The Choices We Make

___________ is rich in radicalism, and anyone who says that our society has drifted into fatalism and apathy should get out more.
– Geoff Mulgan

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As we approach the onset of federal electioneering (“approach?!?” you might ask, in light of the onslaught of advertising we’ve been seeing for the last few months, if not longer), I’ve found myself explaining my views of certain realities related to politics to a friend of mine. To my mind, she is an excellent representative of a large portion of the electorate: smart, informed in a general way (reads the local paper, watches the news, and picks up information from other sources), and likely to vote for any one of the three major parties. In short, she belongs to that demographic coveted by all parties, the undecided voter.

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It’s easy to understand her dilemma. As campaigns develop in the run-up to an actual election, the sales jobs that each of the parties mount are unified in their simplicity. If you are the Conservatives, most of your time is taken with drilling the somewhat clever play on “Justin” Trudeau’s name – “Just Not Ready” – into the national consciousness. To all those who complain that largely negative advertising is objectionable and does not work, I would agree with the former but generally object to the latter claim. Even if you find it distasteful, there is a reason why parties return repeatedly to a negative approach: it has been shown to work. Plant doubt in the minds of voters and that doubt can grow. When, like my friend, you don’t spend a great deal of time thinking about politics and elections, the things that stand out in memory become very important. It is often said that we shouldn’t be overly influenced by first impressions. That might be a fine ideal but, in practice, I’m not sure how true it is. If you can get your message, however simple, planted in people’s brains, it has potential to grow. With so many distractions available in modern life, making anything particularly memorable in an area where people seem generally indifferent has to be considered a victory of sorts.

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For the Liberals, things are ostensibly a little easier. I can’t say how things are anywhere else in the country, but here in Saint John, New Brunswick, that “stuck in memory” phenomena has taken hold for many people. What has stuck in people’s memory is the name Stephen Harper and there seems to be very little nuance in the way in which many view that name and what he is thought to represent. I can’t think of another politician whose name awakens such visceral loathing. I realize that is a harsh assessment but I’ve encountered it on many occasions, usually in the company of such words as “dictator”, “control freak”, “bastard” – you get the picture. In a country so long dominated by two major parties, you might think the Liberals would be able to make it a cakewalk. The “we’re not him/them” rule is one that we should all be familiar with. Popular wisdom in this country says that governments aren’t so much elected as unelected. Capitalize on Stephen Harper’s unpopularity among many and the road to victory for Canada’s once “natural governing party” would seem to be assured. Or that’s how it used to be.

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But then came the last federal election and the decimation of the Liberals accompanied by the rise of the NDP to Official Opposition status. I was among the many who would have thought of the NDP surge as a flash in the pan, an anomaly in the historical power swap of Liberal and Conservative governments. But then Rachel Notley cruised to victory in Alberta and, all of a sudden, all bets were off. This has meant that the NDP has had to think long and hard about how they might sell themselves to a hesitant electorate. Speaking from the East Coast, the historical general reluctance has been largely the result of, in my opinion, fear that the NDP would be too radical, that an NDP government would upend the generally centrist record of previous governments in favour of a socialist approach that would be inimical to business, largely answerable to unions and without constraint in all matters of fiscal accountability. So it is that NDP ads to date have focused on a friendly, ordinary guy, very much “one of us” you might say. Thomas Mulcair, if people know of him at all, has, to date, been little more than a name. As the NDP suddenly finds itself in the lead in most polls, getting to “know” Tom Mulcair becomes extraordinarily important to all concerned. Whoever manages to win the “first impression” contest – and it has to be a first impression that can withstand the inevitable counters from opponents – will have gone a long way toward winning the day. Since the Conservatives and Liberals seem largely content to rail at each other (with some exceptions beginning to appear), early indications would be that the NDP might win that particular battle.

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In a very real sense, little of what the next few months bring by way of campaigning will help my friend make up her mind. My take on the entire thing is determined by my faith in our system, in her, and in all like her. Repeatedly we hear complaints about any number of elements deemed wrong or imperfect in Canada’s model. While acknowledging that it could be improved, I will continue to defend its effectiveness. Ours is a country that knows a peace and security increasingly rare in the world, it can seem. Whatever the result in the fall, I choose to believe we will continue to develop peacefully, securely and without fear of military coups, insurrections or other systemic upheavals. And THAT, more than anything, is what I’m always voting for. We may not be perfect, but we’re pretty damn good.

The best of both worlds?

There is no decision that we can make that doesn’t come with some sort of balance or sacrifice.
– Simon Sinek

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One of the things I like best about where I live is the view. I grant you it isn’t one that everyone would enjoy but I don’t feel the need to sell anyone on its particular attractions. From the small deck in my back yard, I look across Courtenay Bay (part of the Port of Saint John for those of you who might be unfamiliar with the geography) to an oil export terminal. Beyond the terminal, a closer look reveals a wallboard plant, a power plant and, before giving way to natural landscape, various structures with the centerpiece flame that marks an oil refinery. In the distance and to the right, all the way to Red Head, a ridge of greenery completes the horizon, one where the moon is wont to rise and cast its light upon the bay. Full moon at high tide provides the best display, but even when the tide leaves mud flats exposed, the reflection can mesmerize.

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A couple of years ago or so, when my wife was still alive, we thought about giving this place up. We looked at one house in particular, on the West Side, that had a great many features we appreciated. We went so far as to have a tour of the property and we came away intrigued but not yet convinced. I remember talking about it in the car as we were driving back home. Much of what we had seen was easy to like but we were unsettled, unsure, without knowing precisely why. We were ready to give ourselves some time to allow the impressions to settle but when we walked up the front steps, stood on the porch and looked out to Red Head across the water, any thoughts of leaving were abandoned. For whatever reason, we were attached to this very contradictory view.

I say contradictory because few panoramas offer such a stark contrast between the manmade and the natural. While Saint John has many other pockets of industry, the conglomeration of activity from the waterfront to the refinery and everywhere in between is without parallel. Among the many things I’ve learned watching the ships come and go is just how quickly the turnaround is and how constant the traffic. A ship comes in on one high tide and leaves a couple later at most. And with few exceptions, another eager vessel is waiting to take its place. Watching tugboats turn large ships displays both power and agility. Taken altogether, it is fascinating. I never tire of it.

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Courtenay Bay itself provides lots to see. I follow the tide tables and thoroughly enjoy the ebb and flow. Invitations for photographs present themselves almost daily regardless of time of day or season. For all that this body of water is a commercial centre, it still illustrates the persistence of natural forces. My imagination frequently tries to conjure an image of the tidal action of the Bay of Fundy and I have my own little laboratory just out my front or back door. As I said, the view is not for everybody but I’ve grown ever fonder of it through the years.

Many people find the industrial landscape disheartening. They lament the ruination of the natural scene and I do understand such sentiments. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could eliminate all industrial blight and return the land to its original state? Environmental orthodoxy would answer quickly and forcefully “yes”! As for me, I just don’t think it’s that simple. However much we need to be responsible stewards of our environment, we need to recognize equally that the commerce I can observe on a daily basis contributes in large measure to our being able to enjoy a standard of living that is second to none in the world.

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My Courtenay Bay scene provides the perfect study in contrasts. Smokestacks, the persistent hum of machinery, ships coming and going, all set against a backdrop of cold Atlantic seawater and rolling greenery stretching into the distance. As a believer in moderation, I have a hard time with extremism on any front. Those who object to industrial growth and development in virtually any form are no better than those who would ignore every environmental concern for the sake of a profit.

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My view across the Bay tells me that we, humanity, are here and we are having an impact. It could not be otherwise. At the same time, it reminds me of the natural beauty that is part of our heritage, a beauty and a heritage that we need to protect. Unless we believe that abandoning all of the amenities of modern life is the way to go, we need to come to an accommodation that reconciles those two seemingly opposing views. As with so many things these days, the public debate might lead you to believe this is a stark either/or question. No surprise, it’s not that simple. “Accommodation” is the key word here, and it works both ways. Balance is seldom easily obtained but rarely has it been so urgently needed.

Religion and reassurance are hard to come by

They say that Caliph Omar, when consulted about what had to be done with the library of Alexandria, answered as follows: ‘If the books of this library contain matters opposed to the Koran, they are bad and must be burned. If they contain only the doctrine of the Koran, burn them anyway, for they are superfluous.’ Our learned men have cited this reasoning as the height of absurdity. However, suppose Gregory the Great was there instead of Omar and the Gospel instead of the Koran. The library would still have been burned, and that might well have been the finest moment in the life of this illustrious pontiff.
― Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Sciences and Arts (1st Discourse) and Polemics

I attended an event this past Saturday at the Main Branch of the Saint John Free Public Library. A lecture entitled “Is Islam a Threat to Canada? An Introduction to Islam in our Community” was given by Fazal Masood Malik of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of PEI. While the numbers might have been greater, those who attended were obviously the truly interested. Altogether there may have been 30 of us and, with the exception of one person who was somewhat strident in expressing a largely negative viewpoint, we all seemed equally receptive to our host and the message he came to provide.

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As might be expected, Mr. Malik’s answer to the question posed by the title of his lecture was a resounding “no”. And, through his reading of the Koran, it was easy to see why that was the answer. As Mr. Malik tells it, the prophet Muhammad, and through him, the words of Allah contained in the Koran, speaks of a religion that is tolerant of all other religions, that is dedicated to peace, both individually and collectively, and that has very little to say about the politics of any nation other than to insist that Muslims obey the properly constituted authority of whatever nation it is where the Muslim resides.

Mr. Malik developed his answer to the question within what I would describe as a very narrow window. Not unlike any other defender of a particular doctrine based upon a sacred text, he quoted compellingly from the Koran those instances where Allah condemns the behaviours that we in North America and other Western nations (although not exclusively just Western) have come to associate with jihadists and terrorists or whatever you might want to call them. In his reading of the Koran, it is quite clear: Allah does not sanction the xenophobic, monolithic imposition of the brand of so-called Islam practiced by ISIL, al-Qaida, the Taliban or any other group that fails the litmus test of compassion, tolerance and fair-dealing that are the hallmarks of the true Islam Mr. Malik came to defend.

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While I was both impressed and reassured by the apparent moderate and appealing reading of Islam that Mr. Malik presented, at the same time, I left, still troubled by the prevalence of a view of Islam that seems to be diametrically opposed to the teachings I had just heard. Major Middle Eastern regimes lay claim to Islam as the authority whereby they flog some, behead others and generally deny a number of human rights that we, as Canadians, accept as a given. By the measures I heard enumerated on Saturday, no country with an Islamic heritage can claim to be practicing the faith truly and diligently.

As I wrestled with this dilemma – and I do think it is the core of the dilemma that a good many Westerners have when struggling to be fair – I thought back on my own Christian heritage. I was raised in a devoutly Roman Catholic household (a house which shared a wall with the Baptist church next door) and my grandmother seemed quite convinced that those Baptists had little chance of entering the kingdom of heaven, a chance missed by all those who did not follow the “true faith” (that being, of course, the one we practiced).

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While I admit to being a lapsed Catholic, that doesn’t mean I haven’t remained interested. I’ve watched the changes that have been led by Popes throughout my lifetime. Personally, I saw John Paul II and Benedict XVI as regressive, throwbacks who wanted to reverse some of the most significant reforms of their immediate predecessors. I watch the current Pope Francis, an interesting study in contrasts, – someone who seems bent on very forward reforms in certain ways while being far less enthusiastic for others.

In my lifetime, and for a few lifetimes prior to mine, interpretations of Christian doctrine have seldom been the source of significant conflict, Northern Ireland being, perhaps, an exception, although that had become far more about political power and control than differences in religion by the time it morphed into the late 20th century. What about some earlier centuries, though? I was reading about the Emperor Constantine not long ago, specifically about one of his conquests where the entire population of a besieged city was put to the sword, ostensibly because they were not practitioners of this new faith that the Emperor had embraced.

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Fast forward through the crusades and the inquisition, both examples of Christians, in the first instance, setting out to reconquer lands considered to be within the sphere of influence of Christian powers and, in the second, putting to death anyone identified as being at odds with the prevailing orthodoxy. In either case, I have great difficulty imagining Jesus as a cheerleader. Who today would seriously argue that Jesus would have been there on the front lines of the Crusades or been the guy holding the torch in preparation for the burning of the latest heretic? From the perspective of a few centuries of moderation, we might even be tempted to say that slaughtering unbelievers and burnings at the stake seem unChristian (some understatement there, hopefully).

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By virtue of this parallel, I feel I can gain a better handle on Mr. Malik’s argument and, I would say, his predicament. Assuming he represents a “truer” interpretation of Islam, he is going to struggle to overcome the impact of all those who have bombed, attacked and otherwise slaughtered innocents in the name of their particular brand of Islam. What makes the radicals (and all radicals everywhere, no matter the rationale) truly frightening to me is how fervently they seem to believe in their version.

As I’ve tried to argue in all of my blogs here, the reality is far more complex than it might seem. Thanks to Mr. Malik, I have a greater appreciation of the nobility inherent in Islam. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make me any more secure in the face of those who act in its name in ways that seem just as bizarre as any Christian burning someone at the stake before they draw and quarter him/her. Understanding can only go so far. It can’t always prevent me from looking over my shoulder.

Some anecdotal musings

Misdirected focus on paperwork, on procedures, and on bureaucracy frustrates teachers and fails to give children the education they need.
– Christopher Bond

I happened to catch Cross-Country Checkup last night on CBC Radio and I couldn’t have asked for a better topic. Under consideration were Canada’s results on PISA math exams. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), is one commonly accepted measure these days of just how countries are doing generally in certain core subject areas (reading, math and science). Operating on a three-year cycle, the tests focus on one area at a time. Considering that some 70 countries have participated to date, PISA offers, at the very least, a kind of comparison of school systems. The interpretation of results and such comparisons is the devil amidst those details but I’ll leave that for another day.

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When I was teaching, PISA exams in English were administered on more than one occasion and the results were always regarded with what might be called suspicious interest. In my experience, real teachers – the ones who spend their time in classrooms with students rather than speculating from afar from some theoretically supported ivory tower – always view external standardized tests with a grain of salt. While I am among those who always had questions about their quality, I have never discounted them entirely. Through my work with New Brunswick’s own provincial assessments as well as with Advanced Placement exams, I am convinced that good standardized exams can provide a useful snapshot of basic skills.

The discussion on Cross-Country Checkup was the result of Canada’s less than stellar performance on the PISA exams seen in light of other studies which have argued that math and other basic skills are in decline across the country. Nowhere amidst such arguments is much room allowed for anecdotal reports but, as a retired teacher of high school English, I’m going to venture an opinion formed through years of dealing with students after they had made their way through a system that abandoned the teaching of grammar, asserted that spelling was largely irrelevant, insisted that memorization or any brand of rote learning was to be avoided, promoted writing without consideration for form: you get the picture. Guess what, over my approximately 30 year career, students proved less and less capable of reading, of writing or of anything requiring an even mildly sophisticated use of language. One way of summarizing things from my experience: tasks that I would assign to grade 11 students in 1982 were more than I could expect from grade 12 students in 2010.

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But, in today’s environment, nothing gets much of a hearing unless it is supported by “research”, a term deserving of quotation marks so that I might indicate how skeptically I view research in education. Considering everything I learned when I was a student, one of the key elements of effective research was the ability to control the variables that might have an effect on results. I’ve never been entirely clear how such control is possible in something as varied and changeable as a real classroom. But that, too, is subject that I have explored previously and that I will, no doubt, return to again.

As far as math is concerned, the debate concerns what, apparently, goes under a number of names but the designation that I had heard before was “discovery learning”. In brief, this is the theory (emphasis on “theory”) that memorizing times tables and learning specific operations (think long division for those of you who remember such archaic methods) is largely a waste of time. Instead, students are supposed to discover solutions on their own, the theory being that the student who can make such discoveries will remember things better and learn more thoroughly.

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Suffice to say I think this is hogwash. As it turns out, considerable “research” is emerging that supports my contention. At its heart, research critical of discovery learning argues that some foundation of basic knowledge of a subject is needed if any kind of discovery is going to go forward. DUH! At which point my mind is truly boggled. Does it really take years of meta-analysis, studies, investigations, reports, etc., etc., etc., to figure that out?!? To put it another way, it’s pretty hard to discover something when you don’t have the slightest clue what it might be you are looking for. Double DUH!

If my exasperation with all of this isn’t evident by now, you’re just not reading. Some of my greatest moments in teaching were those where students suddenly had an insight which made the work before them easier. They crossed over from accumulation of data to application and understanding, you might say (I’m doing my best to imitate a certain eduspeak with which, I confess, I have little expertise). But no such insight or epiphany was ever possible without the grunt-work that precedes such moments.

A change is in the wind, at least where math is concerned. More and more, educational systems are returning to things such as memorizing times-tables, practicing specific methods, learning the process, etc. Why is it that we can accept the need to repeatedly practice a golf swing or a slapshot if we want to improve our particular athletic skill while arguing that practice and technique are somehow irrelevant when it comes to higher order thinking?

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At this point, the theorists are no longer listening. I’ve made the mistake of asserting something based upon my experience, an anecdotal report of what I’ve seen work through my years as a teacher. I haven’t done a study nor have I sought to test my claims in some clearly and objectively measurable way. In this, though, I’m a bit of Luddite. I’m happy to listen to those who have walked the walk, those who are praised by students for the impact they have had on their education, for the success such people have helped students achieve. Their methods are varied and malleable, as varied and malleable as the people who have attended school in the past and continue to do so today. When those with the power to change the system begin to listen to the honest voices of real teachers, only then will we see the improvements we all believe we need.

When everyone’s an expert

Incestuous, homogeneous fiefdoms of self-proclaimed expertise are always rank-closing and mutually self-defending, above all else.
― Glenn Greenwald

I feel the need to remind myself – and anyone who might be reading – of the origin of this blog’s name: unabsolutedotcom. The founding premise was that even the seemingly simplest of issues is far more complex than it might first appear. In and of itself, I wouldn’t blame anyone for saying “so what?” What is to be gained by acknowledging complexity? Shouldn’t we leave the details (of whatever) to those who have the knowledge and expertise? As Hamlet would say, though “there’s the rub”. What constitutes expertise these days? Do we know? Have we given it much thought?

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In fact, my recent observations lead me to conclude that our current view of the very notion of expertise is tinged with a persistent cynicism. If someone presents him or herself as an expert in subject X, should such an expert’s view of an issue differ from our own, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that view dismissed. As a general rule, would-be experts are valued only inasmuch as they validate our established positions on issues. In fact, the nature of information these days is such that an “expert” can be found to support just about anything.

Accounting for this phenomenon isn’t that hard. I’m old enough to remember a time when information of the more esoteric variety could be found only in books. Even then, if you were looking for something especially obscure, the public library wasn’t enough. If you were lucky enough to have a university in your community, you might visit its library but even then, depending on just HOW obscure your topic was, that could be a dead-end. When I was working on my thesis for my M.A., I had to physically visit archives as far away as Boston in order to find materials relevant to my topic.

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Compare that to today. I don’t think I’m so much different from anyone else: if a question about something occurs to me, I immediately head to the nearest internet connection (phone, tablet, desktop, laptop, etc) and “google it”. For the most part, that poses few problems since I’m usually looking for simple information. When that same internet becomes the chief source of our understanding of complex issues, I become concerned. I’m not the first one to say it but it bears repeating: finding it on the internet does not make it true.

The same warning used to apply to newspapers, as in, “just because you read it in the newspaper doesn’t mean it’s true”. This warning becomes all the more compelling when applied to the online world. At least newspapers then and now answer to editorial staffs and to a general code of conduct that helps them to avoid the worst inaccuracies. Internet sources, as far as I can tell, answer to no one. That isn’t to say that all things internet are unreliable; rather, it is the unfiltered quality that makes the entirety problematic. If something is found on a website whose pedigree is clear, we can take comfort. Determining that pedigree, however, can be difficult in its own right.

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As more and more people, organizations and interest groups come to understand the freedom the internet offers to present a particular point-of-view, it should come as no surprise that objective information on any subject is hard to come by. At the same time, those offering information online commonly make arguments that are intended to prove just how objective they are, even if their partiality is especially evident. Perhaps the clearest example of this would be Fox News whose tagline, “fair and balanced”, is laughable to all but the most indoctrinated. At the same time, the continuing insistence by such a prominent and mainstream source that it is fair and balanced feeds the very cynicism that I find so regrettable.

I would argue (and it’s an old argument) that where news reporting is concerned no such thing as absolute objectivity exists. By virtue of the fact that a certain thing becomes news while something else doesn’t, we know that someone, somewhere, has made a judgement call. In the end, the most surprising reality, to me, is that we seem to have lost sight of that fact. Perhaps we choose to ignore such an understanding as long as the source of our news confirms our point-of-view?

I suppose that simply makes us all human. What one of us doesn’t like to have our point-of-view confirmed as appropriate and right? All the same, what happens when easy access to “expert” information makes anyone who takes the time to read a few articles imagine that he/she is now well-informed?

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Our oversimplification of notions of equality has fed this delusion. In our continuing preoccupation with ensuring that no one is offended, we imagine that anyone’s opinion on anything is equal to the opinion held by anyone else. Maybe we should call it the democratization of opinion, a phenomenon where no single thing can ever be considered simply correct; rather, all opinions – no matter how outlandish – have weight because someone has them. And if you doubt the validity of a certain position, be prepared to counter the online experts who can be summoned in defense of just about anything.

True expertise in anything is a product of time (study being a large component) and experience. These days, loudness and aggression can often substitute. While such behaviours make for good copy on news feeds, they seldom lead to good decisions. Passion by itself is no substitute for understanding. The former is often easy to summon while the latter takes effort, far more effort than entering a subject line and pressing “search”.

Is knowing how enough?

Our technological powers increase, but the side effects and potential hazards also escalate.
– Alvin Toffler

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I was struck by a comment a friend of mine made over the weekend. She suggested that when she read my blogs she could see how they originated based upon certain things she had heard me say in the days prior to their composition. Maybe I had read an article, or seen something on the news, or simply shared a reflection on something I had been thinking about. The noteworthy thing, for me, was the recognition of cause and effect, that the thing I ultimately produced had origins that, to her mind, could be detected and, in fact, traced.

Now granted, this was hardly a scientific accounting of cause and effect but it did get me thinking about the entire subject of cause and effect, a concept that has occupied my imagination for some time and that is one of the ongoing concerns at the core of this blog. As it turns out, my being reminded of this in such an immediate and personal way was valuable as I began to consider what I might end up writing about today.

I was already primed for something that would incorporate this theme when an article I saw this morning proved to be the final impetus. The article summarized the findings of a study undertaken at UNB in Fredericton that investigated the link between teens, texting and their propensity to be sexually active. While the conclusions were qualified in a variety of ways, the central assertion was that a link had been established between the amount of texting teens did and how likely they were to become sexually active. The study acknowledged that the closeness teens felt to parents and other factors should be considered as well but the bottom line was that those young people who texted with the greatest frequency were more likely to be sexually active than those who texted less.

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The authors of the study were very careful, as I say, to couch their conclusions in a number of qualifications but that isn’t what made the article significant to me per se. Rather, I was struck by the very fact that such a study existed at all. I’m at a loss to remember when I first noticed just how ubiquitous texting had become among those removed from me by at least a generation but I have to think that its prevalence has grown by leaps and bounds over the last while. I was sending the occasional text myself as long ago as probably 5 or 6 years but I don’t remember things then being quite as they are now.

Now – and this is purely anecdotal – it seems that being buried in your smartphone just about everywhere is commonplace. Walking down the street, sitting on a bus, in a restaurant: you name the place. Virtually everywhere you go, you will see someone engaged with a handheld device. When the population gathered in a room is largely teenaged, it is far from uncommon to see virtually everyone exploring the screen in front of them at the expense of conversation or other forms of social interaction. That being said, this behavior is certainly not restricted to teens. The same friend who suggested she could trace the origins of my blogs has commented more than once on my tendency to be drawn into the world of my smartphone at the expense of more social behaviours.

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If you are thinking by now that I am building toward some kind of critical rant against texting, handhelds, smartphones or some other device or technology associated with the same, I assure you that I am not. I readily acknowledge the convenience – the pleasure even – that can come from such things. As with anything new, it can lead to a great many novel ways to entertain, to engage, to who knows what?

And that last question DOES lead me to my point. The smartphone and texting are manifestations of a much larger transformation. Technology – particularly technological innovation – proceeds at such a pace these days that it is, quite literally, impossible to keep up, at least when it comes to evaluating the impact of something. The UNB study I referenced earlier looks at a very specific issue within a targeted segment of the population and offers conclusions that are clearly to be regarded as tentative and in need of qualification. In some earlier time, we might have waited expectantly for the next study to be carried out and for results to be published, say, two years from now, results which might further deepen our understanding of this phenomenon or dismiss it altogether. Fat chance.

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Two years from now, who knows where we will be as far as phones go. I am no fan of Siri (the voice on Apple devices) but I have a friend who never types a message. He dictates it and makes corrections to the text if it is absolutely necessary. Will we even need to carry a phone in two years? If you think that seems far-fetched, how many of you really believed we would ever approach a time where serious consideration would be given to allowing cars on highways that would drive themselves?

When I look to see how I arrive at a topic for a blog, it’s easy. Maybe I fail to account for the specifics in some way but I’m fairly confident that composition (even inspiration), however mysterious it might seem, can be traced to its source, even if the source itself might seem obscure at times. Where advancing technology is concerned, on the other hand, how do we evaluate its impact when the innovation of the moment is rapidly forgotten as the next great advance captures our imagination?

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We’ve all seen the movies or read the books where technological advance without some kind of oversight or conscience leads to the end of the world or some brand of catastrophe. Hyperbole? Okay, but the pace at which things advance technologically these days does concern me. Changes of any kind bring consequences. At the very least, it is always nice to be able to consider from some distance just what impact such changes have. I’m not sure we’re well-equipped for a world where change comes and is replaced by yet another change before we’ve even quite grasped the nature of the first. And to emphasize the point one more time, in the time it takes for us to consider THAT notion, chances are the world has moved on yet again.