Texting While Walking – Living Dangerously

It will kill you! But just don’t take my word for it. I am not even going to get into pot-smoking or drunken-driving, but let’s just say that human judgements become flawed when drivers and pedestrians go around stoned. Let’s take a look at some recent statistics published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Perhaps most alarming is the dramatic rise in pedestrian deaths on our streets where you may have thought was the safest place to be.

The increase in pedestrian deaths, which account for 16 percent of all traffic fatalities, may be the most discouraging news of all. There were 5,987 of them in 2016 according to the NHTSA. Expectations are that 2017 will end up with a toll at least that high. That’s a rise of 22 percent from the 4,910 registered in 2014. Maybe it’s time for every municipality to get serious about distracted walking, as it is called, even though distracted driving is plainly a bigger concern.

Put away your mobile technology devices while walking (or driving). Heads up, everyone!

Ray Myers


Less is More, Tommy Hilfiger

“But what Mr. Hilfiger’s four-season cycle demonstrates is that when the social-media friendly smoke and mirrors clear, it’s still about clothes, and if the clothes aren’t very good — aren’t original or interesting or desirable — then it doesn’t matter how revved up you get (NY Times, 2/27/18).” Social media and the “web surfing” mentality that technology has made possible may all be contributing to this accelerated marketing cycle.

It sounds like a cautionary tale for the world of fashion, but it may apply to many fields of human endeavor as well. Maybe you can become “overexposed” in the world of social media and the effects may wear (no pun intended) on your audience as much as yourself. The human creativity “machine” can literally run out of gas if you keep it running continuously. We can continue making things at a faster pace, but there seems to be a loss of originality if it becomes more like an assembly line process than an inspirational one. I know we are only talking about clothing, but I think there should be more appreciation for the time it takes to be creative in all fields.

Faster is not always better.

Ray Myers

Taking a Break from Social Media

Try being a monk for a month or two. Well, not exactly, but it almost seems like taking a vow of silence if you really want to minimize your digital output for a certain period of time. Are you really ready to take a break from texting, emailing or participating in social media? “A big part of being silent is being the recipient, not the broadcaster (John Francis, 2018).”

After not speaking for 17 years, Francis now reflects on his experiment in relative silence. Expect some measure of personal transformation. “It helped me find myself.” Within a few silent weeks he began to realize that previously he only ever listened to people long enough to start formulating what he was going to say next; but, he says, his mind didn’t need to be filled with endless chatter. An intricate, hitherto, undiscovered soundscape was all around him.

“You’re going to hear more if you are not talking.”

Ray Myers

Leaping Lizards, The Truth About Tech!

So what do technology usage and lizards have to do with your brain? Maybe more than you think? Roger McNamee with the Center for Humane Technology has put it his way: “Facebook appeals to your lizard brain – primarily fear and anger. And with smartphones, they’ve got you every waking moment.” He said the people who made these products could stop them before they did more harm. He sees his association with the Center for Humane Technology as an opportunity for him to correct a wrong.

Sort of reminds me of Dr. Frankenstein who tried to kill the monster he created, but this is not really like a horror novel/movie. Or is it? Is too much technology addicting our children (and adults?) to habits that are “ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.” The Center for Humane Technology, along with the nonprofit media watchdog group Common Sense Media, is also planning an anti-tech addiction lobbying effort and an ad campaign at 55,000 public schools in the United States. It is titled “The Truth About Tech.”

Can we stand the truth? I hope so.

Ray Myers

Gorging on Social Media

My apologies for not posting on Monday of this week. Let’s just say that I was “in transit” and had a “tech-free day” which leads me to the to the message of today’s post and the one that you will see on Friday as well. It’s all about limiting our daily digital diets. Or as those scholarly Jesuits used to teach us: “Moderation in all things.”

Social media’s “role in your life has grown without your permission. No one had that in mind when they signed up for Facebook to stay in touch with their college roommate . . . There is a lot of complexity and uncertainty in the role that these technologies should play in personal and professional life. We’re past the stage where they’re novel, but not to the point where they’re stable (Cal Newport, Georgetown University, 2018).” A common complaint seems to be that there is too much news: I need a break. And fewer tweets from the White House might help (maybe none, remember those days)!

We have gone from “TechtoExpress” (sound familiar?) to “TechtoConsume.”

Ray Myers

Fake News in Print and Online – a Threat to Democracy

So the title of this post may be a little misleading, but let’s face it, we now have a president who has learned to use the power of our digital media to propagandize his agenda and belittle those who dare to oppose him. And this has all happened over the course of his first year in office.  He has apparently raised a very successful anti-press campaign.  He has recently issued “fake news” awards.

“The buzz around the president’s latest anti-press stunt has contributed to a shift in American attitudes towards the press.  In a study released this week by Gallup and the Knight Foundation, 66 percent of Americans who were surveyed  said most news organizations blurred opinion and fact, up from 42 percent in 1984.  ‘Fake news’ was deemed a threat to democracy by a majority of the respondents (NY Times, 1/18/18).” Now who are the real fake news purveyors?

Senator John McCain has risen to the occasion: “We cannot afford to abdicate America’s longstanding role as the defender of human rights and democratic principles throughout the world. Without strong leadership in the White House, Congress must commit to protecting independent journalism, preserving an open and free media environment, and defending the fundamental right to opinion and expression.”

Ray Myers

Put Down Your Laptops, Pick Up Your Pencils

Silicon Valley may find this all too hard to believe, but researchers are now finding that bringing your laptop to class and typing your notes verbatim as the professor speaks, may actually undermine the learning process. Typing out your handwritten notes later on your preferred digital device may be the better practice to reinforce your retention of material that has been presented in class.

“But a growing body of evidence shows that over all, college students learn less when they use computers or tablets during lectures. They also tend to earn worse grades. The research is unequivocal: Laptops distract from learning, both for users and for those around them. It’s not much of a leap to expect that electronics also undermine learning in high school classrooms or that they hurt productivity in meetings and in all kinds of workplaces (Dynarski, University of Michigan, 2017).”

I guess it’s time to sharpen our pencils, and put our “thinking caps” back on!

Ray Myers

P.S. I will be posting again on next Wednesday, December 6. In the meantime, please have a look at mypeacecorpsstory.com, podcast #018, where I discuss my “technology-free” Peace Corps years in India.

Kids and Smartphones

We really don’t know what the long-term effects of “mobile technology” will be on our current school-age and under school-age generations in America (and the world?). Unfortunately, much of the preliminary data suggest that we have to do something to control its indiscriminate and obsessive use. “What this generation is going through right now with technology is a giant experiment (Jensen, University of Pennsylvania).”

As researchers debate appropriate public health messaging, kids are receiving their first smartphones at even younger ages – the average is 10, according to one recent estimate – and they’re spending more and more time on their devices. “I am probably on my phone 10 hours a day,” says Santiago Potocnik Senarahi, a 16-year-old 11th grader in Denver. Even when he’s not using his phone, it’s always with him, and he never considers taking a break. “This is part of my life and part of my work, and [that] means I need to be in constant contact.” “The more we learn about kids and Smartphones, the more we’re going to see that limiting their exposure is a good idea (Twenge, San Diego State University).”

I will be back on Monday with a list of some “Tips the Get Teens to Put Down Their Smartphones.” And maybe these tips will also help some of us in the “older generations?”

Ray Myers

Sex Trafficking on Social Media

Just say “no.”  Remember that one.  It was a slogan used by the federal government in the Reagan days to combat drug trafficking. Thank you Nancy Reagan.  Now we have the Internet and social media at our disposal if we chose to “traffic” in illegal activities.  Sex trafficking is one of the more flagrant abuses that, up to now, has gone unchecked.  Congress has now gotten involved, enacting legislation that will hold online sex traffickers accountable and help give trafficking survivors the justice they deserve.

Tech titans such as Facebook, Twitter and Google have finally relented and agreed to grant victims the ability to secure the justice they deserve, allow Internet platforms to continue their work combatting human trafficking, and protect good actors in the ecosystem.  It will hold online sex traffickers accountable and give trafficking survivors the justice they deserve.  Consumer advocates said that the law also put bigger media companies on notice as well.

In reality, and perhaps unfortunately, the Internet of Things can be whatever we humans make of it.

Ray Myers

Automated Dining in an Automated World – Still Hungry for Something Else? 

I think it used to be a novelty.  At least that is how I remembered going to a Horn and Hardart Automat when I was a boy and being intrigued by the process of opening tiny glass doors to retrieve your favorite dishes.  It has been a while since I have experienced this self-service feature but from what I have read about today’s automats are that they are more technologically enhanced and offer a more varied menu that would even appeal to vegetarian diners.  Now it appears that diners are frowning upon “faceless dining.”

Eve Turow Paul recently wrote in Forbes magazine that “the links between technology and increasing rates of loneliness, depression, and anxiety.  Many in this young generation battle a creeping sense of nugatory existence by connecting over a meal – whether it’s by cooking for family, dining out with friends, or chatting with others online about gluten-free recipes.  My research clearly shows these human-facing moments and different instances of interaction help soothe this digitally-connected generation.”

Funny, I don’t remember family meal times as always being a “soothing experience.”   But I guess that we all got to know more about each other in a “face-to-face” way.

Ray Myers

P.S.  Happy Halloween 👻, everyone.  I will be back next Friday after a Halloween break with family.  I hope it’s not too scary!

Digital Tool for Reporting Hate Crimes 

Please have a look at this article I am posting in its entirety.  Unfortunately, hate crimes seem to be on the rise, but fortunately we now are able to report their occurrence more accurately, and share information about them in a more timely manner.  An innovative and powerful example of how “technology can scale access to knowledg

For victims of hate crimes, the struggle for justice is often along one.

Many victims never find justice, experts say, because they don’t know where — or how — to seek it out. A substantial number may not even be sure they’ve been the victims of legitimate hate crimes, or they’re too ashamed or nervous to contact law enforcement, so they choose to remain quiet instead of seeking assistance, experts say“The data reveals that about 80 percent of Americans who want access to legal information or services can’t get it,” said Nicole L. Bradick, a former civil rights lawyer in Maine. “On the one hand, that’s because people believe the cost is too high. On the other, that’s because taking steps to advocate for yourself in the justice world are seen as big, scary steps.”

In some ways, they’re right, said Bradick, who is the chief strategy officer for CuroLegal, an organization that aims to improve legal access via technology. Depending on the nature of the incident and where it occurred, reporting a hate crime can involve multiple organizations — some public, some private and some overlapping — and the process can vary depending on state laws. The how-to information is out there, Bradick said, but it exists in isolated pockets around the Web.

To simplify what can be an incredibly confusing process, Bradick and a team from Cisco Systems and the American Bar Association’s Center for Innovation unveiled a digital tool last week to help streamline parts of the reporting process by turning them into an easy-to-use Web application. The name: Hatecrimehelp.com.

The service, which is free, uses a format similar to “Mad Libs” in which users fill out a paragraph by choosing from words describing their incident, which can include terms such as verbal hate, property damage, violence or harassment.

The form allows users to add the location of the alleged crime, their Zip code and what they think motivated the incident — ethnicity, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or immigration status, for example.

Once the form is completed, the page offers the names and contact information of local nonprofits organizations and government resources for hate crime reporting, as well as a feature that explains “what to expect” from each organization.

The site also explains the difference between a hate crime and a “bias incident,” and offers a side-by-side look at a state’s law vs. federal law.

“We wanted to create technology that would present the law in digestible ways,” Bradick said, noting that the designers put themselves in the shoes of a hate crime victim and spent months doing Google searches to better understand the challenges victims face online.

“Almost everybody has a smartphone and can pull up this information on a browser from anywhere. We’re huge believers in the idea that technology can scale access to knowledge.”

Bradick said the page was prompted by the spike in hate crimes since last year’s presidential election, an increase that has been documented by academics, politicians and experts at organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The FBI reports that there were more than 5,800 hate crime incidents involving about 7,100 victims in 2015, the most recent year that statistics were available.

As The Washington Post’s Janell Ross reported last week, another division of the Justice Department that uses a survey to ask Americans directly about whether they’ve been victims of hate crimes paints a vastly different picture of hate:

“Each year, the results are quite different than the landscape of crime delineated in the FBI’s report,” Ross writes. “Between 2004 and 2015, people living in the United States reported experiencing an average of 250,000 hate crimes each year, according to a report released by the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Justice Statistics in June. In the last five years of that period, nearly half of the hate crimes — 48 percent — self-reported by victims were “motivated by racial bias” and 90 percent involved violence, according to the DOJ report.”

To address underreporting, Bradick said her team plans to do user testing to make sure their site is as easy to use as possible.

“When it comes to the law, we don’t make it very easy for people to avoid feeling overwhelmed and to protect themselves or take advantage of the protections the law provides them,” she said. “Hopefully, we can begin to change that.”  (Holley, Washington Post, 10/9/1)

Ray Myers

Is Tech Downgrading Your Life?

So I guess we all really have a choice here, or do we?   How much tech do we want and when do we really want to be “upgraded” to the latest technology?   Or maybe it’s just the age-old question of how we manage our time at work vs. time we have with family and friends.  But unfortunately, it just seems more difficult to make these distinctions when we are “connected” all the time.  Not an easy or simple answer for many “bread winners” in the twenty-first century.

One busy professional reflected on this in this Sunday’s NY Times:  “My personal mode of self-restraint (controlling her life) is to always carry my phone when I am not with my kids and always leave it in the other room when I am.  The kids themselves don’t get phones at all.   When my 12-year-old daughter walks home from school without one, I intentionally have no idea where she is, just like nobody knew where their kids were when I was growing up.  How rare it is these days not to be able to know something.”

And as I mentioned in an earlier blog, we can easily know more in any given moment than we have ever have before, but how much do we really retain in the longer term?   Technology can make it so, but it is really still only a tool to help us remember, and we have to do the rest to “upgrade” our lives.

Ray Myers

P.S.  I will take a late summer break this week, but will be back next Monday, August 28

Nose in Books, Eyes on the Screen

So what’s really wrong with walking around with your eyes on your mobile phones while passerbys navigate their way around you?  More dangerous is the practice of driving while texting in terms of disregard for your own safety and that of others.  In the past the only similar practice I can recall that was seen as more of an anti-social behavior than a hazard to your own safety and others was keeping your “nose in a book.”  But I don’t recall seeing many people driving while reading an old-fashioned “hardbound” or paperback text.  At least I don’t think there were many car collisions attributed to people reading paperbacks while driving.

More disconcerting or hazardous (at least to me) are the anti-social implications of keeping your head down at social gatherings and not meeting or conversing with old friends and new acquaintances.  Being online there are always friends and family you can chose to be connected with and never be “out of touch.”  While you may chose to never have your head “in the clouds” again, you may also find yourself trapped in the world of social media to the detriment of having a real time “social life.”  I know I am portraying the extremes of a social media obsession, and that my observations are not scientifically based, but please take a look at your own social media life.  There may also be a generational gap here, and a personal preference for what constitutes a broader social life.  It still remains your own personal choice in terms of what “worlds” we chose to habitate and to what degree.

So now let’s look up and smell and see the roses!

Ray Myers

How Not to Change the World

Back in my Peace Corps years, we were all eager to change the world.  At least over a thousand of us who were in India in the mid to late sixties, but that all changed when Indira Gandhi sent us home.  I have been back to India on two different occasions over the past decade.  Technology has played a major role in India’s economic growth as a source of customer service and technical support to the rest of the world.  But now many current local Indian authorities are increasingly clamping down on Internet and telecommunications access across the country.  They have cited national security as the primary reason for restricting access.   It also seems that local and state officials can conjure up other rationales.  In one case, officials suspended social media apps to prevent cheating during a state exam for government accountant positions.

If India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to show American investors that his country has “the most open economy in the world,” he would do well to address these local practices from the national level.  As I was often reminded during those Peace Corps years, India is the world’s largest democracy!  The Indian government has taken steps to bring the country into the 21st Century:  Its policies to reduce red tape, attract foreign businesses and expand digital services have enormous potential.  It would be a shameful regression if these reforms fail to reach that potential because of suspended WiFi.

I know that Prime Minister Modi is not trying to change the world like those idealistic Peace Corps Volunteers of the sixties, but I believe that he can do something to preserve India’s digital future.

Ray Myers                                                                                                                                                                                                                India 29

Digital Wanderlust

“Have laptop, will travel,” could be an alternative title for this blog, but I am getting a little tired of all this alternative wordsmithing.  Aren’t you?  What’s in a name after all.  But when you put “digital” with “wanderlust” I do get a little concerned and confused.  Carrying your laptop to a foreign destination does not quite have the same connotation or actual experience of “living” in a foreign land.  These digital nomads typically travel to and work in another culture for a 30-day co-working experience.  So it truly becomes a shared work experience for a small group of  like-minded technological-savy individuals coming from a wide variety of countries, averaging in age from the mid- to late 20s and 30s.  

The two main groups that seem attracted to this cross-cultural experience are millenials interested in taking time off from traditional work and aging baby-boomers who have financial resources and flexibility.  Could be a life-changing experience, but I am not sure that having all the latest technology will make it so.  In fact, it might get in the way.  As one of the past participants noted: “The opportunity to go live in a foreign city for a month and interact with the local people and experience their culture – that’s priceless to me.  But culturally, we need to understand each other for the world to work, and this is a way to achieve that.”

Understanding each others’ cultures may not always be a simple, painless process.  But in the end, I think these digital nomads will easily benefit more in terms of what they learn and experience in these cultures than in what they may have contributed technologically.

Ray Myers

Baby, You Can Drive My Car. Or Not.

Remember the old “Yellow Pages” ad when you were encouraged to let your fingers do the walking.  Now it seems that you may be letting your fingers do the driving.  Autonomous driving, electric cars and ride-hailing apps from Silicon Valley, like Uber, are reshaping transportation.  Young people no longer feel as compelled as previous generations to own cars.  Experts in the transportation sector are changing rapidly.  The whole “mobility market” – transportation as a service – is just at the beginning.

In Germany, under an initiative called Industry 4.0, they are striving to help the country thrive in a smartphone world. The future of Germany as an industrial nation depends on how companies succeed in bringing the manufacturing and digital worlds together.  Industry executives there often cite how Apple’s iPhone quickly erased Nokia’s once-dominant position in the mobile handset market, and they are determined not to let something similar to happen to them.  Google is also entering the driverless car market.  Their market value is more than double that of BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen combined.   So instead of owning and driving your own car, you may soon find that your smartphone could be the best means of “ride-hailing” you have.   It will enable you to chose the most convenient means of vehicular travel available to you at any given place and time.

But I wouldn’t get rid of your new BMW, Mercedes, or Volkswagen quite yet.  Maybe you can become a ride service  provider yourself.  You can let your passengers work/play on their iPhones while you enjoy the ride.  That may even be more fun.

Ray Myers

Indy Tech – Midwestern Manufacturing Hub Goes Digital

So it seems that the city of Indianapolis has some ideas of its own in terms of making that part of America “great again.”  Some young professionals see “digital” opportunity there in contrast to Trump’s plan to bring back those manufacturing “hub” cities (and jobs) of the last century.   And guess who used to be Governor there, Vice-President Mike Pence.  Not only is he in favor of bringing back the good old days, he also wants to bring back that “old time religion.”

Then Governor Pence ruffled the feathers of the tech industry back in 2015 when he signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which allowed businesses to cite religion as a reason to refuse to serve customers – a move that people say was aimed at the gay community.  To his critics that alleged such discriminatory intent, he has responded that he was simply trying to ensure religious freedom?  Unfortunately, this legislation has had a chilling effect in terms of the growth of Indiana’s economy across many business sectors.   Some technology entrepreneurs and engineers, however, still see opportunity there.  Many  see a chance to play a larger role there than they might have had in Silicon Valley.

A larger role, perhaps, but with less of a salary that she could have earned in Silicon Valley.  Many young professionals simply like living in a “prime Midwestern technology center.”

Ray Myers

All the News, All Fake, All the Time!

Who really wants to read a factual news story any more? I guess we have come to a time when Americans would rather read fiction over fact, but we are talking about news reporters, not novelists. Just make it up and see who buys it?  The “reporters” at the Liberty Writers News are doing exactly that, and being paid handsomely for it. They are making the average American’s yearly salary in one month.  Why not fake it.  Is the truth really that important?   Well after the recent Presidential election here in the States, I am starting to wonder myself.

Don’t trust the mainstream media.  Just read what you like or want to hear.   It’s more entertaining and you can make up your own stories, and make money doing it while print newspapers keep losing readership and revenue. The news media now encompasses the digital news that doesn’t seem to need facts as much as a vivid imagination. This explosion of fake news has further eroded the media landscape.

Even Mark Zuckerberg is perplexed.  Facebook is trying to find the “right place” between censorship and propagating dangerous untruths.  My advice is to work hard on finding those dangerous untruths.  I wouldn’t call it censorship. Let’s say “fact checking.”

Ray Myers

Happy Thanksgiving!

Technology to Help Make Schools and Teachers Great Again!

My apologies, but I couldn’t resist paraphrasing this “Donald Trumpism.”  It’s just that now is that time of year when education publishers, and now tech companies, start to  unveil the latest and most exciting “products” for the next school term beginning in September.  So, I think the big news here is the dramatic change in the traditional textbook sales business.  Here is a more professional analysis from the Software and Information Industry Association: “Schools in the United States spend more than $8.3 billion annually on software and digital content . . . That spending could grow significantly as school districts that now buy physical textbooks, assessment tests, professional development resources for teachers and administrative materials shift to digital systems.”  Goodbye, Mr. Chips!

This trend has certainly not gone unnoticed in the digital publishing world.  Publishing giants such as Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and in online higher education, edX, have easily recognized the business value of making their products and services more available digitally.  The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) is now holding its annual 2016 convention in Denver this year, and if you attend the proceedings there with 16,000 other teachers and school officials, or follow them remotely,  you will be introduced to these new digital ventures in a more formal way.  Remember the days when you had to go to the Bookstore each semester?

Please believe me that I am not really trying to be nostalgic, well maybe a little.   During my college summers I packed and shipped textbooks to university campuses in the U.S. for the Collier-Macmillan Publishing Company.  Now technology can do all that for you personally.   I often wonder if I have actually been replaced by a robot?

Ray Myers

Open Source Textbooks in Higher Ed

An idea whose time has come?  Well, maybe it’s not quite that dramatic, but any initiative to reduce the costs of higher education must be welcome news for families and students struggling to gain more educational opportunity in the most economical way.  One organization in particular, Achieving the American Dream, is leading this effort to accomplish two things that are crucial to increase higher education completion rates for first-generation, low-income and students of color.  These “roadblocks” are basically the inordinately high textbook costs themselves, and the absence of a “new vehicle for using technology and course materials in dynamic and engaging ways.”

Although a number of community colleges have partnered with philanthropic organizations to reduce textbook costs, four-year institutions have been the primary beneficiaries of open-source innovations.  Research suggests that the use of free open-access materials can significantly reduce costs and contribute to better grades, higher course completion and faster degree completion.

So now I know why I had all the difficulty in getting good grades in college.  If only I had access to open-source materials back then, I would have gotten better grades, completed all my courses, graduated sooner, and saved some money.  From a 21st Century parents’ perspective those must all be good things!

Ray Myers