Tag Archive for: technology

“Smart Clip Reminds Parents of Babies Left in Cars”

I don’t even really know where to go with this. I know that the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas showcases all sorts of innovative and crazy technologies, many of which are altogether unnecessary but cool. I get that in the spirit of seeing what can be created, companies often try to design markets around things that nobody needs, but might want. 
But this? A clip that fits on to your child’s seat belt to remind you that they are there when you exit your car? Yes, I have heard the (extremely rare and baffling) news reports of harried parents accidentally leaving their children in cars while they go to work all day. And I agree that if even one life can be saved by installing a “Smart Clip” on your child’s carseat, it’s worth it.  
But more profoundly, this speaks to me of the increasing lack of attention we pay to the things that we do every day. How far does your mind have to be down the rabbit hole of to-do’s that you forget about the living, breathing human beings around you? How much could some small shift in attention and mindfulness affect our ability to remember what we’re doing while we’re doing it?
I’m not judging. I am as likely as anyone else to forget what I’m doing in the moment. I leave my keys behind, my grocery bags in the car about every third time I head to get food for the week, and I often get into another room and have to stop a beat to recall why the hell I’m there.  All of those things point to me not being present, and generally all it takes is a thoughtful intention to be mindful of what I’m doing to bring me back.  
I am reminded of something that I heard Dr. JoAnn Deak say once in a lecture she delivered.  If a girl isn’t making eye contact with you, she isn’t processing what you’re saying.  I wonder how often I don’t look up when my loved ones come into the room and start talking to me, my head buried in a book or staring at my computer screen.  I wonder how that makes them feel, or if they are so used to people not making eye contact with them that they don’t think a thing of it.  And I wonder how many nuances of conversation I am missing by not taking a nanosecond to be intentional about my attention.  It is so easy to think that we are paying attention simply because we do something by rote (nod and murmur, “uh huh” at a break in someone’s sentence, buckle our child into their carseat and drive to work), but it takes more than that to truly be part of that action, and ironically, it doesn’t take much more time. It simply requires that we be mindful of what we’re doing at any given time, a task that is becoming increasingly challenging for all of us as we succumb to the rhetoric about ‘productivity.’ Personally, I’d rather see more people doing things with intentionality and purpose and attention than people doing more things on balance.  A culture that requires a “Smart Clip” to remember its children are there isn’t one that I can be terribly proud of. 

I learned about Occam’s razor in a college philosophy course and it made a strong impression on me. At the time, I was strictly a science major – biology and chemistry – and the idea appealed to me.

According to Wikipedia, Occam’s razor is

“a principle of parsimony, economy, orsuccinctness used in problem-solving devised by William of Ockham (c. 1287–1347). It states that among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. Other, more complicated solutions may ultimately prove correct, but—in the absence of certainty—the fewer assumptions that are made, the better.”

In other words, the simplest solution is generally the best.  We humans tend to make things more complicated than they need to be and often, when I am feeling particularly perplexed, this bit of wisdom reminds me to step back, breathe deeply, and think about a simpler way to get to the result I am seeking.

Yesterday, when I read a story about some newly genetically modified bananas that are set to be tested on human beings, the full force of this theory slapped me upside the head.  You can read the entire story here, but the gist of it is this:  For the last nine years, researchers in Australia, backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, have been attempting to enrich bananas with Vitamin A in an effort to combat the lack of this vital nutrient in the diets of many African children. Vitamin A deficiency can lead to blindness, immune deficiencies, abnormal brain development, and death.  And so, these researchers have spent years and years and untold millions of dollars attempting to engineer a better banana and they think they have finally done it.  They will begin feeding it to human beings soon (the article does not say which human beings where) and hope that by 2020, (a mere six years from now), they can begin planting it in African countries and harvesting it.

Beyond the obvious issues I have with GMO foods and human trials whose effects we cannot possibly predict, I am speechless.  I know that Bill Gates’ life was founded and built on technology, and I know that he has seen it do amazing things. I understand that he is completely besotted with the idea of technological solutions for nearly every problem he sees, and I know that his foundation has long been in bed with the likes of Monsanto, but this entire endeavor is so wasteful and misguided I can barely breathe.  I cannot claim to ever have worked with the man, so I don’t know what his managerial style is, but I can’t imagine being a part of his organization and not pointing out the fact that a potential solution to Vitamin A deficiency and malnutrition ALREADY EXISTS. 

Those of us humans who know a little about nutrition and real food call them sweet potatoes.  They grow quite well in many African climates and have boatloads of beta-carotene – the form of Vitamin A that has been engineered into these bananas – and have already been tested on humans for tens of thousands of years.  In the absence of massive amounts of fertilizers and pesticides, they are quite healthy for people of all ages and easily consumed and digested by infants and toddlers.  And they didn’t require a massive investment of money or time to develop.

Of course, you can’t patent sweet potatoes, so perhaps therein lies the rub. But if a non-profit organization like The Gates Foundation is truly interested in solving the problems of world hunger, they ought to stop wasting millions of dollars on R&D and look to the solutions that already exist.  Helping African communities get access to a healthy, well-balanced diet is surely simpler than they think. There is no reason to engineer food in order to feed people unless you are blinded by your love of technology. Just because you can engineer it doesn’t mean you should, especially if it will cost more in time and money than a solution that is already available and you can’t be sure the outcome will be good for the people you say you’re interested in serving.

*Note: This photo is not of me. This girl is waaaaay younger than I was when I got my Easy Bake. I got it from Wikimedia Commons

Times have changed.

Man, even thinking about uttering that phrase makes me feel old – as old as I thought my grandparents were when I was a kid, and that’s ancient!

I was having coffee with the mother of one of Eve’s friends yesterday and somehow we got to talking about the things we fear most about having a teenage daughter.  It’s hard to even begin to know what we are up against, given how different their world is from what we knew.

The two of us shared the requisite stories of summer days spent completely unsupervised by anyone other than our older siblings (who often meant us as much harm as not).  Those mornings when we would dash out the door in packs, or looking for the roving packs of neighbor kids, to the familiar refrain of, “Be back in time for dinner!” were absolutely priceless.   Not in small part due to the fact that if our parents had known half of the stupid stunts we pulled, their hearts would have stopped no less than a dozen times a day.

We did things I wouldn’t let my girls do one tenth of. I rode my bike barefoot or with flip-flops (and lost toenails when I crashed). I rode on the handlebars of my brother’s bike as he tore down our steep hill as fast as he could.  No helmets. Only a front brake that would catapult both of us off the bike in a heartbeat if he squeezed it.  Oh, and did I mention that at the end of the street was a set of train tracks running perpendicular to it?  We never stopped. We never looked. Despite the fact that I lie in bed at night listening to the whistle of those trains coming through, it never occurred to me that one might come ripping down those tracks at the very moment we were bumping across them in a mad dash to get to the park that lay on the other side.  Never.

I could go on, but I suspect we all have stories like that from the 1960s and 1970s. Stories of freedom and exhileration and death-defying stunts that we only realized were incredibly stupid when we became parents ourselves.

And then the car seat laws had been enacted.
And we knew about sex predators lurking and lying in wait for unattended children.
And we bought bike helmets and knee pads for our kids and made them wear them.

And the dangers became more nebulous. Like online stalking. Cyberbullying. Sexting.

At least while we were endangering ourselves, we were having fun.  Real, actual, physical fun. We were playing slingshot tag (yes, someone sat in a tree with a slingshot and hurled a bb or a gravel bit or a plastic pellet at people running by and if you got hit, you were ‘it,’) or exploring construction sites or playing hide and seek in the condemned house down the road.  If someone pissed you off, they did it to your face and, often, others in the group would choose sides and it would be settled right there.  Generally with blood spilled or rocks being thrown, but it was settled face-to-face.

When I think about Eve turning 13 and wanting a Facebook page and her own cell phone, my head hurts.  I am fully aware that I don’t know most of the things that could go wrong. Yes, we’ve talked about being careful not to share too much personal information about herself and not “connecting” to people online that she doesn’t know in person.  But, just like my parents, I’m certain that most of the things she will encounter are not things that I could have anticipated, and it’s because of this that I wish I could get her to trade me her digital identity for some of those other things we had as kids.

I’d give her a woodburning set for her Facebook page.  Sure, my brother used it to threaten to brand me if I didn’t do his bidding, but that’s how I learned to stand up for myself. And think creatively (it took me a while, but I finally figured out that if I broke the tip off the damn thing, he couldn’t sear his initials in my left butt cheek).

I’d give her an Easy Bake Oven for her text minutes.  My sister and I kept ours in our bedroom. And lest you think we had rats or ants, let me be clear that we only baked cakes in it for the first week we had it. After that we experimented with Shrinky Dinks and our brothers’ socks and Barbie dolls. Yes, in our room. Yes, it’s a wonder that we didn’t burn the freaking house down.

Okay, maybe I wouldn’t trade her any of those things.  But I do hope that someday she has a friend that she can reminisce with about all the insane stuff she and her sister pulled behind my back. And I truly, honestly, deeply hope that none of it has anything to do with the Internet or cell phones.  Lawn darts maybe.  Or a bb gun. Or a bungee cord.

There are so many milestones in life that we take for granted after they’ve come and gone. Those acts that we wait for, sometimes prepare for hour after hour, and once they are performed, there is no going back.

Passing a momentous exam.
Having sex for the first time.
There are others that are not quite so enormous, but still have an impact. Getting your first cell phone or laptop. Your first library card.
Bubba and I are holding out on Eve. Despite her carefully calculated attempts to convince us otherwise, she is not getting a cell phone anytime soon. She has interviewed all of the other girls in her classroom to determine how many of them have their own phone. She has banded together with a classmate who is similarly deprived and they have made bar graphs and pie charts to display the cruelty with which they must contend. Eve, knowing the limits of my patience, is an expert at the art of parry and thrust. She pushes pushes pushes until I am just about to the wall and then she retreats. Sometimes for days at a time and just when I least expect it, she strikes again from a different direction. I can hear the gears in her brain turning, working on new angles to use.
I don’t really remember when I got my first cell phone. For me, the equivalent pre-teen angst was most likely being allowed to wear makeup or shave my legs. I never had my own phone in my bedroom and, as a latchkey kid, the lobbying to be left home alone was not an issue. I was struck this morning by the thought that, although I must have pleaded with my mother to wear eyeshadow and mascara, I don’t really recall that first day I went to school all made up. Ironically, I can count the number of times I’ve worn makeup in the past ten years on the fingers of one hand.
I have a friend who refused to own a cell phone for years. While the rest of us had ours tucked into our purses or pockets, she held out on some principle that was mysterious to the rest of us. She didn’t need the ‘toy,’ wasn’t intrigued by the notion of calling people whenever she wanted to, and as soon as Skype became available, she even got rid of her home phone. She does have a cell phone now, I suspect due to the fact that she has two kids in two different schools and lives in a large urban city and works part time outside the home.
Whatever the reason she finally capitulated (and I know Bubba and I will, eventually, too), I wonder if she looks back on that moment and senses something pivotal about it. I’m betting she doesn’t. I’m betting that the majority of times she is compelled to pull her cell phone out of her purse to answer or make a call, she simply takes it for granted. No matter how much Eve fights to have one or how strong my friend’s conviction was not to have one, the moments, months, and years that follow the actual acquisition of the cell phone almost instantly erase the memory of the ‘before-time.’
I wonder how much of that is due to human nature. How many times have we as individuals and as groups of like-minded people, fought hard and long for something that we truly wanted or believed in and, once we accomplished it, taken it for granted? I know that Eve feels that getting a cell phone will have a domino effect in her life that will make it so much better. My friend thought that the slippery slope she would get on simply by purchasing a cell phone wasn’t worth it. I am willing to bet that neither of those things is true.
There are some times in our lives where the before and after are markedly different. For those people who lived before indoor plumbing was widely available in the US, the after had to be unimaginably glorious. Not having to pee in a bedpan in the middle of the night or walk outside in the snow to poop in a wooden shack? Priceless. But for so many of the things we fight for or against, the changes are minimal or it takes us such a small amount of time to incorporate them into our lives that it makes me wonder what we’re really fighting for.