A Life Plugged In

We live in a digital age. Every person in my life above the age of 11 owns a smartphone. Many people own portable gaming devices, tablets, or laptops. In my immediate family, we have 4 Kindles, 2 Nintendo 2DSs, 2 Nintendo 3DSs, and 3 smartphones. And that’s just the portable entertainment.

I used to watch people go to dinner with their families and see kids with portable DVD players or a DS while parents were looking at their smartphones. I couldn’t understand why a family bothered to go out to eat together just to be so separate.

One of the recent times my family went out to dinner, my husband and I played Yahtzee on my phone, pass and play, while my children played Life on a gaming device supplied by the restaurant. I realized that we had become “that family.” The one I didn’t understand before. The odd part is that when we have dinner at home, I have a strict no electronics or toys at the table. Dinner around the table is a time for discussions and family connection.

I feel like so much of our time with friends and family is spent looking down at a screen instead of in another’s eyes. As a society, we now have a way to remain connected to friends and family and yet we’re becoming more disconnected from each other all of the time…

Wouldn’t it be nice if people started to recharge their relationships instead of their electronics?

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Made of Stars

One of my favorite shirts is a long sleeve purple shirt printed with golden words: “We are made of stars.” I also have it in light lavender thermal with white letters.

Evolution tells us that we all come from a common ancestor. By “we all,” I am not referring to human beings. I’m referring to all life on Earth. Genomic studies have shown that human beings share DNA with every living thing on the planet. Humans have DNA that is 85% similar to that of mice and 41% similar to bananas. BANANAS! That means that 41% of your genetic code is the same as a banana. How crazy is that?

It isn’t just that all life comes from a common ancestor either. All matter is a combination of atoms. In the early days of our universe, more like the early seconds after the big bang, it started cooling to a state that allowed subatomic particles to assemble into atoms. The atoms, namely hydrogen and helium, fused together over millions of years into stars. Through a long process that I won’t explain (I’m no Physicist), a star ages and goes supernova. It explodes. That exploded star travels through the universe and binds together in a new location, creating new stars and elements.

The human body is largely made up of water. Water is a combination of 2 hydrogen atoms and 1 oxygen atom. The atoms that make up every human being, every everything, come from stardust that traveled over billions of years through billions of light-years of space.

So, next time you look in the mirror and frown at some imperfection reflected back at you, remember a time when you stood beneath the night sky and marveled in awe as the stars twinkled in the universe’s inky black depths. Then tell yourself that those incredible celestial giants are the building blocks of all life on this crazy planet. If those stars can twinkle and shine with such awe-inspiring beauty, so can you.

Down She Goes

I am an expert faller. I could win medals for my falling prowess. It’s not that I do so gracefully. I mean, honestly, how does anyone fall gracefully? I’m convinced that those beautiful, ballerina-style swooners are faking it. No, there’s nothing graceful about watching me hit the floor. I just manage to crash to the carpet (or hardwood, concrete, tile, linoleum, etc.) with a certain style. “Why do you say that?” you may ask…. Well, I suppose it would be because people always tend to become somewhat dramatic around me when it occurs, so it must be quite a site to behold. If I had to guess as to why, I would assume it is because it’s never quite expected. Granted, I’m not speaking of my husband, children, parents, or other close family members. They’re used to it. No, it’s when I’m near people I don’t know that it becomes traumatic for them and humorous for me.

The thing is, if you don’t know me, I look remarkably healthy. I’m not too fat or too thin. I have a healthy, if somewhat pale (sunblock keeps away skin cancer and wrinkles), skin tone. There isn’t anything obvious about me that would indicate that I might hit the floor unexpectedly and that it would be a normal thing. I look like your average, everyday, 30-something woman.

So why do I create the occasional frenzy when I hit the pavement?

I have Narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is largely misunderstood. I don’t fall asleep and hit the floor in unconsciousness. Neither do the majority of actual people with Narcolepsy. Mr. Bean and that woman on Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo have the world fooled. I experience something that not all people with Narcolepsy have to deal with: cataplexy. I know what many are thinking, “Cata-whatsy?” Cataplexy… Not to be confused with catalepsy, the condition with which Madeline Usher suffered in Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher. There will be no burying me alive, thank you very much.

Cataplexy is sudden paralysis resulting from heightened emotion. So, the short explanation:

I’m walking along and someone jumps out in front of me, shouting “BOO!” Plop, down I go. (Haunted Houses are not my friend)

I’m arguing (lovingly and respectfully) with my husband and I’m rightfully angry and frustrated (because, of course, I’m right and he hasn’t yet realized it). Plop, down I go.

The children and I are playing and it becomes “TICKLE MOMMY” time. Plop, down I go.

Really, there isn’t any emotion that isn’t plop-worthy. Now, for the record, this doesn’t happen every time I get emotional. Thank you pharmaceutical manufacturers (even though you actually suck and charge far too much money, gouging patients for medications that cost pennies to manufacture and were once sold over-the-counter). It doesn’t even happen 50% of the time, anymore. But when it does happen, if it happens around someone new, I get to listen to the hysteria around me and witness the drama caused by my paralyzed body. That’s the key point. I’m fully conscious and aware, just paralyzed.

You can learn a lot about people when you experience this symptom. I’ve heard people talk badly about me, thinking I couldn’t hear them. I’ve heard genuine concern from people I thought didn’t know I existed. I’ve heard panic from the cool headed and calm from the usually emotional. I’ve heard 911 calls. I’ve heard jokes. I’ve heard, “Daddy, Mommy’s on the floor again!” yelled through the house in a simple demonstrative sentence, as if someone’s yelling, “Dinner’s on the table!”

The statements that always strike me as the most bizarre are the “I don’t know how she does it” or “That poor woman” or some other such comment. I’m not one to be pitied. I’m also not one to be admired. I just live my life. My life just includes the occasional plop.

An Ever Shrinking Planet

The world was once a vast place to live, taking weeks and longer to travel from one continent to another. When the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery left London to establish Jamestown, they took a circuitous route to guarantee favorable wind conditions and the trip took 144 days. 144 days to travel from London to Virginia! Today you manage a journey between the two in just over 8 hours. By the 1700s, journeys across the Atlantic took between 8 and 12 weeks. Since mail was transferred on the same ships that carried people, a letter sent from America to Europe would take at least 8 weeks to arrive. Today I can send an email or text message my friend in Europe and she’d receive it within moments.

Technology has made the world smaller. It is a miniature version of what it once was, figuratively speaking. Because of this, it is far more vital than ever to ensure that we are understanding and knowledgeable about the planet and its inhabitants.

Michio Kaku talks about types of Civilizations: Type I, Type II, and Type III. According to his classifications, Earth is a Type 0 Civilization. According to Kaku, a Type I Civilization is a planetary one which has complete control over its planet. Type II Civilizations have control over stars and Type III over galaxies.

To become a global planet, a Type I planet, we would need to learn to live as a global people. In the above video Kaku claims that “around the year 2100 we will become a Type I civilization.”

In order for this to occur, we need to overcome a great deal as human beings: cultural differences, religious differences, language barriers, etc. Translation technology has been advancing, which can help resolve language barriers. Do we need to adapt a single global language or is translation equipment enough? Can we overcome our cultural differences? Can we eliminate wars based on religion and politics? Are we capable of establishing a global economy?

In many science fiction stories, humans have achieved the advancement into a Type I Civilization. Although, in several, it was only with the help of extraterrestrials that we were capable of such a feat. In Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, it was the monolith which affected human evolution and pushed humanity into a new technological era. In Dawn by Octavia E. Butler, it was the Oankali, an extraterrestrial species that saved the inhabitants of Earth from global extinction, that attempt to push humanity into a new era via genetic merging and modification.

We do not have a monolith on the moon. There is no spacecraft containing a species of symbiotic extraterrestrials orbiting our planet. I’ve yet to see a TARDIS with the Doctor to perfect language translations. Without them, can we learn to coexist on this miniature planet? Will we destroy ourselves before we can advance into a planetary civilization? Can we learn to adapt to the changes that are necessary to evolve into the next version of ourselves?

A Lifelong Endeavor

There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born till the moment you die is a process of learning. Learning has no end and that is the timeless quality of learning. – Jiddu Krishnamurti

Many of my husband’s students often hear him say, “always keep your brain on.” This is a lesson we’d begun to share with our own children as they started growing, reading, and learning. Throughout my life people tended to tease me playfully because of my learning style in school. While other students crammed the night before a test or did their essay research whilst simultaneously writing their essays, that was never my style. I never wanted to memorize what was on a test. Passing wasn’t my ultimate goal throughout my life. A high GPA was only ever a bonus to the ultimate goal: learning.

My father once told me that the one thing I could give myself that no one could take away from me was an education. Knowledge. I took those words to heart. Life became a focus of soaking up as much information as possible. This was much more difficult in the days before the world-wide web. I once had to spend time in libraries to learn as much as I wished. Books became an obsession of mine as a result of this. The day my parents bought the entire A to Z 1997 Collier’s Encyclopedia was a joyous occasion for me!

Learning has become easier in today’s society. Knowledge is at everyone’s fingertips. Smartphones have made research a commonplace activity. Unfortunately, so many fail to utilize the power within their grasps. If we all focused on learning and education the way we should, as a species we would grow to understand each other more. Understanding historical and societal practices helps to develop tolerance and acceptance.

As a culture of individuals, one of the hardest concepts to overcome is that our way isn’t the only way. When the Europeans moved into the New World, European Christian ideals were pushed onto the native population. We are, historically, a command and conquer species, always convinced that our way of living is the best way of living. Here in the United States, we still enact such a way of life. The constant push between the Christian fundamentalists and the LGBT community, religious intolerance against Muslims, racial tensions… all of this stems down to the idea that there is only one way to live. What we need to do is learn from each other. Learn about each culture. Learn about each person. Perhaps if we spent more time learning, we’d have less time to judge and hate. If we bothered to research more fully into the ideas of others and, more importantly, into our own ideas we may find a much more common ground. We may even find that our own ideas are the problem! We need to approach life, society, politics, religion, and culture scientifically. We need to approach our own biases and preconceived notions even more scientifically.

I once watched  a documentary on particle physics. A physicist had spent his life researching and arguing on a specific scientific theory he’d developed. At a conference, his theory had been ripped to shreds and disproved. The physicist thanked those who disproved him. Thanked! He showed appreciation upon being informed that his life’s work was incorrect. If only we were able to approach politics, religion, and societal beliefs with the same objectivity, perhaps we’d be capable of learning to coexist happily.