Telling Mr. Hand “Aloha”

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My first attempt at blogging came several years before I started this blog, and I named it “AlohaSpicoli.” I’m not even inclined to provide a link here, but if anyone reads this and wants to go seek it out, be my guest. Just be aware that the guy writing those posts isn’t  much like the one who’s been writing this blog for a year and a half.

I liked the way that Mr. Hand returned Jeff Spicoli’s enthusiastic farewell sendoff with a tentative, just-go-on one of his own (it’s the last few seconds of the YouTube video, but the whole thing is also worth a watch). I was a teacher once–a history teacher, no less–and I understand where that comes from.

Students came to me in high school pretty well-formed in what they were. I could–and in hindsight, I did–blather on about facts and ideas that they weren’t interested in, for the most part. But when the time came, I realized that they were still who they were when they came in, and I had to move them along to whatever came next. It was something far less than what I had envisioned when I first decided to become a teacher.

Last night, my teenager was studying for an Imperialism test in her U.S. History class. The Platt Amendment was on her study guide, along with dozens of other terms that didn’t seem to relate to anything terribly important. I realized, as I’ve always known, that kids hate history because it places a premium on memorization. But the truth is that even if you know who Sanford Dole is, life doesn’t get any better for you, after the test is over.

As time goes on, the study of History gets more and more onerous. The old names and places and dates must still be memorized, but then more seemingly useless facts get piled on top of that. And nobody wants to suggest a different way of doing it, because nobody knows any other way of doing it. So here goes my idea.

People are people, no matter the time or the place. They all have wants and needs, desires and hopes, fears and  frustrations. The names of these things change, depending on where you are, but human nature doesn’t ever change. The internet gives everyone the chance to identify people, whether “sung or unsung” as President Obama put it in his inauguration address, and learn about and tell their stories. If it means you don’t learn Thomas Jefferson, but instead you learn about somebody who may have done something else of value, is anyone really harmed by that? And you’d have to prove it to me if you think that’s the case.

So long as students are forced to learn about the Platt Amendment, without giving any chance to learn about who Senator Platt actually was, then we shouldn’t be surprised that kids don’t know, or want to learn, very much about history.

I hope to live long enough to see some changes made in this regard. Perhaps it would then be time to tell Mr. Hand and the “Platt Amendment approach” to teaching history “aloha.” And that would be totally awesome.

Looking toward the future

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The internet is a tool that nobody has ever had before us. A few minutes online, and a few keywords, are all we need to answer nearly any question we can think of, or to see images that once took weeks or months to track down. If you had explained all of this to me just 20 years ago, I never would have believed it. None of us would have. And in another 20 years, it will be a rare person who can remember life without it.

And that’s one of the reasons I feel compelled to put as much as I do into this space. This blog is my memory book, in a way. My children, and anyone else’s children, will be able to read the things that I’ve posted here, even after I’m long gone. It’s exciting to think of these posts as being immortal, in a way that I never will be.

And so hello from 2013, to whoever happens upon this in the future. I realize that it’s odd to read this in 2013, and it’s odd to be typing it out, too. It will be many years before this post seems anything other than ridiculous. But time will continue marching along, just as it always has, and that’s why I’m laying down this marker for anyone who ever cares to read it in the future. May it be worth their time and mine to do so.

All you create

IMG_0931 The best thing about writing in this space–the reason I continue doing it–is that it is a creative enterprise. Listening to the radio this morning, I heard “Eclipse” which is the last song on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album. And the line about “All you create, and all you destroy” set my mind in motion, as it sometimes happens. So now that I have a moment to get my thoughts together, what does that mean?

Every song on the radio began with a thought inside someone’s head. Every movie, every magazine article, every ad designed to get you to buy something, they all had to start somewhere. The internet has afforded all of us a new creative outlet, where anyone can create things and share them with the world, or at least that part of the world that wants to seek it out.

I think of putting some words together, and adding a visual image to go with it, as my own creative enterprise. I’m not going to change the world, or pad my bank account, or gain anything at all by doing this. And that’s just fine. What I am doing is creating something, setting it free into the world–or at least a digitized approximation of the world–and then going about my business in the greater world around it.

And you, whoever and wherever you are, now have a challenge from me: create something today. Something that someone else can read, or wear, or hold in their hand for some reason. And enjoy the creative process along the way. Make something that didn’t exist before. And that will make a few moments of ruminating on a line in a Pink Floyd song all worthwhile to me.

Thanks for reading, and hopefully creating something new.

Filling in the digital canvas

One of the things that I love about the internet is that the vast majority still needs to be filled in. It’s like a mostly empty notebook, with the pages in place, but nothing to turn them away from their original blank state. It’s the tabula rasa of the 21st century, at least.

The world of print has been around for centuries, and there are many, many, many books, photos, magazines, post cards, pamphlets, newspapers, and other forms of  materials in that medium. They’re still being created, and will continue to to exist for all time. But over the past two decades or so, the internet has also started to come along. My old handwritten letters to family and friends have probably been lost to history, but the emails that I now send to people will live forever, on some far-off server that I probably don’t know the first thing about.

The Library of Congress is now archiving all of the tweets that have been sent on Twitter. My tweets number in the thousands by now and few, if any, of them are worth being remembered by anyone. And yet, in this digital age that now feels like it’s always been a part of our lives, there they will remain. Newspapers turn yellow with age, but tweets will live forever, for better or for worse.

This blog, and the nearly 700 posts that I’ve written so far, are my contribution toward filling up the great digital canvas. These words and images won’t ever get lost, or thrown into a wastebasket. I’m sharing these parts of my life, in a form that I expect will live for centuries to come. Whether they’re worth preserving or not, I won’t hazard an opinion about. But they will be preserved, at least.

And with that in mind, welcome to my everlasting time capsule!

I ain’t gonna live forever

I admit it. I’ve probably missed out–entirely–on the commercial possibilities of the internet. It was the single biggest thing that’s come along in my lifetime, and with some kind of business or technical savvy, it could have been a gold mine. It still is, probably, but I’m lacking in the inclination to figure out just how that might work. I set up a wireless router tonight and feel like I accomplished something. But somebody had to figure out this stuff once upon a time, and they’re probably very glad they did.

But what I haven’t missed out on is the internet’s creative and archival possibilities. The contents of this blog–which has been a labor of love over the past fourteen months– will outlive me, and I like that feeling. No, I don’t relish the thought of dying one day, but if I walked out my door and got run over by a bus this evening, there’s a good chunk of my words that would still live on. And some photos, too, like the one above. It was taken as the sun was setting on Martha’s Vineyard, and I was taking a ferry back to the mainland.

My ancestors, over thousands and thousands of years, didn’t have an opportunity to share their stories, their dreams, and their very lives in a medium like this. I have three grandparents who live only in my memories, and before that, ancestrally speaking, there’s just nothing. To me, that’s very unfortunate, because any little scrap of information about where they lived and how they lived would be nothing short of fascinating to me.

I’m taking this opportunity, then, to communicate not with the world I’m living in, but with the world that will be, someday. And whether I’m around to see any of it or not, I’ve already submitted lots of my personal stories into this medium that is still growing and evolving. But for every person like me–who appreciates this opportunity and wants to seize it as fully as possible–there are hundreds, and perhaps even thousands, of people who won’t bother. They’ll all pass on, eventually, and once they do, their existence will be contingent upon those who knew them in life. And the shelf life of human memories isn’t very long, at all.

I can count, thanks to WordPress’ data figures, how many people are seeing this digital content in my lifetime. That’s interesting, and I’m always humbled whenever somebody finds any of this and likes a post or leaves a comment behind. I wouldn’t like being ignored in life. But that’s not my real aim as I’m typing this out on my computer, on a Friday night in August of 2012. No, I want to reach somebody who hasn’t yet been conceived. Or the child who will grow up thinking that the internet, like electricity and indoor plumbing, has always existed. I’m here to tell that person it wasn’t always this way.

I’ve written about owning records and having photographs developed, things that already seem like relics from another age. I’m a digital immigrant, meaning that I lived a good many years without email and social networking and the ever-present Google. And life was just fine without them, but the way things are moving now, unless something is on the internet, it’s as if it never existed in the first place.

So perhaps it’s vanity on my part, but I want to document my largely 20th century life, for consumption in the 21st century and beyond. I’ve heard it said that the internet is forever, and I hope that’s true, because I’m well aware that I won’t be.

And thanks for reading this, to whoever you are and whenever you stumbled upon this URL.

Working on my serve

I love to make analogies. The first time I remember doing it was in college, where I likened some philosophical debate to a game of tennis. The professor wrote a note in the margin of my paper, saying how my analogy made the issue seem more concrete. After that, I was off and running with the idea. I went back to tennis a few more times, but I used other everyday things as well, like waiting in a line at the grocery store and not being able to find a pen in order to jot down an idea.

Rather than allowing my brain to remain for too long in its natural, undisturbed state, I sometimes try–as I’m doing now– to find something worthwhile inside.  I then extract it, comment on it a little bit, add a few tags, and then send it out to the wider world. But once that’s finished, and I hit the “Publish” icon to put my thoughts onto the Internet,  I feel like I’ve accomplished something. I’ve created new content, and as long as the Internet exists, there will always be a need for new content. Whether or not anybody reads it is besides the point.

Writing this post–and all the others that I’ve created– feels somewhat like working on my serve. The more I practice, when nobody’s actually there to return the ball, the better I’ll become, and the closer I’ll be to giving someone else a good game sometime. To improve my writing, I’ll just keep on pounding that serve, over and over again. It feels as though it’s paying off, already.

The future of books

If I haven’t admitted this before, I love having books. I enjoy reading them, but there’s also something about surrounding yourself with lots of books. I think it makes a statement about valuing the written word. I frequently go to yard sales and book fairs, searching for old books that I can buy for a quarter or 50 cents.

This past Christmas, my wife surprised me with an Amazon Kindle Fire. She uses it much more than I do, but in theory, at least, the thing is mine. I even have a Cubs carrying case for it, and I took a picture of it when I was out on New Year’s eve. If I can carry it around without losing it or crushing it somehow, I think it will be a great thing to have.

But what does the proliferation of tablets, and e-readers, and smartphones that allow you to download and read books, mean for books in the future? For starters, it means that books costing $20 or more can now be purchased digitally for several dollars less. Which option are most readers going to choose? I know the answer to that, and you probably do, too.

Physical books, as we have known them all our lives, have been in a downward spiral for a few years, at least. I work in publishing, and there aren’t any growth opportunities in this field. Digital publishing, yes, but books themselves are moving the way of carbon paper and pagers.

But books should be different, you might say. Ever since Gutenberg and the Renaissance, people have had a kinship with their books. And I fully agree with that. However, people’s need to read will adapt to whatever form the material is presented to them. Books will always be one of those formats, of course, but digital is also coming into view as an appealing alternative.

This is all being fueled, of course, by the internet. Isn’t that how you’re reading this, after all? The internet has made photographs obsolete, has brought the Postal Service to its knees, has put many booksellers out of business, and has turned analog forms of recorded music into relics.  The diminution of the printed word–consisting of ink on paper with binding and a nice cover–is another logical step along this progression. Whether or not it’s actually “progress” is open to discussion, but it is happening, and will continue to do so.

The final frontier in this process is school textbooks. My children now lug an inordinate amount of paper to school with them each day, and a tablet that can be used to present all this material to them–and to make it come alive for them in a way that textbooks cannot–is something that almost needs to happen. As digital content changes our everyday lives, it seems foolish to require that children remain burdened–literally as well as figuratively–by these behemoths.

Once tablets become cheap enough that schools will buy them, instead of bulky textbooks that will become outdated in two years, this evolution–revolution, really–will be complete. And like smoking indoors, it will only take a small amount of time before we wonder how we ever got along any other way.