Terry Fox

Here I was again, a Terry Fox fan seeking to emulate my hero – another September 17th Terry Fox Run had arrived. I bullied my Mariners fold-up bike into the trunk of my car, and on the seventh violent attempt I slammed it shut. I was cycling today with my daughter and her two kids. In a triumph of determination over coordination I tore my wee bike out of the trunk once I’d arrived at their place and met my family with as big a smile as I could muster. Was my bike even roadworthy? I’d soon find out.

My grand-daughter was ready on her little pink bike emblazoned with Cinderella and decorated with pink streamers; my daughter was ready with hers – a new bike, her tires as thin as hoola hoops – she sat high in the saddle; my grandson was likewise perched high with a give-no-quarter competitiveness about him …. and then there was me, with a pedal that wouldn’t stay horizontal and a chain that slipped off as soon as I began to wobble gingerly out of the driveway.

Even when we got to the park my grand-daughter was still hopping up and down on the seat’s diminutive surface. Everybody there was suited up – runners, walkers, cyclists – and a woman was speaking inaudibly through a ‘loudspeaker’. Most people, considering it was a national event, were models of restraint. The street outside the park was thronged with weather-resistant families and ‘encouragers’ in green t-shirts who had volunteered to show us the route. There were the runners, some poseurs with wraparound shades and expensive attire among them, stretching and chatting in low, discreet tones….but soon they were off! I followed my daughter to the registration sign-up table where I reluctantly donated a sum of money. Never mind, I thought, I could do far worse today than align myself with my plucky little family, especially a seven year old girl on a pink bestreamered bicycle! Nose to the handlebars and skinny little thighs pushing the pedals, that wee road warrior was off through the rainforest. There we went down a wide path enhanced by low-hanging cedar branches plus kids and parents wearing weird disguises and herding excitable dogs – what’s not to like? The path eventually thinned out and led to the road, and still those pistoning young knees kept going. “Was ‘Fox’ Terry’s nickname?” she wanted to know. We were going downhill at this point – here it was fast enough to get a breeze going down your front and hold a conversation….but I was getting a trifle annoyed at my clodhopping bike with no gears. I hoped the event would end before my ankles melted. Here was pain with no gain. Whoever it was who said that it was better to travel than arrive had never tried a Terry Fox Run in a second-hand Mariners bike.

Back at the park we were ‘treated’ to pancakes by the Lions Club. And my grand-daughter was still in a good mood! There’d been no “can I have a rest now?” In fact, she’d succeeded in the ultimate sporting event of her life! The runners returned – I’m sure there had been some glittering cameo performances among them, but this is Canada and a new venue and there had been no hype.

Weighed down with the heavy pancakes but uplifted by the morning sun we made our way home, many of my thoughts circling around Terry Fox and cancer. I especially thought about Terry’s on-the-road coverage during his Marathon of Hope and his gutsiness. The chasm between the vibrant morning I’d had with my kids and the worrisome future I faced yawned hugely before me, because I’ve just had cancer. It’s a remorseless creature determined to grow bigger, greedily using up more and more of our most precious resource: energy. It’s on a quest to colonize, dominate and bend the body’s cells to its perverted will. As mankind is damaging the life-support systems of the planet, so cancer kills and destroys the body. It respects no boundaries, no natural laws; and when powerful outside forces invade the body on a mission to kill it off, it changes just enough to outwit them. And like cancer cells we somehow believe we can by-pass natural laws. Scientists are warning us that if we keep indulging in destructive practices the planet will become inhospitable to us in mere decades, like the parasite killing its host.

Anyway, I’m heading back to my daughter’s, hoping she’ll make me a double espresso, part of a balanced cycling diet. And I thank God for perfect cycling conditions and benign gradients in the roads and pathways, all this before the chocolate-coloured clouds roll in.

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Impeccable

My husband and I live in two different places, Sidney B.C. on Vancouver Island and Barra de Navidad in México. Both have one thing in common; they’re both seaside towns on the Pacific. Ok, make that two.

We’ve spent months working on our boat “Impeccable” with some of our family rescuing us with brush and scraper. We’re presently situated in one of Sidney’s many marinas, flanked by “Four Sheets” on one side and “Armed and Hammered” on the other. I’ve come to realize that not only is Impeccable’s name a bit of a curse but that everybody’s boat in the marina is in constant need of wiping and washing and polishing, and in our boat just recently we’ve had to eliminate soot on the floors and decks from a failing stove, fix a motor on the tender, and lay a floor in the salon. But in spite of the messy Canadian geese that live here and the ‘beach’ or mud flats strewn with man-made detritus instead of sand, I’d far rather live in this watery world than in downtown Victoria. We lived in Oak Bay a few months while Impeccable was undergoing some significant changes and it was ….. different. Oak Bay is a refined, highbrow Victorian community, separated from the rest of Victoria by The Tweed Curtain. Near the water McMansions reside. Oak Bay has an annual Tea Party. Even the deer are citified. And if people scurrying along the sidewalk seem grumpy, maybe it’s because they are….well, feeling unseasonably warm, or Victorian. But you’d gladly pull up a deck chair here on Impeccable – this marina where most people know each other is a ‘community’, or at least the booklet on our moorage licence agreement states that it is. Give me this horseshoe sweep of ‘sand’ bestrewn with big barnacled rocks and lots of seaweed, or, better still, the tropical beaches of Mexico with their thunderous, earth-shaking waves than live in Victoria in some stark new place and feel frowned upon by some towering eyesore. Bring-out-your-dead beaches or not. I also think the place suffers from generational apartheid. In contrast, children in Mexico are taught to respect the “venerables.”

Most of all though Victoria like any other Canadian or American city represents McWorld. My kids think Victoria is the greatest place to be and when I ask them ‘why’ they tell me Victoria has four seasons. But Canada has only two: Winter and Not Winter. ( Canadians are fascinated with “cold” and “hot” and an eternal debate revolves around the weather. ) Their favorite go-to place in the winter, the grandchildren mostly, is the shopping mall. Here the boys can eat junk food and play in the arcades and the women can shop. The mall is the neighbourhood and here they sell anything you need and everything you want. The guys can enjoy high-tech virtual reality with the speed of light that defines the interactions of cyberspace; and the women, in quest of a catalyst for their restlessness, can indulge in impulse buying. Winter is long here in the Great White North, even in Victoria. But the technology of McWorld can help pass the time and it serves a purpose coming home from a busy day at work or school – one can groove on the anonymity of cyberspace and get temporarily lost in unreality. McWorld is about culture as commodity. Malls are the public squares of this age; in Mexico it’s the zócalo where Mexicans practice a few dances and sell a few ponchos.

I can almost smell the love, taste the real heat and feel the humidity of sweet little Barra de Navidad! Just a little more than one more month to go. Here on the water though I think it’s going to be another socks-on-in-bed night….it’s getting chillier. (I’m not like this generation of young people who weather the storm and go out in it with a ball cap and a grin. ) My husband and I have relearned the lost native skills of taking the rough with the smooth lately in our sacrifices over Impeccable and hopefully it will serve some good during our time in Mexico. We gringos live in a small town with Mexican neighbors and the dilemma is this: those elements in life yielding the highest degree of intimacy , membership and solidarity are those rooted in communal ties of the sort that arise out of blood, narrow belief and hierarchy: the ostrasization of outsiders.

McWorld is at least partly absent where we live in Mexico. Barra is a garden that has not yet completely been paved over or chartered into commercial wrack and ruin. Each bell-toned morning I give thanks for that. All we want is a free space in which it is possible to not only live as consumers but as citizens as well.

That floats my boat.

On Boredom, Truth and Infoliteracy

Technology is making my nightmares as a grandparent come true because few things exert a more powerful pull on my grandchildren than their IGadgets. And I have 7 grandchildren! I want to be important to them but alas…let’s face it, they’d often rather be narcoticized by technological diversions. Their IPads, smartphones and X boxes have a monopoly on their attention and intellect, especially so with the oldest 14 year old.

I’m fascinated with this kid and proud of him, but I’ve also been worried for years about his all consuming love affair with electronics. Like most kids these days he uses the word “Boredom” like a weapon – it’s designed to disturb the parent. Boredom is something to be avoided at all costs, and without electronics life is just plain boring. Is it the parent’s fault then? There are few chores he needs to perform, and whatever work needs to be done can be overlooked in the hazy days of summer. Like any adolescent he ignores what his parent thinks because he’s spellbound by his own ideas. Maybe we as adults are partly to blame – we live in a culture of overprotection and excessive control, kids too who live in a world of car seats until they’re a ludicrous age, liability waivers at school for every little thing, knee pads and helmets, Day-Glo vests and no peanut-butter or juice-box schools. The world is safe, and neutral. Or boring even. And just maybe we’ve spoiled them. If our grandson ever steps out it’s to go to the mall where he buys at Starbucks, where customers, incidently, all have their heads buried in their laptops.

This boy is detached from his surroundings – a dirty breakfast table, for example – but he’s busy in his mind. He is analytical and devoted to logic, and he has an abhorrence of contradiction. School to him is a boring place even though there’s little that has to be studied, memorized, and worst of all, endured. The value of the issues in his education seem to involve a novelty; an interest, however fleeting, and a curiosity – like the subject matter that finds its way to his gadgets, they offer fascination, but not complexity. He can’t stand poetry and especially Shakespeare – nowadays, he says, people just need ‘plain language.’ Words have very little to recommend themselves except as carriers of meaning….if a sentence refuses to issue forth a quick answer or explanation it means nothing. Hopefully later in school he will learn to follow a line of thought that requires the ability to classify, reason, weigh ideas, make inferences, detect abuses of logic and common sense, and compare and contrast assertions. Because the information coming to him via the Internet is like a collection of disconnected facts, a ‘Trivial Pursuit’ style of delivery, with no use of complex language: resources like irony and metaphor and paradox; and with no connection between past and future it acts as a kind of dismemberment of reality.

Huxley’s vision in his books involved people coming to love their oppression and adore the technology undermining their capacity to think. Man has an infinite appetite for distraction and they spell a transformation of our way of thinking. Another very precious grandson of ours loves his Xbox, so much so that he can’t stop thinking, focussing, trying and eventually getting said Xbox. Don’t ask a 2 year old with his eyes on the cookie jar the difference between “need” and “desire” because he can’t tell you; and we don’t ask this kid the difference between “have to” and “want to” when he’s in pursuit of his xbox, in the chase-down, the foretaste of getting. You can sure see the joy on his face when he gets it! For a while Boredom is transcended. Until he’s practically forced to quit.

We take arms against a sea of troubles but who is prepared to take arms against a sea of amusements? The problem with the people in “Brave New World” was that they didn’t know why they had stopped thinking.

“If I found it online it must be true” is not the kind of thinking we want to foster in our kids. Science and history are full of things we knew, or thought we knew, until we discovered that we were wrong. The idea of truth is closely linked to the biases of forms of expression – truth must appear in its proper clothing or be ignored. The power of a word, a phrase, a character ( a Shakespearean character! Yes, technology attacks liberate culture.. ) is invested with meaning and a variety of attitudes, but whatever its original meaning and limited context have been, technology has the power to fly beyond the context into new and unexpected ones. It directs and organizes our minds; it imposes itself on our consciousness in many forms, in other words, it’s relevant to the way we regulate our ideas of truth. Technology alters the way we experience the world: like a camera it classifies it for us, sequences it, frames it, enlarges or reduces it, colours it and argues a case for what it’s like.

Is there a moral bias to each information form? Because much of what we read or hear should raise our suspicions. Misinformation propagates as one person passes it to another, as Twitter, Facebook, Snapshot and other social media grab hold of it and spread it around the world. What kind of information best fascilitates thinking? What does it mean to say there is too much information? Do electronic devices give us new definitions to words (‘privacy’, for example ), or characters ( Macbeth, for example ), or countries ( Iraq, say )? Some experts in “A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age” say that credibility has replaced reality as the test of truth- telling. That’s not too surprising when subject matter is presented as entertainment. Maybe just to ask the questions is to break the spell. What we have is a world of information co-habiting with a world of misinformation: figuring out which is true can be a daunting task even if you aren’t a teenager. Check the sources, they say, and avoid the gullibility of accepting every claim.

It ain’t what you don’t know
that gets you into trouble.
It’s what you know for sure
that just ain’t so.

Mark Twain

Journey to San Miguel

Reality leaves a lot to the imagination. John Lennon

Be who you are
And say what you feel,
Because those who mind don’t matter
And those who matter don’t mind. Dr. Seuss

Canadian writer Farley Mowatt dreamed of studying wolves in the wilds of Alaska, and his book “Never Cry Wolf” is based on his research expedition. The film version’s character is a bookworm named Tyler who has never even gone camping. He hires a crazy Alaskan bush pilot called Little to take him and his equipment to a remote valley in the dead of winter. Flying over the most rugged and dangerous wilderness in the world in his small single-engined Cessna, Little tries to get TYler to divulge the secret of his mission:

Little: Tell me Tyler…..What’s in the valley of the Blackstone? Manganese? ( Silence ) Can’t be oil. Is it gold?
Tyler: It’s kind of hard to say.
Little: You’re a smart man, Tyler….you keep your own counsel. We’re all of us prospectors up here, right Tyler? Scratchin’ for that…that one crack in the ground…and never have to scratch again.
( After a pause )
I’ll let you in on a little secret Tyler. The gold’s not in the ground. The gold is not anywhere up here. The real gold is south at 60, sittin’ in living rooms, facing the boob tube bored to death. Bored to death Tyler.

Suddenly the plane engine coughs a few times, sputters, gasps..and then simply cuts out. The only sound is the wind over the wings.

Little: ( groans ) Oh Lord.
Tyler: ( panicked ) What’s wrong?
Little: Take the stick.

Little hands over control of the plane to Tyler and starts frantically rummaging around in an old toolbox, and unable to find what he wants, empties his tools all over the floor.

Tyler: ( more panicked than ever ) What’s wrong?
Little: Boredom Tyler, boredom….that’s what’s wrong. How do you beat boredom Tyler? Adventure. Adventure, Tyler!

Little then kicks the door open and disappears outside the plane, banging on something…The engine kicks back just as they’re about to fly into the side of a mountain. Little grabs the stick and pulls the plane into a steep ascent, barely missing the ridge.

Little may be crazy but he’s also a genius. He knows the secret to what ails a person whose soul yearns for the real gold. Little refers to adventure. Deep in our hearts are fundamental questions that can’t be answered at the kitchen table. We all wish, not so much to know more, but to experience more. For me adventure brings wonder which is the experience of mystery, or a fascinated recognition of beauty where a morning before I noticed only routine. Like art it causes amazement. It also helps me see my life from another point of view:

The king visited a prison. Each prisoner
asserted his innocence except one who
confessed his theft. “Throw that scoundrel
out’, he screamed, “he will corrupt the
innocents!”

For me it’s a withering struggle, this tendency of mine to be bound to the familiar, this way I have of seeking security from my environment, caught up in my own little world. But on a road trip to San Miguel de Allende a few weeks ago things changed; and while my friends are experienced travellers with maps, audio books and gps., ours was, except for accommodations, no step-by-step travelogues with each day’s activities carefully planned out. There was room for adventure. At the best of times I felt like a child responding to the movement, the colours and the odours of the world. I enjoyed looking at the many cacti out the car window, studying them with fresh eyes, attempting to be the observing presence behind my thoughts and ideas, allowing things to be just as they are, like the imperturbable cactus against the sky. They stood like sentinels, sharp and angular, uncompromising. I could somehow see ‘beyond’, like a kind of peekaboo with reality. I think it began with an inner kind of listening. It occurred to me how badly I suffer from cultural autism – maybe I don’t have the ‘ears to hear’ or the ‘eyes to see’ – but what I enjoyed was a sense of being-at-home, past and future no longer dominated my attention and hampered my body’s capacity for self renewal. Being the traveller suited me just fine and allowed me to connect with being, instead of doing. Adventure, with its requisite dangers and wildness, was a longing in my soul.

My mind though, conditioned by the past, forever seeks to recreate what it knows and is familiar with, forgetting that conditions are as they are. I’m a teacher and I teach Spanish in a school in Barra de Navidad. My mind thinks in Spanish and has, like most I suppose, conditioned patterns, and whenever I let it run my life during the journey I corrected my friends’ Spanish until one of them finally yelled at me.

There once was a couple who had been married
for 60 years. One day the wife became ill and
was bedridden. Her husband, who had during their
marriage been curious about the contents of a box
stored in her closet, finally asked her: “Wife,
I think it’s time you let me look inside that
box you have in your cupboard, may I look inside?”
The wife relented, and eagerly he seized the box.
Inside were several doilies, and $250.00.
“What’s this?” he enquired, and she answered:
“Before we were married my mother told me that,
whenever you got angry over something I should
crochet a doily instead of arguing, so here
are some doilies.”
“But that doesn’t explain the money, dear!” he said.
“Oh that..” she replied. “That’s the money I got
for selling so many of my doilies!”

Living in my head broke the spell. Gone was the meditative experience that forced me into intense and present moment awareness. The experience of release was not there. Gone was that other reality, glimpsed rather than seen clearly or directly, where the geography leaves room for the soul. As children most of us were subjected to other people’s attempts to map out our lives. All too often we learned to be whom we were told to be. A lesson in re-mapping – for me, travelling in Mexico ( many doilies later ) – serves as a handrail to help the adventurer back from the precipice.

Remember “The Gods Must Be Crazy”? It began with one of the ‘primitive’ tribal men of s.w. Africa crossing a tall sand dune and stumbling across an unfamiliar object in his world, a Coke bottle. To us the bottle represents a piece of glass manufactured by an affluent culture, dropped from a plane, but to him it must have come from the gods. The viewer was left wondering what he’d do with the bottle. Maybe he would invent his own meaning around it. We might consider possible insights that are no longer intuitive to many of us. After all, the tribe’s highly developed skills enable them to flourish in a region that would starve and dehydrate most of us within days. Whose vision of reality is the right one? Why do we feel the world needs to be mastered by us? How do we tell the difference between a dead end and a mountain top?

Opening our eyes may take a lifetime. Like learning a second language: no shortcuts.
But seeing is done in a flash.

A Night Out in Barra

One afternoon in Barra, ripe for novelty and a respite from dish washing, we went out for dinner to a beach-side restaurant. It was perfect – just before sunset, we looked out upon the sea, a November aquarelle washed with wondrous breadth. The face of the hotel was wreathed in luminescence, and the pool in front of us reflected a tranquil sky, and the jagged edges of bright pumpkin orange filled the firmament. I wondered, as I sat there, if I could render the translucent orange of the sunset with justice were I to paint the sky and the great rocks lying out to sea; the ocean was right in front of the diners where you could sense its expanse, sparkling and flat, but with something of a pearly sheen when it began to get dark. The pool for the hotel guests looked like an oddly shaped mirror now, lying on the ground, and the diffuse light and its muted range of colours reflected mostly silver and grey from the sky as the light deepened into the murky sapphire that marks the early winter dusk.

But real life is more interesting than art. A waitress approached, a menu in her hand and a twinkle in her eye. Her look was amiable, and a waiter appeared in matching outfit just behind her, close to the bar. They both looked professional. There was another couple there too, both Mexican, maybe man and wife. She was pretty; her princess-like gown was long and very low on her lean shoulders as she’d placed herself in her chair, settled into a tall attitude, and looked distinguished. Her bosom and neckline crossed with jewels in elegant partnership. I had a hard time not looking at her jewels as they were of  vegetable proportions. Her well-fed husband, if that’s who he was, sat down too, and a sense of strangeness seemed to descend upon the place. The view, and the appearance of people, formed the setting but like a curtain which could be drawn up at the request of a capital performance. I resolved that, being this close to the ocean and surrounded by such beauty, it was as near as art could come. I would not have been more pleased if I’d stood before an original Diego Rivera mural so intriguing was the scene before us.

We ordered pizza. Two pizzas, one for each of us. I ordered in both languages, but the waitress showed her preference for English. She asked us twice if we were sure.

” Two pizzas?” she questioned with a hint of alarm on her face. I expressed the fact that we ate a lot and that my husband was slim; she, the waitress, looked him up and down and nodded in agreement. The twinkle in her eye came back, and off she went to the other couple. The waiter, wiping wine goblets, looked cheerfully at sea.

The other table ordered pizza too.

“Just wait”, said my husband, laughing. “We’ll both end up with two pizzas each.”

“Maybe”, I replied, thinking we’d buy them and have fewer dishes at home.

The gentleman next to us rose from his chair, and the attitude in which he stood reminded me of the way court painters represented kings in centuries past, lofty, imperious, stiff. He was getting restless. The woman he was with, tall and straight, kept her position at the table but he began to wander around. The pizza was taking a long time. The waitress returned to our table to confirm that we wished two pizzas, and the waiter polished glasses. It was as if he were playing a minor role on the stage. There arose for the first time many indistinguishable voices from the kitchen as the issue of how many pizzas to make resounded through the concrete building. The waiter, evidently feeling badly about the time it was taking to produce the pizzas, and embarrassed about the noise from the kitchen, rested his pleasant eyes on me with the question: “Would you like some chips and salsa while you wait?”

Just then the waitress emerged from the kitchen with two Hawaiian pizzas, one piece falling away from the rest of the pieces, its thick cheese hanging heavily, but she deftly picked it up and put it in its place within the wheel-like arrangement on her breadboard. We hadn’t ordered Hawaiian pizza but the nearby table took one.

“Plenty of time”, I told myself. “This is Mexico.”

The pizza finally came and by this time we didn’t care what type it was. We polished it all off quickly.

More important to me than food is the people. We often relate to each other around here as characters in a play – “teachers teach”, “musicians play”, “painters paint.” But the average Mexican is delightfully complex with layers and layers of meaning. He appears warm and friendly, funny and creative, but I think impossible to organize.

And maybe there’s nothing strange about that.

Kids These Days ( Allure – Part 11 )

The other day when I found myself positioned against the familiar “kids-these-days” sentiment, I decided to check my own behaviour. How many times a day, for example, do I check the status of my computer’s in-box?  Or use Netflix? Am I, too, turning into a stimulation junkie?

Last night when I announced that I’d successfully managed to post my first real image on Facebook, my 14 year old grandson was not impressed. “It’s for old people”, he said. As luck would have it, I’m still miles behind my grandchildren with technology, and it makes me wonder about the nature of my blind spot for advancement as well as my grandchildren’s expectation that I close the gap between their ability to work with various technologies and my own. I must admit to not trying very hard, mostly because Facebook and several other on-line technologies appear to be me-centred, encouraging the broadcasting of self. But that’s not why my grandson doesn’t like it……it’s simply too ‘old.’ This is the same kid whose instinct to check “Snapchat”, his new favorite, is more insistent than the urge to shower; the same kid who ( cringe ) hasn’t  yet been introduced to “Flanders Field” in English class, whereas previous generations have had to memorize it, thereby ‘digesting’ it, and boosting a commitment to brain storage. But then is a person’s ability to think dictated by his capacity to hold information at a personal level? Should wisdom be measured by memory? Perhaps the educational tools of yesterday are not designed to meet the educational needs of today and tomorrow, and just because I can recite poetry, I’m more of a dinosaur than a wizard. Perhaps.

All my life I’ve wanted a life that is perfectly serene because of its lack of concern with self. I haven’t achieved it yet. I want to live to be inspired, to be moved in all things. Instead, what I’m discovering is that almost every type of technology alienates me from some part of my life. Sometimes the ping-ping-ping of constant texting can be an interruption and sometimes it enables me to avoid difficult feelings and awkward moments. Over time, am I training my mind to crave the sounds my phone makes? I hope not because conversation teaches how to talk through difficult feelings and how to respect the feelings of others: social media teaches other lessons, it encourages performance rather than authenticity. And yet considering the continued march of technology over the centuries, reigning in our imaginations seems the worst possible plan for survival – putting the brakes on technology just won’t work. Ever since we learned how to make fire, technology has been how humans dream into the future. Innovation is woven into the fabric of who we are.

I was one of those overly sensitive kids in the 50s who worried about global starvation, animals at the pound, the Cold War, and smog. I looked into things too deeply, asking questions, daydreaming, brooding. I suspect my personality is the reason for the health issues I’ve experienced these last few years. I read in “Abundance” ( Diamandis and Kotler ) that, although our world has never been safer, we still worry more than ever before. According to the two authors, our brains are constantly sifting and sorting information, trying to tease apart the critical from the casual. The amígdala, responsible for primal emotions like rage, hate and fear, is our early warning system, an organ always on high alert, whose job is to find anything in our environment that could threaten survival. Once stimulated, our flight/fight response turns on, and once turned on it’s almost impossible to turn off. Bad news sells in the newspapers, these writers profess, because the amígdala is always looking for something to fear. Our early warning system evolved in an era of immediacy, when threats were of the tiger-in-the-bush variety. Things have changed since then. Furthermore probabilistic dangers such as a terrorist attack or an economic nose-dive, never shut off completely, convincing your brain that it’s living in a state of siege, when nothing could be further from the truth. The industrialized world has never been safer. “A desire to better the world is predicated partially on empathy and compassion. The good news is that we now know that these prosocial behaviours are hard-wired into the brain. The bad news is that these behaviours are wired into the slower-moving, recently evolved prefrontal cortex. But the amígdala evolved long ago when reaction time was critical. When there’s a tiger in the bush, there isn’t much time to think, so the brain takes a short-cut: it doesn’t.”

The disconnect comes between the local wiring of our brain and the global reality of our world……technologies are exploding like never before. But, the writers conclude, we can no more stomp out innovation than we can our instinct for survival.

We haven’t come across any alien species yet……..is that because they’re all addicted to their screens and have neither time nor energy for intergalactic exploration? Maybe. But let’s concern ourselves with our own habits. On this small planet our challenges are great: alleviate world hunger, slow population growth, lower global disease and infant mortality, preserve the biosphere and increase education. Teaching kids how to nourish their creativity and curiosity while providing a foundation in critical thinking, literacy and math, is the best way to prepare them for a future of increasingly rapid technological change.

So, how many times do I check emails? Twice, or three times a day, depending on my need for distraction. What, you say? Too often?

And  how often is ‘too often’?

 

 

 

Allure

The word “allure” comes from Old French ‘aleurrer’, meaning “to bait” which in falconry was a hunter’s device to both bait and to call back the hawks or falcons once the prey had been captured. The birds were enticed to do what their royal owners wanted because the gadget was the one used to feed them during their training period.  The prey, rabbits and other birds, were hunted by their masters, the elite who could afford such a pleasurable and self-indulgent sport. The average individual today enjoys a different pastime, but one in which he may be even more dependent on his gadget(s). His online mind waits hungrily for its food. However vulnerable to the emotional gratifications that his electronics offer, he is nevertheless neurochemically rewarded when he attends to its constant stimulation. He holds a psychologically potent device in his hands, and it comes with its own high. Tutored by technology, his brain craves the fast and predictable, the quick lightning strike of the new.

Our technology – phones, tablets, iPads, computers – are gifts, but do we consider what they ask from us in return? The gaps in our schedules have disappeared because we’re too busy delighting in the amusements that fill them. We forget the games and activities that childhood boredom forged because boredom has been outlawed. “I’m bored!” A child wails, and mother rushes in with an entertaining activity to bridge the gap, or whispers loudly, “Never mind dear, we”ll be home soon.” ( Where you can play on your tablet ).

There’s been a seismic shift in our lives, especially for those of us who have lived in a pre-Internet landscape. Our technological gadgets are an invitation to enhance some part of our lives, but they’re also an invitation to be drawn away from something else. As my grandson gazes with glassy eyes at his cartoons, his cute face bathed in the electric glow of LED light, he inhabits two worlds: one digital, one corporeal. Sometimes I wonder if he understands what is real and what is not when he randomly quotes a line from a Disney movie that doesn’t coincide with whatever’s happening. Unlike him I speak two languages, pre-Internet and digital….I’m a fluent translator of Before and After. Like a distant ancestor who transitioned from an oral to a written culture, I feel a mysterious sense of loss. Sometimes I wish to keep a foothold in the homeland of my youth and write on a pad or on a digital device without it reminding me that I need an update. Our love affair with technology seems magical, but like magic it works by commanding our attention and not showing us anything but what the magician wants us to see.

A conversation recently at a family meal was occasion for another grandson to take up his phone for a quick search, even though there’s a rule about not having phones at the dinner table. The search acted as an interruption to call up evidence to prove some fact, convenient to him because it helped to make his point. He truly believed it made the conversation richer. We all come to online life with the expectation that we can ask a question and get an almost immediate answer, but to meet our expectations we begin to ask simpler questions. We end up dumbing down our communication and this makes it harder to approach complex problems. Rich conversation has a hard time competing. In the previous example of my grandson there was a rule about having no electronics at the table. Yet he finds his phone irresistible. Maybe the whole family’s addicted! We are exhibiting predictable responses to a perfectly executed design. My grandson’s phone lures him towards increasingly superficial connections, and at the same time it makes avoiding the mess of human interaction easier. My own kids see life as something they can pause and document, and like their children they value their technology as comforting and omnipresent as God in the heavens. They never seem free of the obliterating demands of hundreds of contacts. I read somewhere that young kids today have as many exchanges with avatars as with people.

We need to engineer moments of activity for them – hikes, swimming sessions, outings. The digital population is less well rounded than we know it should be. We are responsible for the media diets of our kids and grandkids. Just as we decide to limit our intake of sugars and fats, we must keep at bay the connectivity we are hard-wired to adore.

Are we fighting mortality? Without our gadgets do we feel like our lives are slipping away?

Me? I want a brain that can think on its own. Our minds may be messy places full of mistakes – mine anyway – but it’s the honing, the selection of what’s worth remembering, that makes a mind unique.