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Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.

Topic: technology

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May 6, 2014 at 6:15 AM

Need to recharge? Travel alone and unplug from social media

A couple of weeks ago, several family members became aware of my intention to travel alone.

“Why would you do that?” a cousin wondered aloud. “You’re going with someone else and hiding it from us, huh? Or do you want us to come with you?”

Because I can. No. And, please, no.

The whole point of my week-long solo vacation through the Olympic Peninsula, Victoria, BC and San Francisco was to escape the daily grind. To be away from all distractions and alone with my thoughts. I wanted to attempt to go beyond isolation and cut off contact with friends and family for a few days. Several years ago, this would have been a relatively simple task for me to pull off. Not anymore. Too much of my life and work now revolves around social media and the Internet.

As a March 7 Pew study finds, the vast majority of adults surveyed between the ages of 18 and 33 (aka the millennials) are “digital natives” and way more active on the Internet than older generations. The vast majority of respondents said they use Facebook. More than half have posted a “selfie” photo. Another way to look at it: an entire generation is accustomed to posting photos and updates everywhere and at any given time. Many are just now becoming weary of information overload. Have you looked around lately in public spaces? It appears most people are staring at their phones rather than making eye contact with the person next to them. Though our digital networks are growing, our human connections are stunted.

The inspiration for my self-imposed technology blackout was Internet guru and filmmaker Tiffany Shlain, who explains the importance of “technology shabbats” in the first segment of her “The Future Starts Here” series for AOL. Watch Shlain make a strong case for building productivity with technology, but unplugging at least one day a week in the short video below:

Aside from booking nighttime accommodations, I had no real itinerary as I drove north on U.S. Highway 101. To ensure I couldn’t cheat or give in to my compulsive use of social media,

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Comments | Topics: technology, unplug, vacation

November 20, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Building steam under science, technology, engineering, math and the arts

The dearth of women in technology professions or girls taking STEM classes has been well-documented. But I found reason for hope recently during an afternoon with young girls studying STEAM, the acronym for science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics education, during full-day workshops on six consecutive Saturdays.

Robotic vehicles designed by girls in the BUILDING STEAM program by the Greater Seattle Chapter of the Links, Inc.

Robotic vehicles designed by girls in the BUILDING STEAM program by the Greater Seattle Chapter of the Links, Inc.

The girls were recruited from Seattle-area middle and high schools and community organizations by the Greater
Seattle Chapter of The Links, Inc., a volunteer service organization for women. At the TAF Academy, the Federal Way public school run by the Technology Access Foundation, the girls engaged in hands-on learning about robotics and gaming technology using NASA STEM education guidelines developed for the U.S. Department of Education. I met the girls on their final day when they had gathered at Rainier Beach Community Center to model their robots – including some talking ones – and debut video games they designed.

The games had stunning graphics and creative twists. I was especially wowed by those inspired by Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. Who says girls are not gamers!

Also, who says STEM should not include arts. The aesthetic of the games, their design and usability, was all about artistic values. The afternoon was a celebration of the girls’ accomplishments but for me it was also a glimpse at the promise of STEAM, rather than STEM, education.

President Obama has emphasized STEM education as necessary preparation for a global and tech-driven economy. I’ve written here and here about the sizeable gap between the number of tech jobs available and the number of job seekers with the training and education to fill those jobs.  The inbalance is greater for young people of color. National efforts draw attention to the dilemma, but it is dogged work at the local level, by advocacy and commnity groups like The Links, that moves the needle.

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Comments | Topics: children, Education, race

October 17, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Schools must better balance technology and privacy rights

Paul Tong/Op Art

Paul Tong/Op Art

Technology is as omnipresent in public education as pencils and paper. We’ve seen the growth in tools like interactive white boards, document cameras and those egg-shaped devices that help students respond in classrooms. But another side of the technology debate revolves around  storage of the copious amounts of data collected by schools, school districts and state education departments. So much data is floating around that districts around the country have turned to private companies to store information in the cloud. The companies protect files with high-level encryption, but still privacy rights advocates are mounting challenges to districts that rely on third parties for data storage outside of schools, reports The New York Times. Privacy advocates’ paranoia is not totally unwarranted. 

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Comments | Topics: children, Education, Google

August 13, 2013 at 7:50 AM

Ashton Kutcher on what he learned from Steve Jobs

This week’s biggest surprise: Actor Ashton Kutcher gives a surprisingly inspiring and smart speech at the Teen Choice Awards. In a brief acceptance speech, Kutcher channels Apple founder Steve Jobs and champions nerds with three pieces of advice. Juju Chang of Good Morning America posted it on Facebook, calling it “remarkable.” I could not resist…

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Comments | More in Video | Topics: Apple, pop culture, technology

May 10, 2013 at 6:30 AM

Bill Nye on the need for more at-risk kids in STEM

President Obama’s efforts to regain America’s economic edge by ramping up science, engineering, technology and math businesses has a fan in Bill Nye, the Science Guy. Fresh from attending the White House’s third annual Science Fair, Nye spoke this week with the Huffington Post about the smart intersections of science and technology. Nye emphasized a point…

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Comments | Topics: barack obama, children, Education

May 2, 2013 at 6:20 AM

‘We Steal Secrets': WikiLeaks and the U.S. intelligence-industrial complex

Early in Alex Gibney’s gripping new documentary “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks,” Julian Assange declares that he “likes crushing bastards.”

By the end of the 130-minute film, Assange is one of the bastards. Seized by paranoia and the fame monster, he made WikiLeaks volunteers sign non-disclosure agreements, and charges $1 million per interview.

Along the way, Gibney’s careful journalism exposes the moral fault lines of the U.S. government’s obsession with secrecy, especially after 9/11. It is required viewing, and will be grist for op/eds when it is released next month, after it appears in the Seattle International Film Fest.

Julian Assange at Ecudorian embassy

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Comments | Topics: movies, technology

April 9, 2013 at 7:28 AM

Ron Johnson ousted after failing to turn J.C. Penney into Apple stores

Ron Johnson announces the new jcpenney strategy at the jcpenney launch event at Pier 57 on January 25, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz / Getty Images for J.C. Penney)

Ron Johnson at the J.C. Penney launch event on January 25, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz / Getty Images for J.C. Penney)

Ron Johnson, the wonder boy who led Apple’s retail business and became chief executive of J.C. Penney, has been ousted by the retailer’s board after he failed to turn a pasty Red Delicious into a shiny Honeycrisp.

Here is the an Associated Press story. Penny’s has rehired it’s previous chief executive, Mike Uhllman, to resume his old position.

The past 16 months of Johnson’s leadership was the most fascinating business story. Johnson tried to turn a discount department store into a Genius Bar. It ditched coupons and markdowns and began a store-by-store makeover. Here is what happened to sales:

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Comments | Topics: business, technology

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