This column first appeared in The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers on December 6, 2020:
...Creators of these modern-day telethons have learned a lot from Jerry Lewis and past MDA Telethons. I had the opportunity to see one play out online last week, with the bevy of YouTube stars and gamers who gathered to raise funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Just as my sister and I anticipated the MDA Telethon, my children had the date for this particular “telethon” circled on a calendar that hangs from our refrigerator door. Of course, I had no idea what it was, but if it was important enough to add to the family calendar, I thought “opportunity to engage in a conversation with my kids.”
It featured the co-founder couple of the popular YouTube channel “Game Theory,” Matthew “MatPat” Patrick and Stephanie Patrick. Like Lewis did over four decades of the MDA Telethon, the Patricks served as co-hosts for the 10-hour marathon, sharing stories and encouraging their audience to give.
Read the rest of this column at https://www.vindy.com/life/lifestyles/2020/12/giving-takes-a-new-form-but-still-exciting/ (may encounter paywall).
This column first appeared in The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers on November 29, 2020:
This year, it starts with a small family Thanksgiving.
Although I love seeing my extended family, there’s something special this year about not having to cook and clean up after a small army. I’m hopeful we’ll be back together next year, all vaccinated and COVID-19-free.
This year, we’ll check Black Friday deals from a distance, and shop our favorite local spots on Small Business Saturday.
Sunday, we’ll rest before scrolling for Cyber Monday deals.
While all of this family time and shopping is exhausting, I often wonder if the importance in which we’ve ordered our annual spending spree is somehow backward...
Read the rest of this column at https://www.tribtoday.com/life/lifecovers/2020/11/making-case-for-giving-tuesday/ (may encounter paywall).
This column first appeared in The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers on November 22, 2020:
Raising four kids is tough.
Raising four kids in an age of constant access to a flurry of media content is impossible. Or at least it feels that way some days.
I liken it to a day at the beach. Saying those words “day at the beach” should conjure images of sun and fun, sand and water, a good book under an umbrella, with an adult beverage nearby. When I’m alone or with my wife at the beach, it’s the ultimate picture of relaxation.
As we head into colder weather, as the pandemic raging on, I suspect many of us are having dreams of relaxing beach vacations.
However, most parents will tell you that a day at the beach is anything but relaxing. You’re on constant patrol, slathering protective sun screen on your kids, standing in ankle-deep water while your kids play wannabe surfers trying to catch a “killer” (2-foot high) wave while you’re scanning the sea for fins like its Shark Week on the Discovery Channel...
Read the rest of this column at https://www.tribtoday.com/life/lifecovers/2020/11/we-can-all-use-some-more-common-sense/ (may encounter paywall).
This column first appeared in The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers on November 15, 2020:
Teachers are amazing and adaptable humans.
They’ve prepared, as best they can, for the uncertainties of each new school day. Most prepared by going to college to learn modern teaching strategies, pedagogical techniques and how to make engaging lesson plans.
However, while the teachers are well-equipped, the classrooms are often not. Some just don’t have the supplies necessary to give students the best shot at learning.
Teachers ask for supplies. When requests are denied, teachers turn to fundraising. The problem, of course, is that teachers are not fundraisers. Apparently, Fundraising 101 is not a required class when preparing for state teacher licensure exams.
Thankfully, others have stepped up. For some, it means voting to support levies to fund classroom needs. Some donate time and supplies. Others donate funds to schools through charitable organizations.
For example, actor Reese Witherspoon made headlines last week when she fully funded teacher projects through the website DonorsChoose.org. Her gift provided project funds for 17,000 students in Nashville...
Read the rest of this column at https://www.tribtoday.com/life/lifecovers/2020/11/teachers-are-amazing-and-adaptable-humans/ (may encounter paywall).
This column first appeared in The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers on November 8, 2020:
My kids think I’m a genius.
In truth, I probably sound a lot smarter than I really am.
My “smart dad” charade has been tested lately. Like many parents, I’m forced to be a pseudo-homeschool teacher’s assistant, answering endless questions about second-grade social studies, fifth-grade science and seventh-grade math.
Some of the questions I get make Common Core look like, well, the ABC’s.
I’m thankful our 10th-grader learned long ago that, no, Dad is not “smarter than a fifth-grader.” She’s a very perceptive 15-year-old...
Read the rest of this column at https://www.tribtoday.com/life/lifecovers/2020/11/help-keep-wikipedia-free-so-we-can-be-smart/ (may encounter paywall).
This column first appeared in The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers on November 1, 2020:
We’re good at celebrating friendships on social media.
Although the act of friending might seem little more than adding someone to a list of contacts, we cultivate friendships on social media with likes and shares, images and tags, greetings and comments of love and support.
Calling someone a “friend” elicits feelings of connection, even if you might never actually meet an online friend face-to-face.
In rare cases, the friend isn’t even a real person. I’m not really Facebook friends with our local Dairy Queen. Yet my belly and wallet would suggest we have a deep, personal connection.
Facebook quantifies our friendships through the pictures we post that represent our connections as well as old posts we’ve shared about one another...
Read the rest of this column at https://www.vindy.com/life/lifestyles/2020/11/cultivating-friendships-through-social-media/ (may encounter paywall).
This column first appeared in the February 9, 2020 PRINT edition of The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers:
It’s a tale as old as, well, America.
Democrats and Republicans rarely agree on anything, and it’s newsworthy when they do.
Today, that agreement is overwhelming bipartisan distrust of social media.
This distrust may come as some surprise to leaders at Facebook and other social media companies. They claim to have implemented new security and privacy measures, and tried to stop fake news over the last few years.
They did this, in part, regain our trust and win back daily active users.
A new study from the Pew Research Center looked at this lack of trust in social media. A large majority of Americans are familiar with the major social platforms (e.g., Facebook) and many say they still use social media to find political news, even if they don’t trust them.
The study was conducted as part of Pew’s ongoing Election News Pathways project, which examines our news habits, our attitudes about what we hear and perceive, and what we think we know about the 2020 election.
“Indeed, Facebook, the most widely used of the six social media sites examined when it comes to getting political and election news, is distrusted by about six in 10 U.S. adults,” said report authors Mark Jurkowitz and Amy Mitchell.
Nearly half said they distrust Twitter, and four in 10 said they skeptical of Instagram.
Some Americans who said they get their news through social media are equally reliant on it.
“Overall, 18 percent of U.S. adults cite social media as the ‘most common’ way they access political news — relying on it more than other platforms such as TV, print, radio or news websites and apps,” Jurkowitz and Mitchell said.
Adults who rely mostly on social media for political news also had more trust than others in platforms like Facebook and Twitter. They continue to use social media as a place to get political news. They’re less concerned about the spread of fake news.
Video-sharing site YouTube was not immune.
“YouTube is also distrusted by greater portions of each party than trusted,” Jurkowitz and Mitchell said. About 15 percent of Republicans and 19 percent of Democrats say they trust it.
“Republicans and Democrats also largely agree about LinkedIn and Reddit, where distrust exceeds trust in both parties by at least a two-to-one ratio.”
Coincidentally, when Pew researchers asked voters about their trust of specific platforms, a large percentage said they hadn’t even heard of some companies.
For example, 27 percent were unfamiliar with LinkedIn and nearly 40 percent didn’t know about Reddit.
Unfamiliarity wasn’t a problem for all platforms.
“Of the six social media sites examined in this study, most are known to a large majority of Americans,” Jurkowitz and Mitchell said. “About nine in 10 U.S. adults say they have heard of’ Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram.”
Don’t be so quick to equate this distrust of social media with “other” media. When it comes to trust in specific news sources, the chasm between the parties is as wide as their trust of President Trump (e.g., CNN vs. Fox News).
Still, anyone who has broken trust with another person knows it takes time to repair.
Social media are no different.
Although Facebook and others have tried to eliminate fake news, improve security and protect users, they clearly have a long way to go before they earn back our trust when it comes to politics and news.
This column first appeared in the February 2, 2020 PRINT edition of The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers:
It might be depressing to think about what our dying words or wishes will be, but that’s where my head is right now.
I didn’t know legendary basketball star Kobe Bryant. I wasn’t a huge fan, but I respected his accomplishments and I was always impressed with stories of his financial success post-basketball.
The day before his death, Bryant was passed on the NBA’s all-time scoring list by Lebron James. Bryant took to Twitter to react to James’ achievement:
“Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother” followed by the hashtag #33644 to represent the number of points it took James to pass Bryant.
Last words from celebrities and other personalities can be uplifting, but some are peculiar, and others are disputed for authenticity.
Did so-and-so really say that?
Unless we are there, we’ll never know for sure.
We rely on witnesses to share last words. One can only assume that some have been altered to preserve some dignity for the deceased.
Most last words make complete sense to those that hear them, especially if you know something about the person who spoke them.
For example, Nostradamus reportedly made one final prediction with his last words, “Tomorrow, at sunrise, I shall no longer be here.”
Other obvious last words come from death row, often filled with apology and regret. Some are more bit more sarcastic.
When asked if he had any final requests, convicted murderer James W. Rodgers said, “Bring me a bullet-proof vest” before being shot to death by a firing squad.
On a more spiritual note, some last words make us wonder what that person might be sensing or wondering as they pass on. According to his sister, Steve Jobs’ last words were, “Oh, wow. Oh, wow. Oh, wow.”
But what if no one is there to hear them? What if no one reports those words?
What’s probably most true about our last words is that no one will remember the last thing we say.
When my dad passed away 10 years ago, I wasn’t there. So I asked family members if they heard the last thing he said. “I think it was, ‘Get me some tea,'” my mother reported.
This made me smile because my father was obsessed with iced tea. Did he really say that, or did my mother tell me this because she knew I would smile?
The last thing I remember my father saying was, “I love you, too” as I left him for the last time at a nursing home.
The beautiful thing about social media is that we can use it for this very purpose — to capture our thoughts, inspirations and reflections on the world around us. We can use Twitter and other platforms to uplift and praise the accomplishments of those around us.
We can use it to share our love of life.
This column first appeared in the January 26, 2020 PRINT edition of The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers:
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg knows something about New Year resolutions.
At the beginning of every year for the last decade, he’s set a new personal challenge.
That changed this year.
“My goal was to grow in new ways outside my day-to-day work running Facebook,” Zuckerberg posted to Facebook earlier this month. “These led me to learn Mandarin, code an AI assistant for my home...and get more comfortable with public speaking.”
This year, however, his new approach was to set decade-long challenges.
Most people would scoff at this approach. Of course, those are the same people who set resolutions on January 1st and forget about them on January 2nd.
I know this because I’m “most people.”
Forgetting for a moment about the scandals Facebook has faced, Zuckerberg has some credibility to back his 10-year challenge. After all, he learned to speak a new language and programmed a robot.
“This decade I'm going to take a longer term focus,” Zuckerberg said. “Rather than having year-to-year challenges, I've tried to think about what I hope the world and my life will look in 2030 so I can make sure I'm focusing on those things.”
To set this kind of challenge, it’s important to think about our personal lives look like in 2030. I’ll be 60, eyeing retirement. My kids will be graduating, with careers, probably married, and—dare I say it—with a grandkid or two for their old Dad.
Those kinds of aspirations aren’t all that different for Zuckerberg, with the exception of a few loftier goals.
“By then, if things go well, my daughter Max will be in high school, we'll have the technology to feel truly present with another person no matter where they are, and scientific research will have helped cure and prevent enough diseases to extend our average life expectancy by another 2.5 years,” he added.
Here are some challenges Zuckerberg thinks are important for the next decade.
Generational Challenge. Zuckerberg foresees complicated issues for the next generation of Facebook users, and they have little to do with social media. These include climate change, education costs, housing, and healthcare. He put it to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative “to focus more on funding and giving a platform to younger entrepreneurs, scientists, and leaders” to identify solutions.
Private Social Platform. Facebook is big (maybe too big), and Zuckerberg knows it even if he won’t admit it. “Being part of such a large community creates its own challenges and makes us crave intimacy,” he said. “Our digital social environments will feel very different over the next 5+ years, re-emphasizing private interactions and helping us build the smaller communities we all need in our lives.”
New Computing Platform. The last three decades have been defined by technological advancements. In the 1990s, it was desktop computing. The 2000s gave us the web. The 2010s, mobile device. What’s in store for the 2020s?
Zuckerberg thinks we should be able to be anywhere and everywhere. “The ability to be ‘present’ anywhere will...address some of the biggest social issues of our day, like ballooning housing costs and inequality of opportunity by geography.”
These are important challenges for all to consider, not just Zuckerberg, and they’ll take more than money to resolve. He’ll need time to change hearts and minds.
Let’s hope ten years is enough time to make these things happen.
This column first appeared in the January 19, 2020 PRINT edition of The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers:
Star Trek Capt. James T. Kirk had amazing technology at his fingertips.
Cloaking devices and holodecks were cool, but they didn’t seem nearly as cool and accessible for my little 9-year-old brain as the wrist communicator.
I wanted that wrist communicator, but we didn’t have much money for toys. So like most kids, I improvised by drawing a band around my wrist that resembled Captain Kirk’s device.
To be fair, I didn’t jump on the Star Trek fan train until the first movies were produced in the late 1970s and ’80s. Wrist communicators weren’t really a “thing” in the TV series.
Diehard Trekkies (aka, “real” Star Trek fans) wax poetic about flip-phone-like communicators used by Kirk and crew. Those were the stalwart Starfleet communication devices.
They were also the creative precursor to the modern day smartphone.
Like other Star Trek tech, it’s easy to point to those early images and think, “Wow, that really looks like (fill-in-the-blank)…” technology that we use today.
This is absolutely true of the wrist communicator.
In science fiction lore, wrist tech predates 1979’s “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.” Clearly, authors and artists have been thinking for a long time about what this device would look like or do.
Even famous comic book detective Dick Tracy sported a two-way radio on his wrist.
Fast-forward to 2019, and it seems the wrist communicator has found a real life home in our technology toolbox.
Last week, the Pew Research Center reported that one-in-five U.S. adults wear a smart watch or wearable fitness tracker.
Or at least they say they do.
That last part is important. While it’s interesting to learn that more of us are using devices on a regular basis, most say they’re using wrist tech to track fitness goals.
It’s also important to note that Pew collected this data last summer and not last week, right after the start of the New Year, when many people launch new fitness and weight loss goals.
Some people may have received new wrist tech for the holidays. So, if Pew had collected this data on Jan. 1, their results may have been skewed a bit higher (as in, more than one-in-five saying they regularly use these devices).
Pew’s research also revealed some limitations people have to adopting this tech.
“As is true with many other forms of digital technology, use of these devices varies substantially by socioeconomic factors,” said Emily Vogels, Pew research associate.
“Around three-in-ten Americans living in households earning $75,000 or more a year (31 percent) say they wear a smart watch or fitness tracker on a regular basis, compared with 12 percent of those whose annual household income falls below $30,000.”
Vogels also noted differences in terms of educational background. College graduates adopt wrist devices at higher rates than those who have a high school education or less.
Pew’s study focused on adoption of this tech or fitness, so it’s still unclear how many are actually using their wrist devices to communicate–with other human beings.
While we create and adopt tech from our science fiction past, it’s clear that we have yet to see its full potential. But based on our use of these new technologies, we’re getting closer to using it in way that would make Captain Kirk proud.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor of communication studies the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA where he also directs the graduate program in professional communication. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers on social media and society.