Technical magic that brought out your best qualities

Last week our On Tech editor Hannah Ingber general the story of how her child stumbled upon a design app that revealed his amazing taste in interiors. We asked you to share the amazing ways technology has helped you unleash your creativity or discover new joys.

You guys (sobbing), the answers were great. Today we share a selection of them.

The mission here at On Tech is to explore the ways technology is changing our lives, who we are, and the world around us. We cannot ignore the harmful effects, but I also don’t want us to lose sight of the miracle.

How great is it to be able to share what we’ve learned online with parents, or to easily swap songs from our favorite decade? And also BIRDS! Birds are so cool. Here are edited excerpts from what some On Tech readers have said:

Enjoy the magic of birds during the daily quest:

My morning walk down the driveway for a newspaper has been transformed. Merlin Bird ID App.

Daily work has become a joy. Now, instead of ignoring the sounds around me, I can focus and identify the birdsong that I hear. Birds change with their seasonal migration, so the sounds are constantly changing. It became a kind of meditation.

Ann McLaughlin, Carmel, California.

Merging playlists:

Sharing music and playlists on Spotify with my kids was a lot of fun. They hear the music I grew up with, and I hear the new ones they listen to. Surprisingly, we listen to a lot of the same music, old and new. It’s much easier than creating mixtapes.

Now they are 17 and 18 years old, but we have been doing this since they were about 13 years old – at that age it can be difficult for parents to find ways to connect with their teenagers.

Jason, Corvallis, Ore.

Removing the pressure of perfection:

I was one of those kids who could never peel off a sticker right away. I always had to wait a couple of minutes or even days before deciding that my sticker would stay at home forever. Likewise, I hesitated to sharpen brand new pencils unless absolutely necessary, and saved my markers for only the most important drawings.

You will never find quick doodles in my sketchbooks because they were put off until I was ready with full vision. I always collected and saved these items for a special day or a big idea, and eventually my stickers wrinkled, my markers dried out, and my sketchbooks joined another pile of unused, unloved items.

And then I bought myself an iPad as a graduation present. I discovered the wonder of drawing, note-taking, drawing and coloring – all digitally.

I had an endless supply of stickers at my disposal, which I could take and replace at any time. I was greeted with endless colors and combinations.

I soon found myself writing daily diary entries, experimenting with digital scrapbooking, and storing memories in one place. If I made a mistake, I could immediately remove it with a virtual eraser. Stickers and letters I could customize to my heart’s content. My iPad has given me the ability to do whatever I want without fear of making the wrong move.

Sidney Lin is a sophomore at Vanderbilt University with a degree in civil engineering.

Do-it-yourself training for dad:

A few years ago, my ten-year-old son watched my growing frustration as I unsuccessfully tried to attach a new lawnmower blade. I assumed that he was bored when he returned to the house. Instead, he watched YouTube on his mom’s iPad.

After a few minutes, he appeared and quietly asked: “Can I try?” He did in less than a minute what I tried to do in half an hour. “Until then, I thought YouTube was for cat videos.

This is the same kid who taught himself how to play his new ukulele on YouTube, as well as many other unexpected skills.

Doug McDurham, Waco, Texas

Classroom learning transformed by audio production:

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

Students who did not want to participate in class discussions took the opportunity to share their ideas on topics of interest to them or explore new topics. Students chose one of three formats for their podcasts: storytelling, interviews, and investigation. Few projects have ever offered that kind of freedom.

Even though video apps have been available for some time, the freedom to record just their voices has been liberating. They didn’t have to worry about how they looked on camera – they could communicate their thoughts and ideas with just their voice. The groups could share and edit audio files at the same time to create the final product. What was once a cool report has been redefined.

Lisa Dabel is a fifth grade teacher from San Jose, California.

Opera, not so scary:

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

At some point, around late March or early April 2020, friends told us about recordings of past Metropolitan Opera opera performances – free, new every day – via the company’s website and app. A few days later we had a new nightly routine: dinner, reading for an hour, and then an opera set.

Within a few weeks, we began to recognize the names and styles of some of the leading opera singers. Over the course of a few months, we learned about the technical details of opera music, vocal training, set design and costume design, and developed a preference for composers. (Sorry guys: Wagner no, Glass yes.)

We thought deeply about the conflicts that arise when old misguided beliefs (misogyny, racism, etc.) embodied in “canon” clash with diverse cast choices and new ways of thinking. We met contemporary composers and librettists who challenged our ideas about melody, story and plot construction, character development, and so on.

Who knew there was so much to learn about such a venerable art form? I certainly don’t – and I’m very happy that technology has brought opera into our homes and lives.

David Moore, Sequim, Washington.


tip of the week

Brian H. Chenconsumer technology columnist at The New York Times, co-wrote article this week about digital breadcrumbs that can reveal the personal details of people seeking abortions. Brian is here with suggestions to get some information from Google, which has digital databases for just about everything.

Google this month said it would automatically delete location data when people visited places considered sensitive, such as abortion clinics and drug treatment centers. For example, if you set a Google Maps destination as Planned Parenthood or Alcoholics Anonymous, the company will remove those entries.

Critics of Google have said that the company could, but did not, erase records of other types of location data, such as GPS coordinates and route information. (Google declined to comment.)

But you can have some control over how Google stores data about you. I wrote a column a few years ago explaining how to use google autodelete controls, which includes settings to delete web search and location records after a certain amount of time. The tips are worth repeating.

Here is one example of how to configure the location data settings:

  • In Google’s My Activity tool, located at myactivity.google.comclick Activity Controls, scroll to Location History, and click Manage History.

    On the next page, find the walnut icon and click “Automatically delete location history.” You can choose to delete data after three months or 18 months.

  • For those who don’t want Google to create a history record of their locations at all, there’s also an option for that. On the My Activity page, tap Activity Controls, scroll to Location History, and toggle the switch to the Off position.

  • Amazon tells regulators what could change: To try to end a three-year antitrust investigation in Europe, Amazon proposed stop collecting non-public sales data from independent sellers who sell through Amazon and allow them to sell through the Prime program without using Amazon’s logistics services. My colleague Adam Satariano spoke about Amazon offerings and why Europe has become the focus of big tech companies.

  • Trafficking Behind Online Fraud: vice news informed that online schemes that offer business or romance as an excuse to siphon money from victims sometimes originate from industrial-scale fraud centers in Southeast Asia that imprison and abuse workers.

    Read more: Nikkei Asia wrote last year about abuses against online gambling workers and fraudulent operations in Cambodia.

  • Instagram has so many features: It’s a place to see what friends are doing, watch short videos from strangers, buy NFTs or trinkets sold by influencers, message others, and maybe write notes soon (for whatever reason). The Garbage Day newsletter wrote that Instagram is “an application that no longer knows what it should be. ”

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

Lemurs! lick honey! From fruits! These little guys really know how to enjoy their treats.


Waiting for your reply. Tell us what you think of this newsletter and what else you would like us to cover. You can contact us at ontech@nytimes.com.

If you have not yet received this newsletter in your mailbox, Please register here. You can also read past On Tech speakers.