Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Stairway to Snow Cones

The dream realm, which I sometimes refer to as The Marches, has produced some interesting storylines lately. Last night, I returned (Yes, returned.... do you ever go back to particular worlds, scenarios or lands in your nightly travels? 'Cause I do.) to some kind of a building with a staircase that went up probably nine or ten floors. The interesting thing about the staircase though, was that it had branches that went in different directions, dead ends, and switchbacks of a sort, so you never really knew, even if you traipsed up and down, exactly where you would end up.

Unlike most stairways - lonely, drafty, and used only as a last resort when the elevator's broken or calories grudgingly need to be burned - this stairway was packed with people. If you took a random sampling of hundreds of people at some kind of huge celebratory event, like a St. Patrick's Day parade in Boston, or Mardi Gras, and put them on this stairway, that's what it would be: mostly young hipster types, but a mix of older people, adventurers, travelers, costumed folk, musicians, and lots of others.

The thing was, this stairway was more or less a hangout, like a nightclub in a way. The point was to go up and down and around and up and down, sometimes getting caught in a corner and having to turn around and go down against the flow, and seeing who you'd be able to meet or talk to or poke fun at or brush against as you went. I was there alone, but for some reason wearing a jaunty $6.00 cowboy hat that I bought at K-Mart on a recent trip to the beach - somewhat like this, only brown and with colorful beads on the front:

So up and down I trudged, elegantly hatted, seeing all sorts of different people, getting trapped, and wandering up and down. Of course you got tired, but that was sort of the point - keep trudging through the protest of your aching quads, because there was something more to see and a new flight that you hadn't gone up or down yet.

When I went to this place before, I discovered that if you wandered long enough, and lucked into taking the right turns, you discovered an oasis in the form of a tiny snack bar, run by two bearded guys who appeared to be post-college but pre-thirty, which sold only cherry flavored snow cones in styrofoam cups. They weren't alcoholic, and there didn't seem to be any other flavor available.

On this trudge, I reached the stand, and went to pay for my much-needed cone. Digging in my wallet hurriedly, I accidentally gave the guy two $1.00 bills and two $5.00 bills to pay the $3.71 charge for four ounces of snowy cherry goodness (expensive! I know!) He laughed, flirted with me, and then did some sleight of hand to return the bills, but when he did, he gave back two $1.00 bills and two $20.00 bills, just to mess with me. Of course I laughed, returned them, paid, and went on my way back to the madness, and that was the end of the dream. I woke up with that feeling of enjoyment at interacting with people like that, and of being chosen as the person to be messed with out of all the hundreds of people.

Pleasant dreams like that are rare, but stick in your mind. If you opened a building like that and touted it as a nightclub, maybe making stop-off rooms so it wasn't just only a stairway, would it get off the ground? I wonder. And I copyright this nutty idea, so if you use it, I get a cut. And free snow cones.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Digital Immigrants? I Beg Your Pardon, Ma'am.

Recently I was at a technological staff development session, which is a fancy name for teachers being taught. In our day, teachers were sage repositories into which we inserted a coin marked with our name, grade and age and received a preformulated serving of knowledge, encapsulated in a cylindrical package. We were to drink of this can, forged of the strong steel of tradition, stamped with dates and vitamins and things that were surely good for us. Some of us drank this draught deeply and wanted more, some played with the can so it got dented, some spilled it entirely, and if you did, you were out of luck. It was your fault you flunked, even if you were allergic to the contents of the can, even if it was spoiled, even if you couldn’t bear the taste.

Nowadays, teaching isn’t about what the teacher is presenting, but about what the students learn. It doesn’t matter if your lesson is phenomenal, if no one you’re teaching understands it. Instead of a processed beverage of knowledge, today’s teacher must know the specific nutritional needs of each of her students, and prepare a meal that will be appealing and nourishing for each and every consumer of her wisdom. This weaves in new threads of motivation, choice and interest levels.

In an effort to address these, a few other teachers and I were taking a class on how to introduce technology more effectively. Our instructor told us that the students in our classrooms were “digital natives,” having been born into a world that had always had the benefit of highly technological devices, and because they were proficient, usually before entering formal schooling, with the use of computers, technological toys, and even cellphones. We teacher learners under her tutelage, however, were deemed “digital immigrants.” My geek cred responded with indignance. Au contraire. I had a Commodore 64, which I programmed in BASIC, by the time I was 15. Sure, this programming primarily repeated the name of my favorite band in an infinite stream, or made asterisk snowflakes stream down, but it was something. These “digital natives” not only were not in the womb, but some of their parents were not even yet gestated at that time.

Feh. Ask a nine-year-old what a BBS is. They’ve got no idea. They never played “Forbidden Forest” as run off of a tape drive. They don’t know what the screech of a dialup modem sounds like, and they have no concept of pay-by-the-hour internet. If you asked them to pick “computer beige” from a color chart, they’d be without even a pixel of a clue.

So I don’t think that I qualify as a digital immigrant. First generation, maybe. But not even that. That’s Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Steve Case. We built upon our forebears’ foundations, forging the technological frontier of now: Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and the blogosphere. It is up to us, the digital Gen-Xers, the second generation, to bridge the natives and the immigrants. We can translate, able to relate to both ways of life, that of the Old World (before tech), and the new (where life without tech is unthinkable).
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