Friday, August 17, 2012


Do we need research to tell us that the Internet is making us crazy?

A big cover story in Newsweek has declared and proved that the Internet makes us lonely, depressed, and sometimes creates extreme forms of mental illness.

Questions about the Internet’s deleterious effects on us are as old as the Internet, which was born with in fifties with the first computers. If you wanted to be in tune with the times, you read your instruction manual and slowly, nervously learned how to do most of what the manufacturer promised your computer could do. It wasn't till the early nineties when AOL was launched for "DOS," that you joined AOL or some “Internet service provider,” and wow – joyfully, fearlessly, started visiting various places on the Internet.

Well... Now there are scary facts -- proof that we’re being hurt by the Internet is piling up.

Researchers report that adult Americans spend about eighthours a day on the computer, more time than they spend on any other activity including sleeping. Teens fit about seven hours of screen time into the average school day. The average person, regardless of age, sends or receives about 400 texts a month (that’s four times what it was five years ago); teens process an astounding 3,700 texts a month.

Many authorities on the subject are saying we are getting addicted.
Peter Whybrow, the director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, said, “The computer is like electronic cocaine, fueling cycles of mania followed by depressive stretches.”

Nicholas Carr, whose book “The Shallows,” a highly praised treatise on the Web’s effect on cognition, said, “The Internet fosters our obsessions, dependence, and stress reactions.”

Larry Rosen, a California psychologist who has researched the Net’s effect for decades, has declared, [it] “ ...encourages and even promotes insanity.”

The concern about the Web's pathological affect has intensified since Larry Rosen’s new book, “Disorder,” was published. His team surveyed 750 Californians -- teens and adults – their tech habits and feelings about those habits, and their scores on a series of standard tests of psychiatric disorders. Rosen found that most respondents, (with the exception of those over the age of 50), check text messages, email, or their social network -- “all the time” or “every 15 minutes.” He also found that those who spent more time online had more “compulsive personality traits.”

At UCLA Memory and Aging Research Center, scientists have reported that the brain of a computer addict looks like the brain of alcohol or drug addicts. Chinese researchers concur. They've published photos of “abnormal white matter – extra nerve cells in the areas of the brain that deal with attention, control, and executive function.” A similar study found similar changes in the brains of video-game addicts.

Hey, I don't need researcher’s reports, or brain scans, to tell me what I’ve observed about myself. I’m working longer hours. I talk faster. I’m often cranky. I yell and actually lose my temper. I get seriously impatient --I storm out when I ask my husband a question and he takes time to mull it over before he answers.

Have you experienced “Facebook” depression, or Tweet “depression? I have. (Is it because everyone seems to be getting more friends and more followers than I am? Or because social networking often seems ridiculous, dumb- dumb, a big waste of time?)

No doubt about it -- based on what I’ve learned from Newsweek, everything I’ve described about my behavior says I’m addicted.

What should I do about it? Newsweek suggested medication, like Xanax -- it's is often prescribed for addicted adults. Research reports the number of people using Xanax has tripled in the past five years.

Dr. Em tells me GET A NOTEBOOK – for three days, keep track of how much time you’re Interneting, (Facebooking. tweeting, or creating your blog.) Then, cut the total time down by 1/3, and make a list of what you can do with the time that you've freed up.

Pick something from your list, and do it.

I’m telling myself and you what I wrote in my book, “Somebody, Woman of the Century” -- it’s what my heroine’s Grandpa told her– words that the older, wiser Cordelia told her children -- “You are the master of your fate, captain of your soul. It’s up to you!”

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Fifth-graders, in Palo Alto, California, doing their math lesson, sit at their desks staring at the blackboard on the TV monitor. They're watching a cursor that writes out the numbers and listening to the voice that says," Get rid of the percent sign -- just move the decimal sign two places to the left."

Seven-thousand miles away, in Accra, Ghana, practically the other side of the world, a class is watching TV and studying logarithms.

They are looking at Salam Khan's videos. Students don't see Kahn they just hear his energetic, but patient voice.

Who is he? Why are so many schools, teachers, students, even BA and MA graduates visiting KHAN ACADEMY ONLINE? This donation-funded, non-profit Academy has 3,250 videos that are currently used by 16 California schools and 2,000 schools around the U.S. The lectures and tests are in 16 foreign languages.

How many people visit KHAN ACADEMY? The videos aren't Lady Gaga viral, but about 675,000 viewers watched Khan's 18-minute discourse on cell metabolism -- that's a lot of hits.

Checking him out -- getting links to articles about his height and latest girl friend -- I discovered his name is the same as a hot leading movie actor in India, but the founder of the Academy
is a fairly ordinary guy from Louisiana who fell in love with Math.

After high school, Khan went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and to Harvard Business school. MBA in hand, he worked as an analyst for a small hedge fund company, until his cousin asked him to help her with her algebra homework. Using Yahoo "Doodle" diagrams, he made her a video on YouTube.

"I was dismissive," Khan says. "YouTube is for cats playing pianos, not serious mathematicians." But his videos for his cousin started getting feedback, like "I've learned more in the past three hours on YouTube than I have in three years of math class."

Khan quit his job and made more videos -- more and more, on various subjects, in a converted closet in his home. Eventually Bill Gates contacted him, and gave him a $1 5 million grant. Then Google, Netflix, and others gave him grants.

Khan currently has 32 employees. His Academy, according to Wikipedia, is the largest "learning experiment" in the nation. Visiting KHAN ACADEMY -- wow -- there were videos for history, humanities, math, science, and physics, and hundreds of videos within each category -- a huge body of information.

It took me quite a while to figure out what to do -- to click "search," click "watch" -- find a small box at the bottom and click "browse all contents." Then -- holy smoke -- I saw in alphabetical order an extremely long list. I tried "modern dance," got nothing, and realized I needed to search "Humanities," which was a long list. I tried "History," then, "civil war" -- got another endless list; I tried "fractions," and picked the video titled "fractions into decimals."

I liked the video, but gee, if I've got a math question I get up from my chair, walk 15 steps and, in the other office, ask my husband, John Cullum. He knows how to handle basic math stuff. Most of what I've learned about math, history, and the humanities, has faded. My brain is already over loaded with tech routines.

The KHAN ACADEMY -- whew -- finding the right words to search for -- all those black screens -- that white cursor flying around like a crazed bird -- facts, facts, words, different colored numbers on black ...

T.S. Elliot comes to mind "... this is the way the world ends ..."

Oh dear, in between fancy, wild, ridiculous ads, will we be eating, romancing, recreating, and learning everything on YouTube?

Here's a link to KHAN ACADEMY. Before you visit it, take a look at this video.

Monday, August 13, 2012


My mom had small feet. she wore pretty shoes. Her feet hurt a lot. She talked about "corns." She talked about high heels being bad for one's feet. She started going to a podiatrist every two weeks or so.

Suddenly, one day, there she was -- wearing black shoes -- ugly black shoes with black shoe laces, and black low heels. They changed the way she looked. They were "old lady" shoes.

"How do I look?" Mom asked.

"Oh you look fine, Mom," I lied.

I have lots of high heeled shoes that I used to wear. I don't wear them anymore. I never wear high heels unless we've got a limousine waiting downstairs. I can't walk in heels. I wear flats, or sandals, or sneakers.

John Cullum, my husband, did a performance of "THE VISIT," a John Kander-Fred Ebb musical, with a script by Terrence McNally that's based on Fredrich Durrenmatt's play about greed and revenge.

The musical was performed, one night only, in a large Broadway theater as a benefit for the Vineyard theater. It was a full cast, orchestra and John was co-starring with Chita Rivera. The plot is a " downer" -- a wealthy woman, Claire, (Chita), returns to her financially depressed hometown and offers its residents a new lease on life in exchange for the murder of Anton, (John), the man who scorned her years ago.

The music is wonderful. I sat with John Kander in the back of the theater during rehearsal, and jabbered, about "Scottsboro Boys," the Kander-Ebb musical that John starred in, that had been so successful at the Vineyard theater. And I sort of bragged about me. Kander asked me questions about me, so of course, I presented myself as optimistically as possible, as we watched one of the big scenes.

On the stage, a young person entered in a pair of yellow shows. And gradually, with brilliant music, a hummable theme, with more people in the "town" appearing in yellow shoes, the "Yellow Shoes" number became a powerful idea, a symbol of young people wanting to overthrow the old-fashioned ways of the older townspeople.

Extraordinary music, wonderful idea -- pure genius, I thought, when finally everyone in the town was wearing yellow shoes, except John, the man that the visiting woman wanted punished.

The yellow-shoed people killed Anton. It was a horrifying scene on the stage.

I was wearing my black sneakers. I wear them nowadays, even when I go to the theater -- they look okay with my black pants and black silk blouse.

Yes, I wear black shoes, but they're sneakers, not "health" shoes like what my mom wore. I remember her shoes cost $80. Back then, it was a huge amount to pay for corrective shoes. Here's a picture of my sneakers.

Hell! Forget the price! Sneakers, my Reboks, cost as much as health shoes used to cost, and health shoes, nowadays, cost hundreds of dollars ... Oh my God ... I AM WEARING OLD LADY SHOES EVERY DAY!

In a world where women, right now, are wearing high and higher heels -- oh God -- like the yellow shoes. those high-heeled stylish shoes are killing what's left of my young spirit.