Do you see what I see?

So the other day I was walking back from dinner and I walked down a path I had taken countless times. As I made my way back up to my dorm, I saw a massive set of stairs. Massive. Like Woolly Mammoth level (hence the picture). I stood there for a moment, utterly perplexed by the fact that I had never seen them before.

A picture of MAMMOTH proportions… From:

This got me thinking about how little we really perceive. To be fair, I’m not exactly known for my observational skills, but it’s an interesting thing to think about. In modern times we travel daily farther than most people from the past traveled in their entire life. We are exposed to so many beautiful sights, and yet, we see so little. It’s sad when you realize that the vast majority of people have grown to live there entire lives with “tunnel-vision”. I’m reminded of a quote on a t-shirt I got when I was ten (back when people didn’t wear abstract designer trends and it wasn’t sacrilege to have words on you’re shirt other than “NIKE”), it goes: “It’s hard to see the big picture, when you have a small screen.” Sadly, this statement is becoming more and more true as we lose interest in seeing what’s around us.

I challenge anyone who is actually reading this blog, to shut off your phone, walk outside, and just enjoy what’s around you. And for gosh golly’s sake, keep your eyes open.


Designing our Future

The funny thing about IDEAS seminar is that you really have no IDEA (bad pun) what to expect. I mean, sure, you know that you’re going to walk out with more questions than you walked in with… but still. The last seminar I walked into, I fully expected to discuss a play called Enemy of the People. Lo and behold, that discussion was postponed and instead we watched what was supposed to be an inspiring video on design.

For an hour and a half we were lead through the long design process and we saw how people work in the “real world”. Don’t get me wrong, I was incredibly intrigued by what was being shown to me (I mean, I knew a lot of stuff happened in the design process, but gosh golly gee whiz, I was still blown away by its complexity). Everything was happy-dandy until a designer from Japan threw in his two cents. At first, he was just describing a little flip phone (you know, the phones from the Dark Ages) and why it was shaped so uniquely. It had jagged edges that he described as being freshly-skinned-potato-shape. The thought behind this was that people seem to be instinctively drawn to fiddle with odd shapes, and he was hoping that people would grow more attached to this phone through this extra contact. This bugged me.

I don’t like doing what I’m told. I’ll do what I have to to succeed professionally, but in my daily life I want to do my own thing. The idea that something was designed to inherently modify human behavior disturbs me greatly. If something as antiquated as a flip phone can mess with our heads even a little bit, imagine what more complex technology can do to us.

Look at this phone: This little thing can mess with you head. Picture from:
Look at this phone: This little thing can mess with you head.
Picture from:

Increasing Access

Mark Zuckerberg (chief of Facebook) and Narendra Modi (prime minister of India) host live chat to discuss the spread of internet access.
Mark Zuckerberg (chief of Facebook) and Narendra Modi (prime minister of India) host live chat to discuss the spread of internet access.

Tackling the issue of “do we really need technology?” it is interesting to read an article like this one, about bringing the Internet to areas of the world that don’t have access to it. These people have been living without the Internet their whole lives, and once introduced to it, not many actually decide that they need it.

It’s very different from the point of view that we have here, where millions of Americans have access to the internet and to technologies every day. It is actually surprising to see someone who is not staring at their phone, and we have discussed the social changes that may have resulted due to this increase of the availability of technology.

The internet can be useful in a number of ways, but is the rapid spread of its use really what we want? Will we become a world where it is impossible to see someone without a phone in hand, where basic human communication and connection are lost? If every person in the world has access to the internet, it will be harder even to imagine a life without it. Soon no one will remember the time that came before, and then what will we have lost? We have to consider the social and economic consequences of technology, and think of realize what we do when we spread that influence around the world.

The Technological Disconnect

One of the uses of technology has always been to connect us with others. Whether we are surfing the web, watching YouTube videos, or texting a friends, technology always seems to bridge the physical gap between people. Yet, nowadays there is this growing concern that through technology we are actually becoming more disconnected from people. How is this possible?

The problem with technology comes from our constant reliance from it. I challenge you to go a week without using a computer. When I leave my dorm, I always grab my phone. I am constantly receiving emails and texts for classes or meetings and trying to survive without it is no small task. Now sure, physically you’d be fine. Emotionally and occupationally you’re in shambles. When you receive a text, your brain actually releases pleasure endorphins that make you feel good. The feeling itself can almost be addicting. With that in mind, many people can sink into depression if they’re not constantly getting texts.

Technology also acts as a crutch in social situations. Feeling awkward at a party? Pull your phone out and watch Snapchat stories until the awkwardness is a distant memory. It’s truly interesting to see how socially acceptable it has become to just whip your phone out Willie-nillie. Where are the good ole’ days where pulling your phone out at dinner was sacrilege? Hopefully, as a society we can start to work ourselves away from this. Social awareness of this problem is key… so go tell all your friends… and by tell, I don’t mean text.person-woman-apple-iphone

Television’s Continuing Influence

Watching television is something now so common and an integral part of our lives that we don’t even notice its influence. It is a major factor of socialization and has been for quite some time. What do the shows and movies out now tell us about society today, and how does that affect the people growing up watching it?

It may seem strange that shows like The Walking Dead and How I Met Your Mother actually reflect something about society, but a closer look reveals that they do. Most shows are filled with allusions to the current times, which dates them. When you watch a show from the 90s or even early 2000s it is clear that it is an “old” one. These allusions create a feeling of connection and understanding to the present times, but also mean that in a decade or two these shows will have lost meaning to the new generations.

And then how are these shows affecting the attitudes of people? The most impressionable time is when we are children, and many kids now are watching these more “adult” shows. But does it also affect adults? It may model the way in which they perceive society and those people their age that they would feel more connected with.

This issue of television and its affect on society was brought up in another class but also relates to the IDEAS seminar—television is a technology that has become a seamless part of our life, but it is an older technology, so do we really understand or even recognize the impact it has on our lives?

Do we need Heroes?

We have this funny little word in the English language. You’ve probably heard it before;it’s rather commonplace. The word I’m thinking of is: “Hero.” Now, sure, if you really wanted to you could go to a dictionary and look up good ole’ Merriam Websters definition, but hold on for just a second. The English language is a gelatinous blob of ever evolving words. With that in mind, one could argue that using the textbook definition of “Hero” is as antiquated as watching black and white television, or riding dinosaurs.

Since the birth of literature various authors offer archetypes of heroic characters. Now maybe you agree with Homer and look to fan favorite Odysseus as your heroic holotype. Or perhaps you look to the comics and find reassurance in dreamy superheroes.  Yet heroism is more personal than that. In a recent IDEAS seminar this topic came up and I sat and watched as seemingly the vast majority of the room seemed to dethrone someone I’d consider to be a hero. Now there is nothing wrong with this, it was just the slap to the face that I needed to realize just how open ended and opinion based the hero concept is.

This unmodified picture is from:
This unmodified picture is from:

I also found myself fascinated by the realization that for centuries literature has been focused on hero archetypes. While lost in this thought, Professor Best asked the question “Do we need Heroes?” and I’ve found myself pondering this. At first reaction, in humanistic spite I thought “No, of course not” letting the bravado I’ve let build up surrounding my faith in humans comfort me. Yet, as time passed I began to realize that the word “hero” and the concept itself is a human constructed entity. We didn’t need to develop the word, we didn’t need to let it become the focal point of our fantasies (at least, every young boys’ fantasy), yet it did. Maybe we don’t need heroes in the physical sense, but to me, it seems that we need the concept of heroes the same way we need faith.

What We are Doing

The IDEAS program is so hard to describe to people when they ask that standard question, “What is your major?”. The concept of being in two colleges and integrating different areas of study across those colleges, areas that may seem completely unrelated, is one that is hard to understand. You often get asked the question, “Well what do you do?” or “What are you going to do?”, and the beauty about IDEAS is that none of us really have that figured out yet, but we know that we want to do something special and different in order to change the world.

In the last seminar Professor Best brought up this idea of “changing the world”, and about how we would do that. It is not necessarily about changing the whole world, its about changing our corner of it. Our motivation is this prospect of maybe exerting some change with what we are passionate about that will create a ripple effect and cause good everywhere through our work and inspiration to others.

We are here to think broadly, define new ethics for an unknown future world, thinking about the possibility of going somewhere and what to do when that happens. We are discovering questions and topics that are important to us, finding out what really “bothers” us, in order to take this out to the world once we leave and hopefully make some kind of difference.