Sunday, February 24, 2013

Listen Up!

I'm not a techno maven, so please forgive my self-congratulation and delight at having figured out how to download digital audio titles (and eBooks) to my iPhone...from the Public Library.

Is that great, or what?

I don't have a tablet at the moment (lost my Kindle & am obsessing about alternatives.  Thinking Galaxy Notebook? Mostly an Apple family, so wanted to try something else). So I am mostly focused on audio right now. Love the idea of downloading from the library for several reasons:

1.     Very inexpensive (free).  You do have to get a library card, though. (also free)

2.     You aren't stuck with a physical product that sits around, cluttering things up--as if you're going to listen to it again, which is unlikely.  And if you want to, why just take it out of the library again!

3.    OK, yes, I worked for publishers, who often had an uneasy relationship with libraries due to their free-ness when you're trying to make a living selling books. But libraries have always been magical and wonderful places for me.  They are an amazing repository for information, help, knowledge and access.  Via their remarkable "free sampling" program, they introduce people to new things--like digital content--that often create new consumers and enrich our lives. So I believe in & support libraries--by using them as well as giving.

4.     OMG when you download digital content, it is never late! It just disappears when your time is up.  No need to keep track or be nearby to hand it in.  Poof.

5.    With a WiFi connection, you can download a book from anywhere, anytime.  Finish something in the middle of the night on a business trip or vacation?  Just browse the shelves and download something new at 1:00am.

Audio is an interesting format, with incredible advantages and some challenges.  It is a genuinely different vehicle for "consuming" content, and it can take a bit of personal exploration and experimentation to find your sweet spot. What are this issues? you may well ask...

A.  Sound.  It's pretty basic.  You have to have earphones (comfy earphones) if you're in company (unless it's a shared experience), and the environment has to be quiet enough so you can hear.  For example, New York is a really loud city.  It's hard to hear as you walk on the street, ride the subway or sit in a cab.  Not impossible, but I find myself turning the volume up & down a lot.

B.  Someone is reading to you--often a delightful asset, but sometimes a liability.  If good, the voice can significantly enhance the experience.  I've been listening to several P.G. Wodehouse Bertie & Jeeves titles & they're a delight.  All the upper crust characters, ridiculous expressions, outrageous situations come alive with the accents & tones of voice.  

James Joyce's reader is a Joyce expert, delivering wonderful Irish accents, even singing when the story required. And it's a comfort to feel the stream of consciousness is flowing by with an approved cadence and pace.  

Life of Pi's Indian accented reader turns out not to even be Indian, but really enhanced and enriched the story for me.  

But if the reader is bad, it can make the listening experience unbearable.

C.  Also, with audio, they read every word.  I skim when I get bored reading, or if there are long lists, or it feel repetitive. You don't really have that option with audio.  

You can skip forward, but it's not the same as glancing down a page to confirm they're still yammering about battle details or lush descriptions.  

This can be a good thing if the writing is good--forcing you to slow down and savor the words and images. But if you're listening to some little known Victorian novel, you may discover why it is not well known when you find yourself subjected to what seems like hours of exquisitely described detail of an emotional or physical landscape.

D.  Some people just lose traction listening & feel they have to keep going back to remember who said what to whom & when & thus find audio frustrating, as it doesn't offer the visual cues of flipping back a page, or looking in the middle of that long paragraph.  

In this case, they need to listen to stuff they don't care about so much (avoid 'How To' or non-fiction or complex fiction). Consider plays, or poetry, where listing & responding is perhaps more important than keeping track of everything.

E.   Why bother? Well, I love storytelling, and audio can slip in through the cracks and deliver a great reading experience when actual reading is impossible.  I can listen and look out the window of the train or plane or bus.  I can listen and knit or sew or mend. I can sit with the gang as they watch TV and listen to my story.  Grocery shop.  Walk the dog.  If I'm alone, I can be read to sleep, with a built in timer that will shut off after 15, 30, 60 minutes. Though if being read to makes you fall asleep, perhaps listen to the radio when you're driving!

Downloading audio books from your public library:

Load the app onto your iPhone, Android, Blackberry, etc.  

Locate your library (hopefully) on their very long Add A Library list.  

Put in your library card number & password.  Search.  Browse.  Create a Wish List & fill it with titles you're interested in.  Ask for a eHold on a title that isn't available right now--you'll get an email when it becomes available & you can download it.  If you finish before your book is due, return and delete it.

Select and download titles--you'll get a sense for how long they are by the number of packages of data.

Plug yourself in...and listen up!

Friday, February 01, 2013

A New Language

I was thinking I should learn a new language.

You know what they say, keep the mind active, learning, getting exercised. Maybe Spanish? My year of Spanish in 8th grade was a hazy memory, and learning Spanish through the advertisements on the New York Subway had not been a successful foray in effective communication....

Cucarachas? Mandelos a un Motel!

Not the best way to win friends and influence people (unless, of course, they are Spanish speaking cockroaches).

But then as I struggled with vocabulary words, grammar and syntax, I realized I was already in the middle of learning a new language: Tech.

When people (of a certain age) say they find technology confusing, daunting, that they're not good at it, I don't think they've taken on board that Tech is a new language. Would you expect to be able to speak a new language fluently after an hour's class?

I didn't think so.

If anyone complained that even after many hours of learning French they were unable to read a novel, watch TV, or that they were unable to speak quickly and fluently, articulating their every nuanced point, most people would think: Huh? It takes more than a few hours to become fluent in a new language!

This point is not to discourage non techfluent types, but just a request that everyone realign their self expectations to a more reasonable level. To stop beating up on themselves because they are harboring absurdly high expectations of fluency, and appreciate learning tech, like learning a new language, is a process.

And the language metaphor doesn't stop there. As countless childhood development research statistics have indicated, when we are young, our ability to acquire new languages is remarkable. Thus everyone that has grown up learning the language of Tech has internalized it fairly effortlessly.

I can recall my horror and distress when I came across my first French child, a six year old, and I could not fathom how it could have learned French so well at the age of six, when I was still struggling at the age of 21 after years of classes.

Thus many of those that have grown up speaking Tech and are now explaining it to you may find your struggles incomprehensible. It's easy. It's natural. It's intuitive. It's obvious. Sure different dialects (games, new programs, operating systems, upgrades) can present a challenge, but for many, the challenge is fun to overcome. Just like people enjoy learning new languages, or new vocabularies, or new accents and idioms. But it's often not so easy for a non-native speaker.

And as it's a new language, it is constantly changing, adding new words, sprouting new dialects right and left, even the basics changing and morphing to fit this brave new world. It is going to take all my efforts to build my vocabulary and figure out how to effectively communicate and make myself understood.

Parlez-vous tech?

Oui! Un petit peu....