Monthly Archives: May 2011

Rapture No, Apocalypse Yes

The world may not have ended last weekend but according to a story I read, life as we know it may well be seriously endangered.

It appears that a girl in Scotland has been granted permission to listen to an iPod while taking her final school exams because she isn’t able to concentrate unless she is listening to music.

The article says that she is in the final year of high school, which would put her in her late teens. 

The key points of the story are:

  • She can’t concentrate unless she’s listening to music so she wants to listen to music while sitting for final exams
  • The school said too bad
  • The parents appealed to the examination board
  • The board said too bad
  • So far, so good, other than one wonders about the parents
  • The parents threatened to sue (no need to wonder about the parents any more)
  • The school authorities caved because lawyers warned that they may be guilty of “discrimination” under the Equalities Act because the girl “often struggles to pay attention in class” (apparently that is a disability that you can’t discriminate against)
  • The school authorities are “bracing for a flood of similar claims”
  • The iPod has to be loaded by the examination staff to make sure it doesn’t have anything that might give her an advantage on the exams–but the songs on it must be the ones she wants to listen to
  • The exam staff are angry because they now have additional work in the form of loading the iPod
  • School authorities are worried about how they are going to get the staff to load up additional iPods when the “flood of similar claims” (which will clearly all have merit) starts

I don’t know about you, but I’m very confused.  My dictionary defines concentration as “to bring or direct toward a common center or objective; to direct attention to a single object; focus.  The girl has trouble doing this.  As the article says, she “often struggles to pay attention in class.” 

Well I’m a bit of an expert on this topic.  Because just about every teacher I ever had (and a few bosses) said that about me at one time or another.  And in my capacity as an expert, I can tell you that sensory bombardment (i.e., music delivered via earphones) does not aid and abet “directing attention to a single object,” in this case the test questions. 

I remember a math teacher telling me that my attempt to simultaneously listen to him and read a comic book was the equivalent of trying to focus on two separate things with each eye.  And it couldn’t be done.   He was right about that—but he was mistaken that I was actually trying to listen to him.

And that might be something for the school authorities (and parents) to think about.  Sitting in class is a passive activity and when you are passive it’s easy for your mind to wander.  But taking an exam requires a modicum of engagement that you would imagine would help one to focus.  Writing your name on the paper involves some degree of focussed attention, if only to manage to get it on the right line.  How come the people responsible for delivering education don’t know that?  After all, by reinforcing this kind of behaviour they have sort of severely limited the number of careers this girl can pursue.  I can’t see her being an airline pilot, lawyer, doctor, beautician, call center attendant, check out clerk, waitress, cop, teacher, actress, singer.  Do I need to go on?  She probably can’t get any job because she has to wear her iPod in order to concentrate and one assumes she would need to concentrate at a job interview. 

Forgive me for sounding politically incorrect, but this girl doesn’t have a disability.  If anything, she is a victim—of her parents’ laziness and the cowardice of the school authorities.  I am all for making allowances and accommodating students who have a genuine disability, but it’s worrisome when some people consider themselves victims if they are inconvenienced when asked to conform with basic norms of human behaviour.  And it’s even more unfortunate when people in leadership positions won’t make tough decisions because they are afraid of a lawsuit.

If I were running that school, I’d say, “So sue me.” And if the parents did, I’d limit my legal costs to taking out a full page ad in the local paper explaining the suit and listing all the school programs that will have to be cut because of legal expenses or reallocation of resources from normal teaching to loading iPods, etc.  I bet that (a) I’d get a lot of contributions to my legal fund and (b) the suit might well go away. 

In retrospect, I’m kind of happy that my math teacher confiscated my comic book.  Not because I learned any math, but because I learned about priorities and self discipline and, again in retrospect, that has been a very good thing.

The girl has probably never heard her parents say the word “no.”  Or if she has, she has learned that they are only too happy to take the easy way out and oblige her every demand.  It may be unfair of me to make rash assumptions, but I bet that this girl has pretty much iTuned out of the world for a while.  She is no different that the scores of teenagers I’ve seen sitting in restaurants with their parents, earphones stuck in their ears and looks of cosmic pain on their faces at being forced to interact in some small way with the real world.   I can understand the parents being perfectly happy to have the kid quiet and tractable and iSedated all the time, but then what’s the point of having kids?

Adventures of a Luddite II

It so doesn’t need to be said, but I will anyway:  Just because technology lets you do something doesn’t mean that you should do it.  Or that it is even a good idea.

Today we have three examples.

On our recent trip to the US, we rented a car for the drive from Florida to Ohio.  It was a really nice car.  I liked it.  But after we’d been on the road for about 20 miles a little indicator light came on.  I didn’t recognize the icon—it wasn’t an oil can or gas pump or anything like that.  And anyway, it was yellow so I assumed that nothing catastrophic was happening so I kept on driving.

At the next stop I consulted the manual (don’t get me started on how easy it was to find what I was looking for in the phone book sized manual) and learned that the indicator light meant that one of the car’s tires was underinflated.

Intuitive, in retrospect:

I experienced disbelief on two levels.  First, the tires all looked fine to me and the car drove perfectly, so I didn’t believe that there was a tire problem.  Second, I found myself wondering why they put something on a car to inform you about a something you can already tell just by looking.

I was faced with conflicting evidence.  My experience with driving and my sensory input vs. the computer in the car which was saying I had a low tire. 

If the car hadn’t been equipped with the tire pressure indicator system, I wouldn’t have even thought about the tires.  There wasn’t a single shred of evidence, other than the light, that there was a problem.  But I said to myself, “Hmm, the computer is saying there’s a problem.  Maybe it’s more sensitive than me.  Maybe I better check.”

So the next time we gas up I decide to top up the tires as well.  Guess what?  They charge you a buck to put air in your tires now.  When did that start?  Anyway, I got my dollar’s worth of air and away we went.

About 20 miles later, the light came back on.  Once again, there was no indication of any problem based on observation of the tires and the way the car was driving.  Again, thinking that the computer was smarter than me, I thought I might have a puncture and a slow leak so that evening I backed the car forward and backward a few times and did a visual and manual inspection, both of which were negative.

I then decided to tackle the manual again to learn more about the system.  There are fifteen pages of information, few of which are either comprehensible or enlightening.  I did however learn that if the light is on all the time you have a problem, but if it comes on only after you’ve driven about 20 miles the system is out of whack and needs to be reset by an authorized technician.

That part of the manual had all those little exclamation points in triangles that are supposed to get your attention.  The warning was to get the system reset immediately because if it’s malfunctioning the tires might be low and I wouldn’t know it!!

How has the human race survived this long?

That light stayed on until I got to Cleveland and for all I know someone is driving the car somewhere with flawless tires and a tire warning light glowing. 

Some people seem to think that technology will solve all their problems.  For example, I saw an article about a Canadian couple who were driving from Canada to Las Vegas and ended up lost in Nevada for 48 days because they neglected to look out the window and relied solely on the GPS.

Think about it—that’s a month and a half. 

The wife was rescued by hunters—she stayed with the car but the husband went for help and is still out there somewhere. 

Maybe I’m not a trusting soul, but when the GPS in our rental car said “turn left” I checked to make sure there were no cars coming.  Similarly, if I was on a major highway heading for a major city and it told me to exit onto smaller and smaller roads, I ignored it and paid attention to the road signs.  As the article said, “Authorities say that such incidents show there is no substitute for common sense.”

So with that in mind, let’s consider the latest technology offering from, where else, Japan.  It’s called Necomimi, which means “cat ears” in Japanese.

The reason it’s called cat ears is because it is a set of ears that look like cat ears that you wear on your head.  But there is some sort of brain wave sensor in the head band that picks up your emotions and little motors in the ears move them so that people can see how you feel.  There are four basic positions that indicate whether you are nervous, focused, relaxed or if your brain activity is low (they “flap gently back and forth” in those cases).

Of course this technology has useful and practical applications for the disabled.  But the people who developed Necomimi “wanted something for all to enjoy.”

Enjoy?

Not only that, they think that there may be applications to help people who are “reclusive or shy around strangers.”  Can you picture a shy person going to a party wearing a set of cat ears to communicate?  That would definitely help their social life.

Look for Necomimi later in 2011.  According to the article the price tag will be “several hundred dollars” per set of ears. 

Read My Ears!

Somehow I think Necomimi will go the route of mood rings.