I had a surprise phone call this morning, Sunday, 1 December 2019. It was from Jechaim, who is the brother of my son’s wife. He lives in Amsterdam, where he is fulfilling a lifetime passion and a dream. He recently opened a Baking Lab

History of the Baking Lab

Jechiam’s grandfather was a baker in Jerusalem, and he proudly displays the key from is ancestor’s business in the entrance of the shop. While baking is in his blood, the practice of this ancient art at Linnaeusstraat 99, is very different from the manner it was performed two generations ago.

Baking Bread Today

This unusual entrepreneur is also imbued with the qualities of both an artist and a scientist. His Baking Lab explores the baking of different types of bread. What he does is to take into account modern technology and combines it with ancient wisdom?

The baking of bread is a sensory experience. It involves the tactile sensations of stirring, mixing, kneading and pouring, added to those of smell, taste and vision. Together with his staff, which includes students studying technology at the local University, he is continuously exploring new techniques to enhance their production.

Of course, Jechaim’s scientific background is also relevant to his success. He knows all about the enzymes, the temperatures and other variables which affect the quality of the crust, the texture and the look.

This contemporary baker tells us that baking bread is, “not difficult, but neither is it a piece of cake!”

But Jechaim’s phone call was not to discuss his unique business, or the reason why he keeps Wild Turkeys as pets, but to condole with me on the loss of my ex-husband.

Offering Condolences

He wanted to know how his brother-in-law was coping with becoming the new head of the family on the loss of his father. And, how the extended family was dealing with the grieving process. He then moved on to explore my relationship with my Judaism. He had heard second or third hand about my unconventional upbringing and was curious to know how I related to my heritage at this stage.

Forging my Identity

I found myself telling him about how I was brought up in denial of my own identity. Our family had come to South Africa in 1947 after the conclusion of the Second World War. My father saw this move as an opportunity to allow me to live my life without the prejudices that have been projected onto Jews through the centuries. I was sent to a church school and was enrolled as a Unitarian.

This was confusing to me, and I had little opportunity to discover the rationale. If I questioned my father about the meaning of being a Jew, I was fobbed off with the instruction that, “I do not have to worry my pretty little head,” about such things. His methodology was for my own good; he tried to reassure me. This information was not very useful in terms of helping me to form my personal identity.

Table Tennis saved the Day

It was a sheer fluke that I became friendly with some Jewish girls during my university days. I became a member of the Table Tennis team at the University of Cape Town, and there I met Debbie. Debbie planned to go on a NUSAS (National Unions of South African Students) tour. This was a six week excursion attended by 60 students from different South African Universities. In 1956, we travelled for ten days by boat on the Athlone Castle to Britain, spent four weeks in England and Europe, then returned on the Union Castle Shipping Line back to Cape Town.

Meeting my Children’s father

It was on that trip I became friendly with Marion, so when the next question from Jechiam was about the manner in which I met my ex-husband, I told him the story of a dinner party. This was given by a couple who were friends of Marion. They knew Joe, a bachelor of 32, and wanted to fix her up with him. I was also invited to this dinner where we had some overcooked Spaghetti Bolognaise – I think we arrived late!

For some reason, Joe fancied me, instead of Marion. My mother told me a couple of days later that, “A guy phoned you. He said his name was Joe Smith, but I am not sure who he is!”

So that was the beginning of a very short romance. In answering Jechiam’s further questions, I was reminded that we met in April 1959, and were married in September of the same year. No long courtships. No living together. If a girl was not married in her early 20’s, then she was on the shelf in those days.

My Road to Embracing Judaism

Joe happened to be Jewish, so I started on the road to establishing my understanding of what it meant to be a Jew. I went the academic route by taking courses in Judaica with the University of South Africa, and a course in Hebrew with the University of Cape Town.

While bringing up my children, I was in the position to play an active role in Jewish organisations which cemented my journey into my Jewish roots.

Ten years after my marriage, I was the mother of four children. Today my two girls live in Cape Town. My eldest son (Jechaim’s brother-in-law) came from Amsterdam for the funeral, and my youngest son came with his wife and daughter from London to mourn the loss of their father.

Thanks, Jechaim for allowing me to review my road back to my Jewish roots.

 

Two days ago, I witnessed the death of the man with whom I have had the longest friendship in my life! I have known this man as a husband for 32 years, and as a friend, admirer and supporter for 28 years.

Joe passed away at the age of 94, and it is a source of much pleasure to his survivors that he lived a full and motivated lifestyle until the day he died. A retired General Practitioner, Joe had followed many different dietary regimes over the years. As medical knowledge increased and new theories of nutrition became public knowledge, so his eating patterns would change.

Dietary Regimes

In the early days of our marriage some sixty years ago, it was pilchards and sardines that formed a large part of his diet. Then came the days of a low salt regime. This was followed by a period of low fats and low carbohydrates. More recently, he explored the Banting Diet, and his latest routine was starvation! The past year Joe and his wife Felicity eat but one meal a day and that repast was in the evening. For the rest of the day, only fluids passed their lips.

Working Out

Not many people manifest more discipline than Joe did in his senior years. Until a couple of days before his sudden death, he was maintaining his routine of the past 50 years with a daily two hour workout at the local gym. He was the most senior member of Virgin Active who hosted his 90th birthday at the club as a tribute and gesture of admiration for their loyal client.

I well remember when we were still married and living in Parow in the northern suburbs of Cape Town, and the first Health Gymnasium opened on the Cape Town Foreshore. It involved a 25 minute drive from our home, and Joe together, with his friend Bill used to occupy their lunch hour with a work-out at Discovery Health. This regime was maintained until a couple of days ago.

Our Changed Relationship

I was privileged to share a very special relationship with my ex-husband. While our association as a married couple was characterised by some sense of competition when it came to my endeavours, as a friend, he was my most sincere admirer. He always encouraged me in my strange and varied missions! He was often the first to comment favourably on my blog posts and was always there to guide me in my numerous challenges, whether medical or personally motivated.

Trip to Amsterdam

Earlier this month the family was privileged to accompany Joe to Amsterdam where his thirteen year old grandson celebrated his Barmitzvah. He managed the flight, the social interactions as well as the loud music of the post Barmitzvah celebrations with good humour and aplomb. His family have been left with the fond memories of revelling in the achievements of a young man. We all danced and celebrated to mark this traditional milestone. As a raconteur, Joe did his bit by delivering a magnificent toast to Noam. A flawless tribute recounted without the use of notes.

Change in Sources of Information

During the last year of his life, Joe was challenged by deteriorating eye-sight. However, he did not allow this setback to cut him off from literature or contemporary ideas. By combining the resources of podcasts as well as using audio-books from the local library, he was able to maintain contact with both the news and the literature which were two of his lifetime interest. What might have been a setback became a further point of sharing for Joe and Felicity. Listening to audio-books became a combined activity, instead of the more traditional solo action of reading a paper book.

Regular Visits to the Library

Not only did Joe enjoy keeping up to date with local news, but he loved assisting friends and family members to pursue their interests. The local library allowed him to borrow ten books at a time. He was a regular visitor to the library and loved to take out books which addressed the interests of family members. He would pass on books about cooking to his daughters, advances in the social sciences to me, tomes on mountain climbing or cycling to his son in law.

More recently, when reading books requiring some concentration beyond his capacity, those books would be given to me to read. My job was to glean the essence of what was offered, and report back to him for discussion purposes.

Reajustment

I now have to become accustomed to living my life without the loyal and dedicated support of a man who always had my best interests at heart. I am grateful to have had this wonderful relationship for such a long time and am bracing myself to become more independent as I become accustomed to his absence. He will be missed not only by me but by his many friends and close family.

 

What is Generation Theory?

American research and literature have been including references to Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y and millennials for some time. Now the terms are starting to appear in the newspapers in South Africa. In the Cape Times of this morning, Wednesday 2nd October 2019, two articles suggest the public become aware of the influences underlying the habits, values and behaviours of the youngsters of today.

Mannheim’s Generation Theory regarding the influence of current events onyoung minds was brought to the consciousness of the West in the 1950’s.   He believes that significant events in the life of a young generation will be transformative as far as their values and lifestyle are concerned.

Boomer Generation

Thus the Boomer Generation, whose youth was dominated by the Second World War, has only known growing prosperity and a heightened standard of living. America witnessed tremendous economic growth in the decades following WW2. Increasing prosperity influenced the lifestyle of this generation. Children born during and shortly after WW2 were a generation who witnessed an age of growing consumption and wealth.

Millennials of Today

The present generation has been the first cohort to experience the move towards Minimalism. Vegan and vegetarian lifestyles are significant aspects of this new culture. They are eating patterns which help to preserve the resources of the earth while minimising CO2 emissions. The last couple of decades have witnessed the lowering of the standard of living from one generation to the next. This generation is the first one since WW2 in which children experience a lower standard of living than their parents.

Learning from Milennials

With this very brief introduction to Generational Theory, let us now examine “What millennials can teach us about office life!” They have shown us that you don’t need to be in the office from 9 – 5 to be effective. Workforces are becoming more versatile and flexible as technology allows one to conduct one’s business in cafes, trains and even during overseas vacations!

Many bloggers are grateful to be able to work from anywhere in the world. Travel does not challenge their regular flow of income.

Working from Home

When I hear about this concept of a continuous income, I recall reading Vance Packard many years ago. He predicted in the 1950s the introduction of Cottage Industry. Businesses being run from home, cutting out the need for travel and rental of office space. In those days, I remember thinking that sounded like a fanciful dream; however, today it is a reality.

The downside of being able to work from home wherever you may be, whatever the time, is there exists no downtime. Burnout, caused by the stress of being on call at all hours of the day, is a phenomenon of the past twenty odd years. Youngsters starting their careers are made aware of the necessity of time management. This has become an essential skill in order to include leisure and family time are not compromised and are part of the daily agenda.

The Millennials of today are aware of the dangers of being dominated by their careers and are making choices. They realise that the top salary may involve a sacrifice of their mental health and are choosing a lower salary which allows them a more flexible lifestyle

“Don’t let the old man in; Baby Boomers break the mould again.”

This is the title of the second article of this morning’s Cape Times describing changes in the business environment dictated by a generation of retiring boomers. Today retirement does not necessarily mean the end of the time when you earn some money. As Nelson Mandela said, “This is the second time I am retiring from retirement!”

Retirement Villages have become a popular way for boomers to spend their senior years. What is being advocated in this latest study is the potential for building new retirement villages. While most contemporary retirement developments have been built as sanctuaries for non-working people, changes will be needed in the next 20 years. Contemporary retirees are looking at lock-up-and-go lifestyles with facilities for maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle. This will require future facilities for seniors to conduct their life with high-speed internet facilities, exercise equipment and spaces to socialise and entertain.

Further suggestions for future developers of senior lifestyle facilities are offered. It is suggested that wheelchairs and nurses be kept discreetly in the background as residents sip their chardonnay on the patio!

My personal experience

The recent severe drought we experienced in Cape Town has ensured my generation is acutely aware of the potential of further water shortages in the future. We will never squander water in the way we have in the past. The idea of witnessing a dripping tap is an anathema. No longer do we wash our dishes more than once a day. We all cut down on the use of the washing machine. We know water is a precious commodity.

Today and the Senior Lifestyle

As senior citizens, we have the chance next week to acquaint ourselves with what we can do to save our planet from environmental pollution. Dynamic young women like Greta Thurnberg, who at the moment is favoured to win the Nobel Peace Prize, have made us aware of our responsibility to educate ourselves and others regarding the use of our natural resources. We must understand the impact our daily habits have on global warming. We may not be planning to visit America by yacht, rather than by flying, but we need to be controlling our waste and learning the art and science of recycling.

Let me suggest a good place to begin. A crucial online seminar is starting this month. I suggest you go to this link and sign up. I have confidence you will learn what needs to be done to save our planet from the irreversible damages of human ignorance and mal-practices.

A serendipitous viewing of this fascinating debate between Jonathan Sachs and Jonathan Haidt led me to pursue the evolving change in communication habits which influence our contemporary value systems.  The subject addressed by the two eloquent debaters examined the The Moral Dilemmas Created by Today’s Social Media.

Electronic Media

“Electronic media has not only linked us to many more people it has divorced verbal communication from human presence,” said Rabbi Sachs.   He went on to reference the anthropological work of Bronowski who did research with the Trobriand Islanders at the beginning of the 20th century.   His observation drew attention to the profound fact that islanders’ communication was more about bonding than the exchange of information.   An acute reminder of the change of emphasis found within today’s society often billed as the Information Age.

Tablet Magazine

Soon after watching this discussion, my inbox received further information from Tablet Magazine of Haidt’s work.   When listening to his discussion with Rabbi Sachs, I had assumed he was a moral philosopher.   However, I was soon to learn that he is not only an academic Social Psychologist but is very actively promoting the introspection of changing social norms which he considers a danger to western liberal thought.

I was fascinated to learn about the work he is doing on American University Campuses.   These are the very space which should be a bastion of free speech.  However, they very often become a place where visitors who promote unwelcome ideas are not allowed to express their views.

Asteroid Club

Have you heard of an Asteroid Club? Whether it is a friend with whom you have a clash of values, a co-worker who views life from a different perspective or a friend with a dissimilar viewpoint, membership of this club will guide you on how to go about creating a safe space for a positive discussion.   Meetings under the auspices of the Asteroid Club are conducted with specific guide lines.   The aim is to enrich one’s resources and perspectives on current controversial subjects be they politics, religion or sexual orientation.

Certain guidelines have been suggested to assist the discussion when people with varying outlooks engage in dialogue.   Members are made aware of the evolutionary predisposition of humanity to form groups of like minded people.   Contributors are made aware that the aim of the discussion is not to convert others to their side, but rather to widen their knowledge of different points of view

While this social experiment would start with a core group of 8 – 10 people who represent different viewpoints, as the group develops the numbers of participants may grow.   The discussants are encouraged to provide food and drink as a lubricant for social interactions.   So if you believe that civic discourse should be more open than it is today, you can form your own Asteroids Club!

Heterodox Academy

Another practical initiative initiated by Jonathan Haidt, is his Heterodox Academy which is a collaborative of more than 2500 professors, administrators and graduate students who are committed to promoting open inquiry, viewpoint diversity and constructive disagreement in institutions of higher learning.

It is felt that in many fields of research, important question and ideas may be overlooked because of the traditional perspective of that particular institution.   The academics who participate in the Heterodox Academy are attempting to regain the traditional open debate, which ideally should take place in any institution of higher learning.

Freedom of Expression

Many students on American university campuses complain today that they are frightened to make their voices heard, thus undermining the most essential raison d’etre of this learning establishment.   Even administrators and staff are censored regarding the views they can express.  The retention of viewpoint diversity needs to be strictly guarded at all institutions of higher learning

OpenMind

OpenMind is a psychology-based educational platform designed to depolarize campuses, companies, organizations, and communities. With this initiative, Haidt and his colleagues foster intellectual humility and mutual understanding.   At the same time, students are equipped with the essential cognitive skills to strengthen their ability to engage constructively across differences.

Concluding Thoughts

I have a strong belief that in everyday life the mutual exchange of opinions acts as an essential check on our own personal growth, ensuring we do not become entrenched in outmoded beliefs despite the changes taking place in the world around us.  We are helped to see things from the standpoint of the other, thus widening our vision.

An invitation

Do follow some of the links I have offered in this post, and let me know if you would like to be part of my forthcoming research community for Open Minded Seniors!

 

 

 

I spontaneously made a statement during our recent monthly Conscious Ageing Meeting.   This impulsive articulation of an inspirational hunch has resulted in my delving into a profound journey of research and meditation.   My suggestion.   At our next monthly meeting, we will feature the concept of Multiculturalism as a focal point for discussion.

Multiculturalism Defined

Multiculturalism can be defined as the doctrine that several different cultures (rather than one national culture) can coexist peacefully and equitably side by side in the same country

My motivation

My motivation for this topic was based on my semi-conscious feelings around the contemporary changing attitudes to the integration of different cultural and ethnic groups into mainstream society.   This hunch has verified by subsequent enquiry.    The concept seems to have become mainstream in the news of the past week.

Concerns world wide

Evidence from all over the world – be it the Americas, or Europe, or Africa or Australia; demonstrates controversy over the acculturation of immigrant groups. Should they be encouraged to foster their own unique identity, or should they be expected to integrate into the dominant culture of the country of their birth; the land of their adoption?

Israel

The first contribution to my thinking resulted from a report I received from a good friend in Israel, an experienced teacher of English as a foreign language in the south of the country.   It is in this region around the Negev Desert that the majority of Bedouin Arabs live.   I learned that during their primary and high school education, the Bedouins and Jewish populations in Israel go to schools devoted solely to their population group.   It is when they enter the stage of their tertiary education that Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs meet socially for the first time.  This new situation brings with it the challenges of adapting to people with a wide variety of social norms and cultural values.

South Africa

This knowledge led me to think about the educational system in South Africa. In the days of apartheid, there were schools for people of African Descent, of Mixed Race, and Asian parentage.   White children attended their schools devoted to their population group.   During the past 20 years, since the dismantling of the former political dispensation, schools in this country have become racially integrated.   While there have been some incidences of racism reported in schools during the transition; considering the rapidity of change, the new system is working amazingly well.

And, in my family

I am privileged to have an adopted Zulu grand-daughter who attends a multi-cultural Montessori school which enrols children from the total range of ethnic backgrounds resident in Cape Town.   This includes children of African parentage, Coloured children, Asian kids, young persons of mixed race and a sprinkling of Caucasians.   When I arrive to fetch my grand-daughter, I am greeted with the words, “Hallo Mishka’s granny.”   I find this salutation most appropriate!

Multicultural Song writer

Johnny Clegg died this week at the age of 66.   He was a great musician of Jewish descent who blended western music with that of the Zulus.   Johnny spent much of his childhood in the company of Zulu children and was enchanted by their music, dance and rhythm.

He was a dancer, anthropologist, singer, songwriter, academic, and activist.   Even these accolades fall short of describing the energetic, passionate man who had become one of South Africa’s greatest musical exports.   He acted as a cultural ambassador for South Africa by combining western and Zulu tradition in his well know band Jaluka.   Listen to his music here

End of Apartheid

The end of Apartheid in South Africa coincided with my entry into a franchise business which allowed me to engage in teaching computer skills to children.   It was a great source of satisfaction to me, and a novelty at the time, that I could market our educational opportunities to all population groups.   Some of our best customers were children who would have been prohibited from utilising our services a few years previously.

Putting it all together!

Whilst ideologically the concept of a multicultural society appeals to me, it seems that there are many problems when immigrants are allowed to maintain the customs of their motherland.  From the wearing of different apparel, the practice of different cultural norms and the adherence to different value systems; there may be many conflicts of interest.

A high-profile historian Geoffrey Blainey first achieved mainstream recognition for the anti-multiculturalist cause when he wrote that Multiculturalism threatened to transform Australia into a “cluster of tribes”.  He criticised Multiculturalism for tending to “emphasise the rights of ethnic minorities at the expense of the majority of Australians”.

Major News Story

At the present moment, we have President Trump continuously in the news regarding his policies on the Mexican border.   He has been suggesting the four Democratic women who are criticising his policies should, “Go back to your own country, and fix the crime infested places from which you came.”  This is even though three of them were born in America, and the fourth is a naturalised citizen.

These comments have led to a tremendous backlash with views on slavery, the holocaust and other historical forms of exclusion are emerging to the forefront of political discourse.

What do you think?

If you do not favour Multiculturalism, does that mean you are a racist?   It seems to me that some balance needs to be found between retaining one’s personal identity, and adopting the customs of the major cultural group in our country of residence.

Your thoughts would be welcome in the Comments section of this blog post.

 

 

My friend Geraldine recently celebrated her 83rd birthday.  I phoned to congratulate her on reaching this milestone. In the past, she has invited her friends for a morning tea to celebrate this annual event, but having recently moved to a new senior residence she has abandoned this routine. We resorted to having a chat on the phone.

Catching up

We were discussing our friendship of the past 40 odd years.  We met many years ago at an Easter camp that was run by our local hiking club.  We travelled together to the Alps on a two week hiking tour in Austria.   We reminisced about the many local trails we had hiked together.  We had spent a month in Israel, where we participated in special volunteer program.   In this program, people living in the diaspora can spend three weeks on an Israeli Army Base getting to know the country and its people.   Simultaneously they work as temporary members of the Israeli Defence Force, thus playing a small part in the country’s security.

Changing Technology

Geraldine was telling me that despite the fact that she is considered one of the most technologically sophisticated in her Residential Home she was really put out when visiting her son in America.   She does her own internet banking, and regularly uses an ATM.  However she was unable to begin to master the new systems she found in the States when she visited her son last year.  She expressed her feelings of unfairness.  She wanted to put a new app on her 5 year old ipad but was unable to download the software to her out of date device.  Her laptop of 10 years is unable to cope with the latest upgrades.  “It’s not fair,” she proclaimed, “How do they expect people like me to manage if they keep changing these things?”

Into the Future

If this is how an 83 year old is feeling in 2019, then how are people of a similar age going to feel 30 years from now?  By that time, technology will be changing even faster than today.  Each year the speed of change in the field of communications is accelerated.  I feel that people who are about to retire need to retain their capacity to keep up with the ever changing demands of technology.  Senior people need to maintain a positive attitude to learning new concepts.    The should be aware that our previous skills sets will not equip us for the future environment.

And, Another Friend

I was chatting to another friend who is a retired librarian.  She has a wide knowledge of literature and has been a leader in her local book club for many years.  When I saw Maria recently, I asked her what she was finding interesting in the contemporary world of literature.   I enquired whether she was enjoying an author whom I admire. “Oh yes,” of course,” she responded when I questioned her on the work of Yuval Noah Harari, “I have read all his books, although I did find his second one Homo Deus somewhat challenging.”  I decided to follow up with, “And, do you maybe read the blogs of Maria Popova.  She is someone whose work I respect. She has the ability to synthesise knowledge on such a wide range of contemporary psychological and philosophical issues.”   “No,” she said, somewhat condescendingly, “I do not have enough time to read blogs.”   “Oh dear,” I thought, “It is clear we have some different values regarding the source of useful information.”

The Implications

I see an interesting parallel.   Some people live in a country and never learn the primary official language of their adopted home.   Then, others have a negative attitude toward technological change.

We are not all going to be using all the opportunities presented by social media, or all the potential apps which are available for download.  However, I do consider it a disadvantage to cut oneself off from the reading of all the personal, anecdotal, and contemporary perspectives to be discovered by reading blogs.

My Potential Contribution

I am working hard to develop an online course specifically targeting people nearing their retirement.  I plan to share some of the habits I have been practising for most of my life.

Physical well-being

Not just the benefits of daily and ongoing exercise, but the necessity of developing a routine that includes both walking and more robust activities.  I believe potential retirees need to continue to learn new skills.  They should continuously set themselves everyday cognitive challenges.   They need to be in a position to take advantages of the fresh possibilities which become available.

Cognitive well-being

An awareness of the many ways to keep the mind active will become critically relevant.  Watching passive entertainment on the TV screen or playing games on the phone do not qualify.

Emotional well-being

Furthermore, I believe an ability to practice the techniques of mindfulness and meditation have become a pre-requisite for maintaining emotional equilibrium. These skills assist us in processing new experiences, objectively and healthily.   Allow us to develop our emotional resilience.

My hope

I hope you will be following me as I develop my online course and share my life experiences.   I aim to retain my curiosity as an octogenarian who remains intrigued by the up-to-the-minute opportunities which become available day by day.

 

Intelligence Squared is considered the world’s leading forum for online debate and intelligent discussion.  This medium recently staged a lively discussion around the role that Facebook plays in influencing public opinion.    Two contriubtors spoke in favour of the motion “Is Facebook Damaging Society” and two people spoke against the it.

Let’s think about this topic

How much thought have you given to the role that Facebook is playing in influencing society today?   My belief is that the results of recent elections has demonstrated the powerful role played by this social medium in influencing public opinion

Writing in July 2019 my hunch is that the election of  Donald Trump as well as the Brexit vote, both of which took place in 2016, were heavily influenced by information gleaned from Facebook accounts.    Potential swing voters were identified by an analysis of personal information accumulated by a custom built app.   The information gleaned was passed on to those with the capacity to target the relevant individuals, thus influencing their voting behaviour.

The Good and the not so Good

Having just listened to this online debate hosted by Intelligence Squared I have become even more aware of the potential of Facebook’s power for both good and evil.   How do we control this monolith so that its capacity to educate, to stimulate business growth and to connect people can be encouraged?   Whilst malevolent information gathering can be controlled.    Some measures need to be established to prevent data accumulated from Facebook profiles being used to manipulate public opinion for the nefarious ends of malign forces.

Following Trump’s Election

The enquires necessitated by the election of the Trump presidency has established the need for some serious monitoring systems to guide the use of personal data.  Some changes have already been implemented.   Many thousands of employees have been taken on by Facebook to monitor every contribution made minute by minute on its site.   Enormous teams have been assembled to peruse every new post in a multiplicity of the world’s languages.   A team of 30 000 employees are checking every fresh contribution made on the Facebook site to ensure it obeys the implementation of new rules.  Mark Zuckerberg has been receptive to the backlash of public opinion and has agreed to play a major role in monitoring all postings.

Is an Ethical Code Possible?

I am asking myself whether it is possible to determine an ethical code around monitoring the 2.2 billion users of Facebook.    How can we possibly delineate criteria for judging items of potential erosion of values, or provocative interpretations?    Is it possible to find an ethics committee to agree on the criteria for what is and what is not moral and ethical?

The power of Facebook

Have you ever ruminated on the power and responsibilities of Mark Zuckerberg?  In the entire history of mankind, has there ever been an individual as powerful as this man?    The Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, and the Kings of Colonial Constituencies were not able to spread information, garner opinions and influence the masses of people in the powerful manner in which Facebook can manipulate its followers today.

There are more Facebook users than there are Christians living in the World.   In fact in some sectors of society the term Facebook is used as a synonym for the Internet.

A Monitoring Board has been proposed

It seems that Zuckerberg and his Facebook acolytes have been made aware that a monitoring system is essential if public faith in their product is to be maintained.     Suggestions around creating a new board of 40 members to adjudicate published information has been mooted.   This board has been likened to the Supreme Court of Justice

Whether or not this analogy is realistic is doubtful.   The Supreme Court monitors the behaviour of 364 million people living in the USA.   Facebook will have to oversee the data of 2.2 billion people living in countries all around the world.

Positive Research Potential

There is a potential for scientific progress in the understanding of human motivation offered by the rich sets of data recorded by Facebook.  The masses of personal information collected could be a force for some exciting new types of research into human behaviour.   There is a growing body of research from a wide range of different disciplines like psychology, sociology and social anthropology which are now deriving useful information from social networks.  The potential of this wide range of opportunities is yet to be evaluated, but the prospect of enriching our understanding of human behaviour is exciting.   Data is a powerful new tool for the development of specialised scientific concepts within the field of the Social Sciences.

Let us hope that the tremendous potential of modern scientific techniques can be utilised for the betterment of society, rather than the blind manipulation of Facebook users.

To listen to the debate you can go here

 

 

I had a new experience today.    Sarah McKay teaches online courses about Neuroscience.   As a past student I was invited to a zoom meeting to share my experiences in applying her teachings in the work environment..

In these an online courses Sarah teaches coaches the basic neurological principles behind behaviour change.   Once the students have acquired this knowledge, the coaches are empowered to motivate their clients by sharing with them the underlying psychological and neurological principles of behaviour change.   You can read about the course here

What is a Zoom Meeting

I am not going to presume that all my readers are familiar with what a zoom meeting is all about.   Those of you who are familiar with the concept and the experience can skip the next paragraph!

A Zoom meeting  is held on the internet.   The initiator invites participants to join the meeting by sending an online email link together with the date and time of the proposed gathering.   If recipients wish to join the meeting, they do not need to reply, they merely note the time and date and log in at the appropriate instant.   Meetings can be held with just two people, or with scores of participants.

Today’s Meeting

It was 8 o’clock in the morning for me in South Africa.   For Sarah in Australia, it was just getting dark.  Online were two women from Belgium, which is more or less my time zone!

Contributions from Belguim

One of the ladies from Belgium was a teacher trying to revolutionise the conservative schooling system in Brussels.   When I heard about her ambitions and her progressive ideas, I was able to suggest that she takes a look at Ken Robinson’s TED talk.   Here is a brilliant presentation by Ken on bringing creativity into the school curriculum.   It has had over 3 million views:

Ingrid lives in Belgium.  She spoke about the work she does with Ear Acupuncture and the healing of emotional trauma.   She told us how she applied needles in the ear, which enables her to help her patients reduce anger, anxiety and trauma.

Amrish from India

Amrith from India was the next person to introduce himself when he came online during his lunch break.   He had completed Sarah’s course many years ago but still remained in touch with the teacher who had enriched his practice of alternative therapy.   He was impressive in describing the relief he had given to his clients who suffered from both physical and emotional challenges.

Grace from South Africa

Of course, I was also given the opportunity to share my shenanigans with the assembled participants in the Zoom Room.   I recounted my experiences with facilitating Couscous Ageing for Seniors.   In these 2 hour discussion groups, participants are made aware of the neurological background of the ageing process.  This knowledge and understanding help them devise a methodology for maintaining and building their cognitive reserve.   The non-negotiable importance of the maintenance of  physical fitness is emphasised.  In addition, techniques for building emotional resilience form a large part of the discussion.

Sarah’s Contribution

Sarah shared with us some of her accumulated wisdom.   She had been participating in an Australian TV program in which Octogenarians and Nonagenarians were being interviewed.   This series aimed to glean information about successful ageing.   Emerging from her experience with this group, Sarah suggested that a mind of curiosity may be the critical quality that helps those in the latter decades of their life remain involved and committed in the ever changing contemporary environment.

Striking a receptive chord.

I agreed with her hypothesis.   I have always taken pride in my belief that curiosity is one of my positive characteristics.    Sarah jogged my memory when she made this comment.

Photocopying was the latest in technology then

I recalled the era when photocopying machines first arrived.   I had taken my notes to a photocopy shop to have the minutes of the school committee meeting printed for the attendees, and I wondered, why does the assistant not ask me what my material is all about.    Is he not interested in what I am copying? My curious mind would continue, “If I were an assistant doing his job, I would want to know what is written on the page as well as the reason the customer needing this material.”

I had never seen a computer screen

Another early memory popped into my mind.   I recalled going to reserve a long distance bus ride from Cape Town to Johannesburg.   It was at the time when businesses were just starting to use computers to enhance their services.  My curiosity was aroused.  I wanted to view the screen.  However, all I could see was the back of the monitor. I had never even had sight of a computer screen and could only imagine what the assistant was viewing.   I can still sense my frustration, my curiosity was not satisfied.   I could not have sight of the screen.

Where is my curiosity taking me?

You may consider the above examples somewhat trivial.   But I am curious, and that is why I am starting to explore the methodology of sharing my accumulated knowledge and life experiences with online learners.

The latest initiative

I am planning to complement the face to face monthly meetings I have been running for the past 12 years, with some opportunities offered by current technology in the form of online tuition and zoom meetings!  I plan to offer guidance and advice to those in the middle years about a lifestyle which will allow them to build cognitive reserve, maintain their physical fitness and develop their resilience for coping with the emotional challenges of their life.

I need your help!

Anyone who is reading this blog and has an idea what they might like to learn within my area of expertise is welcome to place suggestions in the Comment Box.    I would love to hear from you!

 

 

Do you remember when you had  to “Keep up with the Joneses?”  It was a serious challenge during the early years of my marriage when the lifestyle of Minimalism had not yet entered the psyche of my cultural group.

Today we need to keep up with technology, a challenge which sadly can only be approximated.   To remain in touch with the consistent developments and changes even in one’s own niche, be it business, the professions, or technology, is indeed a full time job in itself.

Introducing the Screenome

I was fascinated to learn two related new words which have now filtered into our contemporary language.   For sometime I have been familiar with the concept of the genome which describes the individual set of chromosomes possessed by each individual.    And now, this word has morphed into a Screenome.   (At this moment I note that my computer software is telling me that Screenome is misspelt!)

Screenomics

Screenomics describes the individual activities of any one person which may be recorded on the multiple screens on which he or she has worked during the day.

Researchers analysed the screenshots taken every few minutes, from several dozen people who had consented to such recordings. These threads showed that “people switched from one screen activity to another continually, every 20 seconds on average, and rarely spent more than 20 minutes uninterrupted on any one activity, even a full length movie.”

Applications

Doing some research, I have just learned I can subscribe to a service which will analyse my screen time.   I gather this software would be used in a business environment.  It would allow an employer to scan the activities of his employee and note precisely what he has been doing with his time.   George Orwell’s prognostications of Big Brother seem to have arrived.

An interesting article in the New York Times entitled “‘Screen Time’ is over”.    Here is a link:  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/31/health/screen-time-mental-health-screenome.html   It describes the challenges of interpreting research in this area.   There is an inherent problem to this type of investigation because of the difficulty of finding a control group.  Where can you find a group of educated people who do not use (and abuse) screen time?

My own Screen

Internet searches

I decided to do a little bit of research on my own screen usage and have calculated that I browsed 123 websites yesterday.   I have not done an analysis of these sites.    I have not calculated whether these links tied up with my interest in mindfulness, or meditation, or politics, or ageing well, or cognitive decline, or neuroplasticity, or cognitive reserve.

Incoming emails

However, what I have done is an analysis of the 61 emails I received yesterday.   It is staggering to realise that 36 of these incoming emails were on topics related to self-improvement.   It does sound like a bit of an obsession when evaluated by this methodology.  Within this category, 10 were offers were related to the improvement of my Writing Skills, and 15 on what I will term Lifestyle improvement.    The remaining groups were information on Neuroscience, Coaching, Mindfulness, Ageing and Politics.

Opportunities for self-analysis

I have often been asked by acquaintances how I spend my time on the computer.   In the past, I have not been able to answer them.   Now, I have some hard insights into my own behaviour!

This indeed has come as quite a revelation.   It has given helped me to understand myself better!   I knew I had a high degree of curiosity, was always looking for opportunities to increase my knowledge in areas of interest.  However, to learn, I had actually received 36 opportunities in one day to raise my awareness in topics of interest comes as a fascinating and insightful discovery!

Earning Potential

While I am somewhat ambiguous about how I can derive an income on the internet, the temptation is there.   Eight of the incoming emails were offerings of information on how I can monetise my blog going forward.    In investigating this area of earning, I have been amazed to discover how much money is made by those who have mastered the techniques of deriving a passive income stream from ongoing internet offerings.

The remaining incoming emails I classified as Jewish Interest, Existential Threats, Bridge, Politics, General Interest and Social Media.

Human behaviour and Research

Since my study of Psychology in the 1950s, I have always been fascinated by the scientific methodology of research in this field.   Intelligence testing was the first human capacity to receive scientific validations with Binet’s work in 1904 as the creator of the first IQ Test.   Subsequently, tests of personality and emotional intelligence have become essential tools for selection in the army, the police force and private industry.    Following on further human characteristics have been measured and include artistic ability, spiritual quotients, and mindfulness; as well as many tests of the sensory modalities of sight and hearing.   And now we have screenomics!

How would you feel if your boss was able to measure your screenome?

 

Some problems mankind has had to cope with since time immemorial, including famine, plague and sickness.   Yuval Harari in Homo Deus argues coherently from this premise.   However in his recent book, The Better Angels of our Nature, Steven Pinker eloquently describes the comparatively peaceful times in which we live in the 21st century.   Per capita, there are fewer threats to personal well being than have ever existed in the past.

Indeed, I have personally been influenced positively by Pinker’s arguments, and have taken much comfort from his detailed comparative analysis of the eradication of famine as well as the reduction in conflict at the present time.    Plague has been eliminated except for minor intermittent episodes.

Today’s Challenges

However, there are two existential challenges around today which need to be on the conscience of all grandparents – the problems created by plastic pollution and the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere.

This morning I attended a lecture by Professor Peter Ryan who is involved with the Fitzpatrick Institue of Research at the University of Cape Town.   He offered us a vivid picture of the research that he has done whilst supervising both masters and doctoral students.

He cut an elegant figure as he took the stage for his presentation.   Whilst his feet were bare, his nicely-fitting t-shirt together with causal draw-string pants, created an apt image of minimalism for a man talking about plastic pollution!

I found his opening comments alerted my attention when he announced to the audience, “What you are about to hear may well be different to what you expected!”

Plastic Pollution

Peter shared with us the fact he had been playing with plastic for a long time.   He illustrated and endorsed this statement as he went into the history of the aggregation of plastic waste and his team’s efforts to control it.  He has been actively researching  the damage that plastic pollution has created since it’s introduction in the early 1960s

Yes, I was born into an era before plastics were developed.  We managed with paper packets in my youth.   I  recall that when plastic bags first became part of our shopping experience, we would wash them out after the first use, and reuse them multiple times.  Maybe that is something we should think about doing once again!

A time before Pollution!

I also recall the first time I ever heard the word ‘pollution.’   It must have been the late sixties when my children were in conversation with some American youngsters who had accompanied their parents on a sabbatical to this country from Philadelphia in the USA

“You know,” they said, “you should not throw things out of your car as that will cause pollution!”   At that time pollution was not part of my everyday vocabulary.  So this concept came as quite a shock to me.   Can anyone remember when we actually did throw things out of the car window when disposing of waste matter?

Plastics

Professor Ryan showed us some haunting pictures of dead sea birds photographed adjacent to a range of plastic objects.   This matter had been found in the stomachs of dead birds which had been washed ashore.  Often scores of bottle tops and assorted materials were part of the collection of man-made products retrieved from these deceased birds.

Other photos of sea creatures enmeshed in plastic string or netting forced me to contemplate the agonies experienced by sea animals due to mankind’s inability to dispose of his waste in a manner which was respectful of the natural habitat.

It would be difficult to live without plastic wrapping today.   One of its main benefits is its ability to preserve certain foods.  It is cheaper than glass to manufacture.  Without plastic, the production of fruit and vegetables would need to be increased putting further strain on the earth’s resources.

Carbon Emissions

The surprise came when after presenting such startling evidence of the damage plastic has created to our oceans and our sea animals, Professor Ryan went on to let us know that a different man-made problem was even more worrying.   He reminded the audience that we may have already passed the time of no return due to the pumping of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.   Many authorities believe that the melting of icebergs, the consequent rising of the oceans, the floods and droughts affecting more and more parts of the world, are all the irreversible symptoms of a dire future for the inhabitants of planet earth.

Youth Activism

Greta Thurnberg at age 16 has made a name for herself internationally for castigating political leaders for neglecting to pass legislation limiting the emission of noxious gasses.   Due to her leadership, 1.66 million people in 133 countries participated in demonstrations in major cities around the world earlier this year.   Their aim was to urge the world’s leaders to take the needs of future generations into account when making political decisions.

Senior Activism

Have you thought about what you would like to do to ensure that your descendants enjoy the earth’s natural resources as much as you do?     Will your grandchildren be able to enjoy nature walks, mountain climbs and beach strolls in an unpolluted environment?

Maybe you would like to make some suggestions about practical steps which could be undertaken by senior people.     The Comment Box below is awaiting your contribution.