Monday, May 26, 2008

The BlackBerry Blues

I’ve always wanted a BlackBerry, a PDA or a smart phone. The idea of being able to e-mail, use the internet and create documents from anywhere just sends shivers down my spine. So, what’s stopping me? Well, besides the fact that I can’t afford to buy one of these handy gadgets, I also can’t use one. You see, since I’m almost totally blind I can’t read the screen, and these devices aren’t equipped with an on-board software program that would read the screen in voice output. Screen readers are available for some phones but they’re very expensive, especially considering they’re completely separate from the cost of the phone or PDA itself. There’s another problem too. I’m also physically disabled, and the keys on most of the mobile devices out there are too small for me to operate properly.

I do have a cell phone, but because of these accessibility issues I only use it for infrequent phone calls. Now, I’m a tech-head (or at least I would be if I could use all this great stuff), and I totally appreciate everyone’s desire for a powerful productivity tool that fits right in your pocket or palm. But I also think we can achieve portability and accessibility at the same time. If the keys on all these gadgets were slightly bigger they’d be a lot easier to use for everyone. Sure, your PDA or phone might be a little larger then, but it would still fit easily in your fanny-pack, purse, bag or briefcase. The screen and print size could also be made larger without decreasing the PDA or phone’s overall functionality. An on-board screen reader and trainable voice-recognition software would also help increase usability for everyone.

By now some of you are probably thinking, "Most of us don’t have trouble using these things, so why should we change them for a few people?". Well, as you get older your vision tends to decrease and arthritis or other ailments can set in. That’s not even taking into account unexpected problems like strokes or injuries. So you may be sharp-eyed and nimble-fingered right now, but later on you might get the BlackBerry Blues like me. Also, the same features that make products more accessible to people with disabilities are also features that make things easier to use for people without disabilities.

So, how can we make things like PDAs, cell phones and smart phones more user-friendly for everyone? People need to start hounding the manufacturers, giving them friendly recommendations for improvement. The more people they hear from, the more likely they’ll be to make changes. Or, if you have the money and resources, design a gadget of your own that’s more user-friendly than what’s out there right now. I know changes like this take a long time, but a PDA or smart phone that’s easy for everyone to use will be worth the wait.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Hope for Hip-hop

Along with calypso, latin jazz and salsa, hip-hop is right up there as one of my favorite music genres. Mos Def, A Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah, Salt & Peppa, Eve, Dela Soul and Talib Kwali are just a few of the hip-hop artists I love to hear. But I have to say hip-hop’s been at a low point for years now, and I really feel like giving a lot of today’s artists a smack in the head.

Yeah, I know I sound like some stuffy old curmudgeon who just doesn’t want to get with the program. But I know I’m not the only one out there thinking that hip-hop would be so much better without all the bling! Who cares if you’re wearing enough diamonds to blind anyone who looks at you too long? And I couldn’t give a damn if you have a Rolex or some other grossly-expensive watch, I just want to know if you can actually tell time with that thing.

Materialism is just one of our problems though. The sexual content and sexism in music are pretty depressing too. Guys, there’s nothing wrong with admiring a woman, but I’d really love to hear you talk about her mind, spirit, and other attributes besides her booty and lady lumps. Yes, sisters do have minds, and we’re good for a lot more than sex, dancing in clubs, or holding the keys to your Lexus. And I know none of us is perfect, but in general no man has any right to call a woman a bitch, slut or ‘ho’. Sisters, please, we need to hear more hip-hop from strong, intelligent, positive women, so show them your stuff!

Violence is another blight on the hip-hop scene. Could we pleeeease stop acting like it’s cool to be a thug or a gangsta? Kids need smart, sober, constructive role models to look up to, not people who are gun-obsessed, greedy, or in and out of rehab all the time. I know there are some really positive, socially conscious artists out there, but a lot of the conscious rappers get pushed underground and get very little air-play on the radio or TV. I’d love to hear more kids come out with their own hip-hop, because I think some of them could really help change the direction of the mainstream. What do you think?