Archive for November, 2010

My technology gap…

November 21, 2010

I have a confession to make. More and more I am noticing a personal technology gap. The world is moving at a faster pace than even I can keep up with anymore. I’m 22 and I still cling to my e-mail inbox sitting on the desktop of my computer. I feel like a whole world is passing me by because I don’t text or have my whole world directly on my phone. In fact, and this is the saddest part, at 22 I have never owned nor operated a smart phone. It’s crazy since I majored in communications in college.

I don’t have a resistance to the technology, I just don’t know anything about it. I always thought it was strange when people would have Blackberrys for personal use because I aways associated them with people who have important jobs. Why would someone need a Blackberry if they’re just a college student? It’s hitting me, that isn’t them…it really is me. What I’m trying to figure out is when the whole world zoomed by and left me in the gutter. Now I feel like my whole way of communicating has become obsolete.

I’ve even got to thinking a little about this blog. Is having a blog too old fashioned in this day and age? Are people really going to take the time to read what I’ve posted or is it another example of my backwards thinking? Don’t worry, I’m not going to stop blogging. I don’t care if it’s as antiquated as film cameras…I would never stop my creative outlet. Plus, everyone tells you, when you’re in my field, to blog, blog, blog. Thank goodness it’s something I really love to do.

But I just feel like technological advances are moving at warp speed. Why buy something today, if a better version is due out tomorrow? I’ve been wrestling with that for years. In an instant the DVD replaced the VHS and now the Blueray disc has replaced the DVD. High def used to be the cool in thing and now it’s 3-D. I cannot keep up anymore.

But, for my sanity, I have to. The world is changing and I have to roll with the punches so I’m not left out in the cold. I want to be hip and current. I want to feel like I’m with the in crowd and not back in 2004 with my dinky cell-phone where the only cool thing it does is either take a picture or make a call.

I need to get with the 21st century. This I am learning more and more. I’m done being that person who is so behind. I don’t know what is so scary about embracing modern technology. Is it really that bad to be one of those people addicted to their phone? Maybe, they’re the ones who are right.

So as I move closer to landing that first job and embracing what life is going to be like at 23 years old, I’m going to do my best to get hip. I can’t afford not to.

The Rise of the Laptop Library: Should schools go without stacks of books?

November 12, 2010

The next step in our ever growing and changing world has begun: school libraries going all digital. The prime example was the subject of the cover story in G Nov. 6 from The Boston Globe. The library at Cushing Academy in Ashburnham Mass has eliminated most of the books in it’s library and gone digital. The move turned the building into the most used on campus, where before it was the least, and revolutionized the way students study and interact with each other.

According to the article, the goal in creating the digital library is “to liberate students from stacks full of outdated reference material and mold them into online artistes adept at pursuing research through mastery of databases.” I fully support that goal. I know I would use (and often did in college) an online library over a physical one. I love books but doing online research was always my preference because of ease and I could do it from anywhere on campus. Having the skills of mastering databases is important when entering into the working world where everything is computer based. Just hearing the words “stacks of outdated references” sounds so unappealing.

Credit needs to be given to James Tracey, the headmaster of the school, for orchestrating the switch. He is thinking of not only the technology of the future but of his student’s needs. Since eliminating the stacks of books, the library building has brought the students closer together and given them a place to hang out and study. I am all for schools eliminating what isn’t working in favor of uniting the student body. In the case of Cushing Academy, the benefits seem to have outweighed the risks. Social interaction is most important and it’s proven that students who study together often perform better on exams.

Of course, the elimination of physical books only ignites a larger debate. There are, and seemingly always will be, educators who swear by physical books for completing research. The prospect of online only research send some into a tizzy who fear students are incapable of citing effective sources. For instance, articles have been written solely on the subject of why Wikipedia cannot be cited in papers.

Students today are much smarter than anyone gives them credit for. Most not only know the difference between effective and ineffective sources; they know where to go and find only the good ones. Eliminating libraries full of old books is a step in the right direction because students today are more equipped to find sources online than in books. I find reference books daunting myself; a quick Google search is so much easier and takes less time. The internet (and those online databases offered by libraries) are always changing and are more up to date than a book will ever be. Our world is constantly changing and the internet is the best way to keep up with it.

I know how hard it is for our parents to hear this; anyone who grew up with the Dewy Decimal System freak out over online based research since it’s a vast world unfamiliar to them. They are not wrong. That was a proven method for generations and worked quite well. Like all technology, it’s become outdated. I feel bad for those who have a hard time catching up to modern technology. Adapting isn’t easy for anyone; humans are creatures of habit and we like to complete tasks the way we’ve always known. It’s comfortable to us. But if we don’t change and adapt we won’t grow as a society and remaining stagnant isn’t an option.

I applaud Cushing Academy for recognizing the need to eliminate books. In doing so they’ve recognized the needs of their students and put them before their ideals. It remains to be seen how this change will effect admission going forward but it’s hard to argue with what is clearly working. It would be interesting to see a study of how the elimination of books effected grades. With the library now used as a student center, I wonder if grades have seen marked improvement? The article doesn’t get into where the students would study before but says the new use of the library helps do away with the isolation felt in the residence halls. I always found studying with other people made it fun and boosted my grades on exams.

Another secondary debate has been sparked by this article. While the Cushing Academy library references are being substituted with online databases; the concept of books is never going away; the physical is being replaced by the electronic equivalent. There will always be those who prefer physical books; the article cites English majors as an example. I for one love books and always have. Since graduating college last May I’ve read two complete books, finished a third, and I’m nearly done with a fourth. That being said, I’ve switched to reading electronic books which I not only find easier and more convenient; it just makes sense.  Not having to carry around physical books has been liberating. To be able to read whatever I want and not have to worry if the book is too thick or too heavy in my bag or suitcase is the best feeling. I don’t miss physical books in the least. As I’ve written about before, I’ve been a proud Kindle owner for over two years and love it. Being able to look up words I’m not sure the meaning of right on my Kindle has made me a smarter and more informed reader. From personal experience, having a Kindle is just better.

For schools, be it Middle School, High School, or College to switch to an all electronic format for all textbooks is a good idea in theory but the technology is only in the infant stages.

The main problem, and I’ve thought about this often, is the state of the technology. The Kindle needs improvements before it can be used for educational purposes. For starters, Kindle offers the ability to change print size which throws off page numbers (or “locations” as they’re called). This makes it hard to find a particular passage to either cite in a paper or find easily during class discussions; your location may differ from the location of the person sitting next you for the same passage.

The other, and more important issue, is cost. Textbooks are expensive enough without adding the price of a digital device on top of it. Schools either have to come up with a rental program or give them to their students for it to work. People just aren’t going to pay for a device and textbooks; especially if they are in charge of paying their own textbooks. Of course, e-readers more than pay for themselves over time but right now it just isn’t going to happen. Also, there is the time it would take to train everyone on how to use the devices effectively and with time strained as it is, who is going to take the time to learn how to use the Kindle, iPad, or Nook in their classroom? It just isn’t going to happen right now. Plus, too many teachers are so used to the system of physical books and making the switch would be very difficult for them.

A third point is devices like Kindle don’t have a nice way to read anything beyond novel type books. Textbooks would be hard since flipping back in fourth between sections of the text is difficult. Also, Kindle doesn’t display pictures very well with the grayscale e-ink it uses. Both of these would need marked improvement before it could ever make it in a classroom setting.

Another point to consider is there is still a large percentage of society that haven’t bought into electronic books yet. An (I’ll be it absurd) excuse I’ve heard is people don’t want to read on a book reader because they hate reading on a computer screen. Just try a Kindle before saying stuff like that. It isn’t anywhere near comparable to a computer screen. I’ve heard this from mostly older people who didn’t grow up using computers like my generation but it doesn’t matter. Before making sweeping statements like that; try it out. You may even grow to like it.

This was the first example I’d heard of, where a school fully eradicated their physical library collection in favor of an electronic one. What Cushing Academy has done, like I said before, has revolutionized the school and changed business as usual for the better. They took the most unpopular part of their campus and made it the place students cannot wait to go.I know it’s scary to most but Cushing Academy is forwardly thinking into the future. They have recognized the needs of their students and created a system that works for their most important asset. Let them be hated for it if that’s what it takes. Cushing Academy is bold enough to be among the first in a trend that very soon will be done nationwide. Whether you agree or not, electronic books and online databases are the future and the sooner people get on board the sooner everyone can change for the better.

The CMA Awards are coming…

November 5, 2010

The 44th annual CMA Awards are Wednesday (November 10) night. Honestly, where does the time go? Here is my look of who I think should win in each category plus who I believe will walk away victorious when the ceremonies are through:

SHOULD WIN:

• Entertainer: Brad Paisley
• Male: Dierks Bentley
• Female: Miranda Lambert
• New Artist: Zac Brown Band
• Vocal Duo: Sugarland
• Vocal Group: Lady Antebellum
• Single: “White Liar”
• Song: “The House That Built Me”
• Video: “The House That Built Me”
• Album: Revolution
• Musical Event: “Bad Angel”

WILL WIN:

• Entertainer: Brad Paisley
• Male: Brad Paisley
• Female: Miranda Lambert
• New Artist: Zac Brown Band
• Vocal Duo: Brooks & Dunn
• Vocal Group: Lady Antebellum
• Single: “Need You Now”
• Song: “The House That Built Me”
• Video: “Need You Now”
• Album: Revolution
• Musical Event: “Hillbilly Bone”

The Musical Education by Rosanne Cash

November 5, 2010

One of the saddest musical truths in the current climate is the quality of the songs being recorded and released. Musical fans of today are used to style outweighing substance in order to make money. The need to be bigger, sell more, and attract as wide a variety of fans as possible has taken its toll. Instead of music that matters we are left with two-bit crap suffocated by radio friendly production sung by singers whose vocals are no more than the product of computer software. Realness in music (all genres not just country) is little more than a distant memory.

We’ve gotten so caught up in the latest fads and media bombardment that we don’t even notice what’s become of music. The public at large is so used to what’s being turned out by the major record labels that I’m afraid most people wouldn’t recognize a well-written song when they hear it. What’s missing are those truly great songwriters who treat music as an art form. The likes of Harlan Howard and Hank Cochran will never be seen again and that is a shame.

I have my grandfather to thank for beating good music into my blood. He taught me the ins and outs of what constitutes quality and exposed my young ears to artists who matter. It was from him that I first was turned on to Kris Kristofferson and his songbook, The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, and countless others. He got me into country music in a backwards sort of way, Linda Ronstadt and The Eagles are not strict country singers even though both have made their marks on the genre. I remember watching the Statler Brothers’ variety show on TNN with my grandfather when I was a child and viewing Barbara Mandrell’s final concert back in 1997. I didn’t get it at the time; what kid would? I thought the Statler Brothers’ show was boring and unexciting but it gave me a musical education most children of the 90s didn’t get.

Around ten years ago, when my grandfather was cleaning out his house, he wanted to throw out his collection of vinyl records. His saying has always been – “when in doubt, throw it out.” I remember many fights over this and he finally gave in. I am now the owner of his collection. It has nothing in it by way of country music but the rock and roll education it provides is worth so much to me.

For years I’ve been one of the masses, caught up in the music of the time regardless of quality. That is no way to live. Of late I’ve found two country music blogs that I read faithfully. Each offer a critical take on the current country music climate and each ha changed my perceptions of modern country music. They’ve gotten me to think about the music in a different way – less of a fan and more of a critic. This shift in my thinking has altered what records I choose to buy and exposed flaws I never allowed myself to see.

Another cementing of that shift occurred the day before Halloween when I had the pleasure of seeing Rosanne Cash in concert. The event came as a surprise. She was playing in a very small performance hall not too far from my home on Massachusetts’ South Shore. When the article popped into the newspaper I couldn’t not go — what fool would pass up this opportunity?

On tour in support of her just-released memoir and last year’s critically acclaimed The List, Cash sang through her catalog of music and took the audience on a journey exploring not just her personal history but the history of music in general. She sang eight of the songs found on The List, a CD compiled from a list of 100 essential country songs her father gave her at 18. At first I became worried we wouldn’t get to hear songs from her back catalog but she found time to play classics that included “Runaway Train,” “Tennessee Flat-Top Box,” and “Seven Year Ache” as well as selected tracks from Black Cadillac and The Wheel.

The centerpiece of the show was the presentation of the music. She was backed solely by her husband, John Leventhal, on guitar. The sparse accompaniment showcased not only Cash’s crystal clear voice but also the lyrics. I may be 22, in my rock concert prime, but to be able to hear a singer and understand what they are singing is a gift. Cash is brilliant for knowing that a little bit goes so much further than walls of sound reverberating off each concertgoer’s ear drums. The mark of astute singers is when they know how best to showcase their voices and songs. Not everyone is meant to sing in an arena or play to 90,000 fans in a football stadium. Some require a quieter listening minus the distraction of everyone standing the whole time. Cash is one of those people.

She reminded me why I love country music to begin with – the rich history and the songs. Country music has produced some of the most well-written songs ever conceived. Truth is hard to convey lyrically but most country songwriters have done it, time and time again. A highlight of the concert came when Cash read a passage from her memoir, Composed, that talked about revisiting an old project she created when she was seven about similes and metaphors. She had written down the metaphor, “A lonely road is a bodyguard.”  Cash took that line and added it to a song she was writing, which ended up as “Sleeping in Paris” from her album The Wheel.

I’m continually amazed at writers who have the gift of contorting language and of putting phrases together that make you think. The songwriters of today have much to learn from people like Cash; most of today’s songs won’t be around even five years from now. Artists should be striving for creating classics as opposed to hits of the moment. That’s where the long careers are.

The other highlight of the night was when Cash talked about racking her brain to figure out what might have been the 101st song on her father’s list. She found a great one…Bobby Gentry’s classic “Ode to Billie Joe.”

A lot of people will write off Cash for the recent comments she made to incoming Speaker of the House John Boehner, comments in which she criticized his use of her father’s name as a punch line. I find it sad that comments she makes outweigh respect for her music. People are entitled to believe whatever they want and all she was doing was defending her father’s legacy against someone she felt was pigeonholing him as a Republican. She’s come to her father’s defense before when similar comments were made in 2008. Someone has to uphold his legacy and it might as well be his most famous daughter.

Her standing up for her father’s legacy doesn’t change the fact that Cash is a very gifted songwriter and performer and she put on one heck of a great concert last week.


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