iPads! Huh! What are they good for?

I admit it. I have a love/hate relationship with technology. At my day job as an instructional designer, of course technology is essential and ever present. We all have dual monitors for our desktop computers, laptops, mobile devices, high-speed internet, fancy projectors, smart boards, clickers, lots of server space, an office full of enthusiastic early adopters, and plenty of people who will happily answer technical questions and give advice about cool new tools. I won’t lie. I was as excited as anyone to get my first iPad and start figuring out what it can do for me.

But in my other, perhaps more “real” life, I enjoy many more low-tech activities, and at our weekly lunch with the curmudgeons I often join in their conversations about the evils of being always connected, the intrusion of all the beeps and clicks in our lives, the irritation of dinner-table guests who keep glancing at their phones for updates, the absurdity of television screens installed at self-pump gas stations. Among the people I count as friends, you will find numerous artisans and craftspeople–the original DIYers–gardeners and people who are good with their hands, people who raise their own chickens for eggs or meat, bee keepers, farmers, healers and massage therapists, musicians and guitar makers, a luthier, woodworkers, weavers and spinners–but also web designers and bloggers and sound technicians and music producers. We also believe in repurposing: like the time we made a spindle for spinning wool out of a CD that arrived in the mail from AOL.

It’s not that we are anti-technology, but we tend to be the kinds of people who, once we have found the tool that works for us, see little reason to buy each latest model as it comes out. Rather than ask, “What new tools might I get?” we try to think about, “What do I need or want to do, and what tool will help me accomplish that best?”

My husband and I got a kick out of the sales reps from Century Tel who stopped by our house recently to congratulate us on our years of being “such good customers” and to offer us this really awesome deal where we could bump our internet speed up astronomically at no charge. All we would have to do is add a cable TV package. They were all smiling and nodding until we told them that we don’t have a television. The two young men stopped cold. Then one of them said, “My mom tried to get us to watch less television. I guess that would be one way.” Then the other one said, in apparent disbelief, “You don’t have a television at all?” We smiled and said no, and they thanked us for our time and headed on down the street to knock on the doors of other good customers.

Like I said, I was thrilled to get an iPad recently and am enjoying learning what I can do with it. However, I’m trying not to get caught up completely in the “cool factor” and start downloading apps willy nilly before I even figure out what I might need them for. Rather, I am trying to take a more thoughtful approach and think about the things I already do and then find out whether there is an app that would help me do those things more easily. But I can already sense what a time bandit this device could turn out to be.

This morning I decided to get out the list of books I want to read (which I have been writing down in a little moleskin notebook that I carry with me everywhere) and enter them into a virtual bookshelf using Goodreads. Oh my! That could turn out to be very addictive. So far, I have resisted the impulse to click “buy immediately” or “download this eBook now,” but I spent way more time than I expected entering book titles (already read and to-read), remembering other books I have already ready, checking out what my virtual “friends” have read, browsing the new releases, reading reviews, looking at photos of authors. It was just as fun as browsing in a library or bookstore, but I could do it in my pajamas, Before I knew it I had added 141 books to my “to-read” list. The trick will be to actually read some of these books and not just keep playing around with this really cool app and building more and more virtual bookshelves.


My Love-Hate Relationship With Technology

I have a very ambivalent relationship with technology. By day, I am part of an instructional design team, charged with putting courses online and keeping up with the latest and greatest in educational technology. Our conversations at work are filled with talk of mobile technologies and e-learning platforms and courseware.  We design websites and create multimedia presentations. We get excited about css and javascript and html 5. We debate the educational value of wikis and blogs and podcasts. We discuss the advantages of Mathjax over ASCII math. We stream videos. We create slideshows and interactive exericses. We try out new computer programs and technologies. We troubleshoot.

In some ways, I have a perfect job, because it brings together so many things that I love. When I first graduated from college and was wondering what to do with my life, I took one of those tests they like to give at career centers that tells you what jobs match your interests, and I was told that I should either be a psychologist, a librarian, or a computer programmer.  I thought they all sounded interesting but never dreamed I might find a way to bring all those things together.

There was no such thing as instructional designers at the time, but it suits me perfectly to  spend my career exploring connections between people and technology and content. And I love learning new things, whether that means the content of the courses we are developing or the technology used to put them online. I had thought at one time about following in my family’s footsteps and going into teaching, but this is much better, because I don’t have to stand in front of a classroom, which always just made me nervous.

Still,  as much as I enjoy my work and being on the cutting edge of educational technology, when it comes to technology in general, I am nowhere near being an “early adopter.” I’m not anti-technology. I just don’t love it for itself. I don’t have an iPad or a Kindle or a smartphone. My desktop computer is several years old. I’ve been told by real techies that my Netbook (which I love) is on the way out, and  I only recently upgraded from dial-up to DSL. Although I do have an iPod (which my son bought for me at a yard sale and which I have been enjoying a lot), we  also still have a turntable and cassette player that we  listen to music on.

Of course I do my fair share of web surfing and checking Facebook and watching YouTube videos and talking on my cell phone, but I prefer to spend my time doing low-tech things such as knitting or spinning, reading real books, working with the bees, or digging in the garden. My idea of a perfect evening is one just like tonight, where friends come over to my house and we sit around the living room playing old-time music together.