Monday, June 28, 2010

Show Your Cards

In my second year of University I took a course designed to analyze subcultures. The class was based around the theme of, “displacing is a way of surviving” (Minh-ha, 1990, 332) and we talked about what this meant to us and looked at various subcultures in detail.

One of our assignments was particularly interesting and it came up again in conversation with a group of friends this past week and I thought it appropriate to share. Below is an excerpt from the course syllabus detailing our assignment titled “Bricolage”:

Demonstrate your understanding of the term bricolage by taking an everyday object and puttering with its meaning. Malcolm McLaren took a safety pin, put it through his ear, and called it jewelry; Vivienne Westwood took garbage bags, sewed them onto supermodels, and called it haute couture. Your job is to select an everyday object and alter its meaning through creative play.

As an example of a past project our professor talked about the student who created a pack of playing cards. Now, these weren’t your standard 52 pack of playing cards, but rather an imitation of the sports cards that used to come with bubblegum inside. But, instead of famous athletes from various sports with their statistics on the back – this student developed “Doctor Cards.” Each card had a picture of a doctor on the front (in this case surgeons) and on the back were statistics for successful surgeries and other various categories. Their idea was, we give a lot of our time and attention to pro athletes, but the people who are actually saving lives receive little to no credit at all.

A couple of months ago in my post Playing to Win I alluded to conversations I have had with friends about life being a game. In our latest addition to the ongoing conversation we discussed an interesting theory, in relation with our bricolage, about the cards we hold in life.

Much like a Chance card in Monopoly we decided that everyone in life is holding a card. For example, my friend works in the automobile industry and we decided that he held the “Car Card.” Meaning if we or someone we knew was interested in purchasing a vehicle he would be the person most of us would send them to. Or, we can look at a personal example, I was interested in purchasing business cards - nothing too flashy just a simple card with my name and some of my contact information. What did I do? I contacted my graphics design friend (Anton - and asked if he could help with the design and printing. Sure enough, he was more then willing to help me out and before I knew it I had what I was looking for.

You can use the cards you hold to help you, but as I think about our discussion I realize that our cards are better used to help the people we know. It helps to shine a light on the positive aspects of networking. The more people you get to know and the more time you spend talking with them – the more you realize you can both help each other.

Now I know what some of you are thinking, “what if I don’t have any special cards?” We did talk about the fact that some people hold more cards then others. This doesn’t mean that they will have more opportunities to succeed in life. If anything it creates the opportunity to mix/mingle and help people along the way.

Remember the goal of the Doctor Card bricolage: it was designed to showcase the life-saving power of doctors. The ability to help others is a very powerful way to show our cards in life.

Monday, June 21, 2010

When Leisure Becomes Labour

Growing up my parents would often tell me that I had a hollow leg. I was probably four feet tall and ate as if it was my day job. Anyone who knows me personally knows that I love a good meal and you can imagine my dismay when I realized I would have to cook for myself while I was away at school this past year.

Fortunately for me, I had an amazing roommate who taught me all the ins and outs of making different dishes. Some of you might find this silly, but I was really excited when I learned how to make potatoes. It seemed simple enough, but I had never tried my hand at it - desperate times called for desperate measures.

I grabbed my knife and my potato (from P.E.I) and began to peel. I think my first potato took me about ten minutes to finish. My hand was clumsy at the knife and deep down inside I felt as if I go to fast and I might cut my finger. By the end of the year I was a pro. I was in control of the whole process from peeling, to chopping, boiling, adding some spices, and finally, the part I was best at, eating the potato.

This weekend I was asked to help peel potatoes and when I looked at the amount we had to peel I almost fell over. I had only really done four potatoes in one sitting for myself, but there were over 30 potatoes to be peeled. I began looking for a knife when I was handed a potato peeler. This was something new. I had never used a peeler before and I wasn’t really sure how it worked.

I quickly became the master of the potato peeler. The skin was flying off the potato and before I knew it I had peeled over 15 potatoes. To be honest – I was rather proud of myself. In a short period of time, thanks to the help of our potato peelers, the three of us had peeled all the potatoes in under five or so minutes.

All this innovation (the peeler) and teamwork got me thinking about what life must have been like hundreds of years ago. When life was about “reaping what you sew” and working together as a community. When someone wanted to build a farmhouse for their animals to live in they needed the help of the nearby community to do it. Months of hard work would go into building a barn, but eventually with hard work and lots of extra hands the job would get done. As the years went on animals were used to help with jobs, after animals came small tractors, then even bigger tractors, until eventually you get to a point today where timed machines do a lot of the busy work.

We are entering an age of technology. Computers, cell phones, and video games are second nature in our daily lives. But, what happens when leisure becomes labour? We read earlier that machines are slowly making jobs easier, but there is a trend growing where our “leisure” technology is slowly bringing us closer and closer to work. Everything we do, even work, is becoming "accessible" from wherever you are. Is this For Better of For Worse?

What happens when leisure gets mixed up with someone’s labour? Could you imagine explaining the idea of a workout gym to someone who lives in a Third World country? I can hear them now, “You have a row boat that doesn’t go anywhere?”, “You run on a machine that moves for you?”, “You actually make heavy objects to lift?” We have created these “leisure” machines to keep us fit because we find ourselves working a forty-hour workweek and have these machines to help keep us fit. Our friend on the other side of the planet wakes up, gets in his boat, paddles to wear he works, lifts heavy objects around while running them to wear they need to be, and finally paddles back home at the end of the day.

We have developed a high-functioning technocratic society, but we need to be sure we are using it properly and don’t loose sight of what is important to us. There is a great big world out there and if you really think about it the size of the Internet is probably even bigger. Remember to take to the time to get outside, see that world, and really appreciate it.

If you don’t know where to start – maybe you could peel a few potatoes.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Willing to Trust

A plane was taking off from the Airport and after it reached a comfortable cruising altitude, the captain made an announcement over the intercom, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. Welcome to Flight Number 293, nonstop from New York to Los Angeles. The weather ahead is good and, therefore, we should have a smooth and uneventful flight. Now sit back and relax.. OH, MY GOD!" Silence followed, and after a few minutes, the captain came back on the intercom and said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, I am so sorry if I scared you earlier. While I was talking to you, the flight attendant accidentally spilled a cup of hot coffee in my lap. You should see the front of my pants!" A passenger in Coach yelled, "That's nothing. You should see the back of mine."

If you have ever been on an airplane you can understand the feeling of giving complete control to the pilot and his crew to get you to where you need to go. I remember my first plane ride – I read the safety evacuation manual, paid attention the seatbelt instructions, sat with my seat belt fastened the whole time, listened to the Captain verbatim – your basic worrywart.

In life we find ourselves in situations where we need to relinquish control and essentially put our trust in someone to get the job done. You’ve read about my experience on an Airplane listening to the Captain, but what about the Manager who puts faith in their staff hoping not to be let down or the parent/student who believes in their teacher trusting in their curriculum plan?

While some of us haven’t been on a plane or had a relationship with a manager – we can all think back to the teachers we have had over the years. In the profession they call it “rapport” which is used to describe the relationship between teacher and student. During my time in the school system this year I had the wonderful opportunity to attend numerous workshops about various topics. There is one in particular that sticks out in my mind. It was about being a “coach” and at the workshop we were asked to watch a video of a speech by David Booth from the Toronto District School Board who spoke about “Why Coaches Wear Hockey Skates.”

The premise being: teachers need to get “hands on” with education – a good coach “skates” on the ice. Keeping with the hockey mentality Booth tells a story about listening to former Montreal Canadiens Coach Jacques Lemaire talking about how he grew up illiterate. Lemaire admitted that he had hid his problems from all his teachers and didn’t tell anybody during his time as Coach for Montreal. It wasn’t until he turned 60 years old that he finally admitted to not being able to read and began to take lessons. Lemaire said, “Those who are willing to learn – will learn.” Booth also emphasized this through an emphasis on harvesting student potential.

When the video was over the group I was sitting with began to discuss the speech. They said they were confused about the Lemaire reference because they all agreed that you cannot force a student to want to learn – it’s impossible. But, what I think Booth was trying to say is no matter who you are, even Jacques Lemaire, if you are willing to learn – it will happen. As good coaches sometimes we will need to wait for some of our students, no matter their age, to come around.

There are going to be moments in life when we need to place our trust in someone else. But, if you think about it, putting your trust in someone else is a lot like being willing. Of course the goals need to be reciprocal – you can’t have someone taking advantage of your trust. But, if you can show your willing and offer your trust there is no limit to what yourself and others can accomplish – together.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Life Online - Online Life

You’d be hard pressed to find somebody who doesn’t like Tom Hanks. As I sit here in my room typing away on my computer the movie You’ve Got Mail is playing in the background. I can’t help but be amazed by the leaps and bounds the Internet has made since the movie was released in 1998. I have to applaud Nora Ephron for keeping the interest of the audience as Tom and his female counter part Meg Ryan log onto AOL using a dial-up connection before hearing the classic line, “you’ve got mail.”

Fortunately, for our sanity, the speed at which we can access the Internet has increased ten-fold and with this change we have also witnessed a rise in the number of people who go online.

Five years ago when I first entered University a good friend of mine sat down with me and we had what I have forever dubbed the “Identity” talk. He told me in University everyone has the opportunity to re-create themselves and be who they want to be. You have to understand, he wasn’t telling me to be someone I wasn’t, but rather be the person you know your capable of being.

I will always remember our talk and since that day I have given the same talk to many other people. It has become a rite of passage talk to anyone moving on to post-secondary education – something I would consider to be a step toward adult-hood.

During my years in University the technological changes continued to plough forward at an even greater pace. Somewhere in third year I came across a website called Facebook and since that fateful day I have found myself consciously thinking about my social footprint and the image others portray online.

It’s time to clarify. I wouldn’t go as far to say that I judge people on Facebook - because who sits in front of their computer and judges their friends? But, rather I started to wonder about the opportunity for establishing an “identity” outside that of the one these friends were living in their daily life. A term many researchers have coined our, “Online Identity.”

Even Tom and Meg were doing it. She was Shopgirl and he was some other clever online name, which hinted at his true identity, but was quippy enough to pass as a screen name. If you really think about it – this love story was the first movie to glorify online affairs and hiding the real you. Both characters were in a relationship, but both of them spent time emailing each other back and forth without their respective partners knowing. Even though the movie was released over 12 years ago there are still some interesting parallels between the past and present.

Today, we spend a lot of time balancing different identities online. Through a large variety of online sites and resources e are able to work online, go to school, stay social, play games, etc.. Online I am SeanRaposo, Sean.Raposo, S.Raposo, Sean Anthony, srapos01, sraposo664, r05296448, srap212 and with each new identity I am forever trying to remember the people I am talking with and in what capacity we know each other – both online and off.

In his book The Ingenuity Gap Thomas Homer Dixon argues the expansion of communication technology has put human beings in a state of being, what I will call, “forever connected.” The pressures of always being “on” are beginning to overload our frontal lobe (responsible for our higher mental functions – such as responses to social situations and choosing between good or bad actions). When we encounter stress it can also prevent our frontal lobe from functioning properly causing greater stress in our daily lives.

While going on the Internet used to be a way to “get away from it all.” I would argue for some when they get home the real work begins. People are constantly “working” – literally and figuratively – when they get home. They are finishing a proposal, trying to keep up with friends, finishing an assignment and never take time for themselves.

When I was talking with my friend about being who I wanted to be I never envisioned myself as being the guy who sat locked up in his room on his computer. I saw myself making friends, playing sports and doing well in class. Fortunately for us, the opportunity to be who you want to be in life is always there – you just have to do it!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

For Better or Worse?

I have heard rumours about a University Professor who challenged her students to go on a “Media Purge” diet. The students were challenged to see how long they could last without any technology developed after 1985. The only exception to the rule was that you could use your computer, as a typewriter, to complete any assignment for another class. If you think about it, the purge was essentially asking students to give up the Internet and their cellular phones.

Research for assignments would need to be conducted at a library, phone calls would need to be made on a landline and you wouldn’t be able to update your status on Facebook. Sounds easy right? Care to guess how long the winner lasted? A month? A week? Try one and a half days. That’s right, the winner was only able to last 36 hours.

An overwhelming number of students said they couldn’t complete the purge for two reasons. The first cluster of students woke up and found they didn’t have any phone numbers. All the information they needed to contact the outside world was stored inside their phones and consequently dropped out of the challenge when they couldn’t contact anyone. The second group said they needed to use the Internet to confirm appointments, plan meetings and keep up to date with friends and family.

Ultimately, the test proved exactly what the professor had expected – new media has assimilated its way into our daily lives.

A study from the University of Maryland found that youths are hooked on social media and cell phones, describing withdrawals in terms similar to those used by drug and alcohol addicts.

The study from the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda, "24 Hours: Unplugged," asked 200 students on the campus to give up all media for a full day and blog on private Web sites about their experience. Student reaction showed addiction-like withdrawal the authors wrote about symptoms such as anxiety, misery, and being jittery.

It’s important to remember that this argument is only one side of the story. For every study about the negative effects of social media and new technology there is an exact opposite study that says this is just the new trend in leisure socializing and should be regarded as a natural progression in socialization.

Personally, I enjoy the “connectedness” that today’s technology provides. I can turn on my computer and shoot a friend a message about the night before or a night to come. I can flip open my phone and send a text message to a friend without disrupting what they are doing. Technological advancements have made it easy to remain in contact with one another.

But, as I stated earlier, for every positive there is almost certainly a negative. Advancements in cell phones have made surfing the Internet, text messaging and Facebook-ing possible from the palm of your hand. Is this a bad thing? No, I don’t think so, but it can become a problem when we use these technologies at inappropriate times.

I like to jog. I am fortunate enough to live near the Etobicoke Creek Trail and I have developed a routine that consists of mostly trails, but requires me to run on the sidewalk for about five minutes and cross at two sets of lights. While I am out on my runs I am beginning to notice a trend i.) a driver’s disregard for looking for pedestrians crossing the street at lights and stop signs and ii.) drivers on their cell phones. Last I checked I thought being on your cell phone while driving was illegal.

I know a lot of my friends and family who went out and purchased blue tooth devices when the cell phone law passed, but I still see people who are driving with a phone up to their ear. The reason why the law was brought into effect is because studies found that driving while talking on a cell phone were causing a higher percentage of accidents. When I continue to see people driving with a phone in their hand it forces me to wonder if there is some validity to these media addiction studies.

Why can’t we put our phones away?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Modern Day Repairs

I remember being about five or six years old when my parents asked me if I wanted to take Portuguese language lessons. To which I would always reply, “no.” I might have been young, but I wasn’t dense – I thought that Portuguese lessons were a trick to get me to attend school on a Saturday and I wasn’t interested.

Looking back on the situation twenty years later I wish the younger me had taken the lessons. As I grow older I have found a new appreciation for my Portuguese heritage and more importantly establishing a link to my past. What I am beginning to realize is, as I grow older so to do my Portuguese-speaking Grandparents. Luckily for me, over the years my Grandparents have learned a little bit of English and with some patience you can have a conversation with them.

One afternoon I was sitting on the porch with my Grandfather and I was curious about why he chose to come to Canada. I knew my Grandfather had left his young family, a wife and three children, behind to come to Canada, but what I wanted to know was why? I figured the most logical thing to do was to ask. So, I did. I re-call him turning his head to the side and then he smiled and said, “I was crazy.”

Not quite the answer I was expecting either. He told me his brother, one of five brothers, came to him and simply asked if he wanted to go to Canada. He didn’t know much about the country, but he knew that he wanted to provide the best life possible for his children and with that thought in mind he left his family behind and ventured to Canada. The rest is history.

Today something horrible happened (My Grandfather is fine). I went to turn on my Xbox 360 and a red ring was flashing on the console when it is usually green – something was wrong.

These days when I have a question or something needs fixing I turn to my friend Google for the answer. Sure enough, Google knew exactly what the problem was. It even had a cool name for the problem – The Red Ring of Death (Rrod). I was instantly connected to forums, videos and wikis detailing what the Rrod was and how to fix it. I wasn’t in the mood for reading (who could really stop to read when their Xbox is broken?) so I decided to follow the youtube link titled “Quick Fix for the Red Ring of Death.”

The video started and I could hear a young English (England English) voice talking about fixing the Rrod in 20 minutes by using only towels. I followed the instructions and within twenty minutes my problems were fixed. A few years ago, a friend of mine had the same problem and they were forced to send their consoles back to Microsoft for full repairs and here I was years later fixing mine – no postage required.

I was quite pleased with the final results, but something inside me could only wonder: what did people do before Google? I sat in my room thinking about my Grandfather with a wife, three small children, a small plot of land, a modest home and the family donkey. How did he solve the problems of his time? I can only imagine that he was left to fix his own problems.

Now I am not trying to compare fixing my Xbox to the same problems my Grandfather faced, but rather try contrast how the “problems” of a person’s life can change over long periods of time. In his mid-twenties my Grandfather was starting a family and trying to provide for them using all that he had: some land, a donkey and his own two hands. Here I am two generations later and I have just finished a four-year undergraduate, a year at Teacher’s College and the worst thing to happen to me today was to have my Xbox stop working.

My conversations with my Grandparents are important to me because their stories seem to be so surreal to me now. As time goes by I try my best to collect as many stories as possible so that one day I can share stories about my Grandparents with my children. One day my grand child’s technological toy may break and the “House Bot” will come out from the closet and fix it instantly and I will be an old senile man on my rocking chair telling stories about how “back in my day.” Like anything in life, I believe, it’s important to know where you came from so you can appreciate where you’re going.