The Technology Shabbat

Tifffany Shlain and her husband Ken Goldstein are very much a couple who live the life of highly  tech savvy Californians. She is an acclaimed filmmaker who co-founded the famous “Webby Awards” (the Oscars of the blogging world). He is a Professor of Robotics and an acclaimed digital artist who teaches at The University of California, Berkeley.

They have introduced into their lives (and the lives of their two daughters) a fascinating idea. Once a week on a Friday evening as the Sun sets until Saturday evening as the Sun sets (the traditional times set out in the Old Testament as the Jewish Shabbat), they switch of all electronic communication devices, laptops,tablets, cell phones and live without them for the day.

In the video above Tiffany explains the way that this action has allowed her family to catch up with each other, to talk, play and plan. She feels that we are bombarded every day with masses of information and that we need some sort of break in the routine.As non-religious Jews they felt that it made sense to use the Shabbat, the day of rest, as the obvious place to take their break from the invasion of information that was the basis of their life for the other six days of the week.

I was very taken with this idea and felt that it was something that many of us could consider trying. I am not proposing that we all follow the Shlain’s and use the Jewish Shabbat as the day. Any 24 hour period would be useful. It would surprise us how much time we have for rediscovering the joy of interacting with each other as well as the joy of small talk and catching up with personal news.

The Shlain’s look forward to the time that the Shabbat ends and they can get back to joining in the chaotic noise that constitutes our daily digital lives. The advantage though is that they feel rested from the assault to their senses and more able to play their full part in contributing to what Tiffany calls our global interdependence.

The 50$ challenge

The link above is to a really heartwarming report on the CBS Evening News about a man, Chris Rosati, who has ALS otherwise known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”. Despite his illness, he has decided to live the rest of his life in a positive fashion and try and do good for others.

In this report he decided to see if the idea of “The Butterfly Effect
could be used in the field of charitable giving. He went to a local restaurant and gave 50$ each to two young sisters with the request that they did something with it as an act of kindness.

Now this was an interesting experiment in more ways than one. It would of course be interesting to see what good cause the young girls chose to support. But there was of course the chance that they would have thought that this was their lucky day and gone off to the nearest shopping mall and spent it all on themselves!

In fact they did pass it on and Chris’ intentions were well used as you would see if you see the report. But this does raise the question of just how divided a society the U.S. is and indeed the rest of the so-called “First World”. There are those who genuinely want to help others and understand that they live a life of plenty whereas others (many in their own country) do not and then there are those who believe that society is every man for himself and that they are not “their brother’s keeper”.

I would think it a good experiment to distribute as many 50$ “gifts” as possible to as many young people as can be found and then track what was done with the cash. The “Butterfly Effect” can indeed work, but it needs the butterfly to flutter by and land on the leaf in the first place!

Selma: the next 50 years


As a commentary on a significant historical event, I found Congressman John Lewis’ series of Tweets and photos about his recollection of the famous Selma March (see link above) very compelling reading.

I have always been interested in the Civil Rights  Movement of the 60’s having seen the events from the safety of an armchair as a white boy living in a foreign land ( the U.K.).

Throughout my life I have continued to follow the “progress” of the fight for black people to get the chances to contribute to their society that Dr. Martin Luther King spoke so eloquently and emotionally about in his great speeches.

I have placed the word progress in the above-paragraph in inverted commas because a half century after the events of Selma, so little has changed for so many and there is an argument that things are getting worse.

The commentary on Selma is about the memory of a significant historical event but also helps us to see that Dr. King’s fight is not over and that more, much more still needs to be done if anything is to improve in the next 50 years!


Signing off for now

I have decided, after 625 posts over a period of over three years to have an extended break from blogging.

Since I started this blog my life has changed in a number of ways. I have stopped working, I have retired, I have moved to a different part of the country and my time is largely spent supporting my wife and in studying various MOOCs.

I have found myself having less and less time to research and write blog posts.

I have had over 75000 views of my posts, which averages 25000 a year, so not too bad. I have 45 regular followers which I am very grateful for.  To all who have read my work I extend my thanks.

I shall not be closing down my blog as a number of posts have regular views.It also holds open the possibility that I shall write a post in the future. A blog is a great place to express your ideas and there my well come a time that I will feel that I need such a place to shout out or reflect.

So for now, as the title says I am signing off…. with thanks to you all.

What Letter Should We Add to STEM?


The video has a number of well known academics stating their support of the arts (and humanities seems to be added as a “tie-on”) to accompany  Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) which has got so much attention in the media and has become a big concern of no less a person than President Obama!

They all agree that the arts and humanities leads to a rounded education and supports work in the other disciplines.

I would go further and say that the arts and humanities support the thinking and social skills that help students to learn STEM and without them the effects of concentrating on just these subjects would be undermined.

I think the statement in the video that resonated with me was Professor Howard Gardiner who said that a STEM education without the arts was a “halfbaked education”. Hear, hear.

Politicians and global warming


I love this sculpture. It is by Issac Cordal in Berlin, Germany and is called “Politicians discussing global warming”.

I don`t need to add anything to what so many of you are no doubt thinking.This sculpture cuts to the heart of the situation. Do we really need to be swamped by an ever-rising and non- shrinkable tide of water whilst our politicians discuss and agree to talk about the subject at some future date?

I would take this photo as a starting point for discussion about Global Warming in schools. Students need to consider the whole debate and to understand the possible ramifications of non-action.

Life as a left-hander


The poorly written piece above was written by me this morning. If you are finding it hard to deciper the scrawl here is a transcript:

                                         The left hand
Today I will be attempting to write with my left hand. What do I notice? The difficulties of  my pen appearing  to hide what I have just written.
I now know why left-handed people often write with the page slanted.
This has been a really good learning experience. I can begin to remember my difficulties as  child when trying to learn to write.
I haven`t discussed the strangeness of the feel of the pen in my hand. I lack confidence and my lack of grip can clearly be seen. I have the advantage on a child learning to write. I am not hindered by by spelling or vocabulary. I know what I want to write, the physical difficulties got in the way!
Interestingly, I do not find any problems deciphering my writing though someone reading this probably will.

I  attempted this exercise for two reasons. In my last post I discussed brain plasticity and the need to  exercise the mind as we grow older in order to  grow new connections in our brain and not allow our brain to shrink before it dies.

The article I referenced suggested a number of things to try such as learning a foreign language, learning to play a musical instrument or writing with the other hand to the one you have used throughout your life.

I chose the last task because it was comparatively easy to start. All I needed was a notepad and my pen and the courage to start. I also had another reason  I am the child of two left-handed parents and have a left-handed brother.

As I stated in my transcipt, it was a really good learning experience. I have taken the first steps and deliberately chose to use a notepad because I can see my progress from my first effort. Hopefully my skills will imrove as my brain works to make me more efficient in my persuit. I can, at the same time, get to know how the world feels as a left-handed writer. I can also improve my brain`s capacity at the same time or so the findings say.

Watch this space, I will report on my progress


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