Heads Up

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Message from Scott Cowie, Senior Division head

Scott CowieUpcoming Senior Division Dates:

  • Tuesday, Oct. 18: Upper School professional development afternoon (classes end at 1:15 p.m.)
  • Wednesday, Oct. 19: PSAT for all FY students: Hewitt Athletic Centre, 8:15 a.m.
  • Thursday, Oct. 20 and Friday Oct. 21: IB2 Cangrad Photos: UCC chapel, by appointment

I spoke to the boys at assembly this past Tuesday. My address to them appears below. Perhaps it will provide a springboard to further conversation in your household.

Thanks for reading,

Scott

“Good morning … I trust you all had a restful, enjoyable weekend.

“If your Thanksgiving break was anything like mine, you likely ate too much and spent too much time in front of the TV watching the Blue Jays sweep the Rangers to advance to the American League Championship Series. Indeed, it is very exciting to see the Jays coming together at the right time, connecting with each other through exciting games marked by an abundance of great pitching and a cornucopia of home-runs.

“Whether you were huddled around the TV, away visiting friends, or simply staying at home with your family, Thanksgiving weekend provides the opportunity for us to connect with others. Typical perceptions and representations of Thanksgiving are all about connecting with others.

“In this painting, titled The First Thanksgiving by American artist Jean Ferris, we see a bustling scene in which much interaction is taking place between all different types of people: between men and women, between the nobility and clergy, and, in the forefront of the scene, we see a coming together of two cultures as the central figure of a woman offers some food to the indigenous peoples who presumably welcomed these early settlers to their land prior to the festive scene we see taking place here. h1

“It is this idea of connecting with others that I’d like to talk to you about today. In current times, especially during certain holidays throughout the year, you might see variations of the scene depicted here: people sharing stories or discussing relevant issues with one another over a carefully prepared meal. Yet, these face-to-face interactions are not typical of the way we connect with others in 2016. Rather, the majority of our interactions these days take place electronically through email, texting or other forms of social media.

“Now, before you start to tune me out, and dismiss this as another rant against social media by some middle-aged guy who knows nothing about your world, I should clarify that I’m a big fan of technology and of online communication. And, while I’m not ‘grammin’ like my kids, nor posting on Facebook walls like my mother, my wife would tell you that I’m overly tuned in to my email and that I check my fantasy football stats far too often during weekends. Incidentally, after the first five weeks of the season, I find myself in the same position as I was after week one in my league: in the basement, dead last. Hope springs eternal.

“In a recent article from New York Magazine, journalist Andrew Sullivan writes about his personal struggle with his addiction to technology, specifically with social media. In comparing the way we now interact as humans with how things used to be, Sullivan says this:

“’By rapidly substituting ‘virtual reality’ for reality, we are diminishing the scope of intimate interaction even as we multiply the number of people with whom we interact. We remove or drastically filter all the information we might get by being with another person. We reduce them to some outlines — a Facebook ‘friend,’ an Instagram photo, a text message … We become each other’s ‘contacts,’ … shadows of ourselves.’

“I’m not certain if I completely agree with the way Sullivan seems to vilify electronic forms of communication, but I do think he may have a point with respect to how technological advancements over the past 20 years or so have had an impact on the face-to-face communication that was once – not that long ago – the only form of interaction between human beings. The convenience of smartphones and social media platforms has, in a way, made our connections to others less personal.

“Here’s a video clip that I feel demonstrates this point. This is an actual Radio Shack commercial for a cellphone from around 1990. I suspect we could have a good giggle analyzing that commercial – don’t even ask me what that kid is wearing. Yet despite the now laughable product we see being sold here, and having to lug around a suitcase-sized battery to power it, I vividly remember being amazed at the idea of a portable phone. Incidentally, I came across an ad for a similar early generation cellphone and, based on that one, during the early ’90s, I think you could own this state of the art technology for close to $1,000.

“Cost aside, prior to this groundbreaking technological advancement, a phone was something that wasn’t portable, nor private in any way. When I was about your age the phone was something that hung on everyone’s kitchen wall and having a conversation on it, away from the listening ears of other family members, was only possible for the privileged few who had the luxury of a 15-foot cord attached to the receiver.

“The introduction of the first cellphones definitely transformed the way we communicate with others. But fundamentally, the voice-to-voice conversation they facilitated was still a form of personalized interaction, something that many would argue is missing from the electronic messages, posts and texts we use today.

“So let’s forget about the ancient artifact in that Radio Shack commercial and bring the conversation up to date. You may not realize this, but there has been a cellphone revolution of sorts that has taken place during your time. In speaking of the astounding growth of cellphone users over recent years, Andrew Sullivan states:

“’We almost forget that ten years ago, there were no smartphones, and as recently as 2011, only a third of Americans owned one. Now nearly two-thirds do. That figure reaches 85 percent when you’re only counting young adults. And 46 percent of Americans told surveyors last year a simple, but remarkable thing: They could not live without one. The device went from unknown to indispensable in less than a decade.’

h2“The idea of not being able to live without a cellphone is aptly demonstrated through the illustrations that accompany Sullivan’s article. At the risk of offending art lovers out there, here are a couple of images by Korean artist Kim Dong-Kyu, who reworks traditional famous paintings by adding in some technological updates. Here we see his version of ‘Old Man in Sorrow’ by Vincent Van Gogh. Even if you aren’t familiar with the original painting, I suspect you can pick out Dong-Kyu’s addition.

“This next piece highlights a similar theme using Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream.’h3

“Indeed, our dependency on our smartphones – and I’m definitely including myself here – would likely seem very strange and very unhealthy to the artists who painted the original versions of these masterpieces many years ago.

“So you may be thinking, ‘Okay Mr. Cowie, you said this wasn’t going to be a rant against technology, but it is sure is beginning to sound like one. Cellphones, the Internet and social media are here to stay, so where is all of this headed?’

“My point is less about technology and more about relationships. Simply put: we need to consider how we engage with our environment and how we connect with those within it.

“To start, there are countless ways to make connections here at school. Being part of a team, a cast, an ensemble or a club are all ways to make meaningful connections here, as is being an active, contributing member of your house. Standing up for a classmate who is being ridiculed or supporting a fellow student in need are others ways to make impactful connections.

“In essence, I think connection is all about caring. And if we care enough, we need to consider moving beyond being the realm of Facebook friends or names in a contact list and work toward developing meaningful relationships with others — ones characterized by personal interaction, kindness and compassion.

“Thanks for listening, and go Jays!”