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You, me and the Internet (APA Monitor)


The third party


The Internet is very involved in our relationships, but what’s it up to?


By Jim Paterson


Americans are on their phones nearly a third of their waking hours and texting much more often than talking. Email has replaced letter writing and of the 30 kids in any classroom, probably only three aren’t on social media regularly.

When the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda researchers asked 200 students to avoid electronic media for one day, the comments were telling: “I clearly am addicted and the dependency is sickening,” said one student. “I felt quite alone and secluded,” another said. “Although I go to a school with thousands of students, the fact that I was not able to communicate with anyone via technology was almost unbearable.”

Despite all that involvement, we often blame Facebook or online games for failing family connections and poor grades, we are suspicious of dating sites, and we see a string of social and emotional ills – from pornography addiction and ADHD to depression and infidelity –  as being fed by online communications.

So, can the three of us get along? Probably most of the time, researchers say.

“The Internet sits side-by-side with offline relationships, weaving in and out of them,” says. Amanda Lenhart, a senior researcher at Pew Research Center, which has done extensive research on the topic. “These spaces are hard to interpret, but generally they are making things better for us.”

Lenhart and other researchers say while it has its pitfalls, the Web can renew old relationships, create new ones  – and can build the good ones we have. Perhaps, they say, the Internet has not so much changed things as given our relationships a new platform where they can develop.


The first concerns…

About 30 years ago – 10 years before “You’ve got mail” and 20 years before Facebook – some pioneers in computer science at Carnegie Mellon University wanted to examine one facet of the Internet that not many people had thought of yet but today isn’t far from our minds: how it changes the way we connect with each other.

The new Human-Computer Interaction Institute had hired Robert Kraut, a pioneer in Internet communication, whose research initially suggested that while only about five percent of us we were using it in the mid-90’s, the Internet was likely to become a dominant communications tool. “We understood that communications is key to relationships and happiness, and it appeared communications might go online,” he says.

Kraut and a team of researchers in 1998 gave about 100 families computers and tracked their behavior in a well-publicized study that asked “Internet Paradox. A Social Technology That Reduces Social Involvement and Psychological Well-Being?”  And the response to that query seemed to be “yes”.

“For our purposes, the most important finding is that greater use of the Internet was associated with subsequent declines in family communication.” the study concluded, also noting that it seemed to narrow one’s social circle and increase loneliness and depression. Others research supported those views as did books like “Silicon Snake Oil” by Clifford Stoll and articles like one in the New York Times in 1998 entitled “Sad, Lonely World Discovered in Cyberspace”.

Other research was suggesting that online communications lacked the “bandwidth” of traditional face-to-face communications, producing a “deindivuating effect”, along with self-centered and “socially unregulated” behavior” and isolation, according to John Bargh and Katelyn McKenna in their 2004 article in The Annual Review of Psychology titled “The Internet and Social Life”.

It may have been that early research – and our worry about something so invasive an unknown – that gave us the early impression the Internet was dangerous to relationships, Bargh and McKenna say.

“It has been vilified as a powerful new tool for the devil, awash in pornography, causing users to be addicted to hours each day of “surfing” – hours during which they are away from their family and friends, resulting in depression and loneliness for the individual user, and further weakening neighborhood and community ties,” they reported. “Some welcome it as a panacea while others fear it as a curse, but all would agree that it is quite capable of transforming society.”


But attitudes changed

Patti Valkenburg and Jochen Peter, writing in 2009 about “Social Consequences of the Internet for Adolescents”, said newer research was finding other results. “Whereas several studies in the 1990s suggested that Internet use is detrimental, recent studies tend to report opposite effects,” the two wrote in Current Directions in Psychological Science.

In The “Internet Paradox, revisited” in 2002, Kraut also explained that follow-up studies of his computer users found less concern about depression or loneliness , and in “Growing Closer on Facebook” in 2013, he studied more than 3,600 social media users to find out how the Internet fit into “ecology of communications” and the results were also more positive.


Kraut explains that while we may not need to communicate online with our closest friends and family, more frequent online connections “make us closer”. “Having Facebook communications seems to boost psychological well being and improve strong relationships,” he says, noting that it probably also reduces the likelihood of depression.

In our less significant online acquaintances the communications does less, but keeps them active. “Sometimes,” he says, “it helps the relationship and how we feel, to be in touch and simply know what is happening with someone. The Internet makes this easier.”

What he calls “broadcast” connections online are less likely to improve well being, and browsing without communicating may be damaging because it can makes some feel left out or envious of what another person has, a result that has been supported by two recent studies in ScienceDaily by University of Houston researcher Mai-Ly Steers. She found “people who spent more time on Facebook reported higher depressive symptoms due to social comparisons”.

In the end, Kraut says, online relationships are very much like the ones we have always had – though the platform has changed. “It is a matter of degrees. “Writing a personal message or a text is different than ‘liking’ something or responding to a simple birthday announcement on Facebook. It’s like the difference between a phone call or a personal note and a Hallmark card with just a signature.”

Another way of looking at it, according to Bargh and McKenna, is by examining the purpose of the communication along with the means. “The evidence suggests that while the effects are largely dependent on the particular goals that users bring to the interaction – such as self-expression, affiliation, or competition – they also interact in important ways with the unique qualities of the Internet communication situation.”


Less worry about damage

Those ideas have been supported by other studies, including work by Michael Chan, a communications professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, who, wrote Mobile Phones and the Good Life: Examining the Relationships Among Mobile Use, Social Capital and Subjective Well-being” in 2013 for the journal New Media and Society.  

Chan found cellphone use is “positively related to various indicators of subjective well-being and bonding, but that activities where users simply sought information or passed time had a negative effect.”

“With Internet connectivity and the mobile phone, individuals have perpetual connectivity with others, affording them the ability to develop and maintain meaningful relationships unbound by time or location and obtain and provide social support,” Chan said.

A 2010 study, “Internet Use and Psychological Well-being: A Meta-Analysis” appearing in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, summarized 43 studies with more than 21,00 participants. The author, Chiungjung Huang, a researcher at National Changhua University of Education in Taiwan, concluded that communications online created “only a small detrimental effect on psychological well-being.”

The research that Huang evaluated suggested online communication increases community involvement and face-to-face contact with friends, and improves long distance relationships, family relationships, the quality of life for the elderly and connections for lonely teens. Lenhart and colleagues at Pew also recently found about three quarters of adult Internet users say it had a positive effect on their romantic relationship.

Despite that, some experts say we don’t yet know the effect, and there are reasons for concern.

“It is here to stay, and somehow we adjusted to the telephone and the television – so our brains will need to figure this out too,” says Ramani Durvasula, a psychologist who works with couples and professor at California State University, Los Angeles. “These advances have been so fast, and they’re affecting all ages, especially kids whose brains are still developing. The jury is out on how it will impact neurodevelopment and emotions.”


A damaging distraction?

One way Internet communications differs from other communications methods is its mobility – with cellphones. Durvasula says we joke about being on our phones excessively, but there is a real danger for romantic partners and parents, noting she sees “chronic distraction” with her clients.

“Too many couples at dinner stare at their cellphones rather than at their dining companion,” she says.  “Being in the same room no longer means getting and keeping the other person’s attention.  In fact, we may give our ‘A game’ to the people on social media and not those right in front of us.” She also worries that distracted parents are “missing a critical developmental window and not taking enough time to teach children key tools of empathy, compassion, and emotional regulation.”

       Lenhart says that increasingly couples complain about such distraction. Her study also showed that 25 percent found their partner distracted by a cellphone and a third of them reported it resulted in an argument. The numbers are much higher for 18- to-29-year-olds, with almost half saying their partner has been distracted.

Another 2013 report by

Some therapists suggest that couples should set boundaries for Internet use, and research by Aaron Norton and Joyce Baptist in Cyberpsychology: the Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, suggests “while there appears to be some set of rules and boundaries that apply to offline relationships, it is unclear how or if these rules apply to Internet behaviors”.

“The act of sharing information such as passwords to social networking sites can be reassuring to one’s partner and send the message that one has nothing to hide,” their study found. “Curbing flirtatious communication can be construed as an act of fidelity thereby helping to maintain the relationship.”


 Quality control

Lenhart worries that communications online is confusing, and can lead to misunderstanding, uncertainty or jealousy. “There is often ambiguity – even about a picture. It might seem totally innocent to a person who posted it, but have an entirely different meaning to someone else and cause conflict”.

And we also might be avoiding healthy conflict, says Alex Lickerman, author of the book “The Undefeated Mind: On the Science of Constructing an Indestructible Self”.

“We relate differently online,” he says. “For instance, it blocks us from registering the negative emotional responses a confrontation might engender, which provides us the illusion we’re not really doing harm.”

Psychologist Linda Bloom, who works with couples in Santa Cruz, CA, is concerned about “ghosting”, where people disappear from relationships quickly and entirely, which is amplified online because it is so complete and so quick. A recent study showed that half of us have been ghosted – and half have done it.

“It’s very painful for the person left behind,” says Bloom. “I’m concerned that large numbers will isolate as a result of feeling betrayed, or may end up being the one who does the ghosting.”

Jennice Vilhauer, an author and director of the a therapy program at Emory University in Atlanta, in a recent Psychology Today article on ghosting says that a “lack of social connections to people who are met online means there are less social consequences to dropping out of someone’s life”.

“The more it happens, either to themselves or their friends, the more people become desensitized to it and the more likely they are to do it to someone else.”

While early ideas about online communications being “impoverished” have been disputed, Lickerman nonetheless also believes communications online is deficient, and is particularly worried about young people, more than half of whom now say they would prefer to communicate online. “Not using or losing the ability to read social cues, which should develop in adolescence, will change us fundamentally.” Successful relationships involve reading and understanding those subtle cues, he says.


Not the end
The Internet also can unfortunately keep a connection alive for one party when a relationship has ended, says Elias Aboujaoude, a Stanford psychiatrist and author of “Virtually You: The Dangerous Powers of the e-Personality”.

Durvasula agrees. “Clients are becoming destabilized by social media, especially in the wake of a relationship breakup when they will obsessively monitor a former partner’s behavior and have to mourn and re-mourn a loss.”

Research by British psychologist Tara Marshall shows two-thirds of Facebook users checked on a former partner, which, she says, “is associated with poorer emotional recovery and personal growth following a breakup.”





Making a match

More than one-in-four young people use online dating sites and a study by Pew has found online dating no longer has the stigma it once did. A survey of 19,000 people who married between 2005 and 2012 found that 35 percent met online, about half through an online dating site.

Researchers have generally found that the results on social media were mixed and that that Facebook made meeting people easier but was both a blessing and a curse to romantic relationships.

“Beyond the stages of initiating and experimenting it seems that Facebook often becomes a burden to users in romantic relationships, said researchers in the 2013 report “The Role of Facebook in Romantic Relationship Development” appearing in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

The study found that courting online helps people sort through and connect with potential partners faster but “many aspects of online dating do not appear to improve romantic outcomes and might even undermine them”.

Research by Aditi Paul in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, And Social Networking in 2014 reports people who date online were more likely to have romantic relationships, but less likely to get married. Paul also showed  that the breakup rates for married and unmarried couples was higher if they met online.

In addition, Monica Whitty, a professor of contemporary media at Britain’s University Of Leicester, says that online dating has increased jealousy and mistrust in many cases, and made relationships more fragile. 

“Technology has impacted the courtship ritual,” says Durvasula. “It provides an illusion of a large swath of options, which may make people more likely to keep looking for a ‘perfect’ partner or focus on superficial characteristics that are easier to communicate online. It replaces a deeper level connectivity that is more meaningful and important in the long run.”


Jim Paterson is a writer living in Lewes, DE.


The future of learning (Uncollege)

Are you a self starter when it comes to learning? If not, you should be.


Jim Paterson


When Bob Paterson got his engineering degree from Rochester Institute of Technology two generations ago, he was being trained for life – the material he learned would generally apply most of his career, though some facets of the job would be automated.

Today Bob would likely find that if he doesn’t retrain pretty extensively, his four-year degree might lose its value… in two years.

And whether you are planning to be an engineer or not, research is continually showing that to be successful, satisfied and happy, you have to be a self-directed learner.

Bob Paterson was my dad. He worked for two companies during his 50 years of employment, and when he stopped he was doing tasks very similar to when he started, although he had moved from designing parts for equipment used in World War II to parts for Xerox copiers.

But according to Lucy Madsen Guglielmino, the author of a lot of the comprehensive research about the topic and a prominent member of the International Society for Self Directed Learning (SDL), research shows today, the “half life” of an engineering degree is two to eight years,

“Why have these learner characteristics and the process of SDL become so critically important in recent years? The primary answer to that question is change: the massive, escalating proliferation of information and technology.”

Guglielmino and others studying SDL have been focusing on how education must change to prepare students for a world where engineering degrees lose value in half the time it took to get them, and online information grows at a rate that ads the equivalent of the 17 million books at the Library of Congress’s about 37,000 times a year. Google CEO Eric Schmidt has said that every two days we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization until 2003.

According to Daniel Pink, in his book DRiVE: The surprising truth about what motivates us, access to that information changes how we think and work,  and the motivation to learn and use information independently requires three attributes:

  • Autonomy—the desire to direct our own lives.
  • Mastery—the urge to get better and better at something that matters.
  • Purpose—the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

The good news — Guglielmino and her cohorts say the process of self directed learning can, itself, be learned. And, she says, it leads to “satisfaction, academic achievement, workplace performance, conscientiousness, resilience, strategic thinking, creativity and flexibility, and cross-cultural adaptability.”

Just being aware of the need to self-educate is helpful, but here are a few other tips Guglielmino and others recommend.

  • Understand your learning style. Do you know if you learn by reading something, hearing about it or watching it demonstrated – or just diving in and doing it. Knowing that will keep you from getting frustrated and self directed learning is hard enough without nowing what’s best for you. There are assessments that will help.
  • Have goals and a plan. Long term (I’m going to change careers.) and short term (I’m going to research this topic for two hours before I take a break.)
  • Stay motivated and disciplined. In whatever way you can. Think about the things you’ve achieved and how you accomplished it, paying particular attention to the distraction that occur on one screen or another.
  • Develop and use networks. For key information in the area you are studying and for support when you get hit a bump
  • Keep going. Over those bumps. Successful self learners understand there will be some tough spots, but they are prepared for them and can keep moving,
  • Assess your success. Give yourself credit for hard work (There may not be someone around to assess you and give you a report card) but be honest when you examine your effort – and keep pushing.
  • Build executive function skills. They are key (staying focused and organized and using time well) and if you lack them, get some help and practice them.


  completing work; one who enjoys learning and has a tendency to be goal-oriented.


Jim Paterson is a writer living in Lewes DE.



Castro (Baltimore magazine)

Alex Castro pauses for a moment, gazing down at 21 large round cement platforms that drop gradually in terraces to the harbor. They’ve been at the center of his panoramic and potent mind for months now, but he almost seems to be looking at them for the first time

He crosses one of the newly resurfaced, raised pads, explaining that they once held huge storage tanks full of Proctor and Gamble’s popular soaps, stairways curling around their metal hulls. Then he hops down to another level of this “industrial ruin” and carefully examines the precisely aligned grooves and cross-hatched scratches that he’s carefully put in the new surface of one of the larger 18-foot wide discs. Comfortable leather shoes, light blue shirt open at the collar and tweed jacket. His head is down and his hands are thrust deep into the pockets of his well-worn khaki pants except when they shoot quickly backward through his hair. He reminds you of that charming, empathetic professor you wanted to share a beeer with.

\This place he’s doting on is Liberty Garden, a bit less than an acre of a unique park-like sculpture alongside the new Tide Point office park in Locust Point built by his friend and prominent developer Bill Streuver of Struever Brothers, Eccles and Rouse. The pads, which are raised a foot or so from the surface, have been carefully etched and scored and stained and mingle with huge cement balls, and 10-feet high cement cones on a floor of black gravel.

At the shore, a water taxi stand with 10-foot “light cone” will mark the spot where immigrants once came ashore in the mid-1800s before being shepherded off to a busy processing center. He stops near the water and looks back up the hill “I’m really enjoying this,” he says. “This is getting me back to something I lost along the way.”

In his remarkable search, if Alex Castro has found something else important, it will be very interesting to watch where it takes him. And where it takes us. He is by any measure a renaissance man.

He is a fine artist who has works in the collections of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington (where one installation he displayed there was mentioned prominently by a famous critic in a review of the noted museum’s 100-year highlights) the Brooklyn Museum and the Baltimore Museum of Art. — He does world-class publication design, having produced books for the biggest shows by leading museums, including the Smithsonian, the Walters Art Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Corcoran, the Chicago Institute of Art, the Folger Shakespeare Library and BMA. Five leading publishers of coffee table books in New York once each put Castro on their short list of top designers.

— He gets rave reviews for his design of museum spaces for top instutions nationwide. — He is a building designer whose work is among the most memorable in Baltimore – the Visionary Art Museum (where he collaborated with Architect Becky Swanston) and Baltimore’s beloved art cinema, the Charles Theatre. Other stirring projects are in the works. “When this question comes up about what I really am, I usually change the subject. But if I have to define it, I consider myself an artist first, and that’s the way I approach anything I do” Whatever he does, the acclaim from clients is persistent and often almost as difficult to fully believe as the resume. “He is more brilliant spatially, intellectually and conceptually than anyone I’ve ever met,” says Jane Livingston, a former curator at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington who displayed his art and gave him some of his first major book design projects 20 years ago, “He wants people for whom he works to take ownership in the product, but he is the master. He becomes a teacher and you never know you are getting an education.,” says Vera Hyatt, project director for the Smithsonian’s Office of International Relations who has worked with Castro for 12 years on projects throughout the world. “He seduces with his genius rather than beat you over the head with it. It’s always collaborative, but also uncompromising,” says Cara McCarty, curator at the St. Louis Museum of Art, who has worked with Castro on a number of exhibition and book design projects.. “And the work is always right.” If his name isn’t a household word, some say its because Castro doesn’t promote himself. “”The only negative thing you can say about this guy is that he is too self-deprecating., That has held him back from getting the incredible attention and fame that he deserves,” says Jane Livingston. Others suggest he is not better known because he spreads himself so thin. It might be that he is succeeds with a subtle but intoxicating pluck and spirit and word-of- mouth from exuberant clients, which doesn’t require intense self promotion. “No matter what, he is a very important guy,” says Buzz Cusak, co-owner of the Charles Theatre. “I don’t think Baltimore understands what they have here or what he can do.” Alejandro Fransico Castro was born in Washington, D.C., in 1943. One grandfather was the ambassador from El Salvador and the other a Irish American congressman from Michigan. His father was a world-renowned colo-rectal surgeon, practicing at the Mayo Clinic and heading a prominent national society in his field. “Heavy hitters, and it was a lot to live up to,” he says. Early on young Alex showed this interest in a broad spectrum – sports teams, the astronomy club – founder of the drama club and literary magazine at his private school. He studied English Literature and Spanish at Yale, got his masters in architecture from the University of Pennsylvania in 1969 and upon graduating supported a young family by creating his own art and teaching. With his second wife and collaborator, Caroline, he founded what would become Castro Arts in 1978, designing books and producing short films. Livingston, for whom he had done a critically- acclaimed installation that covered the floor of the famous museum’s rotunda with a metal jig-saw puzzle-like pieces, suggested the two try their hand a museum catalogs. “I thought he could pretty much do anything he wanted to,” she says, Over the next decade, Castro designed big beautiful books for the Corcoran, the Smithsonian, the National Gallery of Art, the Phillips Collection, the Walters and the Los Angeles County, St. Louis, Philadelphia and Baltimore Museums of Art and for publishers like Abbeville and Rizzoli International. (I DON’T KNOW MUCH ABOUT PUBLISHERS, BUT YOU MENTIONED THOSE TWO.)That work led to the development of some 50 major museum exhibition spaces throughout the world. The popular design of the American Visionary Art Museum in the early 1990s gave him his entrée into architecture. It’s another example of someone – in this case AVAM director and founder Rebecca Hoffberger – sensing Castro was up to the task. “He’d never designed even a doghouse when he did this building, but I knew he would do it beautifully,” she says. There is no question in my mind that he’s a genius.” Castro was ready for the challenge. “Architecture was a way for me to meet the world with ideas, Castro says, explaining why he he shies away from the formal “architect” He isn’t formally registered as an architect and would rather “remain in the world of ideas about architecture.” “I don’t pretend to be a full architect. I’m interested in the place you begin. There are other folks who can do the construction documents much better than I can.” When you speak with those other architects, they praise Castro’s design, but there is a hint that they don’t entirely accept him. Many simply just don’t know his name. But plenty of people, including critics, love his work. “Baltimore has much to gain from Alex Castro,” says Struever, “and he will eventually do something that will knock our collective socks off.” Castro, with Buzz Cusak, is walking through the Charles Theatre, recalling the various stumbling blocks in the expansion and restoration. He wanted to maintain the “spirit” of the old structure, where the world’s most famous jazz bands once played. However, he also wanted to create something new and he needed to wring a lot of functional space out of a limited one. He hoped to make the audience to feel as though it was part of the process – backstage at the theatre – so he allowed the workings of the place to be visible, most notably with 2nd floor catwalks for use by projectionists weaving through the lobby and above and amidst the theaters “Anyone who gets into truly creative work with another individual gets into a dialogue with their inner spirit. You have to know that, read it and understand it or else you’re just creating a programmed solution that you then give somebody. “For me the hardest part of doing the Charles was knowing that people held it in their hearts. If it didn’t still have that heart – or if that feeling wasn’t enhanced – it was going to be total failure. Buzz wanted to do that so much – and if it turned out okay it’s because of his spirit.” Cusak gazes around happily and gushes about the place. “I love to be in this building. I just love to come in here,” he says. “It’s remarkable what he did with it. It meets all our needs in a truly beautiful space.” Castro grasps the railing for a portion of the catwalk that stretches above the concession and looks down at the public’s room – the lobby. His jaw is clenched and his eyes are shifting around as he studies the exposed brick, deco-style fixtures and unique cafe where people waiting for a movie can congregate. “I think this all works pretty well,” he finally says. Clients say that Castro has a remarkable talent for finding a unique solution that not only deals with limits but incorporates them — at the Charles the space produced the untraditional long open lobby and use of stadium seating; at AVAM, a unique existing round building, eliminated in all other design proposals, was incorporated in Castro’s and led to the important spiral the building now suggests, At Tide Point the huge pads are transformed. Tight budgets spur creativity and limiting space is exploited. “The eventual delight in the form often comes from the generating forces of the problems you meet. Problems are springboards to good design,” Castro says JOHN — I KEPT A BIT OF THE FOLLOWING ABOUT HIS PERSONALITY. When you hear the accolades you can’t help but wonder if it isn’t just the engaging personality or the handsome, empathetic face that wins people over. One female curator said Castro can be overpowering. Important professional women who have worked with him call him “riveting” and “devastatingly handsome.” “He is a real charmer. A total charmer,” says Cara McCarty “He makes everybody involved feel good.” “He’s almost boyish in his earnestness,” says Leslie Greene Bowman, director of the Winterthur Museum In Wilmington Del., who repeatedly hired Castro for displays when she was a curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the late 1990s. “He says something like ‘you know, I really wanted to do this’ and you just sort of melt. And then it’s right.” And that is the key. The people who at first may appear to simply be swayed by this charm also point to results. They say they got work they love that perfectly met their needs – but work that very clearly is Alex Castro’s. Cara McCarty says Castro wins people over because he becomes “totally involved.” “He thinks and breathes it. It becomes his project too and you sense that,” she says. “He’ll call you up and since the last time you’ve talked he’s had several brilliant new ideas. How can you not like someone who seems to be so passionate about your work.” The creativity is sometimes a careful stew, simmering for a while with lots of ingredients poured in by Castro, who friends say never heard an idea he didn’t like or at least wouldn’t consider. But often it’s pure front-burner inspiration. Castro was once struggling with the cover for a catalogue featuring important photographers. A photo one of his children had taken accidentally of a sibling lay in the corner of his desk. “I looked down and there was the fuzzy photo of my daughter. No question There was the cover. It worked, and no photographer would be offended because a rival got the front of the book.” The Corcoran and the photographers loved it. Cara McCarty was supervising a photography session for a catalog for an important show about masks, using a model in a Caribbean costume. “No matter what we did, something was wrong with the photos. We faxed them to Alex and he called in a few minutes saying that they were too static. He said ‘Look why don’t you just turn on some music and let him dance.’ It worked perfectly. This guy leaping into the air is the best image in the catalog.” Struever sees it all the time. He points to Castro’s idea to paint horizontal and vertical stripes on the water towers near Struever’s development at Tindeco Wharf, an interesting, engaging solution to enliven this older piece of architecture. “I like it when the solution is something simple,” Castro says. “Those towers are enough — an economy of moves.” Castro is at Beacon Garden again. He is talking about how it melds sculpture and architecture and how he likes this direction for his work.. He is involved in projects to ad a $3.2 million unique new inn to the Black Olive restaurant, revitalize the National Bohemian Brewery building in XXXX and he has ideas about developing a small kiosk at the inner harbor with an illuminated floor, which would continuously show new images from the Hubble Space Telescope He also talks a lot about designing private space for individuals. “They would be somewhere between a habitable sculpture and an architectural space that promotes thought and reflection. I think of these places as situations.” “I have what is perhaps an outdated notion that that space around one very much affects the thinking space within. We are overcome with stimuli and it seems to me that we very much need a way to at least get some respite from a very stressful, bombarding world,” he says Alex Castro seems determined to provide us with space that inspires us and makes us feel at home, the places where we want to be. Then the question becomes – will he find his. end Jim Paterson 301-774-8329 1 6 date:12/3/01 Jim Paterson 301-774-8329 for: Baltimore Magazine fax: 301-570-3221 subject: new art space email: length: 2400 file name:art spaces paterson 6/01 1

The new college value calculation (NACAC Journal)

The confusing college payoff conversation

One of the most popular college conversations today has a couple of stages: first a discussion about those unsubstantiated estimates of its the dollars-and-cents value, and then a review of the “experience”.

These chats – with everyone from your counselor or advice-spewing uncle to the recently-graduated neighbor working at the local coffee shop or shoe store – perhaps first  review the data about the financial value of college then always touch on how it enhances one’s life.

And right in the middle of those discussions now is a new book by University of Pennsylvania business management professor Peter Cappelli, who suggests we should take a long, hard look at the financial payoff of college and perhaps trumpet its other benefits. (Will College Pay Off?: A Guide to the Most Important Financial Decision You’ll Ever Make.)

Cappelli should know – he heads the department that teaches human resources to top business students at the respected Wharton School.

In his book, he carefully reviews the many opinions about whether college pays for itself, which today seem to suggest it isn’t a great financial investment. He derides “unqualified statements about the big payoff to a college degree that are pushing so many students and their families who can’t afford it to jump into the deep end of college expenses, taking on debt that they cannot afford for experiences that are unlikely to pay off.”

That well-meaning push, experts say, has meant some people who can’t afford school attend, some who might be interested in another path feel compelled to enroll, while, meanwhile, colleges create programs to handle the load and new, often less-beneficial for-profit colleges proliferate. Even more-specialized majors also grow, Cappelli argues, though those degrees may be less marketable and more difficult to shift from – “career paths” like adventure education, artic engineering or auctioneering, just to name the first three at a site championing them.

Such narrow choices also add stress to 18-year-olds who sometimes have had little time to explore careers or have much real-world experience beyond scooping ice cream or taking fast-food orders for a few months.

Cappelli also clearly notes that careers that are popular and promise to offer jobs at one point may not be as promising in four years because the economy shifts and because there are a glut of grads flooding that field simply because of the chatter about it. Some “STEM” jobs, he notes, which are still widely ballyhooed, are very hard to find and, in one example, even pay less than jobs in social services. Only one-in-five science grads got a job in their field in 2009, he says.

He and other suggest that in the past a college degree was, for better or worse, a sort of filter which indicated that the graduate had shown him or herself capable of handling the rigor of college.  Now, he says, that’s not the case for a number of reasons – and while employers still look at the “prestige” of some schools, they’re often most concerned about work experience.

“It has to do with internships and summer jobs and extra-curricular activities. That’s what they care more about than the academic material,” he says.

Cappelli, of course, doesn’t suggest we shouldn’t go to college – just that prospective students should take their time and make careful, practical choices related to college selection, their major and the job market. He says a year of service or a gap year or a year off working could be a good idea. “It is important to find it whether a student is ready for college before they go, and taking a year off to do something independent is a good way to do that.”

And, he says, young people should think about the real value of the degree – that other “experience”.

“There is no guarantee of a payoff from very practical, work-based degree, yet that is all those degrees promise. Liberal arts…will enrich your life and provide lessons that extend beyond any individual job. There are centuries of experience providing support for that notion.”

Future finders (Washington Post )

Another end-of-the-year highlights montage is clicking along to a percussive tune on television, and one thought comes to mind repeatedly as the pictures fade in and out.: “Who would have ever thought that would happen.”

I mean, who could imagine that those appealing images of sunny jets soaring through the clouds or flashing by overhead just out of the reach of skyscrapers would now bring on these spidery new emotions. Who’d have expected stodgy old congressmen to be sitting at a hearing in half-glasses talking about legislation on a cloning.

Who’d have thought high-tech schmoozers would zap their business card by infrared beam to each other’s PDAs.

work show - utility magazine
work show – utility magazine

Who’d imagine we’d check out at K-mart by scanning our own purchases.

Who’d have thought we’d be scanning so much. It makes me jumpy just thinking about how fast stuff happens these days. I walk out of Best Buy with a new product and can almost hear it emitting a high, sad little whine as it speeds toward obsolescence. Wars and Hollywood stars last only months. Trends begin and end in weeks. Political issues flame out overnight. And these high-tech devices are outdated before their likewise quickly-outdated creators can put them on the shelf.

So is anybody taking a look ahead for us to see what’s coming – besides good-looking, good-news reporters filling a 30-second time slot, or smart-alecky news analysts who are really just taking a guess like the rest of us? As things speed up at this frightening rate, is anyone keeping track of what’s about to whiz by? In a small, well-worn conference room, one wall lined with books whose titles frequently include the word “tomorrow,”

Edward Cornish looks for a minute like he might just smack me on top of the head with a rolled up copy of his magazine, “The Futurist.” He is a slight, owlish man, xxx, slouching slightly in his seat with his hands grasping the edge of the table in front of him. He has on a light blue shirt, dark blue pants and tan socks. His sparking blue eyes flash for a second behind his light-rimmed glasses and he’s tightened his grip. “We don’t make predictions” he says calmly in response to yet another question that I’ve inappropriately begun with something like “When you predict…”

Cornish is the founder and president of the World Future Society, a group whose well-credentialed members to a person bristle when they believe they are being lumped together with tarot cards and crystal balls. They even balk at popular lists of the hot new technology of the future, or crowd-pleasing predictions about everyday life in the future, although they wearily acknowledge that’s what people want to hear. When will there be video with my cellular phone? When will cars fly? When will we beam ourselves around.? Cornish says the WFS brand of futurist would rather spend time on and gain attention for a different kind of work.. “We try to scientifically suggest what might happen in the future based on a lot of research and study. Then maybe people can decide how they want things to unfold.” The questions they can’t answer, they’ll admit, have to do with why we don’t seem to care. Today’s futurism has it roots in the 1940s, when we suddenly found we had something on our hands called “technology, ” and it was marching on ahead of us, suddenly presenting a way for us to obliterate ourselves. Air Force General Hap Arnold lay the groundwork for future study by asking top scientists to consider how technology might be used in warfare. He also initiated the first “think factory,” Project Research and Development (RAND) It later broadened its mission and became the RAND Corporation. Government and business began to recognize we could scientifically study the future, and today’s futurism was born. In the mid 60’s, futurists were making a name for themselves as society became increasingly concerned about technology. There were people like early important futurist Herman Kahn, the founder of the Hudson Institute, and Alvin Toffler who wrote the groundbreaking bestseller “Future Shock,” where he warned of the impact of technology in scenarios that most of society had never considered “There was this feeling that everything was changing too fast and that things were a bit out of control,” Cornish says. “People were looking for some guidance about where it was all headed.” Cornish began the society with a small group of like-minded folks on his back porch in Bethesda in 1966. It has grown to have 130 chapters in 30 countries and 30,000 future-toting members. In an aging Bethesda office building, ten staff members work full time at society headquarters in small cubicles and offices with books and papers typically rising in piles from the floor. No sleek, vacant neon-lit space. No staff members in spiked hair and body suits wearing headsets. Nothing high tech. The place and the staff are anything but futuristic. It looks more like an office for environmentalists or economists. Prominent names from politics and business serve on the WFS board of directors and attend its conferences, which are the society’s primary function, along with publication of an array of books and periodicals. WFS is sort of the mainstream touchstone and clearinghouse for much scientific futurist material and a place for these often brilliant, often sort of quirky, folks to meet on common ground, despite their very different approaches. On one hand there’s Graham Molitor, vice president and legal counsel for the society, sometimes pictured in an ascot and looking like the retired Republican he is. His Public Policy Forecasting is based in his beautiful home in Potomac, where an expansive library, with a ladder to reach the ceiling-to-floor books, looks out onto a picture-book Asian garden. He’s been a confidant for presidents and a consultant and lobbyists for major corporations, and now he is one of the best-known futurist scholars, specializing in detailed examinations of past trends and careful consideration of economic-driven future ones. Molitar, has written and edited several books and has been hard at work for two years on a another, which reflects his specialty. It is titled “Chronology of Civilization” where he hopes to in 10-30 words describe the “worlds most significant events.” He thinks it will take him another five years and eventually fill five 1,000-page volumes. He calls himself a “backcaster,” carefully studying history and spotting cycles that he believes can tell us where were are headed, paying particular attention to economics. “What it all comes down to is the thing that’s central to people’s lives — their job and their livelihood.” Then there is Frank Ogden, AKA Dr. Tomorrow, who was a founding member of WFS in Canada and is still considered one of the country’s best known futurist. He lives in a houseboat jammed with high-tech equipment and docked in the harbor in Vancouver, where he collects tons of information about emerging technology from every source imaginable, analyzes it and produces books, lectures and a continual updates to his website, which was among the first on the Internet. Ask him about what’s interesting him these days, and he’ll talk about LSD (and its impact on the silicon valley) “just-in-time” learning and the fact that new information is being refined and filtered into new knowledge at an accelerating rate of 100 percent every 18 months. He’ll tell you about an artist who has given a rabbit a jelly fish gene that makes the bunny pulsate green under a black light, the first step in what he calls “the designer pet industry.” But there is something similar in the off-handed way these two and other futurists talk about things that make the average brain rattle. They typically have collected enormous amounts of information on a myriad of topics, love to talk about it all, and seem to enjoy mixing in a bit of startling conjecture about free energy, life expectancy of 150 or visits by extraterrestrials. . Cornish and WFS try to provide a forum for all sorts of serious thought in an area of study that is a magnet to the offbeat. He explains one distinction that separates out one segment. “The future doesn’t exist, so the only way we can have an idea about the future is to develop it in our minds. That means the only way we can understand it is by looking at the past,” he says, making it clear WFS doesn’t embrace those who attempt to “see” the future. Good futurists suggest possibilities from what’s happened, he says, not from visions. WFS also seems to look less favorably upon our fascination with popular future trends, hot technology or science fiction, but members grudgingly supply it. “We see ourselves as offering an entree to futurism, so we do that sort of thing. That’s the hook,” says Futurist Editor Cynthia Wagner, whose magazine is careful and sort of stodgy but nonetheless offers lead headlines like “Sea cities and other visions of tomorrow.”. She says she continually balances the pure science many members want with the “Popular Science” approach that draws readers and potential new members. Studies have shown the magazine gets passed to eight people on average, an extremely high rate WFS is among a growing number of futurist organizations that might either help the defense department project terrorist attacks, a fast food chain plan its growth or toy makers plan for next year’s Internet Barbie doll sales. They might look at the next 15-20 years (a time frame often referred to by WFS and its members) or far beyond. The respected Foundation for the Future, for instance, in Bellevue, Wash. is committed to studying the next 1,000 years. Then there’s the Long Now Foundation, spearheaded by Stewart Brand of “Whole Earth Catalogue” fame and Danny Hillis, computer innovator and former vice president for research and development at Walt Disney. The foundation hopes to push people to slow down their pace and consider the future 10,000 years from now, in part with a huge clock that would tick once a year, gong with the century and display a cuckoo every millennium. The different approach futurists take is also often distinguished by the driving forces they see and the disciplines they most closely study. The often admit that sometimes looking at the future just involves letting the imagination hum along. “We try to be generalists,” says prominent WFS member John Petersen, whose Arlington Institute in Arlington specializes in “helping U.S. military leaders develop forward-thinking images of a positive future” with a “proactive and preventative military.” “We take the helicopter view of things – looking at all the information, then we use proven systems to drill down and look at the details. and suggest options. We sort of roam around the leading edge of change and think about what might happen – and then consider what the impact may be.” He says things get interesting at “cross cuts,” where the driving forces in society intersect – the need for energy and potential for environmental damage, for instance. On top of that come what he calls “wild cards,” those unexpected events like the terrorist attacks of last September that send the world spinning. Petersen has written a book on that topic called “Out of the Blue,” where he methodically lists such potential wild cards — everything from shifts in the earth’s axis and a nuclear attack by terrorists to the breakout of altruism and practical development of free energy from cold fusion. He describes why each of some 80 events should be considered, and ranks it in 10 other ways concerning its impact.. Despite all this territory they cover and the obvious significance of topics like this, futurists often find themselves wondering why they aren’t taken more seriously, according to Dan Johnson, communications director for WFS, Why isn’t a futurist on the president’s cabinet? Why doesn’t every newspaper and television news show devote as much time to what might happen as it does to what just did? Why do equally as theoretical fields of study like sociology, philosophy or psychiatry merit serious study when futurism, with seemingly such a huge role to play, gets so little Cornish says it is not in our nature to want to know too much about the future, except as a sort of entertainment. “It is difficult for people to think about the future. If you have no particular specific interest in an event, you just don’t pay attention,” he says. “One of the other reasons this field doesn’t get more attention is that a lot of futurists are wrong,” says Molitar. “Unless a futurist is very solidly based, the thinking is often off. That affects our credibility.” It doesn’t appear the WFS members’ batting average, as displayed in “The Futurist”, is too bad The first issue of the magazine in 1967 wrongly suggested that man would land on other planets by 1980 and that private vehicles would be banned from cities by 1986. One author said primitive forms of life will be created in a laboratory by 1989 and desalinated sea water will be widely used in agriculture by 1987. But nearly two thirds of the 37-year-old predictions were correct. Authors accurately envisioned things like transplanted body parts, computers that could talk and listen, widespread use of behavior modifying drugs and an doubling of spending on recreation and entertainment by 1986. Issues of the magazine since offer a similar mix. Twenty years later, in 1987, one writer said that in 10-15 years computers would directly read our thoughts, edit and enhance them and put them on a screen, Another author warned about the quasi anarchy of “international economic integration.” But there were also predictions of “computer networking” and the corporations where bosses assembled teams and society reacted to an increased number of women in the work place. Articles predicted a bracelet to monitor blood pressure and 3-D internal images of the body. Futurists for some time have often predicted what might happen by the year 2000 and their success was mixed. Viral and bacterial diseases were to have been eliminated, it was suggested, the paperless office would be here and we’d working less (only about five hours a day or maybe four days a week. ) and living longer — (in one projection, to the age 150 by the millennium). We’d fly in cars and soar around the planet in saucer-like jets. Energy would be provided by clean, efficient nuclear power, which would even run our vacuum cleaners. and toasters. The Internet would collapse by 2000, a futurist warned in 1995, and author Arthur C. Clark predicted planets would be colonized and houses would fly. But Clark deserves credit for his thoughts about artificial intelligence, the many uses of satellites and a “global library” which sounds a lot like the Internet. Cornish says even if the predictions are wrong, the futurists are doing their job by laying out potential routes for us. He says often their predictions don’t materialize because the description of the scenario allows society to choose another course. Futurists, he notes, have offered valuable insight into the global economy, the affect of the maturing baby boom generation, environmental challenges and the huge impact of communications technology. Besides, Cornish says, no matter what their batting average, it is important that they make us to take a look. And there is some comfort in this – having these folks out there looking out over the bow. Well, maybe. “I’m starting to worry about whether there is a future for futurists,” says Frank Ogden. “With such rapid and accelerating change, I believe it is a myth to even plan for anything beyond five years. My idea of a long-range planning today is lunch.” SIDEBAR — SOME HOT TOPICS While serious futurists generally say they like to avoid snazzy, eye-catching predictions, here are a couple of cool things they’re talking about. EATING –We’ll munch on safe, healthy synthetic foods or foods grown with vaccines in them. However, there is little use for a big kitchen or family meals because we have even more meals out and eat even more food that is pre-prepared and dished up quickly when hunger hits. SLEEPING — You might have your mood altered or get a dose of subliminal learning while you sleep — and you might be able to shorten sack time with “sleep management.” You’ll have more time for a nap, too, as we are allowed to devote 50% of our time to leisure in 15 years. ENERGY — Some optimism about energy, despite a bumpy road. Oil is gone, and clean-burning coal, renewables, fuel cells and, eventually, nearly free cold fusion take over. Your house may very well power itself soon. HOMES — In fact, houses will do all sorts of things – talk to you and listen, clean themselves and put you to other locations with wall sized screens and virtual reality. Controls over everything from the heat to the baby monitor and night light in the nursery will be easy from any spot inside the house — or remotely. We might live in huge mile-high buildings or on the ocean to protect natural lands and handle overcrowding. TRANSPORTATION — Cars might fly, finally (there’s one called the Skycar in production now) . Before that we’ll travel by guideways, major highways that control your car for you, sending you hurtling along at tops speeds only inches from other cars. Off the guideway, an onboard computer will keep you safer (your car can sense and avoid a collision) give you clear, quick directions and entertain the kids. We’ll fly across the globe in a few hours or potentially through the oceans at remarkable speeds if we can break the “water barrier” much the way we did the sound barrier. EDUCATION School textbooks, maybe schools, will disappear with cyber-education and universities will be webcentric with much of the activity on-line and an increasing number of purely online courses. “Just-in-time” learning gains popularity, meaning that rather then getting an general education that provides you with credentials to work in a field, you get specific education on a specific topic when you need it. Virtual reality cuts learning time in half. WORK — Lots more contract, temporary and home-based work. “Corporate hotel,” space that businesses lease for employees when it needs them. If you work for a “dirty” industry, you may work in space. .HEALTH – A quick do-it-yourself blood sample will diagnose some 10,000 diseases, and you can get an easy home health problem assessment online or continual check-ups with a wrist-watch-like band. You also might get a record of your genomes at birth, which can then be plugged into a database where researchers are continually adding information about genetic disorders. Genetic therapy cures most disease and there is longer and longer life expectancy until a new phrase dominates: optional dying. TECHNOLOGY — you carry one card that contains your driver’s license, keys, library card and medical records – and replaces all other cash and credit cards, Ever more powerful computers easily recognize voices, handwriting – even people. They become smarter than us, allowing them to make more and more decisions that we struggle over. Some serious futurists worry about which of us will be in control. “Synthetic” life forms clean house, prepare meals, write letters, fight fires, work in the garden, help the disabled and aid in workouts. By 2020 robots will outnumber humans in the U.S. and the highest paid movie star will be synthetic.

Handy (Christian Science Monitor)

Not long ago it occurred to me that I might make a damn good dog trainer.  It would be my fourth career change, each one accompanied by a different sweet little bit of patter to justify my decision – to others and myself.

The dog trainer thing may not be something I’ll pursue. It came to me when I was sick last winter and was clicking through a particularly reluctant, jerky and uninspiring TV screen guide. Frustrated, I settled for a marathon of “Dog Whisperer” episodes, and became enthralled, perhaps because of medication I was taking. As Cesar soothed one troubled dog after another, I began thinking “I could that”. And then thinking “No, seriously, I could do that.”

brochure cover copySee, for me the hurdle here has always been more than finances, education and whether you’ll really like “working with your hands” or “giving back”.  It’s about the reason.  It’s not about any satisfaction from transforming snarling pit bulls to happy lap dogs, its about explaining it to your current boss, an ambitious couple you just met at a party or your wife. And it’s about convincing yourself as you step on the elevator with the box of stuff from your desk and a final paycheck.

My choices — from newspaper editor, to freelance illustrator, to a Hopkins-trained head of a middle school counseling department  — caused me to gird myself with justification. In the past, career shifts meant a lack of conviction or nuttiness. It hinted at a person with too many periodicals in their house, and too many cats.

Lots of people thought about changing careers – work for themselves in slippers all day or spend more time with the kids, or themselves as they help people they’ve seen in National Geographic or Shelby Lee Adams photos. But they didn’t want to look like idiots and really do it

But things have changed. Now it’s acceptable, even advisable and trendy.  Look at ads for insurance, dental hygiene and constipation relief — all full of beaming people living their dreams and starting cup cake bakeries and bike shops and organic farms. Slick, teen-targeted phone ads also hint at such fluidity, but usually the kid is starting his or her smart new own online service or rock band.

This has to be a good thing – all these people self-fulfilled and doing what they love, so many of them helping others and providing us with healthy food and well-tuned bikes.  But it also worries me just a bit.

What if the surgeons at Hopkins who have skillfully operated on me (and may have to in the future) decide invidually that they want to deliver mail, build furniture or carve chickens rather than me. What if some key state department operative, negotiating with an informer for information about a horribly dangerous sleeper cell decides he just wants to write porn. What if they folks really studying and preventing horrible infectious disease decide to teach 7th grade science or become personal trainers.

Wait, maybe there is a career here – speaking about and advocating for the new stick-to-itiveness. There might even be a book deal….




Nosefinger (Washingtonian)

Published in Washingtonian magazine

Certainly, as one of those philosophers we studied in college suggested, there must be a supreme being who moves us through contrived scenes for his own amusement? Why else did I have to justify my favorite color?  What other reason was there for a woman to put her finger up my nose? What else explains the Metro on a weekday morning?

Essay (odd metro moment) for DC's Washingtonian Magazine
Essay (odd metro moment) for DC’s Washingtonian Magazine

Here we are in this high speed playhouse, bleary-eyed  and morning-mouthed – hair sticking up, defenses down, thrust before an audience hungry for something more interesting than the pattern of dandruff on the shoulders in front of them.

So, like the fellow plucked from the crowd by a bad comedian, we sheepishly perform.

A demure woman has taken the stage –  falling asleep on the ride home and missing the last stop, then gliding, mouth agape,  past the amused, disembarking Shady Grove crowd. A well-heeled man walks down the aisle with an envelope stuck to his rear.  A large woman has tucked things in inappropriately, pulling up several layers in the back way beyond the point that she intended and that anyone else preferred.

I’ve performed. I once tripped and burst Kramer-like into a crowded car, catching myself, then trying to act as if it was my normal boarding technique.

And then there was this nose incident. As I rose for my stop on a hot day, a woman standing next to me in a crowded car moved her hand to adjust her shoulder bag and, plink – her pinkie slipped into my right nostril – intimacy only rivaled in awkwardness by the ensuing three minutes I shared standing next to her, uncertain whether to offer her a tissue or a cigarette.

There is often just such unwanted familiarity. People are always flying awkwardly into each others’ arms or laps during sudden movement.  I once saw a sheepish man inadvertently lift the dress of a woman in front of him with his umbrella, then blush for three stops. One man, drooling a bit, awoke to a smiling crowd smiling entertained by his seat partner, who had been making extraordinary faces as his head dropped to her shoulder..

There is also plenty of improv with challenging partners

“Why do you put so much of that pink stuff on your face?” a lad bluntly asked a woman bearing hours of gaudy fussing. “Do you know you have a very shiny head..” a burly, red-faced man wearing several woolen hats said to the self-conscious-looking guy next to him. He then turned to the cowering car and selected a bulky young man, uneasy in his tan fedora “What are you, a park ranger?”

I’ve reluctantly been cast. I was among those singled out by a man who burst into the Metro car praying and asking individuals if they’d been saved, placing his hand on the heads of those like myself who seemed uncertain.

Then there was the man in the bright mustard sports coat who settled in next to me on my ride home one sunny,  upbeat day.

“What’s your favorite color,”  he blurted out.

Feeling magnanimous, I decided to chat. “Blue,” I whispered cheerfully, hoping to participate but make the conversation more intimate.

“Blue? Why?” he nearly shouted.

I responded but began to feel less charitable as both the size of the audience and his energy level grew. He asked me how many vegetables are blue and, in fact, whether anything from the earth was blue. I smiled and ignored him. He repeated the queries.

“I don’t know,” I finally muttered.

What?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I shot back, beginning to recognize that he had me right where he wanted me.


I just smirked, which incensed him

“You don’t <ital> really like blue, do you?” he muttered “He doesn’t really like blue, does he?” he asked the growing audience. “So, why did he say he did?”

The chime rang for Takoma and I bowed out five stops early, scowling at the sky.

Wing it (Teenlife)

 “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain

Winging it

International travel is growing, and changing the students who participate.

Jim Paterson

Sarah Niles heard it again as she wearily walked through the busy airport through a crowd of parents, siblings and friends bearing homemade signs and balloons welcoming back her equally weary traveling partners.

“It was awesome. It was the best thing I’ve ever done,” said one of Niles’ traveling companions, an excited, teary, tall blonde girl who initially had been her most reluctant traveler.

“I love to hear that,” Niles says. “She and her parents were beaming, and I really believe it was the best thing she’s ever done – and may be one of the best things she’ll ever do.”

Niles, executive director of the Oregon Association of Student Councils, encourages international travel for students in leadership positions across the state. And the students credit her with helping them find and prepare for the best opportunities, and make the most of them

More students are traveling and studying abroad today as it becomes less often a lark for the privileged few, and more often part of the traditional educational experience – from middle school through college. And proponents say its benefits are evident in the heightened maturity and better grades of the students, in their understanding of the world, and often in the work they do on behalf of other cultures.

Research shows the value of students having an experience in a foreign country – whether it’s a year of study in a Chinese school, a month of work in an African village helping establish a clean water system or even a week visiting popular tourist locations in Paris. They will inevitably tell you how much they enjoyed it and others who know them will tell you they’ve changed.

“I believe the most effective way to help students gain new perspectives, overcome adversity, make connections and develop new skills is through experiencing it first hand.  What better way than through travel,” says Miles.

“I’ve led student groups to many states across the nation and internationally to Japan and the Dominican Republic – whether its for three days or two weeks, students have always come home with a new appreciation for not only where they come from but where others come from.  It’s opened their minds to viewpoints different than their own.”

Ryan Findley was an active high school student leader and was involved in international experiences at a young age. Eventually he became a leader in helping U.S. students work and study in Africa and in helping African student leaders enhance their skills. He is now the global programs manager at the growing African Leadership Academy and speaks broadly to students in this country about involvement in Africa – including at NHS and NASC conferences.

“I think international experience is a game changer for young people. To get outside of their context and see life from another angle –  ­ this is the sort of thing that I think should be required learning for any American teenager,” he says “You see the entitlement drop little by little; you see the self-centeredness drop too.  Even more impressively, you see empathy kick up quickly.”


Travel abroad grows

There is both anecdotal and statistical data about the growth and value of international study or travel, which dates back at far as Holland in 1190, when school records show students traveled to Oxford University in England for study. It has always been recognized as a valuable experience.

The number of young people studying abroad rose to well over 300,000 in 2014, including college students studying for credit, and the number of programs offering international study has expanded widely.

One of the oldest and largest companies helping schools with international travel, EF Educational Tours, now works with more than 500 schools in 50 countries, and another, American Institute for Foreign Study, which also started in the mid-60’s, says it has sent 1.5 million students abroad and has grown to annually helping about 50,000 students travel to foreign countries and come here.

Colleges in several studies regularly reported that students with international experiences were more likely to graduate (and graduate more quickly), and likely to have a higher GPA.

“Among all groups, at least 80% reported moderate to high growth in independence, cultural sophistication, awareness of international issues, overall maturity, self-confidence, and flexibility/adaptability,” a study at the University of Delaware reported.

One report says five years after graduation the unemployment rate for European students who had been “internationally mobile” was 23 percent lower than for other students, and another in this country reports that 97 percent of college students studying abroad found employment, in a year, nearly double the rate for all students. It offers a variety of other data about benefits of study in foreign countries.

The Obama administration, based on what it says is its value to education and our economy, has been a strong supporter of International Travel with the Department of State, Department of Education and Commerce Department offering programs to support it.

First Lady Michele Obama put it this way last year, citing research supporting international travel for students

“…studying abroad isn’t just an important part of a well-rounded educational experience. It’s also becoming increasingly important for success in the modern global economy. Getting ahead in today’s workplaces isn’t just about the skills you bring from the classroom. It’s also about the experience you have with the world beyond our borders with people, and languages, and cultures that are very different from our own.”


The value to students

It is hard to measure the ways international experiences affect students, but ask a group of them about their trips (after a week of rest) and they’ll generally bubble with enthusiasm.

“Traveling to Europe was such a life-changing experience. Seeing all of the different cultures really opened my eyes.” That’s what recent graduate Jody Trevino told Floresville, TX, High School NHS sponsor Anthony Warzecha, who took a group to Greece and Italy.  Warzecha himself called the trip “life changing” for the students. As a history teacher he says it can make his subject “come alive.”

Students traveling abroad and the adults who work with them suggest the experience helps young people understand themselves better, learn to be more resourceful and solve problems, all skills that help in leadership. They can learn another language, learn about art or history in another location and expand their understanding of other cultures and improve their resumes for college or employment.

August Harrison, a senior at Tualatin, OR, High School, says his travel helped him think more broadly

“I learned how big the actual world is, and how similar all teenagers really are, even if they are on the other side of the planet. As teens we get so caught up in our little bubble and don’t realize how big the world really is out there”

Michael Hagan, former president of the Maryland Association of Student Councils, said his international study experience in England with others from throughout the world included formal learning opportunities, but also more personal moments.

“The most important experiences I had were those moments, be they in a structured or unstructured settings, when the universal languages of laughter, compassion, solidarity, and empathy reached across cultural gaps. These remain immeasurably valuable in leadership and, as those things at the heart of leadership always are, in life.”

Others found their work in student leadership paid off.

“My time abroad taught me a lot about myself and my personal qualities. Problem solving was a key component and I can certainly thank my previous leadership training for the way I handled it.” That’s how Malory Turner, a student at Oregon State University, explains the impact of her two trips and its connection to working for four years on her high school student council. “It also gave me the confidence to go above and beyond experiences that I was normally used to and it allowed me to put the communications skills I had learned to use.”

Austin Milne, a student leader in 11th grade in San Diego, said he learned to make decisions for himself during the three weeks he spent in Santiago, Chile through Quest Exchange. “The experience of studying abroad had a huge impact on my independence. I needed to quickly adapt to being able to understand people with a language barrier.”

He says that helped him understand others and, he hopes, might help others understand our culture.

“I believe that studying in another country opens eyes to the expansive variety of the rest of the world. Also, I was able to get other people interested in the culture of my own country and possibly motivated them to study abroad themselves.”

Casey Siddons, an NJHS adviser at Argyle Middle School in Silver Spring, MD, has taken students on two international trips and is about to travel on a third. He says even middle school students are changed by the experience, becoming more self reliant and more confident.  They are at a point in their lives when they are open to understanding new cultures before they develop preconceived ideas about them.


Value more broadly

Adam White is founder and director of Atlas Workshops, a unique program that takes high school students abroad to study and undertake “international field research and trips that tackle contemporary issues and real world problems”. He says Atlas students “move beyond tourism,” and “engage in real research and produce meaningful work through trip-based projects.”

“Each trip is framed by a question or problem and our goal is to seek answers and craft an idea. Projects might include new software designs, social media campaigns, photo exhibits or business plans. Each trip demands a unique project that has the potential to impact communities near and far.”

Students also return with plans.

Tessa Houser was a junior the NHS at Quaker Valley High School in Leetsdale, PA. when she was a winner in the Global Travel Scholarship Program, which allowed her to spend a summer in Tanzania and form close relationships with her host family, which saw two members contract malaria.

When she returned to the Pittsburgh area, she worked with her NHS chapter to raise more than $1000 for a program called Nothing But Nets, which provides mosquito netting in regions where malaria is a problem. She and the chapter continue to work on the cause.

“Coming back into the United States, I knew I had to do something to try to fix this problem,” she said in a blog.

White and Findley both say they often find that students who travel abroad come back, like Tessa, energized about doing other work to support other countries, and often through their leadership groups.

White says it can cause students to “pick-up on the nuance of a global issue”.

“Connecting with people with different backgrounds and experiences as equals and partners, not just guides or aid recipients, can charge students and give them purpose and understanding,” he says. “This perspective can help students relate the root issues to their global impacts. I’ve seen trips like this shape the way a student sees the world … and major issues facing it.”












Why fly?

Five reasons to take students abroad


  1. A different world. They get real-life experience speaking in a different language and understanding a different culture, which broadens their way of thinking about this country and other lands for a lifetime. They can see art and history and culture first hand. Things they see in pictures or hear about in the classroom come to life. They make emories they will never forget.
  2. Handling stuff. They have to manage a budget, get their laundry done, use public transportation, and keep their stuff organized. It’s like a summer camp experience – but with so much more opportunity They will have to make decisions about how much they rest, what they eat, where they go.
  3. Friends and contacts and…themselves. They’ll become very close with the students and adults with whom they are traveling – and will make connections in the countries they visit. It all is valuable experience socio-emotionally, and the contacts may pay off later in other ways. Students often report they “got to know” themselves, which often means how they relate to others.
  4. The resume. While it doesn’t guarantee admission to an Ivy League school, an international experience looks good on the resume for colleges and future employers. It apparently helps the GPA and interest in school.
  5. Giving back.There are a lot of opportunities to help in the communities students visit through a variety of programs, and ways that the experience abroad can be brought back to fuel a service project at home or for another country from home.




Take off

Some places to start — carefully


There are A LOT of places offering international travel opportunities for young people – and just as many places rating them. Here are a few sites to check out.

(Obviously, advisers and families must be careful when choosing an organization to work with, looking at their history and talking to others who have used their service.)


– Federal government has some travel abroad tips.


– Princeton Review – summer study programs


– GoOversees has two articles about study and travel

  • High school travel programs:

  • High school study programs:


– The Globalist, a Seattle-based online publication that offers information about international connections, has this article with tips and lists:


A bit of deception (Washington Post)

​​There are those moments during small-talk restaurant chatter with friends or a grocery-store introduction by my wife, when the subject turns to what I do for a living and I get a bit jittery — feeling both a soft puff of pride and small, sharp jabs of guilt.
health mag
health mag

See ​​I’m a counselor at a challenging middle school – a second career for me, which adds, I think, to that sweet mystique the job seems to sometimes have  — like the aura surrounding Andy of Mayberry or Oz’s powerful good witch Glinda. People generally pause and nod and say something about what a “tough job it must be” or just eye me solemnly for a bit. That could be an expression of their disbelief, disinterest or pity, but some of the time I think they are trying to express some admiration.

​​​ And while I’m happy to bask in whatever scrap of back-patting comes my way, I cringe too, recognizing that while my job is valuable in this life-forming stew of middle school, rather than a good witch, I’m more like the old befuddled guy behind the curtains at the fiery Emerald City Oz show, feverishly working the levers

​​ And that metaphor, now that I think about it, is pretty damn good. Because while I don’t exactly send kids off to melt down a fireballing witch, I do pull of a bit of a fast one – on them and any admirers, imagined or not. I hint at ruby slippers.

​​ See, I have found these remarkable, savvy kids have much greater grit (a fashionable word in education) and self-awareness than we (and sometimes they) assume, and are also  often likely to be on a somewhat unalterable course. And so I don’t give them much – just help them tinker a bit and do most of the work themselves — with what they have,

​​​ Okay, I was well trained at Hopkins with a range of techniques and theory and background about education and the counselor’s role in it.  And in the same way anyone with a bit of empathy could , I’m a soft landing for a 13-year-old boy so full of wringing anxiety that I worry that one sweaty, twisting hand might rip the fingers from the other, and a girl so full of sadness she calmly and tearlessly shrugs off crushing memories that repeatedly make my eyes well up. I see kids so angry they gleefully snap off witheringly disrespectful jabs at me and others (carefully and solemnly gauging the reaction), and kids roiling with so much consuming academic disinterest they look explosive when they arrive at my office, sent out by an angry teacher. ​​​

​​ I’ve had a three-hour, four-day conversation preparing a 16-year-old to tell her parents the scariest life-altering event she has faced which will inevitably cause them to disown her, and I’ve spit out a short, clear 5-minute pitch to kids on why I must make report inexcusable treatment they’ve received from one of their parents. I talk to these guys about death, and  about being heartbreakingly bullied and being emotionally tossed around in an adolescent funhouse full of distorted reflections from parents (with poorly-gauged engagement), from similarly floundering friends, and a culture with so many confusing messages, the fact that they are “mixed” has become a cliche.

​​ I think I’ve talked with every one of my 300 kids about something important to them – some of them nearly daily and some once in the two years.

​​ Quite a few walk away satisfied – the way you might if you had a good experience at a Home Depot return counter. There are a few that take off in the Kansas-bound balloon, more successful and feeling much better. There are also plenty of times it feels more like they are guiding me, almost putting up with me, sensing they should listen although what I offer has been revealed to them the night before in a teen movie or a YouTube video. Sometimes I can see it in their eyes that they know I can’t really help them any more than they can help themselves, though they’d like me to.

​​ But at my best I just let them roll along, focusing on a shifting destination and ways to keep up the exhaustive route and manage the jarring turns. Though it sounds like false modestly and is often taken that way, they do the hard work – and are surprisingly well equipped for it.  I try to nudge them away from their worst inclinations and hope, as so many parents do, that they will, in that reassuring phrase: “figure it out.” (I’d love to know what “it” is and I think we all would.) They are smart and savvy enough, but along with growing a brain they have to devote so frustratingly much energy to “becoming” that they can’t just “be”.

​​ And, then, I get to pull that curtain closed, blush a bit and take credit.


book clubbed

bookclub artDuring a lazy lake vacation last year, I dropped into a chair on a screened in porch and with an admittedly undeserved level of self-pity I grumbled something that made me feel like I was eight years old again: “I wish I didn’t have to read this damn book” .
About a month later, I regressed again, just plain lying about completing that same book. Instead, as I had as a summer-soaked kid, I just plucked a specific scene or two from its pages and some general understanding of the plot from the book flaps — a technique that fooled neither Mrs. Simpkins back in 6th grade nor our friends recently assembled around appetizers and glasses of white wine.
See, I wanted to read the Hardy Boys or stories about football during the summer as a sixth grader – and often anything but my book club assignment.
I guiltily masqueraded for the club, reading reviews just before our meetings to find a salient point, and developing hair-brained excuses for not completing the book — once claiming some sort of vague eye condition and once blaming our dog, who, like club members, looked on suspiciously when her name came up and I suggested that she was jealously interrupting my reading.
I eventually got to the point with our now defunct group (it disbanded temporarily, but no one urgently sought its revival, interestingly) where I would admit that I just didn’t read the assignment, though that may have prompted a steady drip of non-readers to confess, often the majority, which considerably dampened the discussion. One time the conversation actually shifted to non-reading, an interesting turn, I thought, until several members noted that they would never, of course, lie about reading and began evaluating the shameless type of person who would.
But apart from this regrettable behavior – and the fact that I don’t really like white wine or small food or small talk – there are other important reasons why I was glad to see the club grind to a halt, despite my affection for this group.
There are two often-cited benefits, which were masterfully branded in the Ophrah-book heyday to make book clubs sound like something we need as badly as BHA-free water bottles and Greek yogurt: the thoughtful critique and the broadening of our interests.
But I never liked to evaluate what I was reading much, and especially not if I had to capture insightful points that I might toss into the conversation like some uninformed or tangential CNN talking head. And more importantly, I didn’t want to read a “book we never would have picked up if it weren’t for these clubs”, though that was always heralded as their contribution to modern life. I grew to think, as I reluctantly opened the pages of probably half the books we read, that it’s like spending hours in an elevator with someone you don’t like or weeks on a bus trip somewhere you don’t want to go.
Reading is a wonderfully private thing, where, when it works, you select a book that suits you (half the fun), step into it, and then develop this relationship where you agree to give it your undivided attention if it keeps it. I don’t like the idea that our society, hell bent on improving everything no matter how good it already is, grabbed reading, hyped it, and made it into another excuse to over-socialize. I soured on it, I’m afraid, the same way I had 6th grade summer reading assignments, despite the encouragement of colorful and carefully themed library posters and the smiling teachers.
That great porch vacation reading moment was telling. I finished two pages, dropped the book and fell into a deep pleasant sleep.