Data Dependency

Let’s start this week with some further examination of what At Quaquanantuck has previously referred to as our contemporary paralyzing dependency on technological advances and associated social media, a dependency that has completely altered so much of most Americans’ way of life.

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Clouds and foam. —A. Botsford Photo

As noted previously, a few faithful readers have offered some thoughts on the issue. For one example, regular reader Barbara Valk writes: 

“As someone who still uses pen and paper, a landline and carries paper maps in the car, I realize I’m way behind the technological curve. I appreciate my smartphone and iPad but choose to hold onto habits that require some modicum of intelligent effort on my part.

“Why am I fighting the trend? Computer technology is here to stay but the benefits are hardly unalloyed. The loss of privacy, frightening data breaches, the breakdown of interpersonal communication, and the diminution of attention spans are all part and parcel of the digital age. So I remain watchful and wary as I witness what is unfolding and simply say ‘no thanks’ to Twitter, Facebook, Alexa et alia.”

Two key points stand out for me in Barbara’s comments: the breakdown of interpersonal communication and the diminution of attention spans—each of which is terrifying in its own right. I also salute her for hanging on to paper maps and habits that require intelligent effort. There is now an entire generation dependent on Waze or Google Maps or other GPS systems in order to get from point A to point B.

Not only does this dependency leave users bereft of map and navigation skills, but following turn-by-turn spoken AI instructions also deprives the user of the wonderful incidental education derived from mapping out a route and seeing all the geographical features that are revealed by tracing that route with one’s finger before setting off. 

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Line of sight navigation. —A. Botsford Photo

Another reader, Jeffrey Adams, directed this columnist’s attention to a new show on Netflix called “The Circle,” which seems from all descriptions to be a perfect—if unholy—marriage of reality television and social media, the two elements of contemporary culture to which At Quaquanantuck ascribes the downfall of civilization.  

In this reality TV game, the contestants are isolated in their own apartments and can only communicate with the other contestants via “The Circle,” ostensibly a computer program that transcribes their messages into text as if in a social media app. Contestants are able to present completely different, manufactured identities to the others in a bid to win them over. Every so often, the contestants are asked to rate their fellow contestants, with the top vote-getters becoming the “influencers” of the Circle, which gives them the power to block one contestant from the circle and eliminate them from the game.

It seems reasonable to see “The Circle” as a terrifying small screen simulacrum of the way the use and misuse of social media can shape or sway an election, but this show and its sister versions running in other countries are neither more nor less than highly rated “entertainment” in an age mesmerized by technology, celebrity culture, and identity manipulation. 

Another reader wrote in about different technological tools dedicated to wellness. One was an implant, backed up by a Fitbit, used to monitor her heart rate and track any instances of SVT (supraventricular tachycardia). She also described an array of apps that analyzed data she uploaded about, first, her pregnancy and, later, the health and development of her newborn.  

The implant and Fitbit appear to be essential to safeguarding the user’s well being and longevity, and pregnancy watchdog apps also represent a giant leap forward in ensuring maternal and prenatal health and successful delivery. It is not for uninformed lay people like me to weigh in on the need for or the usefulness of data hungry apps tracking early childhood development and well being. 

Granted, if data uploads can improve a child’s chances of good health, then their value is beyond question. Even so, with these and a host of other quality of life apps, my issue is with the time, effort, and intellectual, emotional, and spiritual bandwidth required to track and upload and download and analyze and then take action (or not) on all the data. What amount of life does not get lived while we are managing apps, emails, and social media? 

If our attention is focused on screens and our fingers are tapping characters, how can we be fully present for all of life’s chaos, joy, pain, love and wonder, triumphs and losses, challenges and achievements, troublesome and magnificent human interaction, and yes, even fear and frustration? And if we are not fully present, what happens to all the magnificent art that has been created down through the ages in response to the glorious if messy human condition?  

Access to artificial intelligence and modern technology is without doubt a godsend, and clearly has the capacity not only to improve and protect our health and our lives as individuals but also the health and the future of our beleaguered planet and all the species that inhabit it. 

But for At Quaquanantuck its development seems reminiscent of early humans learning how to make fire: Because of human frailty, an “invention” that not only served the greater good but made it possible for the species to survive and thrive could also be harnessed and managed, selfishly, to gain power over others and to destroy. It’s not for nothing that the gods punished Prometheus. 

We can do better; that much seems clear. But will we? 

At Quaquanantuck encourages readers to join the discussion and share their thoughts on this and any other topics by emailing  atquaq@gmail.com.

QVdock 0217 RMSunset at Quogue Village Dock; 2/17/20. —Roger Moley Photo

Love Letters for Library
Yes, Valentine’s Day has gone by, but it seems that all of February is Library Lovers Month, so it’s not too late to write a Love Letter to Your Library. As the promotional materials tell At Quaquanantuck, “libraries are a magical place full of life and endless stories—both real and imagined. Please share what your library means to you!”

“Letters may be long or short and sweet. They may be a poem or piece of artwork if that’s what inspires you. Tell us about your favorite experience or memory. The best part is that we hear about the ways the library has made a difference in your life.” 

To “send” letters, drop them in the decorated mailbox at Midland Street, or send by U.S. Mail to PO Box 5036, Quogue, NY 11959. Letters will be shared on the library’s social media outlets and put on display in March. 

Nature Print Making for Young Artists
Thanks to the Quogue Library, youthful artists age 7 and up will have an opportunity on Sunday, February 23, from 2 to 3 p.m. at the Firehouse on Jessup Avenue to create their own one of a kind nature artwork with environmental artist and educator Tony Valderrama using basic mono printing techniques 

To register or for more information, call the library at 631-653-4224. 

Talk at QWR on White Shark Research on Long Island
On Thursday, February 27, at 7 p.m. the Quogue Wildlife Refuge will present a lecture on the South Fork Natural History Museum’s White Shark Research program in the QWR Nature Center.

White-Shark-QWR
Researchers measuring an immature white shark. —FishGuy photo courtesy QWR

 As many readers are aware, Long Island’s coastal waters are home to an abundance of sharks, with very little known about any of them. In 2015, a small group of researchers were the first to deploy a satellite tag on a juvenile great white shark off Long Island’s south shore. Over the subsequent two summers, a partnership with OCEARCH enabled them to tag an additional 20 white sharks off Montauk.

In the presentation on February 27, visitors will learn about the continued work of the Shark Research and Education Program of the South Fork Natural History Museum & Nature Center (SoFo).

Sign Up Now for QWR Summer Field Ecology Program 2020
The fine folks at the Quogue Wildlife Refuge are currently focusing on early signups for the eight one-week sessions of the children’s Summer Field Ecology program, which will be marking its 51st anniversary this summer.  

With separate programs tailored to first-timers and returning campers in grades two through six; six and seven; eight through 10; and Little Naturalists age 4 to 6, the one-week-per-customer sessions offer hands-on, intense exploration of some of nature’s secrets, always stressing the importance of the natural world and respect for the Earth and its inhabitants. 

Due to limited class size, popularity of the program, and priority registration for QWR members, sessions may fill up. Early signups are encouraged; visit quoguewildliferefuge.org/summer-camps or call 631-653-4771 for more information. 

Earth Yoga at Wildlife Refuge Continues on Wednesdays
Readers are invited to connect with yoga instructor Amy Hess, with the Earth, and with their own mind, body, and spirit during one-hour yoga classes in the Main Room of the Nature Center at the Quogue Wildlife Refuge on Wednesdays at 9 a.m.yoga

This is another of Amy’s gentle yoga programs for all fitness levels, with a cost of $15 per class. Pre-registration is recommended, but walk-ins are welcome. Call 631-653-4771 to register.

International Dinner Features Greek Menu
Readers who are accustomed to exploring the cuisine of a different country every week at the Inn Spot on the Bay in Hampton Bays will be sampling from a Greek menu prepared by Cheffes Collette and Pam this weekend, on Friday, February 21, and Saturday, February 22

The cost is $39 for the three-course prix fixe; there will be seatings from 5 p.m. on Friday, February 21, and Saturday, February 22. Don’t forget to try the street food offering. The Inn Spot On The Bay is just north of the Ponquogue Bridge in Hampton Bays. Call 631-728-1200 for more information or to make a reservation, or visit  www.theinnspot.com/internationaldiningseries to see the complete menu. 

Your Comments Welcome
At Quaquanantuck is happy to provide a forum for civil discussion of village issues and initiatives and welcomes all comments. All are encouraged to share observations, ideas and opinions by writing to AtQuaq@gmail.com.  

At Quaquanantuck encourages readers to send in news and notes and photos of interest to Quogue residents, even if the items are being sent from winter addresses or other parts of the country—or the world. Friends and family who enjoy all things Quogue are encouraged to email AtQuaq@gmail.com and ask to be put on the mailing list.

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