"Take That For Trying To Push Unripe Cantaloupes On Us!"

This will be the last week that I prepare daily articles for a while. Starting next week, I will drop back to three per week, and hope that I can keep even that reduced workload up with my other distractions. My wife and I are moving. We will still continue to live in the same city, but it doesn’t matter if you are moving across the street or across the country. Any move is time-consuming, and for us seniors, it means a sure sore back even if we are careful and hire all the heavy lifting.

Long-time readers know that my wife runs a small business and is dependent on her computer and Internet connection. As you might expect, she insists that our system not be down for a single day while making the transfer. She needs continuous coverage for her business. I can get by using my laptop at a variety of wireless places and offices where I consult, but she is married to her work machine at home. Unlike most households, we have enough computers lying around to meet her needs. We can even work out a way that she will eventually have all contacts and jobs on the main machine automatically.

So, like many things in life, even moving households has become further complicated by the Internet and computers. Yet my wife’s business could not have been run by one person a few years ago. She does bookkeeping, contact tracking, job records, and the whole ball of wax herself. The inconvenience of being tied to the computer is more than balanced by the benefits.

However, we must draw the line somewhere. There is a delicate line between dependency and addiction. Recently I shuttled a married couple home from a cruise ship terminal. They had been on what was expected to be a relaxed and romantic extended vacation hopping around Mexico and the Caribbean. Only she complained that he spent a lot of time logged onto the ship’s satellite connection managing their portfolio and transacting various other items of business. She thought that was uncalled for.

Similarly I know a woman who spent two weeks at her time-share in Cancun and continued her day trading without interruption.

Is this God’s way of telling us to back off?

Now it is true that I took my laptop with me on our recent tour of the Copper Canyon, but it was only to use as a journal to record my impressions – honest! I never once got online. And when we got home, I was able to print out a complete history of the trip to go with the digital videos. That is a great time saving compared to transcribing from handwritten notes.

How do we know the difference between healthy use and unhealthy addiction? What are the signs that we have fallen into some kind of computer-driven hole? My laptop weighs considerably more than a notepad and pen, yet I rationalize the ease of writing on it is worth the effort, and who knows when one might get the yen for just one game of Freecell?

Computer usage changes our behavior in unexpected ways. Sixty Minutes recently featured a story about people suing the manufacturers and sellers of “Grand Theft Auto” because they claim it trains teenagers to accept and perform violent acts, especially against police. One teenager recently killed three police officers and stole a car after playing hundreds of hours of “Grand Theft Auto.” Is there a link? I don’t know, but certainly our troops in Iraq have been trained on grownup versions of Grand Theft, and every commentator I’ve read claims our troops are better trained and prepared for action than any previous army. What is the distinction between combat training in a simulator and playing war games? What is the distinction over and above the cost of the machines and software? One distinction is that teenagers spend much more time playing games than recruits spend in simulations.

The thought that someday one of my senior students will run amok in the local Safeway, shooting a stolen Uzi and screaming, “Take that for trying to push unripe cantaloupes on us, you pigs!” sends shivers down my spine.

If that happened, would I share in the blame? Would the bad news guys come knocking on my door and ask questions as they confiscate my hard drives?

Probably not, but I have been a vector for changing the habits and life patterns of people. So have you – if you are a tutor or instructor, and it behooves us to pause now and then and ask just what are our goals. What are the goals of our students? Are we truly helping them add to their quality of life? What subtle changes are we introducing? Is the risk worth the reward?

Obviously, I think so. Too many of my students have thanked me. Too many of them have worked hard and suddenly “got” it with a smile. Still, no activity is without risk (see my technical articles on probability and decision theory Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays in the IT Professionals channel). In the meanwhile, I’m going to be busy organizing how to have LANs up and going at two houses simultaneously in a way that will be transparent to our customers.

For more in-depth tips on tutoring seniors, see the complete tutorial here. I also have posted a tutorial on elementary decision theory for those who might question a physician’s diagnosis (important for seniors) or anti-terrorist activities (important for everyone) but haven’t had the framework to analyze the data. That tutorial can be found here.