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The Tech Magic That Did Your Best

Last week, our On Tech editor, Hanna Ingber, shared the story of her child stumbling upon a design app that unlocked her amazing taste for interiors. We asked you about the surprising ways technology has helped you unleash creativity or discover new joys.

You guys (sniff), the reactions were lovely. We are sharing a selection of them today.

The mission here at On Tech is to explore the ways in which technology is changing how we live, who we are and the world around us. We can’t ignore the harmful effects, but I don’t want us to lose sight of the wonder.

How cool is it that we can share our parenting knowledge online or simply swap songs from our favorite decade? Also, birds! Birds are great. Here are edited excerpts of what some On Tech readers had to say:

Enjoying the magic of birds during daily work:

My morning stroll to retrieve the newspaper has been replaced by the Merlin Bird ID app.

Everyday work has become a pleasure. Now, instead of ignoring the sounds around me, I’m able to focus and identify the bird songs I’m listening to. Birds change with their seasonal migration patterns, so sounds are always changing. It has become a kind of meditation.

Ann McLaughlin, Carmel, Calif.

Binding on playlist:

Sharing music and playlists with your kids on Spotify has been very connecting. They get to hear the music I grew up on, and I get to hear the latest they’ve been listening to. Surprisingly, we listen to a lot of the same kind of music, old and new. Much easier than making a mixtape.

They’re 17 and 18 now, but we’ve been doing this since they were about 13 – when it can be hard for parents to find ways to connect with their teens.

Jason, Corvallis, Ore.

Deletion of Perfection:

I was one of those kids who could never open a sticker right away. I always had to wait a few moments, or even days, before my stickers fixed their forever home. Likewise, I hesitated to sharpen brand new pencils unless absolutely necessary, and I reserved my markers only for the most important drawings.

You’ll never find quick doodles in my sketchbook, because they were put aside until I was ready with perfect vision. I was always collecting and saving these items for a special day or a big idea, and eventually, my stickers wrinkled, my markers dried up and my sketchbook covered in another pile of unused, obnoxious things.

And then, I bought myself an iPad as a graduation gift. I discovered the wonders of sketching, note taking, doodling and coloring – all digitally.

I had an endless supply of stickers that could be picked up and replaced at a moment’s notice. I was met with infinite colors and combinations.

Soon, I found myself writing daily journal entries, experimenting with digital scrapbooking, and keeping memories all in one place. If I’ve made a mistake, I can quickly clean it up with a virtual eraser. I could adjust the stickers and letters to my heart’s content. My iPad became an outlet for me to do whatever I wanted, without fear of making the wrong move.

Sidney Lynn, a sophomore in civil engineering at Vanderbilt University

Schooling Dad on DIY Repair:

Years ago, my preteen son noticed my growing frustration as I unsuccessfully tried to attach a new lawn mower blade. I assumed he was bored when he came back home. Instead, he was watching YouTube on his mother’s iPad.

A few minutes later, he emerged and asked quietly, “Can I try that?” He accomplished what I was trying to do for half an hour in less than a minute. ‘Up until that moment, I thought YouTube was for cat videos.

This is the same kid who taught himself to play his new guitar on YouTube, along with tons of other unexpected skills.

Doug McDurham, Waco, Texas

Classroom Teaching Transformed by Audio Production:

I have found that introducing students to podcasting opens new doors.

Students who were reluctant to participate in class discussions took the opportunity to share their thoughts about those topics or to research new topics. Students chose between three formats for their podcasts: storytelling, interview and investigation. Few, if any, projects have ever offered such freedom.

Even though video apps have been available for some time, the freedom to record only their voices was free. They didn’t have to worry about how they appeared on camera – they could express their thoughts and ideas only through voice. Groups were able to share and edit audio files together to create the final product. What was once a class report has been redefined.

Lisa Dabell, fifth grade teacher in San Jose, Calif.

Opera, after all, is not so intimidating:

For most of my life, I respected opera as an art form that required an incredible level of training and discipline. But, as far as I was concerned, it was not for me.

In late March or early April 2020, friends told us about the Metropolitan Opera’s recording of past opera performances – for free, a new one each day – via the company’s website and app. Within days, we had a new nightly routine: eat dinner, read for an hour, then settle in for an opera.

Within weeks, we had begun to learn the names and styles of some of opera’s most prominent performers. Within months, we had learned about the technical details of opera music, vocal training, set and costume design, and had made preferences regarding the musicians. (Sorry, guys: Wagner, no; Glass, yes.)

We thought deeply about the conflicts that arise when old, flawed beliefs (misconceptions, racism, more) embodied in “canon”, confronted different casting choices and new ways of thinking. Huh. We came in contact with modern musicians and librettists who challenged our assumptions about melody, story building and plot, character development, etc.

Who knew there was so much to learn about such a venerable art form? I certainly didn’t — and I’m so glad technology brought opera into our home and lives.

David Moore, Sequim, Wash.

The Met Opera has ended its nightly streams, but you can now watch and listen to past performances on the online streaming service Met Opera On Demand, which offers a free trial period.


tip of the week

Brian X ChenoCo-authored by consumer technology columnist for The New York Times Article This week about digital bread crumbs that can reveal personal details about people seeking abortions. Brian is here with a suggestion to withhold some information from Google, which has digital databases on almost everyone.

Google said this month that it would automatically delete location data when people visit sensitive locations like abortion clinics and addiction treatment centers. For example, if you set a destination for “Planned Parenthood” or “Alcoholics Anonymous” in Google Maps, the company will erase those entries.

Google’s critics said the company could, but could not, erase records of other types of location data such as GPS coordinates and routing information. (Google declined to comment.)

But you can exercise some control over how Google maintains data about you. I wrote a column a few years ago describing how to use Google’s auto-delete controls, which include settings for deleting records of web and location searches after a certain amount of time. The tips are worth a look again.

Here’s an example of editing location data settings:

  • In Google’s My activity tool, located at myactivity.google.com, click the Activity control, scroll down to Location History, and click Manage History.

    On the next page, find the nut-shaped icon and then click Automatically delete location history. You can set the data to be deleted after three months or after 18 months.

  • There’s an option for those who don’t want Google to record their location history at all. On the My Activity page, click the Activity controls, scroll down to Location History, and turn the switch to the Off position.

  • Amazon tells regulators it could change: To try to end a three-year antitrust investigation in Europe, Amazon has decided to stop collecting non-public sales data about independent merchants who sell through Amazon and sell them without using Amazon’s logistics services on the Prime program. offered to sell through My colleague Adam Sattariano reports on Amazon’s proposals and explains why Europe has become a hotbed of Big Tech investigation.

  • Human Trafficking Behind Online Fraud Scams: Vice News reported that online schemes offering business or romantic partnerships on the pretext of extorting money from victims sometimes come from industrial-scale scam centers in Southeast Asia that imprison and abuse workers.

    MORE: Nikkei Asia wrote last year about the abused workers of online gambling and fraudulent operations in Cambodia.

  • Instagram has many features: This is the place to see what friends are up to, to watch short videos from strangers, to buy NFTs or doodads sold by influencers, to message others and possibly to write notes soon (for some reason). ). The Garbage Day newsletter wrote that Instagram is an “app that doesn’t know what it needs to be anymore.”

    Related to On Tech: What is Facebook? Another overstuffed app from Meta!

Lemurs! Honey Lick! From fruit! These little boys really know how to enjoy their treats.


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