January 5, 2012 1 Comment
The InterWebz is a fascinating place. There, as we all know, time and space shrinks as we encounter up-close images and real-time exchanges with strangers and friends situated around the world. This general form is nothing new–it’s regular old-school Web 2.0. What changes, what is new, are the details of such encounters and how they make–or don’t make–an impression on users while they are on- and off-line. If we can take a step back and give ourselves a minute to reflect and process even .5% of the information we encounter online within an hour, throughout the day, or even within a few minutes…we are guaranteed to have a richer experience and we might even change our minds.
Disclosure: My tried and true methods for creating the space and distance to reflect are: a regular meditation practice, unplugged sport, and–following Kurt Vonnegut’s advice–“farting around.” Each morning–before checking any gadget–I sit in the same corner of my room and meditate for at least 20 minutes. At another point in my day I run–outside–with nothing plugged into my ears. (To this day I cannot understand the desire to run on a treadmill while watching TV…) At the end of day, I read books only–no gadgets–and giggle and goof with my husband before drifting off to sleep tangled up in jokes.
It was during my offline reflection that I realized a sort of poem that arose from encounters online yesterday. It started with an article about the deep budget cuts suffered by Pennsylvania public schools in 2011. Here are some details that lingered in my mind (until they later connected with a far-flung image from the other side of the world and an encounter with a young Afghani):
This budget is bad for students. This budget puts the state’s budget problems on the backs of students,” Ron Cowell, a former state legislator who is president of the Education Policy and Leadership Council in Harrisburg, said after the state budget presentation in March.
As a result, the board was forced to cut 47 jobs, eliminate the freshman academy at the high school and the team teaching approach at the middle school, and consolidate bus routes and stops, resulting in students having to walk up to four-tenths of a mile to catch their bus.
A bit later in the day, I came across this powerful image of an Egyptian boy studying while sitting on the street and selling tissues. How far do you think this boy would walk to get to school–any school?
Last night–before signing off for giggles and goofing–I ran into my Afghan student on Skype. We typically meet for our one-hour classes, twice a week, on Friday and Sunday nights at 9:40pm EST time, which is Saturday and Monday mornings at 7:10am in Kandahar. During our informal chat, I asked my student if she still had the sniffles (and we quickly reviewed that new vocabulary!). She told me that it’s hard to get rid of her sniffles because she is very tired. Each morning she and her mother walk over five miles together to the school. Her mom continues on to her work place after leaving S at the school. Later in the conversation she told me “Everything is so hard for me” and then asked, “Do you think I will become my dreams?” (Translation: Do you think I will achieve my goals?)
Dear Pennsylvania, I am sorry to read that your public schools suffered a $900 million budget cut in 2011 but…well…this might not make me very popular…oh, well, here goes: It is outrageous to whine about children walking LESS THAN a half mile to catch the bus. Let’s be honest, American kids need A LOT more exercise. It’s good for them. Let’s be more realistic about what we can and should trim and what we really shouldn’t.
How, if at all, do your online encounters change your perspective? Is four-tenths of a mile really too far a distance for a school-aged kid to walk?