happiness, mind, soul

more planetary relationships and less ignorance

The spread of the Internet will enhance global connectivity that fosters more planetary relationships and less ignorance.1

I am all for less ignorance. And since I have worked most of my life, one way or another, to foster connectivity between people, either as a teacher of language to foster more accurate communication among individuals or in the world of diplomacy where fostering greater understanding of common interests among nations is the goal, I am in favor of more planetary relationships. But I am not optimistic that the rest of the world agrees with me or the sentiment in the statement above.

In fact, my observation of the increased ease with which we can connect with one another through social media is colored greatly by the number of dogmatic statements, so easily shared as images or links to longer articles, that make their way onto Facebook newsfeeds.

I have other social media accounts as well. I use Facebook to connect with friends and family, Twitter to connect with like-minded social thinkers, and LinkedIn to connect with work colleagues. Since the former is a collection of contacts that I chose both long ago and recently or who I didn’t chose because they are family, there is a much broader range of political, social, and intellectual viewpoints expressed in my Facebook newsfeed than in my Twitter or LinkedIn feeds. And while I am delighted to have the means to keep in touch frequently, often in real time, with relatives of all degrees of separation, I have been surprised at how deeply felt some of the most extreme views are held when I don’t share them.  And I am confident others feel the same about my views.

Those same networks that allow us to connect so easily with more people are also often anonymous which fosters the sharing of thoughtless, often hurtful, comments about those whose views are at odds with ours. The world can sometimes seem like everyone is a passenger in the middle car of a three-car collision, neither causing the accident nor being in the position to prevent it, but suffering from the consequences nonetheless.

I am hopeful about the role of seniors in this change, however. First, we aren’t all like Archie Bunker who apparently made up his mind as a young man that there is only one way to do anything – his way. But then even Archie Bunker hadn’t hit his senior years. There is hope that as he aged and his daughter presented him with a grandchild for whom the future held out the prospects of a very different life than his, even Archie Bunker might have mellowed a bit, realizing that life on this planet would not survive if we all had to do things exactly the same. And as we age, we lose those who are important to us – grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, siblings, friends – and for me at least, each of those losses has made me cherish the connections I still have. Losses in one part of my life have also encouraged me to make greater connections in other parts of my life.

Another reason to be hopeful about the role of seniors is the sheer number of us. Baby boomers are now entering the senior ranks. And as baby boomers, we never did anything alone.  We entered college and university at the same time, perhaps a factor in the widespread protests against the war in Vietnam. We didn’t protest one-by-one, like the Buddhist monks who set themselves afire; we banned together and marched, singing protest songs and carrying banners. We entered mid-life together. We women went through menopause together. Magazines and books we read addressed the topics we were experiencing because there were so many of us to buy them, not because the topics were so important. We are now entering our senior years together which ensures that topics of value to us will be topics being discussed in the media – including social media – for years to come.


happiness, mind, soul

effortless information sharing

Information sharing over the Internet will be so effortlessly interwoven into daily life that it will become invisible, flowing like electricity, often through machine intermediaries.1

This one doesn’t sound like good news to me. I want to understand how things work, not just trust that they will work. For example, when Microsoft introduced Windows as a replacement for DOS, I wasn’t happy. I knew how to make my PC do what I wanted by typing in DOS commands at the c:\ prompt and I wasn’t comfortable trusting that Microsoft or any other hardware or software manufacturer knew better than I what I wanted from my PC. It is the reason it took me so long to try out Apple products. I’m still not sure how my Mac puts information away when I shut down my laptop. And if I don’t know where stuff is, I don’t know how to find it when I need it.

Gradually I have come to understand that I can probably find any file I need through Search, but that often just makes it obvious that I’ve been putting things away – usually photos – in many places so that I don’t lose them, making it all the harder for me to find what I want when I want it. Observing my colleagues struggle with those same questions of where should/did I put it and how can I find it again on the SharePoint platform that I support in my work life just reinforces my lack of comfort with any solution that someone tells me is invisible or through machine intermediaries. I have taken the time to learn how SharePoint “thinks” so I can get the results from it that I need. My colleagues all seem to want SharePoint to do just what they want done – and nothing else. They complain that “SharePoint is stupid” when it doesn’t work that way. Are they giving computer software so much credit they already think we are at the “flowing like electricity stage”?

On the opposite end of the scale from me perhaps is the person who trusts that every computer program will do exactly the right thing every time. I remember struggling to keep myself from laughing as I read the document prepared by a colleague many years ago. He thought that whenever Spell Checker suggested a different word as a possibility, it must be the right word, so he accepted all the suggestions.

These days, it is the intersection of technology and commerce represented by Google and Bing search results that concerns me. We have all been sucked into thinking that search engines will provide us with exactly what we want, so clicking on the first link seems the logical right step. Most of the time I remember to check to see if the top result actually deals with the words I typed into the search box, but every now and then, when I am in a hurry, especially when I am on my iPhone, I forget and click a link that takes me away from what I want and over to something similar, but not quite it. The first time I realized this was when I used my iPhone to look up the phone number for the local taxi company. I knew the name. I knew the city I was in. I typed them both into the search window and clicked on the magnifying glass to get the result and assumed since I had been so precise in my search criteria the first entry would be what I wanted. I called the number and was very surprised to hear the name of a competing taxi company when the phone was answered. I felt tricked by Google.

Maybe I don’t need to worry about how search engine results will skew my options a few years from now when my memory isn’t as good or my reflexes quite as quick because I probably won’t be doing much online searching then. But if this first thesis of the digital future comes to pass, I won’t need to type text into a search engine window to get those skewed results because the information will come flowing to me invisibly, like electricity, through machine interfaces. According to the Pew Research article this thesis comes from, Joe Touch, director at the University of Southern California’s Information Sciences Institute, predicted, “The Internet will shift from the place we find cat videos to a background capability that will be a seamless part of how we live our everyday lives. We won’t think about ‘going online’ or ‘looking on the Internet’ for something — we’ll just be online, and just look.”

This first thesis conjures up images of I, A Robot, or The Matrix, good movies but mostly because we thought of them as fantasy or science fiction, not our future. And haven’t they heard? Electricity can kill you.

happiness, health, mind, wisdom

the impact of the digital future on seniors

When my husband and I moved across country, we took the usual step of requesting the U.S. Postal Service forward our mail from our old address to the address where we knew we would be staying until we were able to buy a new home. Then, when we bought our new home, we filed another form to request the Postal Service forward anything from that temporary address to our new address. In addition, now that we had a permanent address, we contacted our business correspondents – banks, insurance companies, magazine publishers and the like – to provide our new address.

What we hadn’t anticipated is the amount of new mail we would receive as a result of the public record of our home purchase. Some of those pieces of mail were from the same organizations we had just contacted to provide our new address – AAA, AARP, and so on.

Where we probably wouldn’t have given a second glance to the same piece of mail had we received it at our previous address, we opened these envelopes, assuming the contents were in response to our change of address requests. But very careful reading was required to distinguish among them since many of them were intended for people new to the area who weren’t already members or subscribers. I caught myself just before writing a check for what I initially thought was a membership renewal when I saw the carbon copy of the renewal check I had sent just a few weeks earlier.

There is no bad ending to that story, largely because the purchase of a new home is not a regular recurrence. After a few months, the offers from businesses in our new area stopped coming and we could return to our pattern of opening and shredding or recycling the contents of correspondence that we know we don’t need.

But as I approached 65, another barrage of mail started arriving: offers for Medigap and life insurance coverage. Since my husband and I have taken all the steps we believe we need for insurance coverage, including Long Term Care insurance to protect our financial resources from disappearing if one of us can no longer live independently, it is fairly easy for us to identify the envelopes we can ignore and toss/shred.

Those direct-mail marketers use some very aggressive and manipulative, tactics to get us to open their envelopes. “Private, for the attention of the addressee only.” “You requested this information.” “You are invited to a free dinner at [fill-in-the-blank] restaurant.” I just keep in mind what I learned long ago, having heard the phrase since an even earlier time: There is no such thing as a free lunch.

What distresses me about direct-mail marketing aimed at seniors is that seniors, especially those living on their own, are among the most vulnerable targets for scams which use the same manipulative tactics, playing on fears on the one hand and on willingness to help others on the other.  For example, AARP and the Better Business Bureau have identified one of the top six scams targeting seniors as involving a phone call to a senior who recently lost a spouse, supposedly from a grandchild in trouble and needing money. Obituaries list all the surviving relatives’ names, providing the scammers with the information they need to place the phone call to the grieving surviving spouse at a time when he or she is making one of the most significant adjustments in life to make the pitch for help.

Recently, I began thinking about how much more vulnerable seniors will be in the future when what is referred to as the Internet of Everything connects information about people even more tightly. Even if a senior doesn’t have a computer or a social media presence, devices being sold have the technology that may allow the unscrupulous to obtain information without the subject being aware at all. And as technology becomes part of the ordinary and mundane, it may not be possible to purchase versions without the embedded technology. Try to find a cellular phone that doesn’t include a camera these days. Those photos may include geographic coordinates embedded in the metadata, two concepts I wouldn’t have tried to explain to my dad, even before his memory and cognitive functions began to fail.

That is why an article from the Pew Research Internet Project15 Theses About the Digital Future, has resulted in my spending a lot of time thinking about whether I agree with the authors’ assessment of which are optimistic and which are pessimistic when viewed through the lens of a senior point of view. Below are the 15 theses, stately objectively without giving away the authors’ assessment. In the next posts, I will consider each of the theses with my own assessment of which I look forward to with enthusiasm and which with dread.

  1. Information sharing over the Internet will be so effortlessly interwoven into daily life that it will become invisible, flowing like electricity, often through machine intermediaries.
  2. The spread of the Internet will enhance global connectivity that fosters more planetary relationships and less ignorance.
  3. The Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and big data will make people more aware of their world and their own behavior.
  4. Augmented reality and wearable devices will be implemented to monitor and give quick feedback on daily life, especially tied to personal health.
  5. Political awareness and action will be facilitated and more peaceful change and public uprisings like the Arab Spring will emerge.
  6. The spread of the ‘Ubernet’ will diminish the meaning of borders, and new ‘nations’ of those with shared interests may emerge and exist beyond the capacity of current nation-states to control.
  7. The Internet will become ‘the Internets’ as access, systems, and principles are renegotiated
  8. An Internet-enabled revolution in education will spread more opportunities, with less money spent on real estate and teachers.
  9. Dangerous divides between haves and have-nots may expand, resulting in resentment and possible violence.
  10. Abuses and abusers will ‘evolve and scale.’ Human nature isn’t changing; there’s laziness, bullying, stalking, stupidity, pornography, dirty tricks, crime, and those who practice them have new capacity to make life miserable for others.
  11. Pressured by these changes, governments and corporations will try to assert power — and at times succeed — as they invoke security and cultural norms.
  12. People will continue — sometimes grudgingly — to make tradeoffs favoring convenience and perceived immediate gains over privacy; and privacy will be something only the upscale will enjoy.
  13. Humans and their current organizations may not respond quickly enough to challenges presented by complex networks.
  14. Most people are not yet noticing the profound changes today’s communications networks are already bringing about; these networks will be even more disruptive in the future.
  15. Foresight and accurate predictions can make a difference; ‘The best way to predict the future is to invent it.’
happiness, mind, wisdom

teaching old dogs new tricks

Everyone has heard the saying that you can’t teach old dogs new tricks. But I am no longer convinced that saying has anything to do with what you can and can’t teach people – young or old. For many years I believed I couldn’t learn a new language once I passed teenage years because the number of fibers that run through the corpus callosum that connects the two hemispheres of the brain stop increasing by adulthood. At least that is what I recall, correctly or not, of the argument put forth at some point in the past. My own experience with studying foreign languages seemed to bear this out in that I have always been more comfortable speaking and listening to German, the language I began studying at 14, than any of the other languages I have tried to master since. But my first German teacher took a radical approach to teaching us German which may have had as much to do with my higher level of comfort than my age offered: she didn’t give us any books for the first six weeks. Instead, she spoke German, we repeated what she said until we had memorized the dialogs, and then we recited the dialogs in pairs with our classmates after which we practiced using the sentence patterns of the dialogs to make up our own sentences using new vocabulary. There was no distracting written version to complicate the tasks. And we didn’t pick up the habit of trying to speak German words using English pronunciation rules because we already knew, for example, that “ie” in words was pronounced “E” and “ei” was pronounced “I” and words that were spelled with “sp” at the beginning, such as “spielen,” were pronounced as if they were spelled “shp,” “SHPEE-len.”

But I’ve heard about more recent studies that indicate the size of many sections of the brain continue to grow even long into adulthood. For instance, studies of London taxi drivers who must master massive amounts of navigational information, known as “The Knowledge,” in order to pass the exam to obtain a taxi license, show that one section of their brains, the posterior hippocampus, is larger on average than the brain of non-taxi drivers. In addition, the size of that section of the brain in London taxi drivers is proportionally larger depending on the length of time they have been driving a taxi.

There have been any number of studies that show the progress that is possible to overcome the effects of damage to the brain, so it is surprising that the notion of the nervous system being essentially fixed throughout adulthood was still prevalent until the 1970s. Many of those studies indicate that when there is damage to the left hemisphere of the brain, areas of the right hemisphere can be developed to take over the function.

And now there is Lumosity, the website that presents game-like activities designed to improve brain function, based on the science of neuroplasticity. Experiments that have led to new beliefs replacing the belief that the brain of an adult is essentially fully formed and unchangeable involve what some would consider cruelty to animals. For example, one study involved sewing shut one eye of kittens, which revealed that instead of the portion of the brain that would have processed information being inactive, that section remapped itself to assist with processing visual information from the other eye.

I started playing Lumosity’s games more than a year ago and try to complete the five games that make up a training session at least five days each week. No more than 15 minutes is required to play the games and that’s important to me because I get caught up in games – both on-line games on my iPad and puzzles, such as Sudoko, jigsaw puzzles, and crossword puzzles. The games and results are rated against five scales: speed, memory, attention, flexibility, and problem solving. At the end of each session, the day’s scores for the five scales, plus an overall Brain Performance Index (BPI), is presented. The option to compare my scores today with my scores over time as well as to the average scores of others in my age range provide plenty of metrics to provide motivation and to identify areas of relative strength and weakness. I haven’t figured out just which games line up with which scale, but I know from my scores that I am much better at those testing – and training – my flexibility than my speed. My BPI has improved from 473 the first time I played the games to 981 today. I recognize much of the improvement resulted from my familiarity with the games, but just when I think I have mastered a game, it stops being presented as a suggested game, switching tasks to keep me flexible.

body, health, mind, soul, the alternative

granny pants

I hate to have to admit that I recently bought what I have always considered to be granny pants. You know, slacks from Alfred Dunner, without the inconvenience of a zipper, held up with elastic, the women’s version of sansabelt action pants for men. I guess the marketers think that adding the word action to the description makes them sound like they are for men young enough to be active. And they put them on young men for their catalog photographs, cutting off anything above the upper torso to add to the illusion. But everybody knows they are for men for whom too much action might lead to pants slipping down around their ankles.

Alfred DunnerLook at how Alfred Dunner pants are advertised on-line: except for the very few entries labeled jeans, they all have the phrase pull-on in their name. That description kind of makes them sound like underwear for toddlers, doesn’t it? And I’m sure you all know what type of underwear adults pull on that looks like what toddlers pull up.

I wasn’t looking for granny pants. I just wanted a pair of white slacks for our cruise and I was in such a hurry that I grabbed the first pair I saw. They fit and looked nice with the shirt I was also trying on. I didn’t give it another thought until I got them home and saw the label. Then I felt like crying.

Alfred Dunner is a brand I have always associated with my mother’s or grandmother’s generation. I don’t feel like I am that old yet. I don’t want to be that old yet. But I also have to admit I have been wearing another type of granny pants for even longer, replacements for those cute little bikini panties I used to wear. That style just isn’t comfortable any more. There is just too much of me, some of which, along with gravity, has the power to roll down the tops of those cute bikini bottoms. So I have given in and gone with comfort over vanity for my under layer. I guess going for comfort for the outer layer was inevitable. After all, I am a granny.

body, health, leisure, the alternative

paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia

I first heard of paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia or PSVT less than two weeks ago while lying on the examination room bed of the medical center of a cruise ship.

My husband and I were on our first cruise, something I had wanted to do for many years even before I reached the age of the retirees who frequent so many cruise ships. It was on the fifth day of our ten-day cruise when I lost track of my two cousins and their husbands after we had taken a brisk walk on the Promenade deck and then headed up to the Lido deck for breakfast. I knew my husband had gone to the medical center to see if he could get something to deal with his cold symptoms, but I hadn’t planned to join him there. But since I couldn’t find my cousins – these ships are huge – I sat down at a small table with my cup of coffee and carton of yogurt, thinking I would eat the yogurt to get something into my empty stomach and then I’d go on a more systematic search for the rest of my group.

I had only taken one spoonful of yogurt and one sip of coffee when I recognized the signs that my body had been hit by a dose of adrenaline — narrowed vision, a familiar and awful taste into my mouth, and feeling that the only thing I really wanted to do right then was lie down on the floor of the dining area. And then my heart started racing. I have experienced these episodes before, but had always been able to stop them by holding my breath. This time, that trick didn’t work.

Another symptom of adrenaline attacks is a lack of clear thinking. As I sat alone at my table, I knew I couldn’t lie down on the floor, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to begin looking again for my cousins, but it took a long time for my brain to reach a conclusion of what I could do. I felt glued to my chair until I finally decided I just had to get up and back to our cabin where I hoped I could lie down and bring my racing heart under control. I managed to get to an elevator, but I had headed to the wrong end of the ship – in the direction away from our cabin. I was still disoriented when the elevator stopped, so I continued to walk away from our cabin, my eyes focused on the floor, not on the numbers on the cabin doors that would have provided a clue to my misdirection. When I reached the far end of the ship and realized what I had done, all I could think to do was sit down on the floor and try to keep myself from crying. My heart was still racing and now I had to walk all the way to the other end of the ship. I hoped that my husband would be back from his trip to the medical center. 

I dragged myself to the other end of the ship and discovered my husband wasn’t in the cabin. Over and over again I tried holding my breath to see if the rigid shape of the muscles around my heart would stop the racing. I managed to count the number of beats, using the second hand on my watch for 15 seconds to determine my heart was beating at well over 200 beats per minute.

My heart had been racing for at least 30 minutes by the time my husband came into the cabin to see if I was there. He had run into my cousins on the Lido deck and they told him they were worried about where I was. With the help of the family in the neighboring cabin who had a wheelchair for their father, my husband got me to the medical center where the staff hooked me up to an IV for fluids and an EKG to record the evidence of my racing heart. The first EKG involved six leads. When the doctor arrived in the room, she ordered a 12-lead EKG and gave me the most important suggestion of the day: the Valsalva maneuver, a variation of the holding-my-breath maneuver I had discovered on my own. The doctor advised that I hold my breath and bear down at the same time, as if trying to. . . well, I’m sure you get the picture. I did that and didn’t think it had any effect, but just as the nurse got the 12 leads connected and was about to press the button to start the second EKG, my heart stopped racing. The difference was so noticeable to me that I felt everyone in the room should have been able to hear it happen. But they were all still focused on the EKG, so I told them my heart rate was back to normal. And I saw all three of them visibly relax.

Since I have experienced these episodes before, I was a little surprised at how concerned the three medical staff members seemed. Eventually one of the nurses explained that if I hadn’t been able to get my heart to stop racing, they would have had to inject a chemical to force the heart to show down and that procedure often has some unpleasant side effects. She also explained that my heart rate had been 225 beats per minute and that when the heart beats that fast, there isn’t time for blood to get into the heart chambers to be recirculated throughout the body. So while the heart was racing, it wasn’t doing what it is supposed to do and my blood pressure was dropping and my complexion was getting paler and paler on that examination room bed.

I decided I needed to learn more about SVTs – the nurse explained that the P just means the SVTs happen periodically without any obvious cause.

  • First, it was reassuring to learn that most SVTs, while unpleasant, are not life threatening. In my case, there was no pain associated with the episode and it was not therefore a heart attack.
  • Second, there are many maneuvers that may help stop the racing in addition to holding my breath or the Valsalva maneuver. Coughing, sticking the face into cold water, drinking a glass of ice cold water,  standing on one’s head, and pressing down gently on the top of closed eyes are recommendations I might try next time. Well, maybe not the standing on my head option.
  • Third, there are medicines that help prevent the episodes. The doctor gave me one of them, metoprolol, which blocks the action of the involuntary nervous system which reduces the heart rate. Whether I need a daily medication to control an event that has happened about once every two years is something I will discuss with a cardiologist, once I get a referral to see one locally.
  • Fourth, there are other interventions involving insertion of a catheter to deliver radio frequency energy to destroy abnormal electrical pathways within the heart. While these treatments are highly effective, I hope not to have to explore such options, especially since insertion of a permanent pacemaker has been required after such treatments in a small percentage of patients.

The most distressing aspect of my SVT episode on the ship was the advice the doctor gave that I consider leaving the ship either that day or on one of the following two days, our last days in ports, to return directly home. She warned me that our final two days would be entirely at sea, leaving me with no option to leave the ship at that point. I still don’t know if it was the cost of leaving early or the loss of the experiences of the second half of the cruise that was the bigger part of my concern as I spent the next day deliberating those options.

For more information about PSVTs, see http://www.medicinenet.com/paroxysmal_supraventricular_tachycardia_psvt/article.htm