Headphoneless: connecting to community

As part of a conference on Convergent Friends I went to a few weekends ago, I realized that one of my urban tools, headphones, were getting in the way of my connection to my community.

One of my previous posts mentioned my love, fascination, and complex relationship I have with my noise-canceling headphones.  I fell in love with them and their blessed ability to remove noise, creating a better BART ride, lower the volume on my iPod, and promote a calmer traveling experience.  What I didn’t count on was my disconnection from the world.

Public transit’s great, but I do miss the solitude of the car–listening to the radio or my own mix was a great way to pass the time and educate myself when I was growing up traveling those long Maine-distances between towns on the country roads.  Nowadays, I plug in, walk out my door and have a 30-minute walk/transit to work and do the same thing with headphones and iPod.  But what’s missing?  Why do I continue to isolate myself from others, the same as in a car, while being in community with my fellow travelers?

This idea came to me when we discussed the concept of “Quaker plain”–how early Quakers, in their quest to be closer to God avoided distractions in the physical world.  Clothing became functional, avoiding frills (even shirt collars and belts were forgone for collarless shirts and suspenders), speech became more direct, and other moves toward a simple life so as to give more attention to God.  I realized that my headphones were not creating silence, but creating a distraction from the world, an ability to trade a personal, inward growth and satisfaction over the challenges and beauty the world offers.

One idea that developed from that discussion was having an Internet Sabbath, a day free of digital connection.  I could hear groans in the room.  These days, this is pretty challenging for many young Friends.  But this, in truth, is another distraction.  Yes, a useful tool, but not a necessary one–like a collar.  I’m noticing, however, that there is something developing among young Friends called “New Plain” which this might fit into.

Children’s books redux

Every year I get to go on a binge of children’s lit, taking a survey of what is out there, what are the trends, how things have(n’t) changed, and discover new pearls among…well.  What’s challenging is to realize that, in actuality, children’s book publishing is becoming more extensive than in the past.  This might go against the folk myth that print is actually suffering from an influx of the Internet, whereas print materials have been expanding for years.  However, books are going out of print much more quickly than in the past, such that I need to purchase a book in 1-2 years if I want it in hardback, otherwise it’s gone to paperback and in 3-5 years (conservatively speaking) it may be out of print altogether if it isn’t on some best seller list somewhere.  Shelf real estate is valuable to libraries and to publishing houses!

On a side note, I’m discovering a lot of good tunes via Last.fm while working, with one gem being Joanna Newsom.  Unfortunately, this video is the size of a postage stamp on her site, but thank goodness for YouTube:

CB “Library revival”

Library Revival! and Mind the Gap…

Last year, a Pew Internet & American Life Project report stated, “There are several major findings…one is this: For help with a variety of common problems, more people turn to the internet than consult experts or family members to provide information and resources. Another key insight is that members of Gen Y are the leading users of libraries for help solving problems and in more general patronage.” Whoa! Libraries aren’t dead, they’re just in revival! But the paper goes on to describe this young group as 18-24-year olds, rather than elementary or high school students. So what happens before then?

 

One of the joys of the early years during library time is when parents come and remark that “somehow he just started reading–overnight!” Like a light-switch, reading becomes important, and then all-consuming! Prying that Magic School Bus book out of their hands to put food in their mouths during dinner time is actually a challenge and, secretly, a joy to both the parent and the child. The joy lasts for three or four good years–the voracious series-reader, the comics-reader, the reference-reader, the in-depth subject-reader, the behemoth-volume reader, the genre-reader–all books seem to be part of the feeding-frenzy. Enjoyment and pleasure is a key component here, finding a book, magazine, comic, even trading cards or role-playing games help kids find out who they are, their likes and dislikes, their penchant for exploration. And as kids mature, reading as reward is a great part of our school–fifth graders begin their week by taking the first twenty minutes of class time with a self-chosen book for silent reading; classroom book clubs are exciting places to diversify the young readers’ repertoire; during silent reading time, students look around to see one another deeply engaged.

Yet in 2004, Reading at Risk, a report from the National Endowment of the Arts, claimed our nation of readers was in decline–“among every segment of the adult population reflects a general collapse in advanced literacy”–with the rate of decline for 18-24-year olds down by 55%. What are we to believe? What is reading–print or electronic? “literature,” newspapers, or cereal boxes? And, again, what about those early years, the “gap” where reading supposedly falls off, often when kids begin using multimedia?

 

 

One of the library program’s jobs is empowering kids to make good choices in their media, especially in the early years. How do I find something that is interesting and meaningful to me? How do I find something in such a large room full of materials? What do my friends like and how can we share these likes with each other? This is preparation for what lies ahead–the flood of information sources kids gain access to in the middle years–and a chance to give them guidance on how not to get lost in the ocean of resources we adults manage on a daily basis. Fifth graders are searching through public library databases to work on their historical newspapers. Many students have begun to do their own searches, use the self-checkout system alone, and return their books without visiting the library each week. The library becomes more of a backbone, something you call rely upon but maybe don’t think about too much until it’s not there. A sense of independence grows, but learning when you need to know more and how to find it becomes more significant.

 

As our library grows, we’ll begin to incorporate digital media tools for the middle school–a plasma screen, a photocopier, computers, databases for research geared toward younger students. Reading for information and research will become an acquired skill; learning keyword and phrase searching becomes an important skill to learn; recording and documenting your work well becomes more significant; deciding which sources to use and how to apply them is a complex set of decisions that is introduced and reinforced throughout these years as the Internet takes over print as the primary source of learning and information berry-picking. The Internet and the digital worlds become a larger part of the upper grades and a blending of the library’s physical and digital collections will begin to emerge.

 

So what can be done to keep kids reading print during these more scholarly “middle years”? Offer up some “hard” books dealing with tougher topics (Chris Crutcher, Judith Krug, and Carolyn Mackler are great authors for mature readers) and react to it with them; pick up a book you can read aloud together or listen together on CD/mp3; play role-playing games to keep your imagination running (Dungeons and Dragons is making a strong comeback!); visit the Guys Read website (www.guysread.com) for how to keep boys, in particular, reading; continue to take trips to the library for fun rather than “to do some research.” Try keeping a media diet balanced more heavily toward print with a variety of magazine subscriptions (very cheap these days), comics, board games, photography, or artwork; share your thoughts and ideas on what your media habits are like with the community on CommonSense Media’s website (www.commonsensemedia.org).

Remind your young ones that it takes time, patience, and perseverance to learn and engage with the world, not just a fast Internet connection or a large video collection. Print media is often a calming environment filled with imagination, wisdom, and depth that takes time to explore and discover which can be complimented by the web, television, or movies. Read that first 50 pages of a chapter book before deciding you don’t like it! Ask a friend for a recommendation, or share your reading lists online with your friends (check out LibraryThing [www.librarything.com] or GoodReads [www.goodreads.com]). And keep an eye on the clock–set time limits on interactive media (such as email, online gaming) or media that promotes stimulation (watching t.v.) rather than relaxation or creative media. The jump from print to digital and back requires you to help “mind the gap” as we board the train from the stationary platform or step off into a station to take a break.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prius, sooner than we thought but better late than never

Prius So the new car is…a Prius!  It was a lot of compromise, and it’s our first new car ever.  I’d only heard about how challenging dealing with car salespeople can be and it didn’t turn out to be totally false–we were practically ushered into a sale every time we took a spin in a vehicle, but when we were finally serious about purchase, the haggling was pretty merciless.  With a combination of Consumer Reports’ Car Guide (overview of reality), the Internet (for details), and some basic shoe-leather (test-driving), I came up with a ballpark figure for several models and packages to go in with and I think we got away with a good deal for what we wanted.

There were a lot of shocking upgrades to cars that I was surprised at, especially in terms of providing a safe ride: built-in Bluetooth connectivity (we could pair our phone with the car mic-system, plus import our phone address book), automated climate-control, airbags all over the place, ABS and other computer controlled guidance systems for load-balancing in bad driving conditions, and digital key locks, plus a programmable button for our garage door opener (no more fat little dongle that costs $100!).  And, as part of our package, a built-in GPS with audio announcement.  Apparently, a lot of features are voice-activated, plus lots of controls are on on the steering wheel, so your eyes are on the road a lot more often.

Our purchase really erred on the side of caution–a great, long lasting vehicle with lots of features to provide a safe ride.  I think we’ll stay together a long time…

The ever-changing Church

I am constantly enamored with the changing face of evangelism.  In this piece by the NY Times, the church has moved one step closer to my demographic, perhaps everyone’s demographic considering they have divided their musicianship into target groups for better appeal.

What I love about the Times, is that it’s a bellweather of news.  After watching Chomsky’s Manufacturing of Consent this past week, I see the Times as the corporate machine that it is despite it’s notoriety of being “the paper of record” for our history.

It was really Wess who turned me on to looking more deeply at evangelism and it’s role in today’s world of Quakerism.  He noted that evangelism isn’t missionary work, but is an act of witness and faith combined.  It manifests itself in friendship with others, in belonging to a community that cares for one another.  It isn’t realized through converting others to your faith by proselytizing to others but rather by just “being there” where the need is.  He spoke about how in the emerging Church, evangelism should be found in bars, in MySpace, and other places where people gather.

It seems like these folks in the Times article are  broadcasting the message and bringing people to their door, but is it really true that people decide to return to your place of worship in the first 11 minutes?  That sounds like speed-dating.  Why not imagine people as joining Quakerism out of witness to the faith as it is practiced?