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Apps Books Tech

Have you forgotten how to read books?

We need to relearn how to read books in the digital age. Online reading is a different experience than physical print.

For one, the digital experience is stickier because of its dopamine-hitting bells and whistles. We constantly shift between articles, apps, and text messages, hijacked by the latest entertaining gaze. It’s the equivalent of flipping TV channels.

Writes Canadian author and journalist Michael Harris:

“Online life makes me into a different kind of reader – a cynical one. I scrounge, now, for the useful fact; I zero in on the shareable link. My attention – and thus my experience – fractures. Online reading is about clicks, and comments, and points. When I take that mindset and try to apply it to a beaten-up paperback, my mind bucks.”

Since physical books lack immediate stimuli, reading requires an entirely different mindset. It enforces focus and patience. Said Harris: “I do think old, book-oriented styles of reading opened the world to me – by closing it. And new, screen-oriented styles of reading seem to have the opposite effect: They close the world to me, by opening it.”

Screens are for short-term readers; book heads play the long-game. The latter know that great moments in novels are as scarce as hitting a homerun, but they can also be more exciting.

Books test our attentiveness while creating anticipation. Perhaps they are the only escape we have left from our distracted world. Constricted to one tangible novel of a screen, a paperback can help recalibrate the imagination and slow downtime.

Categories
Life & Philosophy Politics & Society Quotes Tech

Facebook is a video game for adults

Facebook is a video game for adults. The social network specializes in goading emotional responses that dupe the older crowd into thinking they are legitimate purveyors of news.

The reality is imperfect. Technology companies compel people to spread misinformation that emboldens preexisting echo chambers. A post-fact society threatens the plurality of opinion so fundamental to healthy democracies.

We could argue that CNN and Fox News are also culprits.

Screen staring and the rapid spread of information distort what’s real and what’s false. Unfortunately, it is the networks that benefit most from the gray space in the middle.

Facebook is a weapon of mass propaganda, a platform where conspiracy theories thrive. We should be giving our parents the same lecture they gave us on video games but about their manipulative online use.

Jedi mind tricks have their consequences.

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Life & Philosophy Politics & Society Quotes Tech

Losing the freedom of mind

Lost, gone, vanished.

Our short-attention spans attend to media manipulation.

Yet, we are the purveyors of news. We can spread a thought or opinion on the internet without the slightest veracity, a task only governments used to be able to do.

But we no longer think for ourselves. Our thoughts are almost always somebody else’s. The opposition holds the same blind bias.

A war of words froths with inevitability in the online space.

Tethered to the smartphone, we yield the liberated sense of self to the perfect selfie. We think we’re different but we’re just trying to be naked and famous like everybody else.

But our ability to woo others with pictures and words stop at the screens we share them on. We are fearful to express such individuality in the real world.

Without showing genuine authenticity between ourselves and others, we restrain society of original thought. Genius becomes a mere shadow of itself.

Wrote John Stuart Mill in On Liberty:

“In this age, the mere example of non-conformity, the mere refusal to bend the knee to custom, is itself a service. Precisely because the tyranny of opinion is such as to make eccentricity a reproach, it is desirable, in order to break through that tyranny, that people should be eccentric. Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor, and moral courage which it contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of the time.”

Categories
Apps Social Media Tech

Losing control of our attention

Screens are contagious. If we see one person look at their phone, we emulate them like we do catching someone yawn.

But the addiction is not totally our fault. With the vibrant colors of apps, the dopamine of Facebook likes and news alerts, on top of serving as a consolidated utility of our camera, wallet, and communications device, our phones are designed to hook us.

Tech is the “cigarette of the century.”

It’s amazing that in this post-internet world of surfeit information and 24/7 conversation we can even concentrate at all. We’ve numbed our thumbs from excessive use.

We’ve lost the signal to those little gaps of solitude and doing nothing where we reaped the benefits of a wandering imagination.

Can we get our bored minds back?

There are plenty of options other than riding the Facebook or Google monopoly on our attention. For as many tricks these companies play us, there as many tips to get away from them: turning our screen gray, just sitting and staring outside the window, and at the most extreme: throwing our phone into the ocean.

We can only harvest quality attention if we can escape the torment of distraction and external stimuli fighting for the inside of our heads. The world around us already creates a theater inside our head. We see the world once, with an intrinsic pair of eyes, with no need to record the outside world with a third eye.

“Attention is a form of prayer,” wrote French philosopher Simone Weil. We should insist on slowing down if we’re to restrengthen the human will.

Categories
Culture Postaday Tech

The internet is peanuts

Said filmmaker Orson Welles in 1956: “I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can’t stop eating peanuts.”

We’re at a crossroads with the internet: How can something be so good but bad for us at the same time?

Part of the problem is that we use computers and phones for everything. We depend on technology to act as our wallet, camera, work, and entertainment device. Everything converges into the smartphone, yet we use it less to talk and more to navigate our everyday lives.

The addictive trills of the rectangular glow are just beginning. Tech promises to become more pervasive. We will offload all our work into the unconscious but competent machines, from driving cars to learning languages. AI portends to obviate human labor.

So what are we to do once the robots do it all for us? The line between productivity and doing nothing will blur. Some of us will entertain ourselves into inanition; others will work with automation to keep developing the future.

Either way, we are compelled to become the Jetsons. As long as we stay interested, we can keep the wave of the future interesting.

PS. I discovered the Orson Welles quote in Tim Wu’s fascinating new book The Attention Merchants (Amazon).

Categories
Poetry Social Media Tech

Permanent voyeurism

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The exhibitionist plays her role and lives up to the internet’s stage of expectations. Like robots, we feign surprise at the latest occurrence of routine deja vu. 
 
We walk into our own cameras to take selfies while we move on camera recorded from CCTV above. Even the faintest nook can’t escape the ubiquitous photograph. The invisible fence amplifies a sea of caginess.

Inspection is self-inflicted

Says director Gus Hosein of Privacy International: “if the police wanted to know what was in your head in the 1800s, they would have to torture you. Now they can just find it out from your devices.”
 
The maw of Orwellian watchability is here, in our pockets and from above. The cameras render us into thoughtless lemmings of time.
 
We are the watched, watching the watchers survey conspicuous lands.
Categories
Tech

Drone to the rescue

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via Little Ripper

Lifeguards deployed a drone to save two struggling teenage swimmers stranded in rough seas off the coast of Australia.

This is apparently the first time drone technology carrying a flotation device has rescued swimmers.

While drones are commonly known for selfies (i.e. dronies), Amazon deliveries, firing missiles, and spying but they can also do some good too. The company behind the technology, Little Ripper, developed the drones to monitor sharks for coastal safety.

The drone also recorded the entire event which you can see below.

 

Categories
Apps Social Media Tech

Win back your attention by turning your screen gray 📱⬜👀

The variety of colors on our smartphone screens pop like candy. As advertiser Bruce Barton wrote in his 1925 book In The Man Nobody Knows, “The brilliant plumage of the bird is color advertising addressed to the emotions.”

We tap into Instagram, scroll through a few photos, and return to the home screen to bounce off to other apps. And then we repeat the process again in a mindless fashion.

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After a while, we start to lose all conscious brain power. We fly between apps like we’re hitting buttons at the casino. The variable rewards keep us spinning in a ludic loop. Technology undermines our attention by bombarding our senses with a surfeit of stimuli that lights up like a Christmas tree.

Turn it gray. That’s right: we need to dull our screens to bore our senses. Turning the phone grayscale doesn’t make it dumb, it just makes it less attractive. Writes Nellie Bowles in the New York Times:

I’m not a different person all of a sudden, but I feel more in control of my phone, which now looks like a tool rather than a toy. If I unlock it to write an email, I’m a little less likely to forget the goal and tap on Instagram. If I’m waiting in line for coffee, this gray slab is not as delightful a distraction as it once was.

Want to give your thumbs a break and regain some attention? Study the instructions on Lifehacker on how to turn your screen grayscale.

Categories
Science Video

Are we living in a computer simulation?

Perhaps what we see isn’t what we get. Instead, life is just computer code and humans are information.

So does a simulated life mean that we can live forever? Says theoretical physicist James Gates: “If the simulation hypothesis is valid, then we open the door to eternal life and resurrection and things that formally have been discussed in the realm of religion. As long as I have a computer that’s not damaged, I can always re-run the program.”

We are conscious automata

If our lives are predetermined and robotic, surely there’s a way to confuse the puppeteer? MIT cosmologist Max Tegmark offers some sage advice:

“If you’re not sure at the end of the night whether you’re simulated or not, my advice to you is to go out there and live really interesting lives and do unexpected things, so the simulators don’t get bored and shut you down.”

To bear with uncertainty is to be certain that there remains chaos undulating in the computer code of the cosmos.

Categories
Tech

Make it new

“Reality is an activity of the most august imagination,” wrote poet Wallace Stevens.

What we call reality emerged from human ingenuity. So if we can take today’s tools and use them for good, we’ll naturally have a better future.

Instead, we are building technology that paints a future dystopia. Hackers hijacked Facebook, Google, and Twitter and filled them with fake news during the 2016 election. What did we think was going to happen with free-flowing information?

“The art of debugging a computer program is to figure out what you really told the computer to do instead of what you thought you told it to do,” quipped Andrew Singer, director of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois. Meanwhile, Amazon is replacing its workers with bots.

While we can expect software manipulation to continue, there are still reasons to be hopeful. As Tim O’Reilly points out, we should be looking at ways to work with artificial intelligence to fuel productivity and innovation.

We have to make it new. That’s a wonderful line from Ezra Pound that’s always stuck in my brain: “Make it new.” It’s not just true in literature and in art, it’s in our social conscience, in our politics. We have look at the world as it is and the challenges that are facing us, and we have to throw away the old stuck policies where this idea over here is somehow inescapably attached to this other idea. Just break it all apart and put it together in new ways, with fresh ideas and fresh approaches.

We have a choice: we can deny optimism and permit darkness, or we can build a brighter future. For every time Google chooses to be evil, or Facebook invades our privacy in an attempt to make stockholders happy, there’s another rocket Elon Musk is building that takes us from New York to Shanghai in 39 minutes.

There’s a lot to be hopeful for, as experiments should continue to be encouraged. The real question is how we can create a society for rapid technological advancement and reflexive sociopolitical change. How do ‘we make it new’ without throwing out the stuff that made it right in the first place?

Categories
Psychology Tech

A brain without a body

Artificial intelligence is like a brain without a body. 

Instead of billions of neurons, computers contain bits and bytes of varying voltage levels so they can do stuff like provide directions, select and edit our best photos, or beat humans at chess.

Deep Blue beat Kasparov not by matching his insight and intuition but by overwhelming him with blind calculation. Thanks to years of exponential gains in processing speed, combined with steady improvements in the efficiency of search algorithms, the computer was able to comb through enough possible moves in short enough time to outduel the champion. 

Nicholas Carr, A Brutal Intelligence: AI, Chess, and the Human Mind
Computer Chess Bmfi GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Machines contain faster processors than human brains. Even the most effective Ritalin in the world would leave humans trailing behind its fellow instrument. 

The irony, of course, is that AI is a factory of nothingness without human programming. Computers are ‘competent without comprehension,’ chugging along like a human does on automatic pilot.

If anything, we need to augment humans with machines. Thanks to Elon Musk, we’re nearly there.

We’re a brain chip away from the computer-powered brain, scampering closer to superhuman cyborgs. 

Becoming the tools of our tools, the brain with a body comes back to finish the chess game first.