I am a walking paradox. To understand who I am is to come to an intimate grasp of cognitive dissonance. My poor wife is a captive audience to my regular contradictions. She is forced to make the following face on a regular basis when trying to comprehend how she ended up marrying someone as confounding as me.
The starkest example of this can be seen in my dichotomous relationship with contemporary, data-mined, digital technologies. I have a preoccupation with digital technologies and social media that is beyond the parameters of good health, yet I wring my hands about it in an almost joyful fashion. That’s one of the reasons I am a massive fan of Manoush Zomorodi and her Note to Self podcast. Listening to Zomorodi’s stories helps me work through a lot of thinking and struggle I have around, as they say, “being a human that uses technology.” The podcast’s goal is not to give you neat and tidy answers to complex problems. Rather, it helps you to go deeper into the complexity.
The Privacy Paradox series was a great example of this. Listen to the episodes and see my accompanying sketchnotes below.
It was my daughter’s 14th birthday last week. I was so excited.
I’d concocted this clever plan to get her a brand new phone. Up until now, she’s always accepted 3rd generation hand-me-downs from my wife and I. Never has she complained. I’ve always been so impressed that she’s never been as obsessed with the newest and shiniest as I am. She’s been using my old iPhone 4S from 2011 quite happily, but the truth is that it’s quite slow and, as a result, not exactly a productivity device (yes, feel free to file under #FirstWorldProbs). I’m expecting it to kick the proverbial can any time now.
As I did my consumer research, I discovered how much more bang one can get from purchasing an Android device over one from our Lord and Saviour, Apple. Since 2008, no one in our family has ever diverged from disobeying our Apple overlords. Strutting my way through my Best Buy checkout, I was pretty pleased with myself for: a) breaking free from the chains of Steve Jobs; and b) getting ready to surprise my unsuspecting daughter with a brand new phone that had about 20 times the functionality of her current paper weight. I’m a bad, bad man, I thought (“bad” meaning “good”). You need to forgive me for being all…
as she was opening the mysterious box. I was so happy to “reward” her for all these years of never bugging us for a new, fancy phone. Instead, I was so puzzled when I saw her do this after realizing it wasn’t an iPhone:
Now, I’ve taught middle school. I know what that anxious nodding of the head means. It’s adolescent code for “I don’t wanna hurt your feelings, but…” I knew something was wrong when she said:
“Um, ya, thanks for… the… PHONE! It’s, um… OK… if I still keep my other one, right?”
“But, Yumi,” I insisted, “this new phone has a bigger screen, about 10 times the processor, more RAM than you’ve ever experienced, and is brand new! You’ve never had a brand new phone before!” I’m not proud to admit how much I sounded like a phone salesman. It reminded me of the time I tried to convince her that kimchi is delicious. The more I stayed on the sell, the less persuaded she became.
I was so bumfuzzled. Really? Was the branding that powerful? She would rather have a barely usable device with an Apple on it than a super phone that can do everything hers does but way better? It took a few days for her to admit the real reason she didn’t jump for joy.
“It’s iMessage, dad. Some of my friends only text through it. That’s more important to me than having a fancy phone. Sorry, dad. Thanks so much for the gift, but I’m good with my phone. If you can’t return it, I’ll owe you the money you spent on it.”
I listen to podcasts so you don’t have to. The Podcasts for Pedagogues series exists to clue you in on great podcast episodes you may have missed.
Below is my little sketchnote on Anil Dash‘s call (in conversation with Krista Tippett) for an urgent rethink and new direction for software engineering and the tech industry. It’s been a long time since I listened to a conversation as important.
The #MyWorkflow series is where I share fun and/or useful little ways that I’m using technology that may or may not be unexpected. Full disclosure: I use Apple devices so I apologize if my posts occasionally ignore all the great things Android, PC, Chromebook, Ubuntu and other devices can do. Please post your own #MyWorkflow, tag me on it, and I’d be happy to share with others. See the rest of my posts in the series here.
Have you ever tried to get some work done while your child pokes at your side, pulls on your shirt, or insists that she is “booooooooooored” (my daughter literally did this to me while writing this and after I just spent time drawing with her #parenting)? I feel like modern technology’s notifications are like that child. If you’re struggling with all the bells, whistles, and pop-up messages on your iPhone/iPad and Mac devices (that’s what I use), I hope these little tips help you.
Almost any app you download these days prompts you early on to turn ON notifications. We often do so without thinking because we’re in the habit of complying with our digital overlords. Take back your freedom by going here in your settings:
You’ll now see a list of all your apps.
Make yourself a nice warm cup of tea and systematically modify the notification settings on each app. I have a strong preference for “Badges” as they alert me to new action when I look at my phone, but not at other times.
Unfortunately, there may be other settings to tweak in the apps themselves, and they can, at times, be frustrating to find. Just touch everything you can until you find a gear or adjustment symbol. For instance, in my Slack and Pocket Casts apps respectively:
But wait, there’s more. One of my favourite little settings adjustments for my own mental well-being lies in Do Not Disturb scheduling. I love the fact that I can turn off notifications entirely at certain times of the day/night:
macOS (MacBook Pro/Air/etc.)
And now for your Mac. In some ways, getting control of your notifications on your computer is even more important as you’re often:
Working on your computer and there’s nothing more intrusive than a notification literally appearing over your work; and
Projecting on to your screen in front of others and, well, no good can come of a notification then.
So, just like your iPhone’s Settings, go into your Mac’s System Preferences:
Again, systematically adjust the settings of each app to allow for as little intrusion on your life as possible (note the option to schedule Do Not Disturb once again):
Now go into the preferences of specific go-to apps to reign them in as much as possible:
Please let me know if there’s anything I’ve missed!
As the school year begins for many, I wanted to share some facts about the connection I have to my cell phone. You are free to pass judgement on them below. I am not necessarily proud about them. But they are accurate descriptions of at least my own reality, and, I have a feeling, many of our students. My mobile phone is with me at all times. Have you seen those posters at public swimming pools which remind parents to be at an arm’s length of their little children? I basically take that approach with my phone. My device is like my external memory. If I don’t have it with me, I will not be able to remember many things. I need my phone to connect to a handful of people I am close to, dozens of people that are part of my communities, and thousands that I’ve never met but with whom I maintain an important, ambient connection. For the closest people in my life, my phone means we are, or can be, in constant communication. When I’m curious about something, I use my phone to look up information online, ask questions of my online communities, or often a blend of both. I would estimate that 95% (if not more) of the media I consume and words I read are now via my flat, shiny, pocket-ready device. I play Pokemon Go on my phone. I like my phone. I’m fond of it. You may relate to the above, find it a perfect example of the world being nigh, or something in between. But regardless of your editorial thoughts on the matter, you would probably concede that many of our youth also share this view of their own device’s utility and connection to themselves. So, what will your approach as an educator be? Will you try to ignore this reality? Will you become reactionary to it? Will you leverage it? Will you intentionally interrupt it for pedagogical purposes?
The #MyWorkflow series asks educators who are active creators on social media to share how they do their work. Today we speak with Sue Dunlop, a long time Ontario Education PLN member. Sue has been a trailblazer for system-level leaders who share their thinking openly online. Through her blog and Twitter presence, she regularly interacts with all manner of stakeholders in very honest online conversations. While it would be easy to step away from such encounters due to the complex, often political nature of her work, Sue walks the open learning that she so often talks about. Rather than leveraging her positional stature in these spaces, Sue is vulnerable, questioning, and humble. Reading her tweets and blogposts gives me great hope for the direction of our great province’s education system.
How do you pay the bills?
I’m a superintendent of schools in Hamilton-Wentworth. It’s a great job. While highly political, it’s super interesting. I have to use all the skills and experience I’ve acquired over the years. Some days are tough, but I learn from everything. You’ll often see me sharing some of that learning in my blog.
What regular activity brings you little money but loads of happiness?
I love to sing! Most of my singing these days is as part of a choir which is very satisfying when things go well. Did you know that when a group of people sings choral music, their heartbeats sync? The other amazing thing about singing is that when you are fully engaged, body and mind, you can’t think about anything else. It is the definition of flow.
I do a few other things that make me really happy. Riding my bike brings incredible freedom and I really get to know my city. Swimming outside in a lake, stroking through the water, turning my head, taking a breath and seeing blue sky and trees makes me feel part of our world. Walking in the woods during all seasons surrounds me with sounds, smells, and colours. So good.
What’s your current phone? Which phone do you miss? What will be your next one?
I have an iPhone 6. It’s a work phone. I like it fine, especially the syncing between my other Apple devices. I also use a Basis Peak, which is a watch that tracks my activity and gets notifications from my phone. That’s pretty cool. I attend a lot of meetings and school visits, so my phone is always on silent. Having my wrist buzz to let me know that I have an incoming text or phone call means I miss fewer important ones.
I can’t say that there’s ever been a phone I missed. I’m not big on talking on the phone, and I do so much of that for work that I tend to not to do it while at home. And the screen is really too small to do any work, reading or creating. My preferred future is no phone at all!! (Is that realistic, do you think?)
What’s your current laptop? Which laptop do you miss? What will be your next one?
My beautiful blue covered laptop is a 13 inch MacBook Air from 2012. It’s not a work laptop. I would not give it up! My very first computer was a Commodore 64 back in university and after that it was all PC’s. I jumped to the MacBook and after some initial adjustments I’ve loved it. One battery upgrade and it’s still going strong. I hope it lasts a long time.
After reading the rest of your series, I felt like I was underachieving because I didn’t have a name for my laptop. But I don’t.
What apps and/or methods do you use to stay productive?
A few years ago, I read Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity by David Allen. It really streamlined how I organize myself and keep track of all the things I have to do. The key is a simple system that you scan and update regularly, whether analog or digital. I use OWA at work for email and calendaring, but fortunately, it syncs quite well with my Mac native calendar, reminders, and mail apps. I use OneNote for meeting and other topic notes. There’s nothing else except a notebook to track phone calls. I tried to go digital for those, but it’s too hard to type when you’re on the phone – and I’m on the phone a lot.
I can also tell you that if my unread work emails go above 20, I can get a little obsessed with dealing with them. I’ve never gotten to inbox zero. Maybe when I retire?
Which apps do you check persistently, even if you wish you didn’t?
I have to say I’m pretty good at not checking. I only keep phone notifications for text messages and phone calls, as I find the banners or badges for other apps can be like a little electric shock. I try to check apps like Twitter once or twice a day at set times. I am constantly encouraging colleagues and friends to take the notifications off their phones and other devices and check email and other social media at certain times of the day. If something is urgent, someone will call you. Really.
How do you carry your gear?
Ah, the neverending search for the perfect work bag! I’ve tried so many. It really comes down to being the perfect size more than anything else. It needs to be big enough for my stuff but not too big so it’s hard to carry around. I currently carry a gray leather tote with enough room for what I need as I’m out and about around the district. It’s always ready to go.
What other hardware rarely leave your bag?
Laptop, phone, cords, dongles, portable charger, wallet, coin purse (the best thing), lip gloss, lipstick, Advil, access pass, notebook, and paper copies of emergency contacts, policies, and procedures.
What piece(s) of analogue technology is a must in your life?
A purple pen. And a tiny notebook to write notes. Oh, and cash. I’m a big believer in using cash. You spend way less.
What drink, snack, or food sits next to you when you’re being creative?
Nothing. When I’m really into something, I don’t need the distractions of a drink or snack. Even if I pour myself a coffee or tea, I can forget about it until it gets cold. So I eat first – eating is always a priority with me! – and then get to work.
When working, do you prefer the cafe, library, couch, office, kitchen table, or other?
I prefer to be sitting up straight or standing but the location isn’t as important, I have an office but I’m not usually in it as I’m out in schools most days. I have a nifty little device called the Furinno laptop desk that you can configure in all kinds of ways. It turns any counter or desk into a standing desk, which I enjoy. I’ve also been known to lounge on the couch while working, but I find it hard to be as productive. I guess my mom was right when she said good posture was the key.
When working, do you need quiet, ambient noise, speakers, or headphones?
Quiet. And I prefer the door closed. Eliminate distractions.
Morning, afternoon, evening, or the witching hour?
Absolutely morning. I’ve always been this way. If I have a big project to do, I go to bed early and then get up at 5:00 to get to work on it. My brain works much better on lots of sleep than trying to crank something out late at night.
How do you get from idea to shipping that idea?
I’ve been reading an amazing book called How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention and Discovery by Kevin Ashton. Ashton makes the convincing argument that ideas are everywhere, but it takes a lot of time and sustained effort to create. Creation is not some magical moment – it’s a culmination of trials and successes and failures. I try to keep this in mind so I create times in my week where I have some space to think. But that’s just the idea part. Then I have to sit down (or stand!) and get down to work. I make sure I’ve got some time, I eliminate distractions and go. Then I leave it for some time, which depends on how much I have – but at least overnight. If I think it’s ready after that, I ship.
What’s one piece of advice you have for people that have difficulty with their workflow?
Two pieces of advice:
Find a daily routine that works for you and stick with it.