As I go through my day, I am confronted by several forms of technology. I wear a watch that keeps track of not only the time, but also my steps and how much exercise I’m getting. It helps motivate me … Continue reading
Two semesters ago I was surreptitiously photographed in my classroom. I was lecturing about something riveting like the Oxford comma or in-text citations when a student in the back row (they’re always in the back row) held up his phone and snapped a photo. I noticed because he didn’t bother to silence his phone, so I heard that crazy digital shutter sound. Seconds later, he lowered the phone and started typing. I kept talking, but asked midsentence if he’d just “Snapchatted” me. Every other student in the room turned and gapped at the photographer. He didn’t notice; he was too busy thumbing away on his little keyboard.
I would never have known about the then newish app if I hadn’t noticed one of my student employees taking a photo of his shoes (propped up on my desk). He explained that he and his girlfriend swapped digital photos all day long. They snapped pictures of inconsequential stuff, attached clever one-liners, and sent the disappearing photos through the ether.
“Wait,” I said. “They disappear?”
“Yep.” He gave a sly smile. I knew then that some of his pictures were more consequential than others.
Even now, Snapchat is the world’s fastest-growing social media app. Over 200 million smartphone owners use Snapchat and by some estimates, half of the world’s daily photos are taken with the app. It has been called a “safe-sexting” platform, though a University of Washington and Seattle Pacific University study shows that less than 10% of consumers use it this way. The newest millennials report using the app to capture “silly” less-than-perfect moments; they like that their ‘snaps’ don’t take up valuable storage space on their phones and that they won’t have to be forever embarrassed by their goofy poses.
So when my class was interrupted by clandestine photography, I assumed the disappearing photo included an inappropriate tagline. I was furious. Not only were my students disrupting class, but they were invading my privacy, doing who knows what with my tiny portrait. I hated Snapchat. I am happy to report that eventually the offending student noticed that class had stopped. We had a productive conversation about privacy and boundaries and taking notes. Most of my students at least feigned horror at the interruption. A week later another student took my picture. I threw him out of class.
It turns out I was wrong…mostly. Actually, I’m still not sure. U.S. law says that we have no reasonable expectation of privacy in a public place. I teach in a publicly funded community college. My classroom is open only to registered students, but the campus is public; it’s part of our community. Do I have an expectation of privacy? Is my image, considering the nature of my job, always available for public scrutiny and consumption? The courts have indicated that usually we have an expectation of privacy in our cars and in our “business offices.” Does my classroom count?
My husband and I have debated about this for hours. Even now, the mere mention of Snapchat sends him into eye-rolling convulsions. He, like many experts, says we should assume that we are always on camera. After all, most of us have video cameras in our pockets. He says my lectures aren’t private.
Still, I can’t wrap my mind around the compulsion to photograph and share everything. Especially your boring composition instructor. But I encourage students to share what they’ve learned in class, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when they also share their (often misguided) impressions of their instructor. Maybe Snapchat is merely the latest version of writing on the bathroom wall.
I still hate being photographed on the sly. But I do share this story with my students. It serves as a great starting point for conversations about social media and privacy. This is a discussion they are sick of having – they’ve been warned away from the internet their entire lives. They seem to understand how to navigate the world of not-so-temporary-images and most have set their own boundaries around what is acceptable. They expect to be photographed at any given moment. They expect to be able to retrieve memories and classroom notes. As usual they are way ahead of me.
My 10 year-old granddaughter, Skye, sent me a video that she made not long ago that she told me was “Epic.” She provided very little other explanation, so I had to ask her father, my son, to explain this black thing with blinking lights on it. He told me that she was trying to recreate the partial eclipse of the sun that they had seen recently. He said that Skye was really excited by seeing the eclipse, so she took a black t-shirt, sewed some LED lights in a circle using conductive thread. Then she programmed a computer chip so that it would turn the lights on sequentially. She sewed the computer chip onto the shirt and attached it to the conductive thread. When the lights glowed around the circle, the display did actually look sort of like the partial eclipse of the sun.
I am not writing this to highlight my granddaughter’s ability, but rather to think about ways that our grandchildren, even more than our children are using and will be using technology. Lots of people talk about the dangers of people too attached to their screens, or so attached to screens that they forget how to interact with real people, but I think that while these fears have some merit, they limit our thinking about children and computers. We clearly are not going to put this genie back in the bottle. Computers are here, and will get more and more powerful and sophisticated. Our children and grandchildren will need to learn computer coding because these skills will be critical to helping them make many of the decisions they will have to make to help both preserve and protect the beauty and diversity of our planet.
We live on a planet filled with wonders, and a planet that is changing dramatically and it is my grandchildren’s generation that will have to deal with those changes in one way or another. My granddaughter, like many children of her generation, are well aware of pending extinctions, and the effects of climate change. Skye is lucky to have an uncle who has taken a lot of time to introduce her to the wonders of nature. Young people like Skye will need all the tools they can find to figure out ways for creatures, including humans, to survive. These young people will, first of all, need to develop an appreciation of the diverse and beautiful world. This appreciation comes from spending time outside, from spending time watching ants, or breathing in the fragrance of fir trees. All people need to feel fresh air against their skin, need to go walking in a field. We need to make sure that these things happen because only when people deeply experience the world in a sensory way, can they see that the world is worth caring for.
The human brain has difficulty grasping big stuff. We have difficulty understanding ecological patterns that take place over many generations. One of the reasons, I think, for example, that many people have difficulty accepting human evolution is that is an extremely slow process, and even though we can understand development over several generations, we cannot understand development over thousands of generations, but computers can do these calculations. As computers become more and more powerful, they will be able to show us models of what the world will look like under many different kinds of conditions. Computers will be able (in fact already are) to develop models of what the long-term ramifications of certain kinds of decisions will be in a much more nimble way than the human brain can. Computers can help humans make decisions that will benefit the ants and the fir trees and their human relatives.
Skye’s eclipse project makes me think about this because she started with an experience in the world. She watched a partial eclipse of the sun, through a pin-hole camera. She experienced the wonder of the universe (or at least our solar system). Once she had had that experience, she translated it into an EPIC technology/art/ project. (And art is always experience filtered through the sensibility of the artist). Skye’s project is wonderful, but more importantly she is learning to integrate technology with her experience of the world around her. She doesn’t see a disconnect between technology and the rest of her world, but sees them as connected to each other. As she continues to develop these skills, she, and other young people like her, will be able to make long-term predictions, develop long-term solutions and ultimately, create and value a world that continues to be filled with wonders.
I’m one of those people who like to know the reason behind any action or rule. This is true in my profession as well as in fashion. That’s why when I ran across an article titled “How to Dress After 40 and Still Look Hip,” I mostly ignored the advice.
As a 40+ woman, I worry about dressing wrong for my age. I don’t want to look like I’m trying to relive my teenage years, but at the same time, I feel young, and frankly, after losing 125 pounds, I want to wear fashionable clothes and show off my new body–something I never got to do as a young, overweight woman. So, if I wear something a little “too young” for my age, I’m not going to apologize, and yet, my insecurity screams at me to learn the “rules.”
Today I had the gumption to wear a flowered skirt that sits just above my knees (when sitting). This skirt has been in my closet for more than a year, and it’s taken me this long to finally wear it. In addition to wearing skirts above my knees with prints and bright colors, I’m wearing more dresses and tight pants.
Part of me worries about what my colleagues or my students think of these outfits, but another part of me couldn’t care less. The hard part is balancing these two parts of my brain. This morning, before feeling comfortable, I did seek feedback from my office mates. Because of one person’s comments, I removed the purple flower from my hair–it didn’t really match. It was also a little bit uncomfortable because it kept hitting my ear…so, I was grateful to have another excuse to take it off.
Despite breaking some of the over 40 rules, I did get some useful information. For example, one suggestion was to “try not to be too matchy matchy or too polished.” I like that. I usually try to match my clothes well–sometimes overdoing it in terms of “matchy matchy,” so getting out of my comfort zone in this way is freeing. Like Sylvia says, “It’s nice to mix things up and be a bit more playful.” I definitely aim for this, especially with warmer weather.
I think that fashion rules can be helpful, but at times, it can go a bit too far. For example, Jane was telling me about a site that directed its readers to never wear blue eye shadow. She blinked her blue-shadowed eye lids and smiled. I actually think the blue eye shadow looks good on her. It’s not too blue and she certainly doesn’t look like the classic 1970’s blue eyeshadow. Instead, it looks classy and brings out the color of her shirt.
Once again, I find myself thinking that guidelines can be useful, especially if you’re new to fashion. But all-in-all, Sylvia is right: “ask yourself these questions: Does it look good on me? Is the skirt length too aging or unflattering? Does it make me look too young? Trust your own instinct!” And then get someone you trust to give you feedback. If you like it, and you feel confident, go with it!
I’ve spent a lot of time feeling guilty about how much I love clothes. My mother tells me that I come by the trait honestly – she even apologizes to my husband when I get excited about another new pair of boots. “I made her this way,” she says. Still, I feel like I should learn to back away from the new Anthropologie catalog with a bit more grace. So I’ve made some drastic efforts to break free from my sartorial obsessions.
I’ve purged the closet – three or four times over, once with professional help from a stylist friend. I started shopping in second hand stores. I’ve learned to be systematic about these outings – I can work the racks quickly and spot the junk straight away. My friends and I swap clothes. We’ve held quiet fundraisers that are really just private garage sales. We buy clothes from each other for bargain prices and then donate the pot of money to charity. Voila: new outfits, guilt free.
But my most austere experiment taught me the most.
Two summers ago I lived out of my backpack for 30 days. Fashion was the last thing I expected to learn about in the backcountry, but in retrospect living with one t-shirt, one pair of shorts, and one sports bra was empowering. The obvious is true: there are no clothing decisions to make when you only have one thing to wear. Clothing is about utility in the backcountry – what works and what gets in the way. At a certain point, I forgot what I was wearing – there were too many other things to worry about. Like where to dig cat holes.
But something else happened too. There were ten women on my trip – we outnumbered the guys by one. Alliances formed quickly, and though they weren’t always along gender lines, the women bonded in a predictable sort of way. We scrubbed our faces with minty, biodegradable soap. We shared hairbrushes and moisturizer (worth every ounce of their extra weight). We washed our hair in the creek and compared hairy armpits. One of the toughest women tried to shave her legs with a knife. Even our instructor – a woman who has logged more backcountry time than I can even contemplate – admitted to mailing herself nail polish just so she could “do something girly in the mountains.”
Not all women bond over fashion and beauty, and there are many men who love clothes and makeup and fashion week. But I learned that there is something distinct about the space we carve out to take care of our physical selves. It is not just about how we look. On day 18 of a month-long expedition, everyone looks gross. It’s not about exercise or strength. Anyone willing to carry a heavy pack that long is strong and fit. It’s about identity and self-knowledge, about shared and intimate space, that for me is distinctly feminine. I don’t dress or wear make-up for anyone but myself. I like to feel good so I run and lift weights and wear high heels. I put on make-up because it is fun and it makes me feel good. When it’s not fun, I skip it. My obsession with fashion isn’t about how many clothes I have in my closet; it’s about reminding myself of who I am.
I sometimes worry that I won’t be taken seriously if look like I care about my appearance. But I think I’ve learned that the opposite is true. I have never felt more comfortable in my skin than I did in the mountains two years ago. I didn’t have fashionable clothing or makeup with me. I didn’t even look in a mirror for thirty days. But I did make time for myself in the daily rituals of personal care, and I shared that space with strong, diverse women. Dressing for the day helps me know what I need to accomplish – whether it’s climbing a peak or teaching contemporary poetry.
I try not to feel guilty anymore. The fact is I love clothes and makeup and shoes. I love fashion magazines and nail polish. I also know that I can live without all of the trappings of the industry. Like most people, I am full of contradictions and every day I get up and try to do my best – with every part of myself. Getting dressed is just the first step. ~ Sarah