Gone Fishing

Figure 1. Packing for a full month away. Everything but the kitchen sink.

Figure 1. Packing for a full month away. Everything but the kitchen sink.

On the 9th of December in 2015, I set out for a camping trip with my three young children to the Sapphire Coast of Australia, toward the New South Wales and Victorian border (Figure 1). The last time I had driven through this stunning part of the world, was when my parents decided to take their four children across country in a Ford Cortina station wagon to visit their first cousins on apricot and citrus farms in South Australia.

I turned eight years of age over that summer, and the memories of that trip are etched into our hearts. We've laughed countless times over events on that holiday, all of which were borne from a “lack of access” to technology, resulting in “close-ess” and “togetherness.” Loxton, South Australia, only had two television channels back then-the ABC news, and 5A which showed endless games and replays of cricket. While we grew to love cricket — we had no choice - we welcomed every opportunity to physically help our cousins gather fruit using nothing but ladders and our bare hands.

It was the festive season, and I remember lots and lots of family gatherings, parties, and outdoor lamb-spit barbecues. We gathered to eat, and dance, and our elders reminisced over what life was like in the village in Greece, and tell us funny stories about growing up with hardly any material possessions. Highlights included: when a photographer visited the village once every other year to take pictures with his humungous boxed contraption, which he would hide behind; the memory of the first time a car was spotted trying to come into the village; walking to school one hour away with shoes made out of goat skin (if not barefoot); and the harsh unheated winters and boiling hot summers over scenic Sparta.

It was a kind of celebration of life when I think back. It was so carefree, clean and pure, and joyous! Everyone lived in the moment. No one took pictures of their food to post to Instagram, no one had their head buried in front of a screen watching YouTube on demand, and we were outside in the fresh air awestruck by the beauty of the glistening stars that shone so bright in the night sky (and getting bitten by mosquitos while doing so). It was a kind of SnapChat without the “Snap.” On that trip I gained an appreciation for the land, and its importance in sustaining us as human beings.

As I reflect on that time, we travelled through remote parts of Australia with nothing but ourselves. We were too poor to stay at hotels, so dad ingeniously turned our station-wagon into a caravan, or so it seemed to us when the back seat folded forward and the travelling bags were placed on the roof rack secured with a blue tarpaulin.

Figure 2. The great Australian outdoor toilet, proverbially known as a “dunny” Used in one camp site the kids endearingly nicknamed “Kalaru Poo.”

Figure 2. The great Australian outdoor toilet, proverbially known as a “dunny” Used in one camp site the kids endearingly nicknamed “Kalaru Poo.”

We had no mobile phone in the car, no portable wifi-enabled tablet, no gaming DS, and certainly no down-screen DVD player or in-car navigation system to interrupt the ebb and flow of a family confined to a small space for six weeks. Mum would put on a few Greek cassettes for us to sing along to (Dad's “best ofs” which he had dubbed from the radio), and we paid particular attention to the landscape and wildlife. Mum would tell stories nostalgically about the time before we were born and how she left her homeland at seventeen on her own. And dad would talk about the struggles of losing his mother just before the start of World War II, and how his schooling was interrupted in third class as towns were burned to the crisp by the invaders, and how lucky we were to have a chance at education in a peaceful nation. All the while my brother Arthur was pointing at how far we had driven with his AO mapliterally thousands of kilometres-which gave me a great sense of space and time that has stayed with me to this day. And of course, I do recollect the unforgettable chant of my little sister and big sister in near unison, “are we there yet?”

Last December 2015, after a demanding year in my various roles that included bi-monthly long-haul travel, I was determined to “shut down” the outside world, and give my children what my parents had given me, in all the same simplicity (Figure 2). I somehow needed to give my children my full attention for a four-week duration without a laptop in tow, ensuring that my body and mind would recover from the year that was. I knew I was drifting into overload in September 2015, when on one occasion, I found myself asking my husband which side of the road I should be driving on, even when I was in my home town.

Figure 3. The most spectacular and secluded Nelson Beach down the trail of Nelson Lake Rd near Mogareeka, NSW.

Figure 3. The most spectacular and secluded Nelson Beach down the trail of Nelson Lake Rd near Mogareeka, NSW.

Figure 4. My youngest walking near the most spectacular Wallagoot Gap. We spent the day out at this magical place, swimming with the fish.

Figure 4. My youngest walking near the most spectacular Wallagoot Gap. We spent the day out at this magical place, swimming with the fish.

When one loves life and what they do, it is easy to feel so energized that you don't feel the need to stop… but “stop” I did. I wanted to reconnect with the natural environment in a big way, with my kids, and my inner self. I found myself asking those deep questions about creation - who, what, when, how? What an incredible world we live in! How does it all work and hang together as it does? I felt so thankful. Thankful for my family, my friends, my work, nature, life, Australia. It is so easy to take it for granted.

Each day, we'd choose a different place to visit, not excluding unsealed roads that led to secluded beaches, lakes, and inlets (Figures 3 and 4). Every morning we were awakened by the birdlife - a strange creature would call out at 4:30 a.m. for about 15 minutes straight, and then give it a rest; spotted lizards a few meters long on the road, and lots of kangaroos coming out of hiding at dusk to socialize. While we swam we could see the fish in the sea (with and without snorkels), and we got to speak with complete strangers, feeling like we had all the time in the world to do so.

At historical places, we learned about indigenous people like “King Billy” of the Yuin clan who would often be seen walking unheard distances in the 1950s in the dense shrub between Jervis Bay and Eden − 300 km (Figure 5).

 

Figure 5. The Yuin people (aka Thurga) are the Australian Aborigines from the South Coast of New South Wales. At top are images of legendary “King Billy” as he was nicknamed.

Figure 5. The Yuin people (aka Thurga) are the Australian Aborigines from the South Coast of New South Wales. At top are images of legendary “King Billy” as he was nicknamed.

My kids began to make comments about how resourceful the aborigines would have been, catching fresh fish, making new walking tracks, and being blessed to live in a pristine world before the built environment changed it so radically (Figure 5). It was not difficult for me to imagine throwing in my current lifestyle for the serenity, peace, and tranquillity of the bush. The kids and I would be outside under the sun for at least 12 hours each day, and it was effortless and filled with activities, and so very much fulfilling (Figure 6).

Figure 6.  The sun setting on New Year's Eve celebrations in 2015 in Merimbula, NSW

Figure 6. The sun setting on New Year's Eve celebrations in 2015 in Merimbula, NSW

Figure 7. Pre-bedtime entertainment in our tent. Another game of Snakes & Ladders anyone?

Figure 7. Pre-bedtime entertainment in our tent. Another game of Snakes & Ladders anyone?

The kids didn't watch any television on this trip even though they had access to it in one camp spot (Figure 7). I spoke on the cell phone only a handful of times, and on some days I did not use electricity (they were my favorite days). Many times we did not have any cell phone coverage for large parts of the day. I learnt some important things about each of my children on this trip and about myself and the world we live in (Figure 8). And I'd love to do it all again, sooner than later.

We've been sold the idea that technology provides security for us but I am of the opinion that at least psychologically it leads to insecurity (1). It is a paradox. My eldest kept asking what we would do if we got a flat tire or engine trouble deep down a dirt road where we had no connectivity, or what we'd do in the event of a bushfire (Figure 9). Good questions I thought, and answered them by driving more slowly and carefully, avoiding sharp rocks and potholes, and more than anything, turning to prayer “God, keep me and my children safe. Help us not to panic at a time of trouble, and to know what to do. Help us not to be harmed. And help us not to have fear.” For all intense and purposes, technology which has been sold to us for security, breeds a false sense of security and even greater fear. We have learned to rely on mobile phones or the Internet, even when we don't need them. It has become a knee-jerk reaction, even if we have the stored information at hand readily available.

 

Figure 8. The kids posing for a photo with a big snail at Merimbula's Main Beach. Such a great opportunity for all of us to bond even closer together.

Figure 8. The kids posing for a photo with a big snail at Merimbula's Main Beach. Such a great opportunity for all of us to bond even closer together.

I am thankful I turned to art on this trip - a decision I made a few days before I left my home (see cover image of this issue). I loved speaking to real people, in person, and asking them to participate (2). Being able to hear their laughs, and see the expressions on their faces, and listen to their respective stories was so satisfying. On a few occasions I embraced people I met after opening my heart to life matters, challenges, joys, and sorrows. The cool thing? I met lots of people that reminded me of my mum and dad; lots of people who had three or four or more (or no) children - and felt connected more than ever before to the big family we call “society.” We'd sit around at the beach, at the rock pool, or the camp site, listening and learning from one another, and somehow indirectly encouraging one another onwards. We soon realized these were shared experiences and there was a solidarity, a “oneness,” an empathy between us.

Figure 9. Going down a steep and narrow unsealed road with lots of potholes at Mimosa Rocks National Park. One way down and only one way up.

Figure 9. Going down a steep and narrow unsealed road with lots of potholes at Mimosa Rocks National Park. One way down and only one way up.

We returned home a few days early due to heavy rains, and unexpectedly I did not feel the drive to return to my email trove that I figured had grown substantially in size. The thought crossed my mind that I could get heavily depressed over the thousands of messages I had missed. But I controlled that temptation. The last thing I wanted at that point was to get bogged down again in the rhythm of the digital world. Friends and colleagues might have been shocked that I did as I said I would do - utterly disconnect - but I learned something very fundamental… time away from the screen makes us more human as it inevitably brings us closer together, closer to nature, and also brings things into perspective.

Depending on our work, we can feel captive behind the screen at times, or at least to the thousands of messages that grace our laptops and mobile phones. They make us even more digital and mechanical - in intonation, action, even movement and thought. Breaking with this feeling and regaining even a little bit of control back is imperative every so often, lest we become machine-like ourselves. It is healthy to be “Just human,” without the extensions and the programs. In fact, it is essential to revitalize us and help us find our place in the world, as sometimes technology leads us too quickly ahead of even ourselves.

While it is an intuitive thing to do, you might find yourself having to work that little bit harder to make the unplugged time happen. But breaking free of all the tech (and associated expectations) occasionally, reinforces what it once meant to be human.

References

1. M. Lacy, "Cities of panic and siege psychosis" in Security Technology and Global Politics: Thinking with Virilio, New York, NY:Routledge, pp. 69f, 2014.

2. K. Michael, "Unintended consequences 1–100", [online] Available: http://www.katinamichael.com/call-for-papers/2016/1/14/unintended-consequences-1-100-artwork.

Citation: Katina Michael, "Gone Fishing: Breaking with the Biometric Rhythm of Tech-Centricism", IEEE Technology and Society Magazine ( Volume: 35, Issue: 4, Dec. 2016 ), pp. 6 - 9, Date of Publication: 19 December 2016, DOI: 10.1109/MTS.2016.2618738.

Impacts: At the intersection between the worlds of consumer electronics and socioeconomics

Editor's Introduction

In our last issue, i wrote about how we'd planned to expand the scope and audience of IEEE Consumer Electronics (CE) Magazine. After all, CE is not just about the design and manufacture of electronic systems and products. These devices and their ecosystems have been changing and altering our lives since the introduction of the TV set in the 1950s and 1960s.

But in today's Internet age, we are so interconnected that society and the economy respond at a much accelerated pace. Changes and disruption that would have taken years, or even decades, back in the 1960s and 1970s can now spread in months or even weeks. And today, their impacts are felt on a global scale, and not just in the developed world, but increasingly among those in the developing world.

As engineers, we are the electronic architects of tomorrow, but the scope and scale of impact that our designs and architectures can have on society and on the economy place significant responsibility on our shoulders. We are all responsible for broadening our perspectives and considering how our work might impact the lives of others. There is much for us to learn beyond the realms of pure science and engineering.

This section of our magazine, aptly titled “Impacts,” is being introduced to help facilitate a broadening of our perspective on the world of CE and to learn more of the various impacts of CE on society. It is introduced in partnership with the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology (SSIT). Starting with this issue, SSIT members will also be receiving a copy of IEEE CE Magazine, increasing our distribution to IEEE Members in other Societies.

I would like to express a big thank you first to Stefan Mozar, president of the IEEE CE Society, for initiating this collaboration with SSIT and second to Katina Michael, the editor-in-chief of IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, for working with me to put together this first “Impacts ” section.

This is a first attempt, but I think it is a pretty good start—at the same time, I'd much rather hear what some of you think. So please feel free to contact either me or Katina to give your feedback. And we'd welcome suggestions for topics or subject areas that should be addressed in future editions of “Impacts.”

Now a short introduction to our partners on “Impacts ”—the SSIT.

—Peter Corcoran

 

Introduction to the IEEE SSIT (Katina Michael)

CE has revolutionized the way we live and work. Most students that I know would rather forgo expensive clothing labels than do without their branded smartphone. In fact, some of them would forgo food altogether if it meant their phone could always be on and always with them, clipped onto their belt buckles, strapped into their pants or jacket sleeves, or held in the open palm of their hand. Something happens when our basic needs as humans are overtaken by some other need that was once a distant want at best—plainly, confusion in our ability to rightly determine what our priorities are as humans in any given context.

I have been around people who have lost or had their iPad or iPhone stolen. It is not a pretty sight to see a grown man or woman become frantic and then be reduced to tears over the loss of what is seemingly an inanimate object but in reality has become seamlessly integrated to every aspect of one's life. And lest I look all high and mighty, I had my own laptop stolen with invaluable unbacked Ph.D. research onboard, while working for Nortel Networks and visiting company headquarters in 1999. It took me months to recover from the ordeal, professionally, academically, and even mentally.

The SSIT, with its flagship magazine, IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, explores not only the obvious trends toward CE but those aspects that are not given enough attention on the externality spectrum of potential issues—the threat of ever-increasing screen time for children at school and at home, the use of violent video games, and exposure to different types of online media to everyday consumers, consider even the wide ranging topics that go into supporting the development of such an innovation, tracking its existence from conception to the end of its product lifetime.

Taking the smartphone analogy further, as a typical CE device that affects the global population and that has now saturated the consumer market, SSIT would consider everything from the sustainable design of mobile phones to further investigation of the smartphone's posited harmful effects through the emission of electromagneticfields or the potential to do damage to the wearer's inner ear if played on a high volume daily. The Society would also be interested in submissions on the manner of operational health and safety obligations and conditions of companies during the assemblage of the CE components into the finished product in developing nations. The privacy and security of the data on the smartphone would be an area of interest, as would the ability to dispose of the device without producing ever-increasing e-waste mobile phone dumping grounds with hazardous materials thrown into a landfill.

But that is not all. SSIT's greatest focus is perhaps the economic, institutional, and organization infrastructure surrounding CE products. Aspects of this include how developing countries are adopting CE and their impact on equity and access to information toward international development out of the poverty cycle, the ability to offer remote health care and better access to health information services, the importance of public policy surrounding telecommunications in general, and the laws, standards, and regulations in existence to facilitate use, at the same time protecting the consumer. Herein, it is important to weigh the benefits of CE such as the smartphone—on the one hand, providing life-saving capabilities such as access to emergency services, as opposed to the potential to cyberstalk a stranger using mobile social media or even gather location data from a friend's phone to be used surreptitiously at a later date. Equally, we are interested in articles addressing functionality, such as the ability for human activity and condition monitoring from the dozen or so sensors in the smartphone, as well as the basic traditional applications of call patterns, texting, and usage patterns, with respect to communities of practice online. How might these communities be changing the dynamics between state and society both now and into the future?

One thing for certain is that IEEE SSIT shares some fundamental qualities with the IEEE CE Society—that it is one of the most interdisciplinary Societies within the IEEE, and membership spans across disciplines, with a wide spectrum of interests represented. We are actively seeking papers that tackle the social, environmental, economic, political, and ethical impacts of CE on households, businesses, and governments and how the application of such technology can improve the world around us but also how it may adversely affect the very users it was created to aid.

IEEE SSIT hosts the annual conference, the International Symposium on Technology and Society (ISTAS), and, in 2013, the focus was wearable technologies, while in 2014, the focus will be on ethics and technology. The Society also supports and recognizes engineering ethics, presenting the Carl Barus Award for Outstanding Service in the Public Interest. With active international Chapters all over the world, IEEE SSIT provides a voice for topics that would otherwise not be addressed from all sides of the debate. It is this open discussion that makes IEEE SSIT and IEEE CE such vital Societies as we continue with the explosion of emerging technologies in all aspects of our home and work life. CE affects everybody—from the newborn baby, to the employee, to the elderly. Viewpoints and cutting-edge pieces on all these perspectives are not only welcome but highly valued.

IEEE Keywords: Social factors, Consumer electronics, Sociology, Economics, Media, Mobile handsets, Ethics, Design manufacturing

Citation: Peter Corcoran and Katina Michael, "Impacts: At the intersection between the worlds of consumer electronics and socioeconomics", IEEE Consumer Electronics Magazine, Volume: 3, Issue: 3, July 2014, pp. 57 - 58, Date of Publication: 26 June 2014, DOI: 10.1109/MCE.2014.2317897