Thursday, March 29, 2012

Aging Gracefully in the Era of Technology

Just like most Boomers, I’m game for almost anything that will keep me alert and able to maintain my self-respect. 

But more than that, I won’t be content to sit at the table pushing peas around my plate while younger people take over the dialogue.  I want to participate.   

Some might say, “Hooray for you, Carolyn.  You’re a model of an active aging person.  We’re going to call you ‘spry.’  We want to be just like you when we’re irrelevant!” 

Well, thanks, but realistically, there could be a down side to a spunky attitude.  Here it is:   I will be in the conversation, even when I shouldn’t be.  I’ll misread the body language and facial expressions of those around me, persist in prattling on, and imagine myself witty and erudite until I’ve driven my loved ones to conspire against me. 

They’ll stare pointedly at each other across the custard and begin keeping records of my non-sequiters and odd behavior.  Soon we’ll be taking field trips to lovely settings where all my needs will be met and I can make new friends quickly. 

Oh no, no, no.  No. 

I will not go gently into that residential community catering to a lifestyle which meets my level of care, budget, social, and recreational preferences.  I’m learning to play a musical instrument and working all the crosswords.  I'm eating my broccoli, blue berries, and omega-3.   

And I’m following with interest an up-and-coming invention:  The trans-cranial direct current stimulation device.  That’s tDCS to you.  We’ll refer to it here as its creator does – the GoFlow. 

Not to be confused with that other clever do-it-yourself device, the Flowbie, the GoFlow comprises a headband with a pair of electrodes dangling off its sides.  It’s branded with a lightning bolt and designed to pump 2 milliamps of electric current to your brain.  It won’t cut your hair, but it could curl it. 

Its inventor, Matt Sornson, a Michigan college student (who majors in marketing, by the way), follows a long line of scientists who have experimented with stimulating the brain, even attempting to cure illnesses with electricity.  He’s looking to induce the “state of flow” tapped into by athletes when they trigger a runner’s high. 

Sornson began testing the device on himself in hopes that it would facilitate his learning a complex software program more quickly.  After eight days of electrical stimulation at 1/500th the juice needed to power a 100-watt light bulb, he stated he was unsure if the GoFlow had affected his learning, but “it definitely feels like I have a six- or seven-cup caffeine buzz without feeling jittery at all!”  There you go. 

That’s just the sort of thing an engaging senior citizen needs – enough stimulation to keep her perky without the telltale signs of drug-induced euphoria.  Bring it! 

Sornson’s plan is to develop the first low-cost commercial tDCS kit.  At a retail cost of $99 the kit will come with a 60-pack of disposable electrodes, a placement map of the cranium, and a 5-milliamp safety fuse, in case something should go awry.  Good idea. 

At that price, a quick cost-benefit analysis tips the scales away from Starbucks and into the realm of jitter-free living. 

But I can’t help wondering if Master Sornson patterned his cranial placement map on L.N. Fowler’s “bust of superior form, marked with the divisions of the [brain] in accordance with [his] research and varied experience.”  

When the snake oil business fell off, Fowler practiced phrenology, based on the theory that lumps on the skull reflect a person’s character.  He crafted a ceramic figure of a hairless human head, plotting the regions where one might locate, examine, and evaluate bumps, believing they corresponded to parallel areas of brain function.  

In a chart akin to those in the butcher shop locating select cuts of meat, Fowler detailed provinces of the skull such as Language, Human Nature, and Order, along with Acquisitiveness (to include saving and hoarding), Secretiveness (from reserve to evasion), and Sublimity, which he explains as a “sense of the terrific.”  In Fowler’s world, protuberances in critical areas of the noggin revealed desirable traits or flaws of disposition. 

Before phrenology was dismissed as a pseudo-science, folks aspiring to self-improvement could hire a practitioner to whack them in the appropriate position on the noddle, thereby raising a lump and creating space for the brain to develop the sought-after trait.   


Maybe I’ll sit quietly after all.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Handwriting on the Cyberspace Wall

It worries me that consumers are complaining about the newest iPad.  Reports are that it heats up, becoming too warm to handle after prolonged use. 

That’s right.  Too warm to handle.  My fragile constitution cannot withstand the warmth.  Help me!  Help me!  It’s so warm!  I can hardly fling another bird. 

That’s what we’re coming to!  What would John Wayne think?  Or Amelia Earhart? 

It puts me in mind of “Wall-E,” the futuristic 2008 Academy Award winner for Best Animated feature.  Finding earth’s environment toxic from the overflowing refuse of hyper-consumerism, humans have abandoned the planet.  Once evacuated, they live out their years aboard the star liner Axiom, circling, waiting for their home to become habitable again.   

They’ve been in outer space so long, with every need attended to, that they never stand upright, never leave their recliners.  Meals and drinks and light and darkness, entertainment, all provided without exertion or effort.  

They’re obese, of course, but in a cute way.  They all have such amiable dispositions after all.  Nothing ever becomes too warm, so what’s to get upset about?   

As the story unfolds, we see an x-ray of the captain of the ship and discover that his bones, like those of all the recumbent residents of the Axiom, have become disjointed and float like so many pretzels suspended in jell-o.  All this the result of generations of life reliant on the screen. 

Recoiling from the warmth of the new iPad, we’re taking another step toward this dystopian utopia, you and I.  It’s all good and all bad all at the same time.  It pampers us.  It gives us everything we ask for and takes away everything we need, step by imperceptible step. 

Oh yes, the iPad is too warm.  How will we ever Draw Something?  

Our chubbiness is not so cute as it is in the movies; but we press on, exerting less, demanding more.  Next logical increment – elevate our preoccupation!  That’s right; make it respectable:  Video games aren’t just games any more.  We'll call them art!  And right on cue, according to CBS News/Sunday Morning, the newest exhibit at the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum is "The Art of Video Games." 

The Smithsonian!  Case closed.  No argument.  Video games are art. 

“I’m engaged in a cultural expression, Honey.” 

Forget about the decline of humankind, I can tell you it won’t play well with my husband.  He already exhibits a persistent skepticism about how I spend my afternoons.  “Retirement, schmretirement!” he’s been known to mutter, shaking his head, carrying dishes to the sink in demonstration of how he does everything around here. 

For that reason I quit Bejeweled cold turkey.  He came down the hall and found me too many times, mesmerized, mindlessly matching purple gems .  My credibility sagged.  I had to reestablish trust.  But now I have the Smithsonian on my side. 

Our national archive extolls video games’ images as reminiscent of Japanese woodcuts and compares them to the work of M.C. Escher.  Why I’m deepening my appreciation of fine art by staring at it on the screen, moving my mouse over it, cursing at it, throwing up my hands in triumph!   

And it's not just how video games look that makes them works of art, says the venerable museum; it's also how they engage the imagination and stimulate players to think about what moves to make.  

Yeah!  That’s it!  Imagination!  Moves!  I hardly even notice that my joints are stiffening and my back is curved.

"[Video games] can help us find connections with deeper questions we may have inside ourselves," says game developer Chris Melissinos, who curated the show.  Huh?  Deeper questions?  I must be playing the wrong game.   

"We're able to create worlds and environments that just don't exist in the real world.  We're able to open our imagination, and it's boundless, it's limitless.”  Melissinos again.  I think he’s feeling pretty important.  Curator and Champion Rationalizer. 

Pandering to our passive personalities it’s certain they’ll develop an iPad potholder.  They’ll create an award for the most Asteroids smashed, or Grand Autos stolen.  Partying with Mario will be tantamount to an inaugural ball at the White House. 

We’ll lean in closer.  And when it hurts our eyes, they’ll make that OK too.  No need for distance vision any more anyway.  Crow’s feet will be the craze.  

Mark my words.  And pack for a long trip.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Cyber-Loafing Monday Blues

So I was hanging out on Cyber-Loafing Monday, you know, just loafing.  In cyberspace.  It’s not like the old days when we loafed on weekends in the back yard, in our swimsuits with the sprinklers on.   

Now, we do our idling of time surreptitiously, under the cloak of a business suit and a laptop, in the cloud.  If you have your computer facing the right direction, you can fool a lot of people into believing you’re working on what - the “Jones report”?  Right.  But not to worry.  They’re probably loafing too. 

Evidently enough folks arrived at work last Monday, got their coffee, logged on, and went directly to wasting time, that researchers detected a surge in web surfing, a disturbance in the force, as it were.  (I wonder if they said, “Surf’s up!”)   

This weakness in our work ethic is attributed to sleep deprivation brought on by the spring-ahead impact of Daylight Savings Time.  But before we get too down on ourselves, let’s think about this.  First of all, who are these “researchers”?  Who documents all those clicks of mice?  Mark Zuckerberg?  I wouldn’t put it past him.  And let me just say, that those who are doing this kind of tracking of slackers are no better than those whom they impugn!  Me hopes I doth not protest too much. 

Honestly, which spy nerds in what dark room are charged with noting that each year, the Monday after implementation of Daylight Savings Time, we exert more effort surfing the web than engaging in the work we’re paid for?  One could argue that that monitoring itself constitutes cyber-loafing in its purest form.  

These phenomenon geeks go on to tell us what we already know but won’t confess - that the bulk of our furtive frivolity is frittered away on entertainment sites!  Translated:  We’re catching up on celebrity gossip!  

Only to prove my point, and for the credibility of this writing, I took a few moments this morning to explore the trend, for my readers’ sake.  Here you have it: TMZ reports that Jermaine Jones is off “Idol” for concealing his criminal record; Charlize Theron has adopted a baby boy; Oliver Stone, Chuck Norris, and Snoop Dog are all supporting Republican candidates; and a poll reveals that Americans think the top three most overpaid in their fields are Kim Kardashian, LeBron James, and Snooki.  And their fields would be reality TV, professional basketball, and vacuous immaturity. 

OMG.  That is a waste of time. 

Anyway, it’s great to have Cyber Loafing Monday formally anointed.  Now we can mark our calendars and do it again next year!  It may not be baseball, but it’s a pastime. 

Since the practice of naming new habits and linking them to days of the week is open for the entrepreneur, I have some suggestions for the remaining weekdays that may resonate with the desperately deskbound:  How about “Angry Birds Tuesday”?  Come on!  You know who you are! 

“Solitaire Wednesday”?  “Talk like a Thug Thursday.”  (Am I trying too hard?)  OK – “Fandango Friday”!  It’s prep for “Cinema Saturday.”  

And thanks to the World Wide Web, whenever we’re in search of a reason to celebrate we need go no further than the special days-of-the-month calendar available online.  This much-needed resource offers an array of parties-in-the-making seeking dedicated party planners and causes awaiting their champions.  

For example we just missed a salute to hiking gear: March 14th - International Fanny Pack Day.   

My sentimental side speculates that a sweet and tolerant husband somewhere memorialized March 31st as "National She's Funny That Way" Day.  

Making the most of these newfound tools, I’m trying to envision a way to celebrate Elvis’s birthday, January 8th, in conjunction with April 11th - "International Louie Louie Day."  On second thought, it’s probably best not to envision such a thing. 

Respecting the value of global relations, April 26th commemorates “Hug an Australian Day.”  Appropriate to our traditional income tax deadline we find that April 15th also marks “Take a Wild Guess Day.”  And, in the realm of public service announcements: April 24th – “National Hairball Awareness Day,” a venerated occasion in the Plath household.  

At last.  I’ve got it!  Here it is:  The pushback from Cyber-Loafing Monday:  “Get a Geek into the Sunlight Sunday.” 

Mark your calendar.  It’s got legs.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Stumble Upon This

So I’m now a member of StumbleUpon.  It’s an internet sort of search mechanism that suggests sites I might never find no matter how much time I spend hunched over the keyboard squinting at the screen.  I can’t think what interest I professed that led me to stumbling upon Men’s Health Magazine.  But after a quick perusal of its cover, I felt compelled to compare it with those of Women’s Health Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Ms., and AARP.  Get ready. 

Guess who put a teaser called, “When Flirting Goes Too Far” on the cover of their magazine?  If you had to choose among those publications just mentioned, wouldn’t you peg that topic to be in the women’s magazines?  I would have, meaning I suppose that I’m still narrow-minded and sexist in spite of my overt claims of feminism.   

When did a man (my husband excepted, of course) ever care if flirting went too far?  But even in our new world where men do worry about the consequences of an indiscretion, I would have been less surprised to see it on Men’s Health than I was to find it on AARP.  Yup.  There it is in boldface type.  The senior set is concerned with flirting games. 

Natural curiosity leads a person into the depths of AARP’s webpages in search of what, in fact, can go wrong when flirting does go too far, since it’s been such a long time since a person allowed herself to flirt.  One has to navigate past image after image of older folks who could be the target of an ill-placed flirt.  Folks like Jim Carrey, Meg Ryan, and Heather Locklear.  All now 50 and beyond.   

What could possibly go wrong in a flirtation with one of those senior citizens?  OK, Sharon Stone.  She does seem dangerous somehow.  Best not flirt with her, Dad.  It could go too far.  You could find yourself… entangled.  

Even now, you might expect a headline like “Sex Survey Exclusive!” to adorn the cover of Cosmopolitan, right?  Helen Gurley Brown never did have any compunction.  Yet there it is on Men’s Health!  It looks like the men actually surveyed 1900 women, and have learned how to “find her ‘on’ button.”  Yikes.   

AARP boasts some hard-hitting sort of must-know stories.  In its section on Relationships, for example, one can get advice for when “Sleep Apnea Ruins Your Sex Life” or “ When Mom has a New Boyfriend.”  Ewww.  

Men’s Health touts articles formerly the sole purview of the “ladies’” periodicals – subjects like  “Power Diet,” and “Lean Belly Prescription,” even “No Sweat Cardio.”  And “Back Pain Primer?”  Nope.  Not AARP.  Nowadays even men in the 18 to 35 demographic admit to being vulnerable and frail.  

Conversely, back in the day when you saw a headline like “Sculpt Flat Abs!” or “Love v. Lust,” you’d ascribe them to a men’s magazine, wouldn’t you?  Wouldn’t you??  Not anymore!  Look to Women’s Health for those must-reads. 

Notably, in my tiny sampling and unscientific review, no mention of money on the covers of Women’s Health, Cosmopolitan, or even Ms. (though Ms. has every other serious issue up front).  AARP and Men’s Health, both mention it.  The most banal foray into finances might be “Your Money Plan:  How to make it.  Where to spend it.”  At work and on the mortgage come to mind.  But I confess, I didn’t read the breaking news. 

OK.  I know.  I’m reverting.  I’m revealing.  TMI.  It just seems the blurring of the lines between young and old, male and female territories produces oddities.  I know that’s good.  It’s what we wanted, right?  We didn’t want the stereotypes in any camp.  Still it seems kind of funny.  To me anyway.  Just showing how deeply the gender roles are ingrained, I suppose. 

Part of it could be the idea that no matter how evolved the men are, the “Secrets of Strength and Calm” offered in the men’s magazine really do remain with the women.  It’s our cosmic destiny.  We provide the ohm in our relationships and to the world.  It’s the natural order.  Men are strangers in that celestial land of serenity.  If we women offer it up without a mystery attached, what’s left to surrender? 

Up next, StumbleUpon’s latest suggestion for my exploration: “Miley Cyrus Inadvertently Slights Jesus on Twitter.”  Now that goes too far!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Word to the Wise: Debris

Remember that scene in “The Graduate” when Benjamin Braddock, played by Dustin Hoffman, has just returned home from graduating college and his parents threw him a party attended by all their friends?  This is of course the set up for the infamous affair between Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson, the wife of one of his dad’s friends, played ever so lasciviously by Anne Bancroft.   

But I digress.

At the party, Benjamin’s dad’s friends each take their turns offering advice to the graduate, no doubt sincerely hoping to steer him toward success.  One of those well-wishers corners Benjamin near the pool and with drink in hand, sways forward and says, “I’ve got just one word for you….”  Dramatic pause.  Tension.  Benjamin leans in, waiting.  What’s the word?  “Plastics.” 

A beat, as they say in screenplay speak.  Benjamin’s blank stare tells all.  The import of the message is lost on our obtuse friend.  Clearly, Benjamin will fail to take advantage of the insider advice to invest in plastics.  Indeed, where might each of us be today if we’d heeded that advice ourselves back in 1967? 

I offer this as a cautionary tale for folks who may not at first divine the value of today’s headlines and their future impact.  I’ve got one word for you.  Make note.  Here it is:  Debris.

I’m no insider, but I can see the flotsam on the water, the jetsam in the sky, and the graffiti on the wall.  Debris looms.  We can line up with Chicken Little, or prepare now to exploit it.  

To wit:  A giant field of floating debris slides across the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  Yes, an island of garbage twice the size of Texas, comprised of more than 300,000 cars, boats, buildings, refrigerators, lumber, furniture, futons, and Frisbees is drifting toward us in the aftermath of the Japanese tsunami.  For perspective, consider that US Navy ships have to steer clear of this isle of refuse!  And it's moving faster than scientists expected it would. Ocean currents could sweep it onto the West Coast by next year. 

Add to that the fact that the great beltway above our heads is awash with the wreckage of spent satellites and the deceased carcasses of redundant rocket boosters.  That’s right.  NASA scientists report that twenty-two thousand objects large enough to track from earth circle ominously above us, along with countless chunks of space rubble sizeable enough to put a dent in the dome of the cavalier.  In an intergalactic counterpart to the aforementioned ocean-going vessels, the International Space Station has to maneuver around this cosmic clutter!  What’s more, the junk is beginning to wobble, leave orbit, and fall to earth.  

But even though the tide seems to have turned and the sky is in fact falling, the astute can position themselves now to make a wad o’ cash on the trash that’s headed our way.  The word indeed is debris.

Some will no doubt scoff.  “Debris!?” they’ll say.  “What falderal!  Why I might as well put my money on Barak Obama!”  As you wish, oh skeptics, and doubters, and all ye of little faith.  Just don’t say I didn’t tell you.

Who’s most likely to capitalize on the imminent influx of rubble?  The pragmatic.  The no-nonsense, logical, realistic, roll-up-your-sleeves, down-to-earth dynamos.  Action-oriented achievers:  Storage warriors, American Pickers, and hoarders of all ilk can convert the sows ears we’re about to be showered with into silk purses of every amalgamation.  Those “design on a dime” folks can count this as a windfall, scavenging for the shabby chic and turning tsunami trash into treasure.  
Mothers of teenage sons are uniquely qualified to work the frontlines at landfall.  They stand poised with the proficiencies required to turn tons of twaddle into masses of moola.  They are after all adept at collecting, categorizing, cleaning, and creating utility out of chaos.  They can already hold their breaths for extended periods of time while sorting and typing items of value unrecognizable to the childless and uninitiated.   

As for me, I’m putting my money in cranes, bulldozers, landfills, recycling plants, and alternative energy.  Or, envisioning a giant bonfire along the 800-mile California coast, one might make money in hotdogs and s’mores. 

Oh yes, there's a buck to be made in debris.  Just remember the word and where you heard it first.  
Act now to avoid disappointment and future regret.