Wednesday, September 26, 2012

While you Were Out

As an early adopter of email (seriously early -- early like "what is email?" early), an avid IMer, and an enthusiastic SMSer, I luxuriate in the certain knowledge that anyone who needs to contact me can do it.  When I walk away from my (primary) computer, my phone provides this certainty, allowing me to leave home without that nagging feeling -- remember those days? -- that someone might call, write or text and I might miss it.

You youngers don't realize what it was like with phones attached to walls. Before answering machines and voice mail when you missed a call it was missed forever.  No caller ID, no call-back, no clue. Tough.

I remember hearing the phone ring through the door, struggling with the key to get the door open, and diving for the damned thing only to have it stop.

"Hello? Hello?"

Then hours of wondering who it might have been. How your life might have been different if only you'd come home a few seconds earlier.

You start calling people. "Hey, did you just call?  No? Oh, okay. Fine. You?"

Along came answering machines. Along came the Internet. Along came cell phones. Now my cell phone *is* the internet. And everything else, too.

I can glance at my phone and know, without question, that no one called, wrote, texted, tweeted, or facebooked me.

Finally, I have certainty. It's like being free, only a lot noisier.

And then I went camping in the Mojave desert. No cell towers. No internet. Completely cut off from email, voice, SMS.

Wow.  Serious wow.

If someone needed me, they would have to wait.  Think about it: if it's not important, it can wait. If it is important, it still has to wait.

For a handful of days I traded that certainty for a smoky, crackling fire, the coyote pack over the rise, nights of relentless cricket serenades, and a sliver of moon in a white river of star-drenched sky.

Something interesting happened: I had silence. Beautiful, exquisite, deep silence. No phone, no voices, no words.  No noise.

I've heard about people choosing to take a night a week internet-free to reconnect to what it is to not be connected. But there is a huge difference between trying to stay away from the net and phones -- the lines of chatter -- and being forced to.

While I was out I also gained a fine appreciation for the luxury of running water. Add to the list: shelter, soap, privacy. We don't need these things, and they are indeed luxuries.

I've been to the desert.  It was, truly, a whole other sort of luxury to be there.

Ah, the quiet. It didn't feel like I was out at all.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Dance is Brain Food

A 21-year long study in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that dancing increases cognitive acuity. Significantly more than crossword puzzles. The article is nicely summarized here, on the Stanford social dance site.

Not just any kind of dancing, either. It has to be the kind that requires improvisational work, the styles that require you to make lots of decisions on a split-second basis.

And mostly women benefit.  Why? You probably know that most partner dancing is pretty sexist. Men are expected to "lead" and women are expect to "follow".  I put those words in quotes because there are no really good words describing what those two roles are doing.

The lead -- usually the man -- does what? Directs? Orients? Maybe invites. Offers an idea about how to understand the music with this particular partner.

The follow -- usually the woman -- does what?  Not just does what she's told, that's for sure. Responds? Interprets. The follow interprets the dance based on the music and the guy in front of her.

Now because, as the article says, follows typically make "hundreds of split-second decisions as to what to do next", they gain the most cognitive exercise from dance.  The leads don't have to respond or interpret nearly as often, so they gain less.

In dances like Argentine Tango and Blues and Fusion, where each led movement can have dozens of subtle implications requiring immediate and complicated follow decisions, the cognitive workout is significant.

The article suggests ways leads can improve their cognitive workout. They suggest the lead really notice the subtleties of their partner's actions and respond in real-time, rather than following a pattern.

That is, pay attention. That is, watch and listen.

Hey leads, are you listening now?  Maybe it's a good time to start. Do it for your brain.