who are more superficial and less analytical than you and I."

Her opinions have brought resistance. In her conversation she makes it clear that she, as a neural scientist who uses sophisticated technological tools to study the brain, is not a Luddite. Nor is she alone. She points to where the National Endowment for the Arts, using a different research basis is "coming to similar concerns" in their publication "To Read or Not To Read".

How to start addressing her concerns? She asks for "quality research" on this topic. And "close scrutiny" to "phasing-in technology... so before we know our answer, we won't have lost our kids. It's too important not to raise these concerns, even though I don't have the evidence. Because we have a lot of kids out there who are being shaped every single day of the year in ways that I think we've lost control over."

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

A reader recalls asking "What is a computer?"

"My father worked at the National Research Council and he used to tell me about the computers that he worked with and how large they were. At the time, they took up whole rooms and the computer cards that we used at church to make Christmas wreaths, always looked so strange with all those holes poked in them.

In the late 70's, I worked in a medical laboratory in Ottawa. At the time everything was written by hand or we used typewriters. The medical requisitions were all handcoded for billing but then we had a team that came in to implement the transition from paper to computer.

I remember being told that the computer would tell you by a beep if you made an incorrect entry. That "thing" beeped all the time. I refused to learn how to use it, I couldn't handle the rejection of a computer beeping. From that day forward, I decided to never get a job where I had to use a computer. Forget that. No way.

Kids do change your life. Looking back, I should have known that I was being set up by my parents when they brought over a computer for the kids. You know the kind, that took the big floppy disks and the CPU was a big thing that sat on the desk. Games, if you have a phobia working with computers, learn how to play children's games. That way you get used to a cursor and how to navigate the mouse. But these games were in DOS, before the mouse and Word.
Still, we spent many a night as a family with young kids, trying to figure out who could go to the highest level during Crystal Caves, my how I miss that game.

Well, eventually, I had to learn how to use wordperfect, as I was too daunted to try Microsoft Word, and eventually I had to learn how to use Word. Even though sometimes the computers still beep at me, I am now considered as the "computer wiz" where I work and I love computers."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

An article worth reading (all the way through)

My friend Louse pointed me towards "Is Google Making Us Stoopid? What the Internet is doing to our brains" in the July/August issue of the Atlantic Monthly. Since I read it voraciously, I have mentioned the title to a couple of friends. Each had a strong response, but in opposite directions. One friend nodded vigorously, while the other rolled his eyes. The author, Nicholas Carr, is ready to acknowledge that "maybe I'm just a worrywart ... Perhaps those who dismiss critics of the Internet as Luddites or nostalgists will be proved correct, and from our hyperactive, data-stoked minds will spring a golden age of intellectual discovery and universal wisdom." He goes on, however, to express his concern that "as we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence".

His starting point is his own shrinking attention span while reading, and a growing similar concern being expressed by others who also do most of their reading and research online. He cites both anecdotal and research evidence, as well as theorists like Marshall McLuhan, to support his theory that "What the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski." Pointing out that "even the adult mind is 'very plastic''', he uses the example of how, after the philosopher, Nietzsche, switched from handwriting to using a typewriter, he observed that "our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts". Not for the better, apparently. Carr quotes a scholar who observed that "Nietzsche's prose 'changed from arguments to aphorisms, from thoughts to puns, from rhetoric to telegram style".

Carr quotes Larry Page, one of the founders of Google: "For us, working on search is a way to work on artificial intelligence". But Carr suggests that the Internet has re-introduced on a cognitive level the "maximum speed, maximum efficiency, maximum output" ethic which, in a manufacturing setting, produced the assembly line "industrial choreography" which many found demeaning and dehumanizing. "In Google's world, the world we enter when we go online, there's little place for the fuzziness of contemplation. Ambiguity is not an opening for insight but a bug to be fixed. The human brain is just an outdated computer that needs a faster processor and a bigger hard drive."

Even Carr confesses he doesn't read more than three paragraphs of a blog, and I notice that I'm now moving into my fourth. So I had better stop here. But please don't stop with my digest of a thoughtful and thought-provoking article. In the spirit of "use it or lose it", pick up the magazine, find a summer park bench and give it the time and attention it deserves.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"Connections" Revisited

The above video "The Trigger Effect" is the first episode of the seminal BBC-TV series "Connections" created by James Burke in 1975, about technological change. In closing, Burke strikes the theme of his series with a quote "... Our modern world affects us all. If you understand something today, that means it must already be obsolete. Or to put it another way -- never have so many people understood so little about so much." He describes the series as "detective story" looking at selected inventions which acted as "triggers" because they stimulated the production of further inventions which cumulatively changed "the way things are".

My twenty-five year old son watches this series on YouTube in the same way as we used to read National Geographic together as a bedtime story. When I fired "Connections" up today, I too found it fascinating. For me it is a COABC nexus that supports my growing conviction about the trans-generational nature of the issues arising from the search for a balanced use of technology.

This series was first aired over thirty years ago - four years after I graduated with my first university degree, and seven years before my son was born. My son had heard about this series a few years ago, and had even priced the DVD's before he found the cost too high to request the set as a Christmas present from his dad and myself. He reports stumbling upon the series while surfing on YouTube and found this one-hour episode is now available for free.

I am intrigued. In this first show, Burke's jumping-off point is to ask the viewer to look around them where they are sitting, and to reflect upon how their lives would change if the technology around them disappeared. Then he uses re-enactments of the "technology traps" revealed by the 1965 New York City blackout to point out how dependent we are on using technologies that, as individuals, we don't understand sufficiently that we could replicate them. Over the course of one hour he brings in subjects which were, at the time, theoretical ... like the effects of climate change, water shortages and natural disasters that precipitate mass evacuations. Thirty years before Hurricane Katrina and the recent earthquakes in China, this mixture of cultural theory and history also predated the Internet. When Burke creates disturbing scenarios about the losses implicit in the disruption of networks, he is talking about electricity.

Both my son and myself enjoy the combination of well-presented and disturbing scenarios with inadvertent cultural artifacts -- like the passengers stubbing out their cigarettes as their airplane, Flight 911, approached the NYC landing strip at precisely the moment the lights went out. We also agree that the questions that James Burke posed now seem prescient, and are even more relevant today for both those who came of age before and after computers.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Looking for the shift key

"Shift happens". That is the theme of the above 8-minute slide show, "Did You Know 2.0", about the pace of technological change. Aimed at American parents, educators and legislators, it makes a strong point that, in terms of globalization, we do ourselves and our children a favour by facing the fact that "we live in an exponential world".

I sent my April 17 article called "Snail mail in a post-fax world" to my ex-boss, who is featured there in my story of how, thirty years ago, I resisted his early adoption of the new fax technology. He currently teaches a course where he stresses "embracing technology", and kicks off his class with the above video.

I found myself watching it with double vision. As a parent, I am cheering my tech-savvy son on. But personally, I look at these daunting statistics from the other side of the digital divide. The video quotes Albert Einstein: "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." On a cognitive level, I can see the big picture. But on an experiential level, I feel the same sort of isolation that I imagine is felt by parents who have immigrated into a culture with a different language. They moved out of their own comfort zone to give their children more advantages, but find themselves coping with communication barriers that impede their own daily life. One person described her experience of rapid technical change in terms of the experience of leaving your mother tongue behind -- with the added dimension, for her, that she had not chosen to leave home.

In my city, some newcomer neighbourhoods have bilingual street signs, just to help people without strong English skills to find their way around. I hope to be able to use this blog as a space to provide similar non-judgemental bridges for those who came of age before computers -- people I refer to as "COABC's". It seems to me that there are dilemmas being faced, even by those of us who are trying to "be part of the solution", around the new learnings implicit in retooling our skills. Many are ashamed to admit to fatigue, conflicting time priorities, lack of access, and different learning styles. In another posting here, for example, I direct parents and teachers to the British site BT Digital Champions, which gives children tools to teach digital skills to their grandparents. Shift does indeed happen. But a child grows in compassion at the same time as their granny grows in skills, when they sit together at a computer locating that key.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The "unplugged movement"- a quick blog survey

This morning, now that Shutdown Day is over, I find that their site is still not responding. Hmmmm... so I decided to look around at blog commentary about the "unplugged movement" which is related to the theme of yesterday's event. On the Reuters site I found an article called"Texting While Driving? Time to Unplug" with the subtitle "A grass roots movement has tech geeks wresting back control of their lives". Also I checked out a posting by Robert Bruce called "27 Thoughts on Blogging for the Artist", and another called"52 nights unplugged" which advocates "taking one night a week away from the digital pacifier". There is also one on the MSNBC News Site "Is there such thing as being too connected?" subtitled "The unwired think so. And they are not all sticks-in-the-mud."

The fact that all the above blogs are written by people who came of age AFTER computers is very interesting to me. This year, as I have been talking a lot about the theme of this blog in class, I found to my surprise that I was wrong in my assumption that my concerns are necessarily an age-related thing. A classmate, Genevieve Cloutier, interviewed me from a broader perspective for her documentary course, and we plan to do a more extended piece together about it over the summer. I have embedded her 5 1/2 minute YouTube video into my April 4 article "Making friends with my shadow." In future postings I'll be looking more into the subject here. But not today. I've organized a picnic for my family members who came to my grad, so the rest of today will be my own "digital day off".

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Please turn off this computer! Today is Shutdown Day

May 3 is a global event which is the "buy nothing day" of computers. The intention is to make people aware of how much of their best time and energy is being spent hunched over a keyboard. Sometimes you can't avoid having to be there -- in fact, if you are reading this at the kiosk at the opening night of the Emily Carr Undergrad Exhibition, 2008, I'm here at a computer myself! This one has been set to run 24/7 for the week of the show, so there IS no way to power down. If you look around right now, you will see me standing here hoping to have a conversation with you about my project, which is this blog. I'm the one dressed in black with the glasses.

But if you are at home, please bookmark this blog and come back tomorrow. Needless to say, today the website itself has been turned off. But come midnight, you could check it out to see reports coming of the many people who participated in the event by joining flashmobs being held around the world. Last year, according to reports, most people spent the 24 hours off from their computer having sex. This year, many will be doing the same, but it is nice to have an alternate. A flashmob gives the opportunity is go out and play with other people with a similar intention to risk taking the time to see how it feels to be out in a world unmediated by a computer screen. Last year I was out writing cherry-blossom haikus, as you can see in my video "Shutdown Day--One Year After" in the April 27 posting below.

2013 Update: Here is a Wikipedia article on Shutdown Day, which ended as an annual event in 2009. 

Friday, May 02, 2008

This blog is my art school graduation project

Tomorrow I graduate from Emily Carr Institute of Art + Design, in Vancouver, Canada with a Bachelor of Media Arts, and I will be receiving the Governor General's Silver Medal for the best marks in the class. Our graduation project is meant to represent what we currently see as our core creative work, and after much thought, I decided that this blog best represents what I see myself doing as an artist for the near future. It gives me an opportunity to self-publish my own writing and video work, as well as to feature other videos and websites which I think are relevant to the themes I explore here.

Like any artist, I will be trying to represent my own core concerns in a way that resonates for other people. Right now, for me, that concern is about how to have a balanced response to rapid technical change. I came back to school in my mid-fifties, and this gave me a chance to see the relevance of my own work in the context of other art that is being done now. At about the mid-point of my studies I switched to a department where I could learn how to use electronic tools like digital photography and video. I also started putting my work for public view via the Internet, rather than through the more traditional gallery system. As I am about to graduate, I am glad that I have skills and experience which give me the tools and credibility to be taken seriously, as I comment upon the pros and cons of those very tools.

There is a bit of "deja vu" operating here. In my first round as an artist, in my twenties, I worked in what is now called "traditional media" - doing drawings and sculpture. But by the time I was thirty, in the early 1980's, I started to respond to what I called "the writing on the wall". I was part of a group of artists who started an artist run centre called "Toronto Community Videotex" to work together to develop skills to create content for the precursor to the Internet. I am delighted that this organization, now known as InterAccess Electronic Media Arts Centre, has not only survived to celebrate it's 25th Anniversary this year, but is a vibrant part of Toronto's art community.

When we fast forward to 1999, and my return to electronic media, the sad reality was that I was twenty-five years older too, and had lost my position as an "early adopter". But I had become intrigued by the City of Vancouver's Millennium Project Portrait V2K, where you can find my story if you search for "Strider". I loved the concept that a website gave them the capacity to publish every story and photo that citizens would upload, and got my high-school son to help me to scan and upload my story and photo. I was lucky that I scored on my first try. My story became one of the featured ones, silkscreened on a huge banner in the project's year-long exhibition at the Vancouver Museum.

Positive experiences like that made me open to exploring new media when I returned to art school. But initially I felt a lot of shame as I sat in the computer lab, surrounded by students who seemed to have been working with computers since the day they were born. I was committing myself to spending a lot of time in a very steep learning curve, often feeling awkward and stupid. Conversations with people who were mid-life and older made me realize that I was not alone in feeling this way. So the exploration of this "shadow" is currently my central creative theme. For now, what interests me most is an examination of the impact on daily life that results from lack of skills, access -- or interest -- in electronic tools like computers, email, and cell phones. On a broader level, I hope that readers of this blog will also find positive suggestions for using the Internet itself to facilitate a zestier engagement in the face-to-face world.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Computer Shutdown Day Saturday May 3

The global Shutdown Day event takes place on Saturday, May 3 -- and ironically, given how much I have been promoting it, I will not only have my computer on, but it is the centerpiece of my grad project for the show that opens that night! However, I feel good that I was able to make two contributions: the two-minute video below entitled it "Shutdown Day - One Year Later" about my initial participation. It is embedded on their Shutdown Day website and has gotten over 6,000 views. The second contribution I think I made was an early email discussion with Denis, the Montreal computer programmer, who initiated this day to encourage balance around computer use. I pointed out that last year's event had been the same day as the flashmob pillow fight on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery, and asked if that had been intentional. It hadn't been, but this year the central concept is for people to participate in local flash mobs rather than sit hunched over their computers. The grad exhibition goes for a week, and this blog will go on indefinitely. And all of you who are out taking part in Shutdown Day, check me out on another day!

Friday, April 25, 2008

My Interview with Waldo

I did a couple of all-nighters on making the above video "The Waldo Interview". I have been collaborating closely on the "Where on Earth is Waldo" project with Melanie Coles, and we wanted to get this video available as soon as possible to feed the global multi-media interest. Please follow the above link to her blog to learn about her project in her own words. In keeping with the theme of this blog, this reflects on my Waldo experience using the COABC (Came of Age Before Computers) point of view.

The first learning point for myself is that -- at the age of fifty-seven -- if I am going to be choosing to work for fifty hours solid, I need an ergonomic chair!

Also, what does it mean for me personally that, having chosen to commit to doing my art using a computer, I found that working on the Waldo project was the most fun I've had at Art School? I think that a big part of the reason that the Waldo project went viral on the Internet is that the aerial photo is of a real object -- it is not a photoshopped image on a map. I think there is a hunger for the "embodied", as I call it. The 54-foot painting of Waldo up on the roof is real, as are the fifteen art students who worked together to put him up there. As this blog evolves, I will be focusing more on Internet-related projects that re-connect people back into participating in the face-to-face world.

Another personal COABC reflection is that now there are some Internet places where I not only have stopped grinding my teeth, but actually enjoy myself. YouTube is one of these sites. From the user point of view, it is simple. Click a link recieved in an email or the "play" arrow in a website, and away the video goes. No matter how old and clunky your computer, and how basic your skills on the web, there are no compatibility issues, nor extra software you need. No wonder YouTube has leaped over the digital divide!

Finally, at the time I am writing this, two of my YouTube videos -- "The Waldo Interview" and "Shutdown Day, One Year Later" (see my March 24 article) -- have had over 2000 "hits". A third, "The Making of Waldo" (April 10) , has had over 1500 people fire it up. A "hit" means that somebody out there found an art piece that I made, and then took the time to watch it. As an artist, I am just as thrilled at a report of a hit as I would be looking at the guest book of people who had dropped into a gallery, or the tally of how many sat in a theatre to watch it. But I know that it is very unlikely that I would ever get that kind of attention, here on the ground, as a new grad -- or ever! A "hit" is the currency of the internet. An ephemeral connection. But I do feel like I'm getting paid. In a future posting I will look at the implications.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Snail mail in a post-fax world

Twenty years ago, I saw no future in faxes. Now I am in the place where I've come to believe that again. Throughout it all, snail mail has kept poking along. Does snail mail have a future? I hope so, not only for myself, but for my parents.

When faxes first came on the market in the mid-eighties and my boss asked me to buy a fax machine, I resisted. What would you ever use them for, when the mail only took three days? He told me to order one anyway. I was gratified when it sat gathering dust for weeks in the filing room. But then one day the green light on the clunky machine flickered, and out rolled a hot shiny piece of thermal paper with a customer's order on it. The rest is history.

Fast-forward to my recent decision not to buy a scanner that threw in a personal fax capability. This time the problem for me is that I no longer have a land-line telephone. Anyway, between emails and the scanner, when would I ever need to use a fax? If I ever found myself needing to send a fax because the destination required one, I could always do it from the post office.

For moments like that, I am really happy that the post office is there, and I am glad that I can contribute to the salary of that nice person who works there. It is the courier for people who don't have receptionists. And they haven't quite figured out how to squeeze Christmas packages through wires. I correspond with my siblings by email, and sometimes my sister will print them out in large font and take them over to my parents. There is a new American service which converts emails into letters and mails them for you, for a price.

Currently, as I am about to graduate with a "high-tech" media degree, I am making my own "high-touch" thank-you cards for the people who have supported me. I visualize the pleasure of my friends and family when they find that tactile personal envelope in their mailboxes -- an occasion like a parcel used to be. Perhaps I could buy a package of envelopes and address and stamp them in advance to commit myself, then print out those family emails myself. My sister would appreciate it, it would support the postal service, and it would probably make my dad's day to have a real letter arrive through the "inbox" in the middle of his door.

Looking forward to your comments

Sunday, April 13, 2008


There are days in the lab at school when I deeply regret the decades it took me to get back to art school after my yoyo attitude led me to drop out back when I was still in my early twenties. But in the spirit of "looking on the bright side" I've always comforted myself that all those intervening years at least led to some wisdom, which could add depth to my point of view. However this morning at 4:00 a.m., as I was winding down from my video editing on the "Waldo Interview" piece, I had to confront that I might be losing my Wisdom edge as well.

For one thing, I seem to have slipped into a mode where I check the day's analytics on this blog in order to wind down. Hmmmm ... whatever happened to my longtime routine of using that time to work through the Public Library's "Maeve Binchey Readalike" list? For another thing, when I did fire up my "Dashboard" I felt the sort of reaction that, had I seen it in my son, would have led to a Mother/Son Talk about seeing the cup as being half-full rather than half-empty.

Scroll down to the picture of the dashboard I posted yesterday -- where my blog had achieved a summit of 90 hits on April 11. Well, okay. It was 89. Well this morning, when I peeked instead of going straight to bed, I saw to my horror that the midnight posting of the April 12 hits showed me sliding down the other side of my little mountain. Here is the "one day later" graph.

What would I say to my son? I would tell him that he could look at 45 hits -- well, actually 39 -- as being still more than twice my pre-Waldo-Echo peak of 15 on April 3. I'd also try to get a little sermonette about celebrity in before he put his headphones back on. Which I am about to do right now with my own headphones. Still hoping to get that little sucker up on YouTube before Melanie's CBC National Radio interview on "Q" tomorrow.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Part of the COABC demographic - by ladyofthelake

When I read your posts I often feel like you are talking about me. I have come late to the computer, digital camera, cell phone age and find it challenging but rewarding when I master a small skill. 
I loved the piece on your cell phone. I got my first ever cell phone about a month ago and am still very intimidated by it. My husband (he has never had one either) and I spent a whole evening going through the instruction book just learning the basics which I had pretty much forgotten by the morning.
Yes I am definitely a COABC and can totally  relate as to how difficult it must have been to go back to school with all  those new generation tech whizzes.
I became much more interested in improving my computer skills when my daughters went away to school and I wanted to communicate and share photos.
 I recently started a new job which requires quite a bit of computer use and I am very lucky to have a young lady I work with who willingly give me lots of help and advice. She is very patient!
I am very impressed at how you are getting out there helping, shall we say more mature people learn how to use digital cameras, computers etc. not to mention completing your degree at Emily Carr. You must be very proud of yourself as you should be.
I am looking forward to reading and learning more from your blog.

Riding a (good) viral event

The word "virus" in relation to computers started out as a bad thing. But now, with blogs, to have something you uploaded "go viral" is a huge thrill. I'm getting a small taste of that now, and it gives me insight into the world view of my son and fellow students. On the Sunday before the CBC TV interview which brought Melanie Coles' "Where On Earth Is Waldo" project to the attention of Brazil, and eventually the world, I put together the above video based on a slide show that I made as a an assignment for class. I uploaded it to YouTube when she got on TV the next day. In the one week that it has been up there, as of today 700 people have looked at it. That is a whole movie theatre worth of people. (And if you click on it now, it will be 701!) As a comparison in the year that I have been uploading videos there, I have had just over 800 views of all the other 12 videos.

So now I am right in the middle of being involved in a good story, and, because we live in a time-compressed world, now is the time tell it. Today I'm going into school to use the sound studio to do an interview with Waldo to upload to YouTube as fast as I can - hopefully before Monday (April 14) when Melanie has a national radio interview on "Q". See my postings below on April 10 and April 3 for more details and a link to her site. She has embedded a link to my blog, where, before the word got out, I had posted an article looking at her work in the context of other art. I subscribe to Google Analytics and I have been monitoring the echo effect of people coming over from Melanie's blog to check out mine.

She is using analytics to monitor her site too, and we both noticed that the sudden peaking flattened the prior lines on our graphs. Her blog was getting 1500 hits AN HOUR yesterday, whereas my peak was 90, the day that Brazil found Waldo. But for me it is a thrill. And I am beginning to understand how seductive it is to check how you are doing on the internet. So this has been a good COABC moment of insight.

Another COABC insight is the sense of urgency to put more material up there to meet the demand, out of a sense that we might be hitting Minute 7.5 of our Andy Warhol quota. I have looked around me in the lab during this end of term crunch, and know the solution to time compression is to find shortcuts. Here is where I trip over my ten thumbs, which feel very big right now! I had enough knowledge to be there doing the scanning, but not enough to know that a shortcut I took was going to have exactly the catastrophic effect I keep assuring COABC's is not likely to happen if they just take the risk and thrash around a bit. Long story short, I found myself without access to any of the source files I had so carefully collected during my role as Melanie's video documenter throughout the project. I knew I was vulnerable -- that my external drive was old, and was suddenly being carried around a lot. But I needed to be able to move all those files somewhere else. And the problem with backing up large amounts of data, is that you need a bigger container. I had already bought myself a larger external drive, but to do all the formatting and so on I needed to either take the time to figure it out, or organize myself to ask for help. So it was sitting on my table, stlll in the packaging, when the one it was supposed to replace took a dive. Murphy's law had kicked in, as it tends to do when you are busy and it feels like there is no time.

So that was the bad news. But the good news is that I DID know enough all along to be burning DVD's of the Waldo source files and giving them to Melanie. So I actually had that "backup" that computer repair guys always ironically ask you for. And for bonus points, it was "offsite". Though getting it back involved Melanie hiding the disks that night in a hole in a wall next to her place of work. Unlike Paris Hilton, we both had to interrupt our fame to go in to our part-time jobs. I had a cell phone moment like one sometimes overhears late at night on buses, as Melanie gave me directions to "it" and my side of the conversation must have sounded like a drug deal! Bottom line, today I have the files, tomorrow (please God) I upload a new video to YouTube to catch the wave of CBC listeners on Monday. Wish me luck!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Live and Around The World With Computers - by Michael Godin

I first became involved with computers back in the mid-80s when I was still working at A&M Records as V.P. of A&R (Artist and Repertoire). Computers first became introduced there with a big main frame for all of the financial aspects of the company, sales, inventory, recording budgets, etc., and then personal computers for the various departments. Over the subsequent years, I became involved with computers, but for mainly office type functions.

However in 1997, I came of age with computers and the Internet when I started an online oldies radio show, Treasure Island Oldies. In those days, listening to music on the Internet with a 28.8 kbps modem was almost the equivalent of having to hold two tin cans attached end to end by a piece of string. If you spoke into one can and both ends were held to keep the string taut, the person at the other end would hear that other person's voice. However, dialup was susceptible to the 'loose string' syndrome, and you often lost the signal. Since those days in the last century, my show has grown with the technology of better audio streaming technology, higher bandwidth and much greater stability.

I host the occasional video feed of the show live from the studio; a chance for the listener to play voyeur into a radio studio and watch the dj putting on the show. The show is available in stereo in high speed broadband in both Real Media and Windows Media formats, and is heard all over the world with listeners in the far reaches of the Earth. I receive a lot of email from those listeners and I am also able to see the various countries where listeners and visitors are from who come to the website. Another cool aspect is that the live show is archived for later listening on demand. As the show is live from 6 to 10 p.m. Pacific time Sunday evenings, many international listeners can hear the show at a more convenient time for them.

The show is extremely interactive, with a library of over 12,000 titles (so not many repeats of Pretty Woman and Unchained Melody every 20 minutes), a live chat room where the "nuts in the hut" hang out together every week for four hours of music and sharing the live show together. There are instant email requests and a 24/7 voicemail request line.

May 4th marks the 11th Anniversary of Treasure Island Oldies, a passion of mine for all these years, and a labour of love, with the odd bit of income from text ads from AdBrite and Google Ads, and a handful of listeners who "subscribe" to the show for $4.95 a month via PayPal. But I don't and have never doine this show for the money. If that were the cae, it would have ceased years ago. I do it because I must, need to, am driven to do it - I love it. It's my artistic release. I love sharing great music and the memories that go along with it.

What I am most proud of is how this show remains my prime creative passion and outlet, and the fact that it is now one of the longest running oldies radio shows in the world on the Internet. Do a Google search for any number of phrases like oldies radio show, oldies blogs, rare oldies, lost treasures oldies, etc. You'll be surprised with the results.

Since September of 2007, I got tired of either no replies or negative responses from networks to carry my show, so I established my own private syndication network and apart from being online on the mediaontap network, the show is now also heard on FM, AM and other Online radio stations across the USA in Georgia, New Hampshire, Indiana, Washington State, Massachusetts, Texas, and New York; in the UK in Manchester and London, and in Sweden in Gothenberg. This week I have a brand new station joining the network, 102.7 FM CIWS Whistle Radio in Whitchurch-Stoufville, just north of Toronto. They only launched a few weeks ago and they are now my first radio station in my own country, Canada!

So yes, I sure have come of age since computers and in particular, the Internet.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Waldo project getting global attention!

Three days ago, Melanie and a television crew did a CBC TV Interview on the rooftop. The part I liked the best was when she put her hand over the lens and said "Don't photograph the rooftops!"

Next day her website got 4,000 hits from Brazil, where the project had been covered by both TV and radio. The day after that (which was only yesterday!) Melanie found herself cutting class and requesting extensions on her due dates at school in order to do interviews with media - not only Canadian but also from the US and the UK. She tells the story of her surprise ride into fame on her site.

This morning two local newspapers, the Vancouver Sun and 24 Hours both had a photo of Waldo on the front page.

We were really glad that I had a short 1.5 minute video based on my slide presentation on Melanie's project to our grad class already done. The day the news broke I uploaded it to YouTube. Here is a link
"The Making of 'Where On Earth Is Waldo'".

Next for me is to make a second YouTube video based on the premise of an interview between myself and Waldo, about how it feels to be a famous quarry (again). Here is a photo of myself and Waldo, after we had finished laying him out.

The cover story yesterday in the newspaper "24 hours" concluded "The popularity of the project, which caled for 15 friends working 16 hours in a lower Eastside studio, proves anything is possible." As one of those 15 -- who became involved right from September when Melanie first described her very simple, oddball idea -- I know that, hands down, this has been the most fun I've had at art school. As a COABC I've been hesitant to come forward to work with groups, and have tended to isolate myself. A lot of that was due to self-imposed fear and shame about my slowness on the uptake with the technical tools. I am so glad that Melanie and I were part of a small mutual support group on our grad projects. She welcomed me as a collaborator, and I can see that my participation has been useful, and that I did bring a different but also useful set of strengths.

And now I'm off to work on that video! This coming Monday, Melanie gets interviewed on "Q", the CBC Radio One show. I hope to have something up there by then!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Where On Earth Is Waldo?

As I describe in my profile, as a "Came of Age Before Computers" artist I rather reluctantly switched into media arts when I became convinced that the innovative art for the foreseeable future was going to involve digital material and be accessible through the Internet. On of my friends during this, my final year as a student of Media Arts, is Melanie Coles. We have been helping each other out with our grad projects, and so I've had the delightful experience of working with her on hers. Her work is a good example of interesting art which uses the internet as the medium, just as other people use paint. Though she uses paint too....

I was one of many volunteers who helped her to paint a huge "Waldo" and hide it on an undisclosed rooftop in Vancouver. It is now there, cheerfully looking heavenwards, waiting for the next Google Earth "fly-by" when a satellite photo will be taken.

Last night we sat side by side in a computer lab at school as she was looking for the first time at aerial shots taken from a helicopter. To see the shots from the helicopter, follow the attached link to Where On Earth Is Waldo her blog about the project. We have already found the rooftop on Google Earth, and have found that the level of detail of the zoom showed a barbeque right next to where her Waldo Painting is now located. When will the photo of Waldo show up on Google Earth? Nobody knows. They schedule regular updates of their photos, especially in urban areas like Vancouver, but have a policy of not disclosing when they will be aiming their camera at a particular area. Possibly because there is an increasing interest in projects like Melanie's where objects are being created to be seen from a Google-eye view.

As an art student, Melanie has deliberately situated her Waldo within a history of land art that is on a scale and located in a way as to be aimed at the eye of a deity rather than to be seen by those on the ground. The huge images carved into the chalk on hillsides in Britain stretched back to ancient times, long before it was visalized that people could ever fly. In July 2007, as part of the launch of the Simpsons movie, a biodegradable Homer was painted next to a famous chalk fertility symbol called the "Cerne Abbas Giant". Here is a link to the BBC coverage about how local pagans "Wish for Rain to Wash Away Homer"

The huge, donut-waving Homer is part of the growing body of "Google Earth" art work which is intended to be experienced indirectly through the lens of satellite photos. Some real-world artworks, such as the Leaning Tower of Pisa as seen by Google Earth can be found easily by typing the name into the search. The link I gave is to a searching a popular website called "Sightseer on Google Earth" which facilitates looking at monuments from a different point of view. It was only a short step beyond looking at real monuments for artists to start doctoring digital photos to add content. An example is a series by a group of Australian collective of artists and designers called "The Glue Society". The example shown here is a Google-eye view of the parting of the Red Sea. Here is a link to an online article "The Bible according to Google Earth"

Those of us who relate to Google as primarily a work or research tool sometimes do not hear about how deeply it is becoming embedded in our culture, especially for those who grew up with it. There is a growing, highly ironic, theory growing in Vancouver 24-hour internet coffee shops about "Is Google God", since it seems to possess many of the powers that have been ascribed to a deity -- for example "Sees all" and "Knows all". There is a tongue-in-the-cheek website called The Church of Google which offers eight proofs that Google is indeed God. I would be interested if anyone who grew up in the days before Google cares to comment about what role Google has taken in their lives.

Monday, March 17, 2008

One less "oops". A success story.

I have an ambivalent relationship with my cell-phone. I cancelled my "land line" a few years ago, without regret. But currently I prefer the simplest, least committed type of relationship with the my cell phone carrier-- a "prepaid" account -- analogous to living together as opposed to being married. I pay by the minute, from the moment a connection is made. Needless to say, I try to avoid making unnecessary calls -- let alone unintentional ones.

How can one be surprised at having initiated an outgoing call? It is very easy to do on my phone, due to what seems to me to be a design flaw in the placement of the keys. The keys are so small that I often find myself pressing the adjacent key rather than the one that I intend. The red key is used for hanging up a call and for turning off the unit. I sometimes accidentally hit the #3 key which is right below it. One function of key #3 is for speed-dialing. So sometimes, after thinking I have turned my phone off, I have heard a tiny little mystified "hello?" coming from my pocket.

This has proven embarrassing as well as expensive. I partially fixed the problem by getting into the habit of immediately changing the speed dial assignment of any new entry to my phone book from #3 to something else. That works fine, except that my phone just cannot leave that #3 slot empty, and automatically tries to assign it again the next time.

I've just come up with a solution which I think is fairly elegant -- I assigned the #3 as the speed dial for my cell phone company's customer service line. The only free calls I can make are to them. And since this company also provided my poorly designed phone, I think it is fitting that my accidental calls are now going out to "Andrea", their automated robot voice. I smile when I hear that tinny little voice calling out of my pocket to tell me "Your call is important to us!" She can't even make any money for her company out of my mistake!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Shutdown Day 2008 is on for May

Good news! Computer Shutdown Day is a "go" for this year, though this year it will be later in the spring -- sometime in May. They are taking the time to build the event without burning themselves out! I'll pass the date information on when I see the announcement.

In the meantime, the stirring of this year's activity is like a bear coming out of hibernation. I found to my delight when I looked there that the event began here in Canada. The organizer Denis Bystrov is from Montreal. Together with another Montrealer, Ashutosh Rajeka, he has expanded upon last year's success and registered as a Quebec non-profit society to promote the theme of finding a more balanced life. Both career software developers, they describe themselves as "first hand victims of excessive use of computer related technology". So there is a lot of common ground between the issues that I look at here and those being addressed by events like this.

I plan to do a small video about my experience with last year's event. So stay tuned!

In the meantime, here again is the very funny video they made to introduce the concept for the first Shutdown Day, last year. It is called "Alternate Uses for Your Laptop".

Update in 2013: Wikipedia article on Shutdown Day

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Pirates of the Seabus

In my last posting I stated my intention that I would try to be one of the ones to show up when the call went out for people to get out of their houses and do harmless goofy things in public spaces. I have been monitoring The Vancouver Public Space Network (VPSN) website for their next call to action. The idea for an event called "Pirates of the Seabus" was proposed, but then the expectation was for interested people like me to pass the word through our own groups. I asked four friends, but none of whom could make it. By the time Friday evening came, my energy was low, and I was on the verge of changing my mind. But my friend Juan, equally tired, had managed to get through his equally busy day and he still intended to get there. He was motivated by the fun he'd had at the Halloween Party on the Skytrain, and it had been his enthusiasm that made me so curious. As soon as I got into the atmosphere I got energized. I am practicing my pirate's "Arrrgh" with him in the final frame of the video below.

This blog's theme is about the issues that arise when seniors get stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide. So how does my participation in a flash mob fit in? I see two points of connection.

One of my fears, as a COABC, is about the possibility of social isolation for those who use computers extensively. I worry that online social networking might become a substitute for face-to-face encounters. But my fellow pirates, on the basis of information spread as a Facebook event, enthusiastically launched themselves off on an adventure in the real world. They played with identity using real, cheesy costumes, and interacted face-to-face with strangers. Here, I've seen a concrete example of how Internet based social networking can connect people into "First Life" (as opposed to "Second Life"). A key element in the success was spontaneity and low barriers to participation. Being tired at the end of the day is enough of an inhibitor! The timely spreading of the news needed instant, easy communication to make it worth our while.

A second COABC reflection upon my participation in this event is about my surprise today in finding that, as of the time I'm writing this, my video is the first photographic material to be uploaded to the VPSN Facebook site. I tend to assume that I am the least tech-savvy person in a group -"ten thumbs" technologically. But after my time as a media student, I am seeing that I have gained hard-won technical skills that might be setting me apart from other people who came of age before computers. I not only took a gig worth of material on my digital camera, but had facility in using it -- for example, switching to recording sound using the "sound memo" function when I didn't have enough memory for any more movies. In one of my classes last term, I was one of the few who passed the Apple Certification exam for level one in Final Cut Pro, the industry standard for editing movies on computers. I now am teaching seniors how to use digital cameras, and am getting quite good at helping them move from mystification into confidence.

Last night I put together the little movie you see above, and then uploaded it to YouTube and FaceBook and here on my blog. Since I had other commitments in the four days since the Pirate event, I was sure that I was going to be so late in contributing my material that everyone would yawn and say "been there, done that". People might still yawn, but it will be from boredom, not competition. To my surprise, not only have I produced a pretty okay movie, but I'm ahead of the crowd. Go figger!

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Will there really be another Shutdown Day? Can you plan a viral event?

Two postings here back in March and April 2007 recorded my excitement at the Internet-based Shutdown Day on March 24, 2007. A site encouraged people to turn off their computers, and do something else, just to see what it felt like. More than 50,000 people responded. My second article in April, entitled "Shutdown Day - the Day After" expressed disappointment that the majority of people reported that they "sex" and "computer use" as what they had done (sometimes in combination). Even at the time, I recognized that it might be a "generational thing" on my part to be so surprised. I myself had spent the day with a friend participating in a haiku writing contest. I've been checking the official site periodically and have been googling around, without finding activity yet on Shutdown Day 2008. I now am asking myself -- why does it need to happen again? Isn't it okay that it happened once, and that I had a day that got me thinking?

On Shutdown day there had been simultaneous flash mob pillow fights in a number of cities, including Vancouver. With very little lead time, a word-of-mouth announcement went out, boosted by emails, cell phones and messaging, inviting people to drop what they were doing and show up with concealed pillows. Although nobody called ME, the following video taken on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery shows a very engaging alternative activity to being hunched over a computer. Two viral events in the same spirit on the same day. Coincidence? I think not. Repeatable? Maybe. Maybe not. I'm starting to get it that the nature of a viral event is that it gets set in motion, and then it is what it is.

Vancouver | Flash Mob Pillow Fight 2007, Feather Extravaganza from ardenstreet on Vimeo.

And now I am intrigued -- a flash mob wannabe, waiting for my first opportunity to check it out. Since last year I've become much more comfortable about both the short lead-up and quick wind-down of viral events. In fact, I've joined a Facebook group called "Flash Mob Vancouver". I am now poised to leap into that loop, and to be ready to pocket my palm pilot and go show up. Whether or not the Shutdown Day website fires up again and gives me a place to report, I can move on and apply that experience towards another step. I'm ready and waiting to shut down my computer and show up for the next "international day of fluff" -- 2008 World Wide Pillow Fight Club 3.0. And I'll report here.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

"My Generation" - culture jamming by the Zimmers

The following video, an ironic take on the song "My Generation" by the Who, is a music video initiated by the BBC in late May, 2007. It arose from participation by Peter (aka Geriatric1927) in programming about giving elders opportunity to have a voice in popular culture. A group of elders came together as "The Zimmer Band" and recorded in Abbey Road studios with production staff with excellent credentials in making pop music videos. The result is an energetic and effective piece of culture jamming.

Wikipedia defines Culture jamming as "the act of transforming mass media to produce commentary about itself, using the original medium's communication method. It is a form of public activism which is generally in opposition to commercialism, and the vectors of corporate image. The aim of culture jamming is to create a contrast between corporate or mass media images and the realities or perceived negative side of the corporation or media. This is done symbolically, with the "detournement" of pop iconography." In another section Wikipedia explains that in "detournement", an artist reuses elements of well-known media to create a new work with a different message, often one opposed to the original. "

Peter's culture jamming last spring in the widely marketed "My Generation" was the vehicle for public activism and fundraising around issues arising from social isolation among the elderly. The skillful music video used the obvious energy and physicality of the grooving seniors to make points against the stereotypes of rigidity and stuffiness.

In the video below "Now the Secret Can Be Told" he explains to the YouTube community about his relationship to the media and about the making the video. He makes no bones that this is a promotional clip looking for support for his activity which now is moving to a larger audience through broadcast television, mainstream music distribution and live performances. For him, Zimmers is serious play, engaging his creativity and fun with the band members, but with a social agenda reminiscent of the charity work of Bob Geldof with his concerts like "Band Aid" .

As uplifting as "My Generation" is, there is also an angry edge to the video where gesture and home-made signs get the simple message across. The "Culture Jamming" article in Wikipedia goes on to note that the "... intent differs from that of artistic appropriation (which is done for art's sake) and vandalism (where destruction or defacement is the primary goal), although its results are not always so easily distinguishable." The ritualistic smashing up of guitars at the end of "Generation", as directed by seasoned producers of other high-profile rock music videos is an appropriation of cultural cliches in order to comment on stereotypes of the elderly as inhibited and passive.

It seems that the experience recording at Abbey Road studios was a positive one. But once the band went on the promotional road, and were being examined by people who were not necessarily in the socially-engaged loop, were individual members at risk of being set up to be stereotyped in an even more negative way? Culture jamming has its roots in an idealistic desire to promote change, and so I make the assumption of a degree of innocence. "The Zimmers Backstage at Graham Norton" (a live talk show) leaves me wondering if the exuberance of the band members was getting exploited by the host, who seemed to be directing them into crossing the line into vandalism, for the sake of cheap laughs. Intitially I found his comments seemed responsive to the detournment they had initiated themselves. For example, he comments that their combined age of 3000 is just short of the Rolling Stones. But as the segment progressed, when he seems to hook into the underlying frustration that was also in the music video, I found myself increasingly uncomfortable with his mocking "us/them" asides to his audience.

However, would I have been patronizing too, if I could have intervened to protect Grace, the woman that he described as "you with the purply lilac top thing" from actually went for it beyond what seems to have been the host's intention, in trashing the backstage as he had directed? Where do my own stereotypes come in? I myself have been warned that if I leave the safety of dignified gestures when I appear in my own videos, I will be leaving myself open to ridicule and embarrassment. The fear of inadvertantly crossing the lines in a new setting is a powerful inhibitor to anyone. It has really slowed me down in putting myself out there on the Internet. I'd love to get some comments on the topic of taking these kinds of risks.

Monday, January 28, 2008

"Geriatric1927" starts the Silver Surfers campaign about computer access for the elderly

In the sidebar on the right I have an earlier link to the work of "Geriatric1927" in the  "YouTube videos for COABC's" section. That is the online name of Peter, an eighty-year old British senior whose channel, with over two million views, has earned him a place in the top twenty "Most Subscribed Directors of All Time". He talks about his own experience as an elder. He once said that he disapproves of people masking their identity on the Internet, so he used his birth year as part of his online name to ensure that his age would be crystal clear to young people interacting with him. Since I subscribed to him last year, he has increasingly focused in upon "intergenerational communication", and also upon the potential of the Internet to address mobility and isolation issues for his demographic.

This month he posted the video "Help for the Elderly", which he describes as: "A request for help in my attempt to introduce and encourage those elderly people who may be lonely and/or parted from their families to embrace the Internet and to reap the benefits even though they may be confused and frightened of all of the technologies". This week, he has started the blog Silver Surfers and made it the home page of his "Ask Geriatric" website.

One of the video responses is from Ben Arent, a product design student who is doing his final project upon this theme. He notes that this subject is "quite a current thing" and that there has been a recent new European Union directive, with a 43 million euro budget, about including the elderly in the information society. After Ben looked at my posting, he left a comment with the EU official website address "i2010" . A further google search found a central "thematic portal" site about the launch of the Europe-wide "Aging Well in the Information Society" research initiative. On that one, the amount quoted is a billion Euros.

No doubt part of Ben's motivation is social engagement, but he also sees an opportunity for himself in launching his professional career as a designer. He is planning a "social communication" product focused mainly on making email easier. In the video below he explains his design framework. He visualizes "negating the pain of adoption", then "imprinting" by marketing to this "undermarketed group" and "inciting" their engagement with his product. Here is a link to his website "Arent"

I'll be monitoring to see how this initiative unfolds.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Looking for kindred spirits on the Internet

The rise of cell phones seems to be bringing about the fall of phone booths. The above 3-minute video "Disappeared Phone Booths" was inspired by a real incident of my life, when the Dean's Food Store pay phone, a few minutes walk from my house, was removed by the phone company instead of being repaired. I found that I was not the only person in my neighbourhood that missed it. This loss stimulated thought about the quiet reduction of the number of accessible phone booths throughout my daily travels, and I decided to do a playful video piece about my desire for rescue from this trend and post it to YouTube.

As you might be able to tell by my previous postings, vanishing pay phones are an accessibility issue. During my online research I felt validated in this interest when I found The Payphone Project, a website devoted to that subject. It is moderated by Mark Thomas, a New York photographer.

The message of this site has not always been one of a call to social action towards resisting a change. He began it as an art project publishing the telephone numbers of pay phones around the world. The idea was random conversations: one could dial a telephone booth in some distant corner of the world, with the hope that somebody passing by would answer the ringing phone. There are now few phones that are still set to accept incoming calls, possibly as a deterrent to the percieved use of pay phones for "off the radar" activity. But in the meantime Mark had gotten interested in the overall meaning and "look" of pay phones, and in how they are increasingly becoming a scarce resource for people who still want to use them. He is now observing the worldwide progression of this disappearance, and is collecting news stories and photos from around the world. He invites interested people to send material or links, so there is a community aspect to this essentially personal site.

I think this site is a good example of how a single person can sponsor a nexus for opinion on the Internet and, through the investment of time and effort, foster a resonating response regarding a subject of personal passion. Through forums like exhibitions, artists frequently put their creative activity out for public view without any guarantee of payoff, other than a possible gratification at being given attention. Thanks to user-friendly self-publishing umbrella sites on the Internet (such as Blogger and Youtube), an individual does not need to be granted the status of "professional" in order to self-publish text, photos and videos.

Recognizing that the essential payoff for the person doing a posting is the sense of being seen and heard, most distribution sites show information about how many "views" were made and usually provide an opportunity to open a posting to comments and rankings. There are simple software tools that can be embedded in a blog or website to give genera source information about the "hits".

Monday, January 07, 2008

Where have all the phonebooths gone?

In the above one-minute video, my friend Cole tells the story of looking for a phone booth downtown. She brings up the issues that arise for those who aren't using cell phones, when pay phones are disappearing. She sees this as a safety issue as well as one of convenience. Many seniors resist using a cell phone because they have a high learning curve, the small keys are difficult to operate with fingers that aren't so nimble any more, and eyes that aren't so keen. Cell phone resisters of all ages explain that they are tired of being surprised by dead batteries and accounts that need refilling.

Cole says that Bob Dylan should launch a new protest song called "Where have all the phonebooths gone?". Is access to a public phone a civil right?