Thursday, January 30, 2014

Snow Day

A quick survey of images from states in the upper Midwest reveals how little snow we actually have. But this is what passes for deep winter in the South.  There are a couple of inches on the ground, the temperature is below freezing and will dip into the teens come nightfall.  And the university is closed!  Hence, I decided to make it a real "snow day."  You know, a Currier and Ives, Over The River and Through the Woods day, a Snowbound kind of day: “Announced by all the trumpets of the sky, Arrives the snow, and, driving o’er the fields, Seems nowhere to alight:" 

But how, I asked myself, does a snow day play out in the 21st century?  It started, I decided, by staying in bed watching the snow outside - reading a physical book, a real book with pages and everything.  I meandered through a few chapters and then declared that hot chocolate was the next step, so I slipped out of bed leaving my wife still huddled under the covers.  Friends had given me some "sipping chocolate" for Christmas and I meticulously followed the heat, mix and whisk directions printed on the can.  The whisking took a long time, and as I whisked I thought about what I would do for the rest of the day.  Doing what I do for a living, teaching about technology and its impact on our lives, my first thought was make it a NO TECHNOLOGY DAY. Cut the cord, get off the computer. I have no logs to split, nor an ax, but you can see where I was leaning.

However, that idea quickly lost its appeal as I again thought about what I would actually do for the rest of the day.  I wanted to do some drawing, which I do on a large graphics tablet attached to my laptop. I also draw while listening to music or listening to audio books - which tend to flow through my iPad. The NO TECH day was quickly losing its appeal. Maybe just a little tech? But issues attach to  "little tech" as well. The problem was, again, Marley's Chains.  I have talked about Marley's Chains in the context of social networks like Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, etc.  Once you "friend" someone, their friends and children and cats and goldfish come streaming onto your computer like the chains that poor Marley drags behind him into Scrooge's parlor.  In a broader sense, Marley's Chains threaten us every time we turn on our computer because there, next to Photoshop, lurks your email application with messages that pay no attention to the sanctity of a snow day - buy this, check on that, approve the other one.  And, of course they don't wait to be acknowledged - the "helpful apps" push themselves onto your screen. Want to listen to that book while you draw? Go ahead, but doing so puts you on iTunes, which, in addition to playing your book, will prompt you to take a "free" listen to the recent Grammy winners.  Like that? Wanna buy it?

That is when it struck me that the answer was "selective deconvergence." Huh?  Let me explain.  For a long time now communication scholars have been running on about "convergence culture."  Which means about the same thing as Marley's Chains - activities that used to be utilized as separate tools, separate media, have now "converged" onto single screens.  Our books, music and video sources, newspapers, etc., all "live" in the same place, on the same screen.  They pour in like Marley's Chains.  At first blush, it seems quite convenient. But there is an insidious side of convergence.  When the tools of creation are tightly intertwined with the avenues of consumption there is an uncomfortable degree of cross-pollination, even pollution.  "Like to listen to that book?" Amazon inquires, "Maybe you'll enjoy this."  "Bought those markers? Try these."

It will not go away. I doubt we will every untangle the Gordian Knot of the converged Internet, but perhaps we can tame the beast a bit.  I am going to try to complete my snow day divorced from the Internet.  I will not be able to avoid hearing the Siren songs of bleating emails, pushed news stories, etc.  But I will do my best to ignore them.  I am going to try to imagine that the world is, for a day, "unconverged." I will use my technology to pass the time more pleasurably, to have my technology do my bidding.  But when it tries to drag the Marley's Chains of its commercial inducements across my enjoyment I will simple "click away." It is, after all, a snow day.