The ‘curse’ of the smartphone

Two months ago, I joined the 21st century. The keys on my trusty Nokia phone (which, at 14 years and counting, could be described as a senior citizen) began to freeze. One key went first and then another one. It made texting very difficult when I couldn’t use the most commonly used letter in the English alphabet (e, if you’re curious). Gradually all the others followed suit, in a kind of arthritic surrender. My phone switched on and off with no problem, but without the use of its keys, it was nothing more than a useless relic. Thus, I succumbed to the thing I have been resisting: I bought a smartphone.

Public domain image source

Everywhere you go, you see people glued to their phones. A few years ago, phones were functional: you could make calls and send texts and that was the limit of their capabilities. Does anyone remember the game, Snake? I used to enjoy playing that! But that’s so old-fashioned now, when today’s phones are all-singing, all-dancing pieces of technology.

In class, it is standard for people to pull out their notebooks and pens, followed by their smartphones, which they place on their desks as though they are a life-giving force to which they need to be permanently connected. One thing that really bugs me about smartphone use is when I’m talking to someone and they are staring at their phone. Whatever happened to manners? Put your phone away!

Public domain image source

Since purchasing my smartphone, I have made a conscious effort not to become somebody who stares at their phone all the time. It can be tempting to check it when I hear the ping of my email alert, letting me know that another message has landed in my inbox, but when I’m busy working at home, I leave it upstairs and out of earshot. Admittedly, despite my reluctance to get a smartphone, it has its uses. I like the to-do list app I downloaded because it allows me to stay uber-organized. But I won’t relinquish my Filofax anytime soon! Technology is useful but not when it becomes something from which we can’t tear ourselves away.

In the wise words of Steven Spielberg:

“Technology can be our best friend, and technology can also be the biggest party pooper of our lives. It interrupts our own story, interrupts our ability to have a thought or a daydream, to imagine something wonderful, because we’re too busy bridging the walk from the cafeteria back to the office on the cell phone”.

What do you think? Are smartphones the source of a modern-day affliction or do you love your phone?

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Weekend link love

Here’s a selection of links to things I’ve read and watched during the past few days, in between my hectic study schedule. Winter break starts in a week; it’s the first Sunday of Advent today and December starts tomorrow….where has the year gone?! Although I will still be busy working on my sociolinguistic project that is due at the beginning of January, it will be great to have a break from driving to campus every day!

Homes of the River Gods: The History of American Mansions: a short piece from JSTOR Daily. As I have an interest in country homes, à la Jane Austen, I was intrigued to learn a little about the history of mansions in America. On a side note, I use JSTOR a lot for sourcing academic papers and the JSTOR Daily section is a pleasant place to browse during a study break, with lots of fascinating short articles!

Tenure, She Wrote: this post, The strange duality of being a pregnant professor, was featured on Freshly Pressed a couple of days ago. As I am an aspiring academic, I’m always interested to hear about women’s experiences in academia.

A Bad Lip Reading of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

This is very silly, but rather clever, and it made me giggle this weekend! Bad Lip Reading is a YouTube channel that produces spoof videos of popular movies and TV shows with dubbed speech that ‘matches’ the vocal movements of the actors; hence, a bad lip reading. The videos are addictive and entertaining! They just released the Catching Fire video and I hope they do a Mockingjay one soon.

NPR – How Dogs Understand What We Say: we already know that canines are incredibly intelligent and can do many amazing things, such as sniffing out drugs and explosives and assisting people who are hearing-impaired or disabled. But a new study suggests that dogs understand more of human language than we think. Research conducted at the University of Sussex shows that dogs process both meaning and emotion in human speech and that “dogs are able to differentiate between meaningful and meaningless sound sequences”. As a student linguist, this kind of study is fascinating, but I imagine there are many difficulties in designing experiments for canine subjects and probably as many complexities in interpreting the results.

Pretty Stella

Roasted Fennel & Butternut Squash Soup: this soup is so tasty and quick to make. I changed the recipe slightly (I used vegetable stock and omitted the half and half) and it is an excellent winter meal!

What have you been reading, watching and listening to on the internet this weekend? Share some link love in the comments!

A Little Bit of Silliness

Here’s a little bit of silliness to make you smile on this Monday morning. I remember this rhyme from my childhood and it still makes me giggle.

(Rhyme: Anon. Graphic created by me, using Pinwords.com. Image sourced from PublicDomainPictures.net).

Do you remember any rhymes or limericks from your childhood which make you smile?

Friday round-up

Here’s what I saw on the internet this week, in between my study sessions for upcoming exams:

News of an upcoming movie, based on a true story and set in England during the early 1800s, about the mixed-race daughter, Dido Belle, of an admiral in the Royal Navy. Dido was raised by her wealthy great-uncle and his wife in their aristocratic country home. Despite the privileged class of society in which she was brought up, she was restricted by the colour of her skin and shunned by people around her.

Here is an article which explains her story in greater detail: Dido Belle: the slave’s daughter who lived in Georgian elegance. I am looking forward to seeing the movie. Dido had a unique and fascinating life; I don’t know of any other mixed-race or black people who were members of the upper classes during a time when racism was the norm.

In other news, I wasn’t expecting to see breakdancing monks on my Facebook feed this week! The video in the link is fun to watch!

Finally, do you live in/near New York City? Fancy finding out which neighborhood is the most rat-infested? Check out the interactive rat information portal! I found the name of this very amusing when I heard about it: the name of the portal makes it sound like it is supplying information to the rodents themselves. 😉

Have a fun Friday! Have you spotted anything interesting and/or amusing on the interwebz this week?

To the guy I wish I’d spoken to in the café queue

Public domain image: source

Public domain image: source

It was two o’clock on a rainy afternoon. I was waiting at the counter for a whole-wheat roll to go with my leek and potato soup when you jumped ahead of me in line. I wasn’t in a hurry and besides, I hadn’t gotten my roll yet. But when you realized, you apologized and after my insistence that really, it was okay, you ordered your coffee and I waited for my turn.

I looked at you and you looked at me. And I knew that I knew you from somewhere; it was like déjà vu. You looked so familiar, standing there wearing your smart-casual jacket and those retro, black glasses that I find so undeniably attractive, and yet my brain couldn’t place you.

I wish I’d spoken to you because — and this is going to sound ridiculous — I thought about you for most of my drive home later that afternoon and I rehearsed in my head what I should have said. I regret not saying something to you. I’ll probably never see you again but if you cross my path once more on a dreary Monday afternoon, I’m not going to let my self-doubt win.

I don’t often write personal posts about my life and part of me feels really silly for writing about this brief encounter which wasn’t really of any significance at all. But something about it nagged at me; it is a reminder to myself not to let opportunities pass me by.

October

So, it is October already and nearly a month has gone by since my last blog post! How did that happen?

Despite my busy life, I am planning a few book and movie reviews. On my pile of books to read is the magnificently lengthy Museum of Abandoned Secrets by Oksana Zabuzkho. A review of the aforementioned book will appear in time but the novel is over 600 pages and is quite weighty stuff! I am enjoying it though but need to read it in small chunks.

Also coming soon is my review of Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell. Some of you may have seen the 2010-released movie, as it won awards at Sundance in 2010 and Jennifer Lawrence’s performance was Oscar-nominated. I have not seen the movie, however, but it is on my to-watch list. I wanted to read the book before I saw the the screen adaptation of it but I will watch the movie soon and write a review of both book and film.

Finally, I recently joined Twitter! My Twitter handle is @cultureblogger Follow me!

I hope you have a wonderful weekend! Until next time, goodbye.

February weekend

I took this picture last Saturday, on a cold morning when the hazy mist was lying low over the hills and the orange tinge to the clouds heralded the arrival of snow. It’s by no means a spectacular photo but I like it because it reminds me of a watercolor painting, with the silhouetted trees in the distance and the soft outlines of the landscape.

February

 

Thoughts on reading The Hunger Games

The day before yesterday, I read the last page of Mockingjay, which is the third and final book in The Hunger Games trilogy. Two weeks ago I barely had any idea about what The Hunger Games was about, other than that it seemed to be getting a lot of hype around an upcoming movie adaptation and a lot of people were calling it the next Twilight.

Well, I can tell you that The Hunger Games most definitely is not the next Twilight. It’s so much better than that. Yes, I occasionally have a guilty foray into Twilight (okay, so I’ve read all the books and seen all the movies) but I accept it for what it is: an easy-to-read series without much substance at all. And the movies are complete chick flicks.

The Hunger Games, on the other hand, is well written and compelling. I couldn’t stop reading. If, like me two weeks ago, you have no idea what it’s about I’ll try to give a brief summary of the central plot. But you really do have to read it yourself because there’s no chance that I can summarize such an engaging, polished and shockingly vivid series in about 100 words. But I’ll try to give you a taste of what it’s all about.

Picture North America, now called Panem. In an unspecified time in the future, after the destruction of North America as we know it, Panem is segregated into twelve districts which are all overseen by one threatening and sinister mega-government, the Capitol. In the past, the districts attempted and failed to overthrow the government. As punishment for this sin, the Capitol initiated the televised reality show, the Hunger Games. Each year, twenty-four competitors (one male and one female from each of the twelve districts) are placed into a vast outdoor arena and, in Roman gladiator style, have to fight until only one remains.

“The twenty-four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland”, quote from The Hunger Games, copyright Suzanne Collins

The book draws on Roman and Greek mythology to create lucid details and imagery. The series is narrated in the first-person by Katniss Everdeen, a sixteen-year-old resident from District 12, who volunteers to take the place of her beloved sister, Primrose, in the Games when Prim’s name is picked.

It is difficult to describe how addictive and brilliant these books are (I read the whole series in approx. one week!) but they are not just another ‘Twilight’. They deal with some pretty deep themes — family, love, friendship, sacrifice, as well as the symbolism of the totalitarian government and a dystopian reality. There are similarities to George Orwell’s 1984 and there is a considerable amount of political allegory as well as some stunning imagery in the books. I even found myself crying at one very moving point. The author, Suzanne Collins, used to be a scriptwriter so she has a real way with words and a way to make things come alive in your imagination.

Although The Hunger Games is being marketed at young teens, I think that younger readers won’t get the symbolism. I am also concerned that the upcoming movie adaptation is going to be watered down for young viewers, missing out crucial parts of the book and focusing on a partly made-up love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale, who are three of the main characters. Unfortunately, there is already a huge amount of comparisons between The Hunger Games and Twilight but don’t let that scare you away from it!

And please read the books before you go see the movie because I expect the movie makers will try to cater for a young audience of teen girls. I envision a Twilight-esque ‘Team Peeta’ versus ‘Team Gale’ showdown and I emphatically do not want that to happen! It doesn’t happen in the books and it shouldn’t happen on-screen but I fear it will. Yes, there is a love story in the series but it is by no means the central plot, unlike in the Twilight series.

The Hunger Games series is subtly and beautifully written. I didn’t expect that I would like it when I first started reading it as it’s not my usual type of literature but I was amazed by how blown away I was by the series. It’s been a long time since I read anything so thought-provoking, so tender in parts and yet so brutal at the same time.

Hello 2012

What will you bring, I wonder?

Hello 2012!

I’m not going to lie — I didn’t take this photo today. When I woke up this morning, January 1, the dawn was gray and not very spectacular. I thought this image was more appropriate for a Happy New Year post!

“We will open the book.  Its pages are blank.  We are going to put words on them ourselves.  The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day” (Edith Lovejoy Pierce).

Have a wonderful 2012.