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The technological magic that unleashed the best of you


Last week, our On Tech editor Hanna Ingber shared a story of her son stumbling upon a design app that unlocked his incredible taste in interiors. We asked for your own stories of surprising ways technology has helped you unleash creativity or discover new joys.

Guys (sniff), the responses were lovely. Today we share a selection of them.

The mission here at On Tech is to explore the ways that technology is changing the way we live, who we are, and the world around us. We can’t ignore the harmful effects, but I don’t want us to lose sight of the wonder either.

How cool is it that we can share knowledge gained online with a parent or easily swap songs from our favorite decade? Also, BIRDS! Birds are great. Here are edited excerpts of what some On Tech readers had to say:

Enjoying the magic of birds during a daily task:

My morning walk up the driveway to retrieve the newspaper has been transformed by the Merlin Bird ID App.

A daily task has become a joy. Now, instead of ignoring the sounds around me, I can focus and identify the bird calls I hear. The birds vary with their seasonal migration patterns, so the sounds are constantly changing. It has become a kind of meditation.

Ann McLaughlin, Carmel, California.

Linking over playlists:

Sharing music and playlists on Spotify with my kids has been a great connection. They can hear the music I grew up with and I can hear the latest thing they’re listening to. Surprisingly, we hear a lot of the same music, old and new. Much easier than creating mixtapes.

They’re 17 and 18 now, but we’ve been doing this since they were around 13, ages when it can be hard for parents to find ways to connect with their teens.

Jason, Corvallis, Ore.

Taking the pressure off perfection:

I was one of those kids who could never peel a sticker off right away. I always had to wait a couple of moments, or even days, before deciding that my decal would stay at home forever. Also, I was hesitant to sharpen new pencils unless absolutely necessary, reserving my markers for only the most important drawings.

You would never find quick doodles in my sketchbooks, because I put them aside until I was ready with a complete vision. I always collected and saved these items for a special day or a big idea and ultimately my stickers got wrinkled, my markers dried up and my sketchbooks joined another pile of unused and unloved things.

And then I got an iPad as a graduation present. I discovered the wonder of drawing, taking notes, doodling and coloring, all digitally.

I had an endless supply of decals at my disposal, which could be picked up and replaced at any time. I found infinite colors and combinations.

Soon, I found myself writing journal entries, experimenting with digital scrapbooking, and keeping memories all in one place. If I made a mistake, I could immediately clean it up with a virtual eraser. I could adjust stickers and letters to my heart’s content. My iPad became an outlet to do whatever I wanted, without fear of making a wrong move.

Sydney Lin, a sophomore at Vanderbilt University majoring in civil engineering

Educating Dad on DIY Repairs:

Years ago, my pre-teen son saw my mounting frustration as he tried unsuccessfully to fit a new blade to the lawn mower. I assumed he was bored when he came back to the house. Instead, he was watching YouTube on his mother’s iPad.

A few minutes later, he came out and quietly asked, “Can I try?” She accomplished in less than a minute what I had been trying for half an hour. Up until that point, I thought YouTube was for cat videos.

This is the same kid who taught himself to play his new ukulele on YouTube, along with many other unexpected skills.

Doug McDurham, Waco, Texas

Classroom learning transformed by audio production:

I’ve found that introducing students to podcasting opens new doors.

Students who were reluctant to participate in classroom discussions took the opportunity to share their ideas on topics that interested them or investigate new topics. Students chose from three formats for their podcasts: narration, interview, and research. Few, if any, projects have ever offered this kind of freedom.

Although video apps have been around for some time, the freedom to record just your voice was liberating. They didn’t have to worry about how they appeared on camera: they could convey their thoughts and ideas only through voice. The groups were able to share audio files and simultaneously edit them to create a final product. What was once a class report has been redefined.

Lisa Dabel, a fifth grade teacher in San Jose, California.

Opera, not so intimidating after all:

For most of my life, I respected opera as an art form that required incredible levels of training and discipline. But, as far as I’m concerned, it wasn’t for me.

Sometime in late March or early April 2020, some friends told us about the Metropolitan Opera’s recordings of their past opera performances, free of charge, a new one each day, via the website and app. of the company. Within days, we had a new nightly routine: eat dinner, read for an hour, and then sit down to watch an opera.

In a matter of weeks, we had begun to learn the names and styles of some of the major opera artists. In a matter of months, we had learned about the technical details of operatic music, vocal training, set and costume design, and had formed preferences regarding composers. (Sorry, folks: Wagner, no; Glass, yes.)

We reflect deeply on the conflicts that arise when old flawed beliefs (misogyny, racism, etc.) embodied in “the canon” are met with diverse casting options and new ways of thinking. We were exposed to modern composers and librettists who challenged our assumptions about melody, story construction and plot, character development, etc.

Who knew there was so much to discover about such a venerable art form? I certainly didn’t, and I am so happy that technology has brought opera into our homes and lives.

David Moore, Sequim, Washington.

The Met Opera has ended its nightly broadcasts, but you can now watch and listen to past performances on the Met Opera on Demand online streaming service, which offers a free trial period.


tip of the week

Brian X ChenThe New York Times consumer technology columnist, co-wrote a Article this week about digital breadcrumbs that could reveal personal details about people seeking abortions. Brian is here with tips for pulling information from Google, which has digital databases on just about everyone.

Google said this month that it would automatically remove location data when people visited places considered sensitive, such as abortion clinics and addiction treatment centers. For example, if you set a destination on Google Maps as “Planned Parenthood” or “Alcoholics Anonymous,” the company will remove those entries.

Google’s critics said the company could have also erased records of other types of location data, such as GPS coordinates and route information, but didn’t. (Google declined to comment.)

But you can take some control over how Google retains data about you. I wrote a column a few years ago explaining how to use Google’s automatic deletion controls, which include settings to delete location and web search logs after a certain amount of time. Tips are worth checking out.

Here is an example of how to adjust the location data settings:

  • In the Google My Activity tool, located at myactivity.google.comclick Activity Controls, scroll to Location History, and click Manage History.

    On the next page, look for the walnut-shaped icon, and then click Automatically delete location history. You can set the data to be deleted after three months or 18 months.

  • For those who don’t want Google to create a record of their location history, there’s an option for that too. On the My Activity page, click Activity Controls, scroll to Location History, and turn the switch to the off position.

  • Amazon tells regulators it can change: To try to end a three-year antitrust investigation in Europe, Amazon has offered to stop collecting non-public sales data on independent merchants who sell through Amazon and allow them to sell through the Prime program without using Amazon fulfillment services. . My colleague Adam Satariano reported on Amazon’s proposals and why Europe has become the center of big tech scrutiny.

  • Human trafficking behind online fraud scams: Vice News reported that online schemes that offer business or romantic partnerships as a pretext to extort money from victims sometimes come from industrial-scale scam centers in Southeast Asia that imprison and abuse workers.

    More: Nikkei Asia wrote last year on ill-treated workers in Cambodia’s online gambling and fraud operations.

  • Instagram has many features: It’s a place to see what friends are up to, to watch short videos of strangers, to buy NFTs or items sold by influencers, to message others, and possibly soon to write notes (for some reason). The Garbage Day newsletter wrote that Instagram is a “app that no longer knows what it’s supposed to be.”

    On Tech related: What is Facebook? Another Meta overloaded app!

lemurs! licking honey! Of fruit! These little guys really know how to enjoy their treats.


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