Archive | March, 2011

Two Cents: Has Technology Taken Away Our Ability to Plan Ahead?

18 Mar

I recently was reminded of one of the central facts of my undergraduate days: if you didn’t get money out of your bank by 3 p.m. on a Friday, you were out of luck for the weekend. I was in college before cash machines appeared in banks, and getting cash meant standing in line for a teller to cash your check. Definitely not the good old days.

The results of this were many. It resulted in a certain amount of unintended frugality; it garnered higher ratings for weekend TV shows than they deserved; and it gave awesome power to those in a dorm who were foresighted enough to keep a decent supply of cash in hand. I don’t recall anyone actually charging interest—but those who were in the chips had a certain complacency that the rest of us lacked. I think that cash machines were the first consumer-service revolution of the digital age, the first hints of the transformation from a slower-moving world to a world of instant gratification.

One thing that the pre-cash-machine era did was eventually teach the simple lesson-get to the bank before it closes on Friday. I wonder if such lessons had any long-range value? Does the Web and all it enables make us less able to plan ahead? Is a movie we have to wait to see in the theatre, or even wait for in the mail, more enjoyable because of the time we spend in anticipation? Or is that all merely an attempt to justify the way things used to be?

Evan Cornog, dean of Hofstra University’s School of Communication

Introducing: Week Without the Web

8 Mar

Introducing the Week Without the Web blog at Hofstra’s School of Communication.

For the past decade and more, the Web has been transforming almost every aspect of our lives—how we socialize, how we buy things, how we get information, how we listen to music and watch movies and choose our leaders.

The Web has become so central to our lives that it is hard to imagine the world we live in without it—even for those of us who remember the pre-Web universe.

So to try to put things into clearer focus, we are attempting a five-day Week Without the Web at Hofstra’s School of Communication for the week of April 4-8, 2011.

This is not about “the good old days”—it’s about trying to understand better the world we live in now by stepping back for five days to understand better how fully our days are shaped by the Web.

I am certainly a Web addict. Checking e-mail, staying up-to-date with news sites and bloggers, checking in on Facebook friends is now a reflex, hardly even a thought. I read articles on how the Web is changing the way we think—and usually I am reading them on the Web. In order to organize the Week Without the Web, we have to depend upon the Web. In order to publicize our results once we are done, we are planning to put stuff up on the Web. Ironies abound.

Over the next four weeks, we are going to be using this site to blog a bit about the questions raised by the Web, and by our upcoming week of abstention. We hope you will find our posts thought-provoking.

One of the first realizations I had when we began discussing this is how hard it is to do on a practical level—the Web is integral to so much that we do as a school, in spite of the fact that almost all the functions it helps handle were routinely dealt with in pre-Web days. And we quickly realized that a parallel technology—cellphones—was going to have to remain in action for the week. First of all, we had to keep that vital line of communication for safety announcements open. But we also realize that while it may be difficult to get people to give up the Web for five days, it would be impossible to get people to put aside their phones (and texting).

The lesson here, for me, is that any effort to give up the Web for a week is going to be a difficult undertaking. Many, perhaps most, of us will fall short from time to time. But I hope that the undertaking, and our shared attempt to understand the way the Web has changed and is changing our lives, will be worth the effort.

Evan Cornog, dean of Hofstra University’s School of Communication