Road Construction: A Video Classic

By: Joseph Geliebter, Ph.D.

When my sons were young, they couldn’t get enough of the now-classic video called “Road Construction.” The award-winning 1991 video by Fred Levine features 30 minutes of non-stop road-building action – from site surveys to demolition to the first car traveling down a finished highway.

This was the “state-of-the-art” addictive technology back in the early 1990s. My sons spent hours glued to watching this VHS and were most thrilled to see the construction video played backwards in rewind mode — something that has been lost in today’s ‘advanced’ digital technology age.



The Conductor on the Train Says ‘Shhh!’

A growing number of commuters traveling on New York’s Metro North railroad apparently like to unplug and reconnect during their morning commute – so much so that the MTA recently announced yet another expansion of its pilot “Quiet Car” program to include rush-hour trains on its New Haven line.

The transportation agency’s Quiet Car initiative asks customers to refrain from using cell phones and to disable the sound feature on pagers, games, computers and other electronic devices during travel. Commuters riding in these specially designated cars are also asked to conduct conversations in subdued voices and to use headphone devices at a volume that cannot be heard by other passengers. If riders don’t comply, conductors hand them a card that reads “Shhh!”

According to the MTA, Quiet Cars have been catching on across the northeast. New Jersey Transit began its Quiet Car program on the North East Corridor Line in September 2010. Following a positive reception, Metro North partnered with NJ Transit to expand its Quiet Commute program in June 2011 to include all of Metro North’s peak West of Hudson Service, both the Pascack Valley and Port Jervis lines.

The pilot then expanded to 36 peak Hudson and Harlem Line trains in October 2011. The following December, the Long Island Rail Road launched its Quiet Car pilot program on select peak hour trains that operate between Far Rockaway and Atlantic Terminal.

MTA spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said it’s likely the initiative will be made permanent, due to overwhelming favorable response.

Want to enjoy some unplugging time during your rush-hour commute? New printed timetables show a “Q” to designate trains with a quiet car, which are usually the first car for morning trains and the last car for evening trains.

Unplugging at the Library

American Libraries, the journal of the American Library Association, recently published a provocative thought piece by two practicing librarians who questioned whether libraries should institute tech-free zones.

What authors Amanda Wakaruk and Marc Truitt had in mind was a network of “safe harbors . . . free of external distractions of computers, cellphones, and social networking tools, allowing sustained focus and contemplation.” They referred to these tech-free spaces as “Waldon zones,” summoning the image of Thoreau, who withdrew from civilization in order to ponder and reflect upon nature at Waldon Pond.

Even reading rooms are no longer sacrosanct, Wakaruk and Truitt point out. Although these areas are supposed to be quiet zones, anyone who has used a reading room lately is probably all too aware of the intrusive sound of clacking laptop keys or muffled cell phones ringing in the background.

Yet, we at Unplug & Reconnect were heartened to read that there’s a trend in which libraries are starting to establish such tech-free zones. The authors point to Stephens College, which recently began requiring students to deposit their cell phones at the door, as one example.

To be sure, we couldn’t imagine today’s modern libraries without the wondrous technology that makes searching for information so much more efficient (remember the old Dewey Decimal System card cabinets, anyone?). But we think it’s a good idea for library patrons to have a quiet place to read and to reflect, as did Thoreau, once they’ve found the reference material the library’s search system helped them to find so effortlessly.

Time will tell whether or not a movement to unplug at the library gains any traction. The idea certainly has our vote.


Cute ‘iPad Baby’ Provokes Thoughts about Reading

In a video making the rounds on YouTube, a toddler is seen trying – and failing – to manipulate the pages of a magazine as if it were an iPad instead of a stack of printed pages. Frustrated in her attempts to make images move, she pushes the magazine away.

Adorable, right?

Well, maybe not. How valuable can it be for a baby to learn that mom’s iPad, with its flashy moving images, is way cooler than the printed page? If children learn to read by being read to by their parents and by mimicking parental behavior – which they do – what is this child learning?

Reading experts say even the youngest of babies benefit when their parents or other adults read to them aloud from a book. By being read to, a baby learns about communication and about important concepts such as numbers and letters, and colors and shapes. Reading also builds critical listening, memory, and vocabulary skills. Indeed, the very act of participating in reading at an early age is what creates lifelong readers. When parent and baby share a book, the baby is usually encouraged to join in the activity by turning pages and following text from left to right. This is behavior that will serve them well when they begin to read on their own.

So yes, it’s cute to see the iPad baby grapple with the pages of a magazine. But it would be really neat if the next frame of the YouTube video showed a parent picking up the magazine the child has pushed away to show her how cool words and pictures can be – even when they only move in our imaginations.