Life Organization in the Digital Age: Part I

I don’t understand why our schools aren’t teaching us the most important things in life. That is, how to live. (Ok, Chelsea, a bit broad here, isn’t that what we’re supposed to learn in life?) Ok, fine. How to learn. How to function in society after school. How to choose and prepare healthy and balanced meals. How to move and train our bodies to be balanced and pain-free. Yes, you see my bias with nutrition and physical activity. But today, I’m actually talking about technology.

This is a bit of a ranting blog post with a lot of unanswered questions, but the point is to stimulate discussion on the topic. So, leave your comments at the bottom! I promise I’ll follow up with another post on a more how-to style of life organizing based on my own experience and research.

Mentors: There’s Not an App for That

Should we be learning these organizing skills on our own terms? Should we seek out our own mentors? Yes, absolutely. But how do we know those mentors are leading us down the right path? What makes these people qualified? What about those people that don’t have the social (or financial) capital to find and utilize such mentors? Those who have no one in their network to ask for guidance? Those who are so lost that they don’t even know there is a better way? The thing about school, theoretically, is that it sets up a screening process for such mentors and establishes a standard knowledge base from which teachers and professors can build on and teach students.

I already wrote about my own personal quest for best practices (always my obsession). I want to know how to organize my life with all this constantly evolving technology at my fingertips. I have a hard time believing that I am the only person in this world that feels like I’m constantly treading water, nearly drowning in a sea of limitless information and infinite possibilities. How do we balance and organize our lives with or without cellphones, tablets, laptops, emails, .pdf, .docx, .xlsx files, and just plain old pen and paper?

There’s certainly plenty of posts on the “top 5 apps” to organize your life through technology, but no one seems to be able to put two and two together. Apps are cool. But what I really need is a method of organizing though paper and technology, real-life and virtual-life. I want to learn a process, not download a cookie-cutter template. I have said this before and I will say it again: I will seriously pay someone to sit down with me and help organize my computer files and emails. Like freakin’ California Closets for computers. You can’t write a program for that. You can’t create an app.

Keyboarding: Growing Up at the Wrong Time?

Let’s go back. I remember in 5th grade when I had to write my first big report on the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I used Encyclopedia Britannica program that we had on our family’s home computer and books from our school library to do most of the research. At the time, you were lucky if your family even had dial-up internet. Ancient history, right? I remember asking my mom if she could at least type out the report for me because I didn’t know how to use the keyboard efficiently. I knew it would take me forever to type out. She said no. No problem. I just laboriously typed out each word with a couple fingers, key by key. Fast forward 3 years, when in 8th grade I took an elective keyboarding class in school to learn how to type fast and efficiently with the proper hand positions. An elective. An elective? Today, typing is an essential life skill for nearly every job, or even now just to socialize, and schools are offering it as an elective? Geez.

Later in college, my boyfriend at the time told me about the Dvorak layout for the keyboard, a more efficient layout for typing, which he had taught himself. I never took the time to teach myself Dvorak, but it’s fascinating to know that there are other, more efficient ways of using technology, even with something as basic as typing! And we can learn them. Rather, we should learn them. Why aren’t they being taught?

My point is, if keyboarding skills are something that a majority of my generation skipped out on learning because it was offered as just an elective class in high school, what other important technology and organization skills have been glazed over in these rapidly shifting times?

Generation iPad

Maybe the generation after mine will do just fine with all these tools. Those that are growing up entertaining themselves on computers, taking tests on iPads, and socializing on cellphones have been seamlessly brought up in this constantly upgrading world of technology. Good or bad… they may not know how to interact in real life, but they certainly know how to use technology. Maybe organizing their thoughts on bright little screens has become second-nature to them. But probably not.

Even with this generation, it seems that some places of education, like the Waldorf schools, aren’t teaching with technology. I can’t say if that’s better or worse. I can see benefits and drawbacks. Hands-on learning is certainly effective and engaging, and reading and writing on paper certainly seems to be better for learning and memory. But will these children be able to function when the time comes to use technology to learn? Will they know how to Google search efficiently? Will they develop digital literacy? Only time can tell… when these children grow up and go to college (where they will be forced into using these simultaneously awful and amazing online learning systems such as Blackboard). And that’s a scary experiment. I wholly disagree with this statement about computer skills from Alan Eagle, who works at Google and has 2 children in school: “It’s supereasy. It’s like learning to use toothpaste. At Google and all these places, we make technology as brain-dead easy to use as possible. There’s no reason why kids can’t figure it out when they get older.” (You can read the full NYTimes article here.) Sure, they can quickly learn how to Google something. But is integration of technology and life really that easy? Do we know what we’re doing? Do we know how to teach and learn, integrating old and new technologies (ink, paper, and silicon)? I don’t think we do.

For people young and old, we should take the time to teach and discuss organization and learning in the context of paper, digital, and mental filing systems.

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