About Me

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Armchair theorist, poet, and occasional IT manager, Sascha B. is equipped with a Master's Degree in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Texas, and is not afraid to use it. His work has been published by the University Press of America, Edwin Mellen Press, University of Texas Press, and a variety of small journals nationwide. He is also the proprietor and baker for 3141 Pie, of which you should eat many.

The Deal

I stopped blogging in 2013, when life overtook me. My father became ill and died shortly thereafter, and my mother was left with increasing dementia. I became the primary caregiver, and now orchestrate my mother's care and our family estate.

Now, I am coming up for air again.

Looking for the next book to read. All suggestions welcome.

My reading list is over here.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Facebook, Again

A decent article on the issues of privacy and Facebook:
"So what exactly is “personal” on the internet? Well, that’s easy. Nothing. Not a damn thing....

"The inherent problem then is expectations. People expect their “personal” data to remain personal and private. This expectation is set at some point by the site they are entering their personal data into. Or, it’s a site like Linkedin, where the expectation of complete transparency is set. The thing is, as Loren mentioned in the video, no one reads the terms of service contracts. When you click the little check box and hit continue, you are agreeing to pages and pages of legalese that pretty much state you don’t have any personal data and you have absolutely no privacy on that site."
As the author notes, the problem isn't Facebook --- they are doing what most analysts and tech folks assumed they would do, which is take their primary commodity (your personal information) and commodify it (turn your interests into their profits). The problem is in the perception that has been built by the "social web" that these sites, and this stuff we put up on them, belongs to us. And it is that disjuncture in perception that is the problem, and the real crime. Sites like Facebook are guilty only of encouraging the illusions (and delusions) that the users bring to the site.

So what's the choice? You can accept that privacy is an anachronism, and accept that everything you are and everything you do is now in the public domain, and our lives are effectively some huge Truman Show, or Big Brother house. Or, you can start asserting your right as an individual, and wean off the current cultural addiction to the social networking drugs of choice, and consider how to build alternatives that are stronger, more humane and less self-interested (in an exhibitionistic sense) and more self-aware (in a reflective sense).

The choice is ours to make. But the status quo is currently making the choice for you.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

In Praise Of A Religious Education?

Apparently, in this time of pope bashing and scandal, there is a small light in the darkness for the Catholic Church. Diane Ravitch, in her current critique of US Education, has strong positive words to offer on Catholic schools and their organization, effectiveness, and pedagogy.
On the one flank, they never gave over to the obsession with standardized tests. On the other, they never conceded their curriculum to progressive trends like whole language, constructivist math and relativistic history. As a result, black and Hispanic students in Catholic schools did not necessarily score higher than those in public schools on standardized tests like the SAT, but they were far more likely to take rigorous classes, graduate on time and attend college.
The focus on family, community, and personal development as a part of basic education seems to still have value. I can't really argue with that. At the same time, I'm not sure that the parochial model is one that is at all translatable: the reason for the schools' successes, I suspect, is due to the fact that they are parochial in nature, and held by the world of faith, rather than that they are simply adopting practices that provide positive outcomes despite that parochial grounding.

Charter and public schools don't have God on their side.

Monday, May 03, 2010

“Facebook is not a conversation.”

It may be counter-intuitive, but I continue in my belief that online social networks, while increasing our breadth of contact, actually continue to erode the depth of that contact --- as well as changing the basic nature of how we interact, and how we understand the nature of connection and intimacy. And now the research is beginning to back me up:
Writing in The Future of Children, a journal produced through a collaboration between the Brookings Institution and the Woodrow Wilson Center at Princeton University, Kaveri Subrahmanyam and Patricia M. Greenfield, psychologists at California State University, Los Angeles, and U.C.L.A.respectively, noted: "Initial qualitative evidence is that the ease of electronic communication may be making teens less interested in face-to-face communication with their friends."
further down the page, the article notes in more depth:
...close childhood friendships help kids build trust in people outside their families and consequently help lay the groundwork for healthy adult relationships. “These good, close relationships — we can’t allow them to wilt away. They are essential to allowing kids to develop poise and allowing kids to play with their emotions, express emotions, all the functions of support that go with adult relationships,” Professor Parker said.

What she and many others who work with children see are exchanges that are more superficial and more public than in the past. “When we were younger we would be on the phone for hours at a time with one person,” said Ms. Evans. Today instant messages are often group chats. And, she said, “Facebook is not a conversation.”

One of the concerns is that, unlike their parents — many of whom recall having intense childhood relationships with a bosom buddy with whom they would spend all their time and tell all their secrets — today’s youths may be missing out on experiences that help them develop empathy, understand emotional nuances and read social cues like facial expressions and body language.
This is not at all to imply that I think social networking online is evil. I just think that it is in very subtle ways doing two things: first, reinforcing the natural strengths and weaknesses of young people in regard to their ability to form deep meaningful connections. Second, it is stripping the capacity for emotional depth from the basis of our 1-to-1 communications as a culture.

A socially inept young boy who finds it easier to communicate online than in person -- that's great. But does it translate to that boy growing into an adult who can build lasting and meaningful relationships with those people around him in real life, face to face?

I fear that we are laying the foundation for a generation of adults who have the social depth and grace of cartoon characters. As someone who struggled all my life to learn the skills that online connection seem to obviate, I fear this for our culture as a whole, and I pity those people find themselves stunted in their development, perhaps without ever even knowing that there is something they are lacking.