Sunday, July 01, 2012

The Sad Demise of Random Information

I guess it was inevitable that when information overload got to be more than we humans could deal with that we would start becoming self-censors. The tech tools that have the capacity to immerse us in information each day also come with the controls to restrain the flow. Naturally, when given the option of picking what information we see, we pick the just the stuff we like – in a very SPECIFIC and limited way. And therein lies the problem. My dirty little secret is that I do NOT control all of the information coming into my life. I realize that my retro approach is out of style and probably labels me as a technophobe in some circles. On the other hand, I use two computers in tandem most days, as well as an iPhone and an IPad and other digital toys. I am rather adept at managing all of these tools – at least for an old lady! I run my business virtually and I love cloud computing. I have Google Alerts and I know about RSS feeds. I have the technology to rigidly control the information that reaches me, but I don’t use it. I remember when there were just two TV channels to choose from and if you wanted to see a show, you made a point of being in front of the set when it was on. While you could choose between rock and classical music, the radio stations played what they chose to play (or perhaps what the DJ chose to play – remember payola?), and we teenagers loved the rock and roll stations and never questioned the selections. We chose books to read based on what was in the bookstore for sale or the library for check-out. Or sometimes we simply read the books that were already in the house because books were expensive to buy. There weren’t that many magazines to subscribe to and most households got the same mixture. In my house growing up, it was US News and World Report, Readers’ Digest, Better Homes and Garden , McCall's, Ladies Home Journal, National Geographic, Fortune and American Heritage. What an assortment and each brought us new, unplanned adventures each month! There was a morning paper and an evening paper and only one of each. We read them both – everybody did. It wasn’t even something you thought about. We watched whatever was on at the movie theater and there were just a handful of movie theatres in the city and certainly no multi—plexes. The drive-in was showing whatever it was showing. In those days we took also aimless rides in the country on Sunday afternoons . Life was slow and much of it was random. We ate what was on special at the supermarket and wore what was on sale at the department store – that was just the way it was. But gradually, our lifestyles changed. We got VCRs and learned how to tape shows for viewing later. We learned how to record or favorite songs on cassette tapes and carried a Walkman. The aimless drives fell victim to the gasoline shortage. We now have out GPS and don’t even get lost the way we used to. We know our route and we can even preview it in advance. The magazines and newspapers were hold outs, but eventually they went on line and became indexed and searchable. We started shopping at Amazon and then began downloading books, magazines and newspapers. And of course today there is a magazine for every interest, and most have apps you can download on your phone or tablet. In short, we went from a few choices to a zillion choices in everything we do and the information barrage increased exponentially. And we just put up the filters – but I couldn’t bear to filter everything and to have a steady diet of only what interests me. I need the stimulation of what doesn’t really interest me that much. For me that means sitting down in front of the TV and checking to see what might be on and maybe picking something that doesn’t excite me. It means reading a magazine that is not my favorite. It also means turning on the radio in the car and listening to whatever is playing. I choose to read my newspaper by turning the paper pages instead of searching the online index. Sometimes, I turn off the GPS and intuit my way on a road I have never traveled that goes in the right general direction. Yes, we even buy season theater subscriptions, taking a chance on randomness. There is a synergy that happens when you bring in a mixture of random ideas, and that is worth all the minutes lost in ideas that really are not that relevant or inspiring. We, as humans, need that kind of rich fuel for our brains.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Mall - Today and Yesterday

I have nothing against shopping malls, but they just don’t fit with my shopping patterns. Nonetheless yesterday I went to the mall because I needed new glasses. When I use the term “mall” I am referring to the big enclosed shopping areas that have multiple stores all facing toward a large enclosed central area. I am a destination shopper – that is, I am not intro strolling past lots of stores and window-shopping. I am more into going to the store that sells what I want to buy, buying it and going home. I find malls frustrating because I have to figure out what is where, find the nearest entrance, and usually have to walk some distance to find my destination. If a mall store has an exterior entrance they are much more likely to get my business. But once a store is inside a mall with no outside entrance, it is off my radar screen. But yesterday, I found myself at a local mall, getting glasses, and waiting around “for about an hour.” I was hungry, so I went a short distance to the chicken sandwich shop and got a sandwich and a bottle of water. After that I found the restroom and went to an ATM. So far, so good, but I still had 40 minutes to kill. I walked around a little bit looking in store windows and at the kiosks. It was too bad I didn’t need a new case for my iPhone because there seemed to be lots of places selling them. There were stores selling fancy lingerie, running shoes, inexpensive jewelry, video games, and cell phones – not to mention other stuff that was so far off my radar screen I didn’t notice. There were two perfectly good department stores I could have gone into and no doubt found something to spend money on, but they were both a bit of a trek from where I was sitting, now happily perched reading my email. Since the store where I bought my glasses and the food court were dead zones for my phone and iPad, I was pleased to find a place to sit where I got a decent signal. So I sat there until it was time to get my glasses. While I was sitting there a small train came by carrying long-suffering adults and bunches of small children. I thought about catching the train, but then I had no accompanying small children and I wasn’t sure that once I got into one of the little cars that I could get out. Besides, I really didn’t have a destination! But, I have to say that I realize that I am the average “mall customer. “ I work long hours and so for me shopping is a necessity, and not a fun activity. I have problems with my feet, so walking through a mall is no different than walking in an airport – it makes my feet hurt. At this point in my life, I need to buy very little and I know what I like and where to buy it. But the malls are filled with people younger than me, some with baby strollers and kids in tow, moving happily from store to store and clearly they are spending money or the stores would not survive. So I am just a demographic misfit. I remember the first mall I ever experienced was Eastwood Mall in Birmingham. I just checked it out the Web and refreshed my memory. Opened in 1960, it was the biggest mall in the South, with 47 stores. I boasted 73 degrees inside year-around. I remember that it was cooled by artesian well water. When it opened, the whole city was abuzz. Imagine, 47 stores and not going outside. Birmingham can get VERY hot in the summer and VERY cold in the winter, so the prospect was tantalizing. I remember going to the opening and marveling at the whole concept! At the time I was in 9th grade – the perfect age for appreciating such a marvel. I understand that Eastwood Mall is gone now, but that area remains a shopping mecca for the east side of Birmingham. When we moved to Maryland in 1976, I frequented Harundale Mall in Glen Burnie, MD. It was said to the first enclosed shopping mall on the east coast and first air conditioned mall in America. I fondly remember Hoschild-Kohn. Today that mall is gone, replaced by a Plaza. In that same time frame, I shopped at the Severna Park Mall and Jumpers Hole Mall, now both turned inside out. It seems that the trend today is to turn the smaller malls into strip centers. Today there are mega- regional malls that are forcing the smaller regional malls to reconfigure, sometimes converting to plazas or putting office space where department stores once thrived. Today shopping is definitely different than it was in the late fifties when malls first came on the scene. Some say the malls killed the downtowns in some American cities. So now we have a few really large malls, downtowns that still have empty department store buildings, plazas that have been converted from medium-sized malls, warehouses, big boxes and local shopping districts and the newly emerging town centers. The local shopping districts seem to be ever-popular because many residents appreciate the need to support their local merchants. But… what changes lie ahead of us with the Internet and its impact of shopping? We already have chain stores saying you can order it online and pick-it up at the store. With some “big box” stores, it is possible check on the availability of a given item before ever leaving your home. Now you can scan in an item with your cell phone and check the price at another store. But as long as there are malls, teenagers will go to the movies, young couples will push their infants in strollers and old ladies will kill time while waiting on their glasses.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Trying to Keep Up

As a “leading edge” Baby Boomer I am part of group with mixed feelings about technology and change. I know some who have decided that computers are too hard and plane travel to too exhausting. So, why not just blow off the whole technology thing and spend my golden years in a state of unfrustrated bliss waiting for the final sunset? Do I really need to be spending precious minutes to reset network settings, de-frag, and reboot? I simply cannot stand being left out! I had to have a transistor radio and learn to drive when I was 15, and I am that same person today. So I have my laptop, my iPhone, my iPad, and various cool accessories. And I am going around giving speeches about “apps. “ I have heard people talking about these 3-D printers, and I guess I just thought they would take some plastic stuff like modeling clay and turn it into a replica of something or another. That didn’t sound particularly appealing. Then yesterday I read that they can actually make parts out of different materials. There is a video on the Web where someone actually downloaded a bicycle. And I heard that it is possible to download replacement body parts – including major organs. I bet this is a case where the cartridges cost way more than the printer – though that is nothing new! But WOW! What a concept – almost science fiction. The other day, I got to go ahead in the TSA line, and the guard called me “dearie.” Two other people also got to go ahead and they were women about my age or a bit older. I was concerned that the three of us had been selected for a special full body cavity search, having read about the TSA crackdown on elderly women, some of whom are wearing Depends when going through security. So I put on my most professional and sprightly air, and quickly did the shoe, jacket, belt removal dance, while deftly putting my laptop in a bin, stuffing my driver’s license into my wallet, and presenting myself, feet on yellow outlines, ready for the scanner. There were no signs of hesitation and confusion. I walked calmly into the scanner, put my hands over my head, and seconds later emerged. What I was not prepared for was the applause I received from the TSA guy. He said it was because I had no metal. I think it was because I pulled it off! If I do say so myself, I got through that line as well as any 21 year old, and they were all still waiting in line. So many changes…so fast! But I love the pace and can’t see myself ever being without the toys of the Information Age. Nor can I see myself giving up on air travel! I resolve to keep going and keep my brain engaged. The alternative is too scary!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

My Wallet Over the Years

I don’t think I had a wallet until I got to Junior High. Before then my money was mostly change that lived in a piggy bank. And I really never spent money on anything in those days but rides at “Kiddieland.” The rides were $.10 so a mere ten dimes in my pocket would provide me with a full evening of entertainment. But in junior high my allowance actually was folding money and I could actually earn a few dollars babysitting. But the really important thing for any self-respecting teenagers to carry around was pictures of friends. The school photo company facilitated that by giving us a fresh supply to trade each year. Remember the plastic sleeves stuffed with photos? In those days all wallets were pretty much one design – folded over in the middle with pictures on the left, a change pocket on the right and a pouch along the back for bills. Grown-ups had wallets with secret hiding places. My dad always kept a $50 bill there – just in case. He also had a special card that he could use to buy gasoline at the Gulf station and his driver’s license. My mother had her charge-a-plate (addressograph plate) that had its own leatherette sleeve. That metal plate was the equivalent of having a charge card good at all the major department stores in town. By high school wallet designs had changed and included a snap-top change purse and a more compact design. I remember one wallet in particular. It was cream leather with little metallic decorative dots on it, accented with blue leather trim. But the best part was that I had a matching hard shell key case. At age 15, I had my learner’s permit, so I needed a place for car keys and a key to the house—where I was finally old enough to be left alone. Of course, the most prominent item in the wallet was my learner’s permit and a year later, my driver’s license. In those days the Alabama licenses were printed in a green official looking design on cardboard. The learner’s permit had a pink stripe and my driver’s license had a yellow stripe until I turned 21. In college, the photos of friends were still there, along with the driver’s license and the photo student ID. When I was in graduate school when I got my first credit card, a card branded by a local bank that has evolved into a major credit card company today. I think it had a $50 limit. My wallet kept getting thicker over the years with more credit cards, a military ID, cute plastic copies of my diplomas (you never know when you might need one of those), and, as the years went by, pictures of our son. The wallet style got progressively more roomy. At one point, I had a monstrosity that was about 10” tall, with many pockets and room for a passport. The goal was to have a plastic sleeve for each credit card and photo. The older I get, the less stuff I have to carry around with me, the happier I am. I actually have two wallets – a regular wallet and a travel wallet. Realistically, when I travel I don’t need a lot of the cards and such like I need at home. My travel wallet is very small black micro-fiber fold-over. The everyday wallet I use today is similar to the one I had in high school, but it is a tri-fold. It even has a snap-close change purse, just like the one from high school. But this one is black leather and is made by some big name designer whose work graced the Nordstrom rack. It has three pockets for cards. I have a few business and personal credit cards, a military ID, my driver’s license, a folded up spare check, an ATM card and the newest addition, the Medicare card. Yes, I have a place for cash, though I sure don’t carry as much as I used to. I prefer to just dump my loose change in the side pocket of my purse, but this wallet has a change purse. I keep a half-dozen Susan B. Anthony dollars stuffed in there. I am not sure where I got them, but will be nice to have some time I am sure. As for the secret department, I will never tell.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Call of the Bathrobe

The Call of the Bathrobe Working virtually, I spend more time in my bathrobe than when I went to the office every day. The one I prefer is white waffle weave with my initials subtly monogrammed in beige. Of course, I am not sure why I thought I needed to have it monogrammed, but there was this special when I ordered it online. When I am in my bathrobe I want to see no one, and I just want to get my work done. Somehow in today’s world, the bathrobe has come to symbolize luxury and the plusher the robe, the more decadent one is supposed to feel wearing it. I am not sure about that because some of the really plush robes are so heavy that a winter coat would be lighter. Some hotel rooms have robes, while others do not. The rule seems to be -- “The pricier the chain the more likelihood of a robe” And sometimes I sense that if I had opted for a more costly room, say in the “tower,” that I would have gotten a robe to wear during my stay as part of the deal. But it really doesn’t matter because the odds are that the issued robe won’t fit. Besides, I always bring my own travel robe – a lavender number made of microfiber that folds up nicely in my carry-on. When I travel, I like to check out the spa. The fancier places have locker rooms and issue you a robe and slippers to change into. I have to say that spa robes vary as much as hotel room robes. It was a spa where I first discovered the white, waffle weave design I love. Some spa robes are plain terrycloth, like a soft bath-towel, while other are lined with cotton and are terry cloth on the outside. Beginning plus-sized, I always worry when wearing a spa robe, especially when forced to wear the robe in a co-ed setting in the “relaxation” room – you know the place with the cucumber water where they make you wait for your therapist. I tried to think back about bathrobes in earlier stages on my life. My mother made me one as a child, but after that I don’t remember spending much time wearing a bathrobe, though I guess I have always had one around. Some were flannel, others were terrycloth, others were nylon or microfiber. But I never really had time for them. I used to get up, get dressed, and go on about my life. Bathrobes were for people who moved more slowly, who lingered over breakfast and the newspaper. You know – old people! Hmmh.. I am coming up in my 66th birthday. Could that be a reason for my attachment to my bathrobe? Of course not! It is just comfortable and I am not rushing out the door. Here is it 11:15 on a Sunday morning and I still wearing my robe.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Boomer Technology Addiction

Decades ago when I smoked, I reached for a cigarette first thing in the morning or when I finished a meal. Today I reach for my iPhone. There is something decidedly similar about the compulsion.

I am sure there must be scientific studies and brain scans that show how areas of the brain light up when one ingests e-mail or tweets. As a 65 year old, running a virtual business, I am bombarded with an array of information whenever I am “connected” and that is most of the time.
But what I wonder is – how did I get to the point where I can move from laptop, to tablet to smart phone, effortlessly and without even thinking about it? What were the steps in the progression that led me here?

In the few short years I lived before television, I recall listening to the radio with my family. Nobody messed frenetically with the dial. We listened and then the adults turned it off. The situation was pretty much the same for the television.

As teenagers and college students, however, my generation took the car radio and turned it into a random juke box. We programmed in the rock stations on the push buttons and jumped from button to button looking for the songs we liked. And, of course, we became masters at twisting the dials on our transistor radios; we wore tiny earphones plugged into our handheld radios and tuned out the adults around us. My generation, at least the female component, loved talking on the telephone.

Shortly after we got married in 1969, we got our first remote controlled TV. Of course, it did have a wire, but it was possible to change channels from the sofa. Of course, channel surfing among three stations was not such a big deal, but I remember channel surfing before it had a name.

My generation, the leading-edge baby boomers, was simply not that intimidated by technology and we accepted change as inevitable and natural -- and most of us still do! We are the generation whose parents played 78 rpm records, while we played 45s and graduated to 33 1/3s in high school. Then we got into reel to reel audio tapes in various sizes; 8 track cassettes, audio cassettes, and CDs. Now I play music on my iPhone, set on shuffle, through the car radio. It reminds me of the old days of pushing buttons to change the song.

I went from a manual typewriter, to an electric typewriter, to a Selectric, to a word processor, to an Epson computer with a green screen, to a Morrow portable computer the size of a sewing machine with an orange seven inch screen, to a Atari ST, to a PC with Windows 3.1, to various iterations of Windows on various desk top and laptop machines, and yes, I also have a Mac. And, of course, I have the iPad.

My first car phone came in a bag the size of a shoebox and I thought it was very cool. Since then I have had just about any configuration of phone you can imagine – from the Nokia basic to the flip-phone to the Palm Treo to the iPhone finally.

But along the way, there were other devices that were must haves. I remember my Atari Portfolio fondly because it allowed me to do wonderful things without the bulky computer. I remember my pager through Skytel and years later, the little netbook.

At this point, there has been convergence – sort of! But it still takes me three devices to do everything I want to do. The laptop is still best for doing serious work. The iPad is super for doing work on the run or taking notes in a meeting, but it isn’t a phone. But the laptop is a modern version of the typewriter, and the iPhone took the place of the radio, home phone and record player.

What I do know is that the thing I spend the most time doing each day – e-mail – will reach me on all three devices. At some level I hate e-mail. It is incessant, filled with garbage, and intrusive. On the other hand, it keeps me connected with others; it is the way I move projects forward and communicate.

We Boomers grew up with technology and it has shaped us to value connectedness. What is really so addictive about e-mail may just be is the shot of connectedness that come with each email. The message says “you are alive and people want to tell you things.” It sure beats the alternative of sitting in my recliner channel surfing among the reruns.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Manila Folders to the Cloud

I got my first filing cabinet when I was in a senior in college. Education majors were supposed to put together a resource file. The theory was that this file would grow and grow through your professional life and after retiring after 40 years of teaching you might pass it down to a deserving young teacher. So I got myself a single drawer file and I was good to go.

For the 20 years I was an educator, I dutifully clipped this and that that might be good for teaching media skills and I pulled out any thought-provoking article about the “information age” that was gradually moving in to change our lives. I carefully labeled manila folders and put them in alphabetical order. I kept all sorts of things that interested me, from restaurants to travel destinations. I kept notes from family and friends and treasures our son’s life.

In 1989, I threw out much of my “resource” file because it was outdated and I was no longer teaching. Nobody but me would want what I had managed to save all of those years. So out it all went and I haven’t missed any of it. But I kept the personal stuff and restaurant and travel clips.
About that same time, I discovered the joy of hanging folders. I got them in an array of pretty colors and we used them for everything in my business and I used them at home as well. I had a lot of filing that needed to be done, and it was always accumulating. I used to hire people to come in just to file. I hated it, but I saw no way around it.

But somewhere along the line the world changed and the promise of information age came to life in the form of a scanner. The first ones we had were slow and clunky and documents copied one sheet at a time. Now we have stack loader scanners that quickly take a stack of documents and convert them to a single PDF.

We now scan in anything of any importance and we file it carefully online. Once it is scanned, it is retrained unless there is a security issue, but there is no fancy filing system. We hold the scanned documents in a stack by date – just in case we have to go digging. But I see a time coming soon where even that will be excessive.

I run a virtual company, but I have a storage unit filled with filing cabinets. I am simply aging these documents in place. Another few years and I can trash (or shred them all) and then I will get rid of the filing cabinets and the storage unit or at least get a much smaller one.

Today we file in the “cloud.” We back-up in the “cloud.” That is where we do everything. I really don’t need to keep much of anything in paper files. I am close to clearing the filing cabinets out of my home office. BUT… I am not quite there yet.

When I must deal with paper documents I keep them in plastic sleeves – sometimes in portable hanging files or in notebooks. I know what I must do – I must scan those paper documents in and recycle the paper. Not this week, but I know I will someday soon.

The Information Age is here!