Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Keeping Up, Updates and Downloads

Have you noticed how often you get a notice that either a piece of software or an application needs to be "updated" and "downloaded" to be sure that you have the latest and greatest whatever?   It seems to me that it's almost a daily function like brushing your teeth or in some cases, taking a shower.  It cleans up the old and now you're all new and refreshed, or something like that.   However, here's my concern.

Why do things go out of date so quickly?  Is there the same kind of conspiracy of a new car model in order to boost sales?  Oh yes, there are improvements and sometimes, on rare occasions, increased speed and efficiency. I am not persuaded that faster is always better.  In fact, I now believe, and there's some evidence to support this, that slowing down is healthier and more productive, especially when it comes to mental tasks.  I have suspected built in obsolescence since the advent of Apple.  My old MacBook G-4 from 2006, worked just fine.  So why did I succumb to a new 13" Mac Book Pro Late 2011?  Was it the Intel HD Graphics 3000 384MB?  Honestly, that means nothing to me.  I'm just glad the damn thing works most of the time, doesn't get viruses, delivers what I need in terms of communication, files and storage and the rest I leave to the techhies. Yes, it's a great design and user-friendly.

I am tired of keeping up or trying to stay current with too many things, too many people, too many contacts.  It's simply too much so I am in the process of cutting back, cutting out and cutting down.  I may even delete LinkedIn completely and LinkOut.  I never did sign up for Facebook so that's a non-issue.  I am not a member of very many online groups except a few professional ones.
If I offend anyone in the process, I will send my apologies ahead of time.  I doubt it will be traumatic for any of them but I have concluded I want to spend what time I have remaining in some other activities other than software updates.  I find it's a little like too much traffic that makes me wait while there's a space for me to enter and continue.  I think I'll just avoid the traffic.  Thank you very much.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Violence in Video Games

Originally written 4 Feb 2008

Adults with many years of experience cannot expect children to be able to relate easily or quickly to an adult perspective.  Neither should they always try to persuade or convince the young to understand or accept their particular point of view.  However, that is what we do when we try to communicate personal, family and cultural values, transmitting our culture from one generation to the next. 

I expect young people of today to question and debate the issues that affect them and their generation..  And when there is disagreement, there can and should be a conversation with respect for each other’s views and positions. Then both will learn something of value.
Playing violent video games can increase a person's aggressive thoughts, feelings and behavior both in laboratory settings and in actual life, according to two studies that were in the American Psychological Association's (APA) Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. (April 2000) Furthermore, violent video games may be more harmful than violent television and movies because they are interactive, very engrossing and require the player to identify with the aggressor, say the researchers.
Violent Video Games and Hostile Expectations: A Test of the General Aggression Model.
    B. J. Bushman and C. A. Anderson (2002)  See also:  Short-term and Long-term Effects of Violent Media on Aggression in Children and Adults.  B. J. Bushman and L. R. Huesmann (2006) Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine 160, 348-352
     What is clear is that the research is divided and there are no easy or definite answers for any position – whether the games contribute to more aggression or that they only contribute to aggressive behavior in those who are already angry or that they contribute, but in a small and insignificant way or that they make it possible for aggression to occur but only under specific circumstances.  More reliable research is indicated.
     To understand some of the effects of video games, you need to go back to debriefings conducted by the U.S. Army after WWII. Interviewing soldiers returning from battle, researchers discovered a disturbing fact. A significant number of soldiers had been face to face with an enemy soldier, rifle in hand, enemy in their sights, gun not jammed, and had not fired. Something deep in their being, some sort of innate humanity, or values instilled early on, had prevented them from actually pulling the trigger.
     This was very disturbing to the military. They began a research effort to figure out what to do about this problem. They discovered that in the heat of battle, under the incredible physical and psychological stress of being faced with another human being you were supposed to kill, the higher mental functions were largely absent. Under such conditions, the mind reverts to much simpler modes of operation, to deeply wired, almost instinctive behaviors. In other words, no amount of target practice and classroom lectures about how you're supposed to kill the enemy had much effect when it counted.
     Over the following decades and wars, the Army learned that the way to get soldiers to reliably pull the trigger was to use very basic, repetitive operant conditioning, along the lines of standard behaviorist theory. Behaviorism provides a poor model for how humans act in everyday life, but it turns out to be a fairly good model for how humans act when they are under stress and have to act quickly, and are responding primarily to fear. Under stress, fearful people do what they have been conditioned to do.  That is one reason we have repetitive fire drills, so that we know how to react in an urgent situation.
     The Army's solution was to replace dry target practice with realistic training grounds, complete with pop-up targets, loud noises, smoke, stress, the works. The goal was to condition the soldiers: if it moves, shoot it now, don't think about it. Repetition, repetition, repetition: Target pops up, you shoot. Target pops up, you shoot. Do that often enough, and, research shows, next time you see something pop up, you are more likely to shoot it, even if it's a real human in a real battle. Sometimes it’s called “friendly fire” when it is a mistake.  This is not just a theory, it is documented by exit interviews from soldiers in later wars: The Army got what it wanted.
     What does this have to do with video games? The answer should be obvious. The whole point is, if it moves, shoot it. Again and again and again.  The military uses all kinds of expensive simulators, basically high powered video games, similar to what kids use every day, to train its recruits and to overcome the aversion to killing.   And there is evidence to suggest that those who are expert at gaming are some of the best and most effective fighter pilots and soldiers.  In the end, if you believe in war, maybe video gaming is a good thing for survival!  The downside is that, in most cases, the enemy is also trained in shoot to kill.  Is it that he who presses the right buttons faster wins?
     The cost for soldiers who survive, as witnessed by the increase in post-traumatic stress, is devastating.   As many as one-third of the homeless men in the U.S. are Viet Nam veterans, most of them suffering from PTSD and we are only beginning to count the cost from the years of human destruction in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
     What can we learn from this?  Whether or not violent video games cause aggressive behavior may not be the real issue.  Perhaps the real question that needs to be explored is whether video gaming might contribute to an acceptance of the need to destroy the “enemy” without any need to feel anger or anything that can be consciously identified as aggressive behavior.   After all, it’s just a game.

Here is a sample:
“Hunched with his troops in a dusty, wind-swept courtyard, the squad leader signals the soldiers to line up against a wall. Clasping automatic weapons, they inch single-file toward a sandy road lined with swaying palm trees.
The squad leader orders a point man to peer around the corner, his quick glance revealing several foes lying in wait behind a smoldering car. A few hand signals, a quick flash of gunfire, and it's over.  The enemy is defeated, but no blood is spilled, no bullet casings spent: All the action is in an Xbox-based training simulator for the military, called Full Spectrum Warrior.”   (Associated Press 10/03)

 Finally, here is something which should also concern all of us.  When many people see a real video, shot live, they think that because it’s seen on a screen, that it’s not real when it is.  It’s just like a video game or worse, a television program with a script and actors and made up in a studio or on a set somewhere like a movie.  If you want to test that out on yourself, take a look at some of the current, live, very real, military videos and register your own cognitive and emotional response.  This is somewhat the flip side of the video gaming issue and equally important because it is very real and not a game.
     Not every child playing video games will develop aggressive behaviors and only a small percentage will become soldiers who are trained to do what soldiers have to do.  The point is that both children and adults can be easily influenced by the media and high powered, well- conceived video games.  What the short and long term results are will continue to be debated but there is compelling evidence to suggest we better take a hard look at what is happening as a result of violent video gaming.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

The River

For the past seven years, we have lived on the Rio Chama.  It has its origins in south-central Colorado, just above New Mexico in the San Juan Mountains.  It flows south where it is impounded by three dams, creating three lakes, Heron, El Vado and Abiquiu.  The entire length of the river is 130 miles, 34 of which are below the Abiquiu dam and that's where we are about 10 miles east of the dam.  The flow today (May 20) is about 1190 cubic feet per second, or 8,900 U.S. gallons.  That's a lot of water.

We are privileged to live on a large bend in the river, on approximately 1000 feet of riverbank and I can watch the river flow silently and constantly on its way to join the Rio Grande near the San Juan pueblo, just north of Espanola, about 30 miles north of Santa Fe.  The Rio Chama is a major tributary of the Rio Grande.  The river is an illustration of consistency, life force, and calm.  The only negative I can think of is the demand from FEMA for flood insurance although the dam upstream is able to contain the water and should it break, we're all going downstream.

The river has been used by people for 10,000 years for a variety of purposes, perhaps one of the more important being irrigation in this high desert country known for its dryness and very low average yearly rainfall.  However, it is also used for recreational enjoyment of rafting, kayaking and fishing.  For me, it is a source of contentment, constancy and quietness and its scenic beauty is enhanced by a large variety of water birds including many ducks, geese, eagles and cormorants.  They use the river as a natural habitat and as a food source whether vegetation or fish.  I use the river as a source of natural beauty and a resource that enriches the quality of each day.  Sitting on the portal facing north, we embrace the river as it blesses us in its passing.