Monday, August 31, 2015

Are You Up For The Tech Out Challenge?

Finish this sentence with the first thought that pops into your mind:  "You know you're living in a digital world when...."   Easy right?  It is not hard to come up with examples of how a digital world has changed life for the better or worse.  What is difficult is trying to come up with examples of if going back to the old ways would be better?   That is if the "old" ways can be remembered.  Let's be honest when social media posts up meme of old telephones, washboards or card catalogs and asks the question, "how many remember what this is?" ,  the first impulse is to blurt out what it is.  The second impulse is to remember how far back that object dates.  Ten, twenty or fifty years?  It doesn't seem that long ago dail-up modems were the only way to travel on the information highway.  Yet,  in 2015 the thought of having to wait a minute for a page to upload seems like FOREVER.   Is this an exaggeration?  Perhaps but there is truth in the statement.   There is also truth in that libraries, for better or for worse, have fallen in the trap of keeping up with technology.  What is being lost is the art of communication.  That's where the digital world has created the most havoc.

Due to the increase usage of the Internet,  social groups that once would meet face to face, now just "meet" and "converse" online.  What is even more irritating are the responses in happy faces or cartoons that express the emotions of the moment or reaction to what has been said.  Is this the slippery slope of trending away from reading, writing or speaking?  This may sound like someone ranting over something trivial but it has been the experience that these small changes in culture tend to have an impact on what technology will come  up with tomorrow.  Ah, the simpler days are gone, or are they?  Perhaps there is a way to recapture the experience of unplugging and recapturing the simple art of communication.   For a back-to-school/get-to -know-your-peers activities here are some ideas that can be effective in opening the door to communicating the old fashioned way.   It might just make the entire school year better as well.  Most importantly it will get students and parents to understand the huge role that technology plays in daily routines.

Some may call this idea similar to going cold turkey.  Others may call it going off the grid.   The best title to give this exercise is Tech Out Challenge.  In other words, how long can students do without their social media gadgets?  Give each student a manila envelope. Have them write on the outside of the envelope the date and time that they have last used the device.    Instruct them to place their phone in the envelope and seal it.  Once they do this, they are to place the device in a safe place and not retrieve it for three days.  In the event that the student "feels" the need to use their phone, they may retrieve the manilla envelope and rip it open.  At that time they will record the date and time they opened the envelope and the reason for retrieving the device.   Regardless of when a student opens his/her envelope,  all students will participate in a group discussion where the topic will be how well or badly the students did during Tech Out.  Some of the questions to consider asking:

How did you feel about not having your phone with you 24/7?

What did you enjoy the most during  this time?

What did you miss the most during this time?

Would you ever participate in a Tech Out Challenge again?

How has this changed your view about technology?

Remind the students that there are no right or wrong answers to these questions.  The best part of this program is to see how surprised students are out their findings.    It is amazing to see the reactions of teens when they find they can live without technology and still be connected with their social and family groups.

As for the adults who choose to participate alongside their younger counterpart, they too may find something interesting about themselves and technology.  One of the major drawbacks to technology is that it brings with it more distractions.   Has someone called?  Who's online ?  Was there an email missed?  Now bring all these distractions into a learning environment like a school or library.  Is it any wonder that students haven't become stark mad raving lunatics.    This type of constant fight for the students' attention can only lead to more stress and distraction  Not to mention, a loss of social skills.

Consider this an invitation to try this challenge at home, work, library teen programs  or church group.  As life gets more hectic, it is better to take a step back and unplug.  It may be the only way to connect with the real world again.  Or in the case of students,  the opportunity to connect in the "real" world.  

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Top Ten Books For College Bound ... and Beyond.

School is just about to start again.  The sounds of eager students who want nothing more than to get back into a normal routine can be heard in every neighborhood, city and state across this great nation.  Not.  Well, maybe some are eager to get back to school but for others not so much.   This is also the time of year that the questions come up, what books should a college prep student should read or should have read by now?  Love that question for a million reasons, but for the sake of time and space,  only one will be given here.  Asking this question  proves that books challenges the reader to consider another point of view.   It doesn't mean the reader will necessarily agree to the point of view.   It will however open their eyes that there are more than one viewpoint to every situation.  The reader's job is simply to consider the one presented before them.  Having said that,  these titles should be read by every student.  Not just the ones who will continue their academic endeavors after high school.

Everyone has a "'top ten" list of books students should read before college.  Each has its own unique twist and view of what makes good literature.  The list presented here is a mix of traditional and modern titles.  After all, the classics can not be ignored and a list containing only classical works is quite easy to do.  There are so many titles to choose from.  Having said that the modern titles are a little harder, some have been tested over time while others may not have passed the time test, it is  very likely that fifty years from now,  readers will still want to pour over the pages to find out what happens next.  Or at least be reminded of what happened next.

When suggesting a list of must reads for college bound students, it is important to provide a list that covers a wide range of ideas, cultures and points of view.  The following top ten list are titles that have left a lasting impression on readers of all ages.  The titles are timeless and they remain on librarian's must read list for years.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is without a doubt a classic example of  wit, wisdom and romantic story that even men can enjoy.  If reader's have not been introduced to Mr. Darcy, then life simple pleasures like laughter and love can not be experienced fully.

Everyone should know of William Shakespeare's Hamlet.  Plays are often difficult to read but this one is well worth it. If reading old English seems daunting by all means pick up one of the Everyday Shakespeare's paperback to help gain a better understanding of the plot.   The death of Hamlet's father brings to surface the lies,  greed and insecurities of each character in the play.  Specifically Hamlet who is determined to uncover the truth about his father's death.

There are two Russian novels that should not be overlooked but often are left off of lists similar to this.  Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago.  One of the best kept secrets of Russian literature which gives a realistic picture  of the Bolshevik Revolution from the point of view of a middle class doctor.  Another stunning view of Russian history from Stalin's gulag is A Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich written by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.  Both of these novels provide an unforgettable glimpse of life in Communist Russia.

Staying on the theme of gulags and prison camps, which admittedly is very depressing, but necessary to read about.  Two books come to mind that should not be missed.  Ellie Wiesel's  Night is a tragically unforgettable account of life in the Nazi Germany's concentration camps.  Along side that another book that should be read is The Boy In The Stripped Pyjamas by John Boyne.  Both of these books are life changing reads.  That is not an overstatement either. Both books are that powerful!

Harper Lee's time-tested To Kill A Mockingbird introduced readers to a small town that is turned upside down due to a high profile  murder trial.  Mix into that, a bit of racism and standing up for what is right makes the story one of the best in American literature. Frankly, one of the few stories that show lawyers in a positive light.  Atticus Fitch is the lawyer that every person would want to have on their side should trouble come their way.

The list would be dull without Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.  The scary vision of what a world would be like if every moment, thought and breath were controlled by a government.  Scary yet eye opening   What is most powerful about this work is that it stirs up passionate debate about how far a government should or could go.

The Alchemist is a new classic favorite written by Paulo Coehlo.  that should be on every reader's list.  It is a wonderful story of a journey to find one's purpose in life.  This is definitely a book to read over and over again.

Autobiographies rarely make the list of must reads most likely because they are not fiction thus not classified as classic literature. However, this list attempts to change the definition slightly of classic literature to include this genre.  One of the most inspiring and well written biography  is The Story of My Life by Helen Keller.  After reading Keller's life story there is simply no excuse for not going out and conquering the world.  After reading this, one can only conclude  that if Helen can make a difference, we all can make a difference.

This is just a small list of the best of the best in literature.  As the school year goes on,  more titles will be suggested but for now,  one of these ten titles should be enough to get started on a literary path to a well rounded reader's life.