Local Student Asks, “Does The Future Include Me?”

When I was growing up I used to love dreaming about what I would be when I got older. Maybe a veterinarian, a teacher, doctor, a writer. My dreams and hopes were immeasurable. As I grew older, I saw that many jobs were being lost; many people no longer had job security. I became concerned about what I would do when I reached an age where a decision must be made. Would my job choice be sufficient for me to live somewhat comfortably and have a sense of job security?

As part of our series, “The Recession Outside My  Window,” our guest writer is eighteen year old  Ashley Colombo, Sullivan County resident, grocery store clerk and full-time  Orange County Community College student (OCCC). “I absolutely love it at OCCC — have never enjoyed school more,” she says.  “I’m going to be majoring in psychology, English, and criminology, but don’t  have a clue what I want to do when I grow up.”)

When I was growing up I used to love dreaming about what I would be when I got older. Maybe a veterinarian, a teacher, doctor, a writer. My dreams and hopes were immeasurable. As I grew older,  I saw that many jobs were being lost; many people no longer had job security.  I became concerned about what I would do when I reached an  age where a decision must be made. Would my job choice be sufficient for me to  live somewhat comfortably and  have a sense of job security?

Then, I began thinking about our technological revolution and how dependent we are on it. I realized that many jobs will be lost due to this revolution. For instance, in the future, schools won’t be necessary. Kids will sit in their homes and have their lessons broadcast to them. Thus, custodians, school nurses, teacher’s aides, cafeteria ladies, administration, guidance counselors are just a few positions that won’t be necessary. I believe, literally, that hundreds and thousands of jobs will  be annihilated due to our dependence on technology.

I also thought about the  overwhelming amount of money we’re forced to spend on school  in order to gain access to  many  soon-to-be   nonexistent jobs.  What bothers me most about going to college  and possibly beyond, is that after we spend thousands upon thousands of dollars, we are not guaranteed a job in the field we have so painstakingly studied. I know that as technology is totally integrated into  our society,  all those college degrees and doctorates and those cute little paper diplomas with the shiny seals, will mean absolutely nothing.

We hope that the pretty piece of paper in that frame will buy us groceries and pay our bills but  too many of us will  fall into the ‘my job choice no longer exists’ category. That’s what faces us even as  we start our adult lives in thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.

It worries me that school costs so much in the first place.  It  makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.  Why must it be so hard to get ahead? We pay dearly for trying to make ourselves into something —  to better ourselves and to enrich our lives. What for? Why should I spend this money to try and make my life better, when in the end all it will do is knock my legs out from under me and take everything I have?

This seriously discouraged me about wanting to go back to school. I knew I had to, but did I really want to go through all of it just  to end up  coming home from being a greeter at a chain supermarket and  looking at the forsaken piece of framed paper hanging up on my wall,  knowing I was hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt because of it?  It’s a repulsive vision of a future that will probably be the reality faced by most of my generation and the generations to come.

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(Breathing Note:  Please encourage our Guest Writers by clicking the very tiny, nearly invisible “comment”  link hidden in the tags and categories beneath Ashley’s commentary.  Breathing Is Political extends its heartfelt appreciation to Ashley for participating in our “View Outside My Window”  series.)

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Buy local. Read local. Eat local.

Events over the last few weeks have demonstrated that a news renaissance might be in the offing. Leni Santoro (former award-winning journalist-editor-photographer for The Crier) and Beth Quinn are back in the saddle. Check out Leni’s Catskill Chronicle and Beth and Friends’ Zest of Orange. CottageWorks is up and running with pages for referring local workers, freely advertising local events, Swaps & Barters, a Second Hand Shop and for selling and buying locally-produced goods. The Mamakating Messenger is another source for local news as is Ellenville’s Shawangunk Journal.

Every few years,  a new movement springs up.  In the sixties, housewives were freed to be all they could be.  Our  political conscience then  hop scotched  through Columbus’ treatment of Native Americans  and our systemic subjugation of African Americans.  Each group — whether they be  Latino, Irish or tree huggers — gets its day in the sunshine of national consciousness.   One can argue that a piecemeal approach to  human and Earth rights doesn’t work, but it’s how we’ve limited ourselves in the past.

Today, it’s all about  raising a Green Standard in Defense of  Local Communities.  Buy local, save gas.  Eat local, save the micro-ecology. Save the micro-ecology and we’ll preserve a healthy-world-diversity.

Everywhere we look,  hard copy newspapers are dying  slow strangling deaths.  Recently,  after years of cuts and accommodations,  The Rocky Mountain News and The Seattle  Post-Intelligencer stopped arriving  on doorsteps.

Until recently, our Sullivan County backyards have been blessed with a  bevy of local news sources.

Perhaps we took them for granted because  The Times Herald Record was sold to Rupert Murdoch’s  News Corps and presto-change-o, Beth Quinn was canned.  Predictably,  readers in Orange and Sullivan Counties cried out.  We sent a flurry of letters supporting her.  The Orange County Legislature declared August 9, 2008  “Beth Quinn Day”  and hundreds turned out to commemorate her thirty years of community service.  (While some elected officials acknowledged her role in keeping our local ecology vibrant, to my knowledge,  The Times Herald Record neither published our letters nor covered our day with Beth.)

In 2006,  Catskill-Delaware Publications purchased The Towne Crier and its loyal readers held their collective breath in dismay.  Publisher, Fred Stabbert,  did not increase the Crier’s online presence.  In fact,  few articles appear in the online version of  Mr. Stabbert’s flagship paper, The Sullivan County Democrat. Local activists were not surprised when Mr. Stabbert  merged the two papers and The Crier breathed its (probably) last independent breath in May 2009.

Members of a local community need information about local happenings.  How else do we know where to volunteer?  Without local advertising,  how do we know where to buy local products and services?  Where will we learn about the latest School Board fracas or Town Board tumult?  How will we know that our neighbors are descending en masse on Town Hall to protest tax assessments?  How will we know when gambling interests, power line advocates  and natural gas “frackers”  have drawn a bead on our green mountains and fresh waters?

Citizen journalists,  local advocates and volunteer-run public radio (WJFF-90.5) that’s how.  Sustainable Sullivan, Coalition for a Casino-Free Sullivan,  The Riverkeeper, members of  the Upper Delaware Community, The Towne Crier,  The River Reporter and many others investigated and reported what they believed were threats to our “way of life.”   WJFF ensures we have  multiple community fora for airwave discussions.  (The River Reporter’s current online front page is devoted to  natural gas extraction from shale beds and the resultant designation of the Delaware River as endangered.)

Events over the last few weeks have demonstrated that a news renaissance might be in the offing.   Leni Santoro (former award-winning journalist-editor-photographer  for The Crier) and Beth Quinn are back in the saddle.  Check out Leni’s  Catskill Chronicle and Beth and Friends’  Zest of Orange. CottageWorks is up and running with pages for  referring local workers, freely advertising local events, Swaps & Barters, a Second Hand Shop and for selling and buying locally-produced goods.   The Mamakating Messenger is another source for  local news as is Ellenville’s  Shawangunk Journal.

Most of these  efforts are in their infancy and though we might not agree with  their points of view,  our communities need and deserve a wide-ranging discussion of the forces brought to bear on us whether they originate in China, Washington, D.C., our State Capitols or our Town Boards.

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Disclaimer:  Liz Bucar is the proprietor  of CottageWorks and holds a longtime bias in favor of the community servants & groups mentioned in this article.  She offers heartfelt apologies to any groups not mentioned.  Hopefully, you’ll contact her so your group, local business and events will be posted in a future article or at one of CottageWorks pages.

Facebook: “Platform?” Or “Co-Owner”

Plenty has  been written about recent changes in Facebook’s Terms of Use  (See: NY Times “Wrap-up”) but  the kerfuffle raises serious questions about the “concept” – the form, function and purpose — of platforms like Facebook and the relationship those platforms have to their users’ personal, private  “belongings.”  (The distinction between public and private is integral to the question because in law, if you tell friends in a public setting  that you’re a drug addict, you probably don’t have a cause of action when someone else repeats or publishes the information. Facebook users believed, rightly or wrongly, that they were sharing in a private or semi-private setting. Why?  Because Facebook is a private website with walls that provide for private sharing  in a way that The Huffington Post, for instance, would never conceive.)

Facebook acts like a giant convention center where people meet for private and  semi-private interactions.  We exchange things that matter to us with particular groups of people.  In support of that exchange, Facebook provides friendly rooms where, if we have permission, we can ooh and ah over each other’s photos, artistic efforts, political doings and  family events.  In terms of cyber-relationships, it’s a one-stop-shop or very like  hosting an open house for your friends and their invitees.

As a convention center, Facebook provides space and services.  However, it has broadened the concept of the host relationship to include joint ownership and control over the distribution rights of the personal thoughts and “objects”  we share within its walls.  For instance, Facebook can alter and distribute your images for profit/promotion.

Facebook says its rationale is based on user privacy settings.  If the owner of a photo displays it using the Facebook Photo application, by extension, the owner is giving Facebook the same distribution rights as the owner retains.

Imagine speaking at a family or class reunion and discovering  that the hosting  hotel  has the perpetual right to distribute what you say or the items you display.

Imagine showing your artwork in Central Park to a million strangers and having the City of New York lay claim to the distribution rights of that work.

Thousands of Facebook members imagined it and rebelled.  A few hours ago, Facebook notified our home pages that it will temporarily return to the old rules pending a review of customer concerns. The notice includes a link to a new group where members can suggest changes to the Terms of Use.

Facebook also posted the following reassurance:

1. You own your information. Facebook does not. This includes your photos and all other content.
2. Facebook doesn’t claim rights to any of your photos or other content. We need a license in order to help you share information with your friends, but we don’t claim to own your information.
3. We won’t use the information you share on Facebook for anything you haven’t asked us to. We realize our current terms are too broad here and they make it seem like we might share information in ways you don’t want, but this isn’t what we’re doing.
4. We will not share your information with anyone if you deactivate your account. If you’ve already sent a friend a message, they’ll still have that message. However, when you deactivate your account, all of your photos and other content are removed.
5. We apologize for the confusion around these issues. We never intended to claim ownership over people’s content even though that’s what it seems like to many people. This was a mistake and we apologize for the confusion.

Further, Barry Schnitt, a Facebook spokesperson said, “We certainly did not — and did not intend — to create any new right or interest for Facebook in users’ data by issuing the new terms.”  (Italics added for emphasis.) (See: NY Times “Wrap-up”)

Unfortunately, Mr. Schnitt is mostly correct. Facebook already had “perpetual” distribution rights. The old Terms of Use state,

“By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise, on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing. You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time. If you choose to remove your User Content, the license granted above will automatically expire, however you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content. Facebook does not assert any ownership over your User Content; rather, as between us and you, subject to the rights granted to us in these Terms, you retain full ownership of all of your User Content and any intellectual property rights or other proprietary rights associated with your User Content.”  (Terms of Use, revised September 23, 2008)

If you know of a “community” platform that doesn’t lay claim to distribution rights, please tell us.

Stockholm Syndrome & Global Positioning Systems

My son bugged unremittingly until I replaced my old cell phone with one that offered GPS services.  He was sure that happenstance was  the only reason I ever arrived anywhere.

Before my next road trip, the phone was programmed with my location and destination and lay cushioned on the passenger seat like an electronic umbilicus.  Next to it were my daughter’s handwritten directions which I would hide  before pulling into my son’s driveway.  He doesn’t understand the comfort of a paper I can  read myself or shake under his nose the day the signals die.  (See:  American Pie)

I’m the Mom because I’ve been jolted out of smugness more than he has.  He’s wise in many ways but sometimes his imagination fails for lack of experience.  Computers have always been part of his life. He can’t envision a day, for instance,  when traffic jams disrupt orbiting signals.  (NY Times, Colliding Satellites). To tell the truth, neither can I; but I’ve been jolted enough to know that denying the possibility of something  is generally  shortsighted:  “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, [t]han are dreamt of in your philosophy.” *

As I turned left toward the freeway,  the GPS voice was irritatingly indifferent to outcomes – possessed of cadences that would sail through a nuclear strike  so long as batteries and towers escaped the melting.

During the first half hour of the trip, I was pleased to ignore her– to wrest control.  When I passed the second turn in favor of the third, she had no quippy comeback.  The car was silent except for the burring of my own anticipation.  How much stress was built into the system?

Like a Terminator, relentless in its dedication to mission,  the GPS re-configured herself;  aligned herself to new data and surroundings. “Recalculating route,” she said.

I glanced in the rearview mirror and made a Frodo-vow to leave her in my pocket except under the direst of circumstances.

After three hours into a two hour trip, the four lane highway had tapered to a stream trickling between vacant motels and closed gas stations.  I hadn’t seen  a familiar landmark for miles and the winter sun was dimming.  At a crossroads in a small town,  I turned the phone back on, finger poised  to enter my new orientation.  Without missing a beat,  her uninflected tones assured me she was  again, “Recalculating the route.”

In the silence, I felt her omnipresence. She would always know where I was.  I would never be lost again.  “[She]wouldn’t stop, [she] would never leave [me]. [She]…was the only thing that measured up. In an insane world, [she] was the sanest choice.”  (Terminator 2).**

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