Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?

"Is Technology Unplugging Our Minds?" 59

Peter Herz writes "Salon has published an article on the effects that technology and "speeding things up" is having on our lives and humanity in general. " Thoughtful piece, playing off of three recent books - Katz's recent Cyberclysm piece deals with much of the same issue.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

"Is Technology Unplugging Our Minds?"

Comments Filter:
  • I personally think that what technology has changed is the interaction, and levels of interaction between ppl, instead of having to wait for the post office to send a letter i can communicate instantly with friends and family. Yes it affects my life, but i think that's a good thing
  • by Paul Crowley ( 837 ) on Thursday October 07, 1999 @04:55AM (#1631811) Homepage Journal
    The problem identified here seems to be a lack of free time to enjoy the good things in life. The dependence on technology - like having conversations on a cellphone while on the move - seems to be a timesaving measure. It may be a symptom, but it's not the cause. Throw away the phone, and your life would be worse, not better.

    What we need is a society that values pleasure, and places less emphasis on paid work. Sadly I suspect that's some distance away.
  • by peterb ( 13831 ) on Thursday October 07, 1999 @04:55AM (#1631812) Homepage Journal
    This topic was discussed (in painstaking detail) in Alvin Toffler's Future Shock [amazon.com]. I'm not sure what else there is to say about it after that!
  • by Enoch Root ( 57473 ) on Thursday October 07, 1999 @04:58AM (#1631813)
    You know, I get tired of this same old speech. I bet they said the same thing about the television. Why, since the television was invented, families don't sit together trying to relieve intense boredom by faking an interest in senseless chatter!

    Heck, I bet they said that about the automobile and the radio. I bet someone once said that about fire, darnit.

    Ten years ago, I would never have been able to chat in real time with a guy in Japan, or hear the original composition of a Russian musician in MP3. I had to look to biased papers and magazines to get my information, and keeping in touch with distant friends required buying stamps and taking a stroll to the post office, then wait a month.

    Yes, there is always a (small) price to pay for technology. By providing us with an easier path, it can also lead to laziness and abuse. But I'm tired of the Luddite speech that technology is all evil and has cut us from our human roots.

    Technology is never responsible for that. The people misusing it are.

    "There is no surer way to ruin a good discussion than to contaminate it with the facts."

  • In the course of conceiving this paragraph, I checked my e-mail three times and fired off four responses. I took a phone call, visited a few Web sites -- simultaneously, I might add, on two computers -- and perused some posts on an online bulletin board. I snuck a peek at the latest news wires, gobbled some take-out Thai food, read a press release. I did this all while switching back and forth between two Internet radio stations, which I listened to through headphones.

    This paragraph doesn't seem right.

    He said he did all of those things *while conceiving that very paragraph*.

    Umm, wouldn't doing all of that be *part* of writing it. I do a lot of things simultaneously (actually it's more of a task-switching mechanism in my brain) but I don't go quite that nuts, even when programming :-)*

    This guy is falling into a common journalistic trap: going overboard in an attempt to prove a point. A point I, personally, am not worried about. Knowledge is a joy, I crave it.

    It's like the local news stations putting "spin" on stories. Embellishing boring items on slow days. I saw a 5 minute bit on a local station (which I despise, btw) about a traffic light in a very low traffic area that briefly kept the red light on when it went green. They waited until the end to say that no accidents ensued. Really, I've seen really dumb people, but none of them were *that* dumb (with the exception of these NTV people that did the story).

    Maybe I'm too cynical.
  • During my collage years an English prof created a multi-disciplinary course on the effect of technology on society/culture - that was like '81 or '82, but we did read some cool books and had interesting discussions; e.g., "Zen & Motorcycle Maintenance", "Existential Pleasures of Engineering", "Mythical Man-Month", oh, BF Skinner's book, uh, Waldon Two (?), and some others.

    Personally, I find techno to be enlightening, IT mind expanding, but w/ vast possiblities for BS etc if you get too lost in the upper levels of abstraction (which companies advert as 'easy to use' crap) which alienates one's mind from hard reality. Linux is like a gym where your minds gets a good workout. Another - rots your brain w/ it's zany antics.


    Little boxes
    running windows
    and they're all made of ticky-tacky
    and they always need rebooting
  • Man, this has given me a great idea for a book. It would discuss how the doomsayer book market is destroying our minds attacking our pocket books and will cause the entire world to be frozen in panic by the year 2005.


  • Sunday morning, I'm listening to an inernet radio
    station. The host is speculating about things
    going on in the world. While he speculates, I'm
    running searches on the topics he brings up.

    I'm able to keep up with him no problem. A few
    years ago I would have had to take notes and hit
    the library over the next few days.

    Same thing during the Kosovo "war". Talking to
    people in Europe on IRC. I'm researching what
    they are saying, real time.

    It's great.
  • When things will get really interesting (probably not for at least another 100 years or so...) will be when we understand the brain enough to build robots with human-level perceptive and cognitive capabilities...

    There may well come a point when artificial species are competing along side us in the evolutionary race.
  • by Victor Danilchenko ( 18251 ) on Thursday October 07, 1999 @05:06AM (#1631819)

    It merely allows us to plumb ourselves deeper. It is ourselves we ought to be wary of, not some technology bogey-man.

    Those who used to stagnate in front of TVs, now stagnate in front og computers; those who never read a good book in their lives, still don't; those whose lives where a whirlwind of getting somewhere and doing something without having time to stop and smell the flowers, still do it -- wether it's cellphones, those fancy horseless carriages, makes no difference; lastly, those who used to think, still do it as well.

    People are so eager to blame everything around for the perceived worsening of humanity -- but the always heard that 'in the old times, things were better': we heard it before computers, we heard it before cars, through the ages the mantra has remained the same: Things suck because of these newfangled doodads, the new generation does not appreciate the finer things in life, it's all the new stuff that is at fault!

    Bullshit. All the bad stuff we see around us, is what was inside us from the beginning -- we simply refuse to see it, because it would damage our flattering self-image. Technology does not make people worse -- but our own creations allow us to express our innermost desires in a wider and wider variety of ways. We are our own worst enemy, and our own best friend -- and we have no-one to blame or praise but ourselves.


  • We have had this theme echo through various phases of history.

    The answer is, predictably, a boring "Yes".

    When the Industrial Revolution came upon us, there were visions of machines that ran non-stop, vomiting steam, controlling all human activity. Well, that has happened. However, the machines did not really control us in the 1920s.

    Similarly, there were visions of calculating artificial brains controlling us in the 1960s. Novels were written. Philosophers pontificated about how "computers were taking over". Yes, we do have FAA software and traffic systems regulating how our airplanes land and cars go through the freeways, but ....machines do not control us.

    Now we have morons predicting how our majestic powerful computers are going to control everything.

    Yadda. Yadda. Yadda. I personally would like to see the credentials of these people. "What is it doing to our souls?"

    It's making mine emit a big yawn. Go watch some movies. Try coming up with a real article if you want readers to click those "hits" your editors want.

    Yes, we all have the pressure to seem to be a visionary. But please...don't come up with crap like this to justify dramatic gee-whiz 21st century futuristic media.


  • by jabber ( 13196 ) on Thursday October 07, 1999 @05:09AM (#1631821) Homepage
    The article hits on some significant points, but offers nothing new, really.

    It's been stated, here on /. and all over the thinking person's media, that we are becoming a 'sound byte' culture.

    Educators and clinicians brand more and more children each year with the stigma of "Attention Deficit Disorder", some with the added zinger of "Hyperactive". But what they don't realize is that our culture and lifestyle not only drive them to be this way, they are demanding of such tendencies.

    A child that shifts focus frequently, can not handle a 45 minute math class, but would do well at the author's openning paragraph. Consider it.

    Further, with seeing news blurr by at 8 seconds per item, with commercials every 8 minutes, how can a kid these days be expected to pay attention for longer than that? How can they not think that this is what is expected of them?

    The author (Gleick by proxy) decries the loss of the symphony because radio stations only play the first (most popular) movement. Everyone knows the openning bars of Beethoven's 5th, but who can actually recognize the 3rd movement? Even NPR has to cater to the whims of it's clientelle. It's a matter of funding - you keep your client happy by playing music they like.

    As the pace at which information is presented increases, the depth to which it is available decreases. Deep knowledge is what separates the expert from the amateur. Depth and breadth are mutually exclusive given finite time. The gaining of 'deep knowledge' requires a time commitment, and a discipline over our access to the flurry of information that surrounds us.

    If we do not exhibit this discipline, we have only shallow knowledge, and are disposable by our culture (full of others like us). If we exercise this discipline, we risk missing out on some shallow information that is significant in the context of the fast moving info-stream. We risk becoming dated and out-of-touch.

    The 'instinctive' ability to be selective about information, is quickly becoming a survival skill for the information age.
  • Personally, I think the way that we're going is becoming more in control of how we behave. Looking at it the way these books do is the pessimistic way of looking at it - realistically, all the "real" things that the books claim we're losing are still there, we're just able to enhance and adapt things better, and make better use of everything.

  • "This may hurt a little, but it's something you get used to." - Tool

    Pondering while trying to look busy at the office this morning (while attempting to look busy. . . listening to a CD, checking e-mail, and browsing three different windows). . .

    Not necessarily something I agree with 100%, but there are small bits that hook into my psyche in ways that are both familiar and uncomfortable.

    I can speak for nobody else, but my life revolves quite literally on the pinion of my electronic information. You people reach me only as electrons the vast majority of the time. Likewise for most of my other friends; both those I grew up with and those I have yet to meet. Entertainment comes piped across the coaxial network and through the television and in through my cablemodem.

    Those times when I have no access are, quite literally, withdrawal. Imagine not having the ability to speak with your friends and family, coupled with not having your car (or taxi, or public transit, etc) in order to shop or pick up a newspaper.

    Am I advocating prostrating oneself to informational immersion? On many levels, yes. Is getting unplugged occasionally worthwhile? Absolutely. But I -want- to have the ability to bathe myself in information streams and cull what's salient to -me- from the flood. If that choice is made for me, aye or nay, then I get hostile. Choice is engendered by having options, and having this myriad information available at the click of a mouse is the best way of keeping that ability viable.

  • I believe that Pink Floyd said it best when he said: We dont need no education!
  • I think in general the huge technology boom has been a good thing. More jobs out on the marketplace (part of the good economy we've got right now), more security (keep a cell phone for when your car breaks down, etc), more communication (how many letters did you write vs the amount of email you write now?)...

    But of course it's got its bad points too. I don't read books nearly as much as I used to when I was in high school (and earlier). Kids these days spend their time chatting online rather than attempting to get real life friends, and doing real life stuff with their friends. Oh yeah how much more money in my budget do I need to spend to get "connected"... $50 for the cell phone, $50 for the cable modem/cable tv... money that would've been spent elsewhere 5 years ago.

    Or how about the college students who flunk out of school because of internet addiction? Without the internet, these students probably would've still been in school. I remember freshman year (94-95) when I discovered the text irc at school. It was hard not to be tempted to skip classes because of an interesting conversation. I probably would've spent more time at the rec center or the library had I not discovered this other entertainment.

    Of course I get paid to be a computer geek (like probably a majority of /.ers) and I'm a technophile but still, it's not all great and glorious like a lot of the media is making it out to be. There is some "bad" mixed in with the "good".
  • Intelligent writers have been talking about this for years. One I particularly like is Steve Talbott, who publishes the NETFUTURE [ora.com] newsletter. He was also the article of a very well regarded book on the subject called "The Future Does Not Compute". I disagree with much of what he says (particularly his New Age nature worshiping), but it's always a good read. Especially important are the writings on computers in education.

    The following essays he's written should give you a feel for the flavor of NETFUTURE:

    Why Timesaving Devices Don't Save Time [oreilly.com]


    The Principle of Technological Deceit [oreilly.com]
  • Technorealism, described as a movement of which two of the three authors are members, has some evil ideas. Read the webpage -- www.technorealism.org. Some of the assertions made are that information does *not* want to be free and that technology standards should be determined by the government.

    Gleick, on the other hand, rocks, and I enjoyed his book.

  • ...it's difficult (and dangerous, perhaps) to equate the
    changing social and mental equilibrium of progress as "damage"
    that needs to be fixed...

    Shenk, Gleick and their fellow naysayers would have you believe that the unprecedented access to information in modern life is somehow destructive. These writers are playing on the average citizen's ignorance and consequent distrust of technology. What we're actually experiencing is a cultural shift as we pass from a society with limited access, to one with instant access, to information. Kids who grow up during this time have no difficulty assimilating the lifestyle pace of which these writers are so frightened.

    The profusion of information channels only accentuates the importance of attention -- no longer are you limited to what the daily paper puts in front of you. Find out yourself whatever you want from a multitude of sources. We are already living in a partial attention-based economy. Websites and television stations compete with bloody knives for our eyes. Politics becomes a day parade of celebrities with unbeatable name recognition.

    Perhaps, in longing for a simpler way of life, Shenk and Gleick etc simply do not realize that it also means a less informed, less participatory lifestyle. Bottom line, if it's too much for you to handle, turn off the machine. I have no sympathy for these writers and I suppose, for them, ignorance is truly bliss./

  • I bet they said the same thing about the television. Why, since the television was invented, families don't sit together trying to relieve intense boredom by faking an interest in senseless chatter!

    I think television is a big part of the whole 'information overload' thing - there are a lot of people who find it very hard to think of something to do other than watch mindless crap on TV nowadays (personally, I've given it up. Really). Haven't you ever walked into a room and found three or four people just sitting staring blankly at the telly, for no other reason than "it's on"? Because if you haven't, I envy you.

    And again, there are bad things to be said about the automobile - the legendary American dependence on cars, for example.

    Your point about the people misusing technology being the cause of it all is valid - but unfortunately that seems to be most people - OK, so you're using the internet to find out about other cultures, different music, new technology (and so am I, and probably most people reading this) - but we are surely the exceptions? (This is "news for nerds", after all!)

    And, like the article says, I don't really see a way to stop the rot either - following the advertiser/punter arms race to its conclusion gives us a disturbing picture of a society saturated with commercial crap trying to get its messages through to a population so desensitised that it doesn't care about anything much at all. <shrug>

  • Here's the low-graphics version [salon.com], if anyone prefers that.
  • It's called time management.
    While there are so many more things pulling at you for your time, you must focus and remain commited to whatever goals you have. After a small tout of internet addiction in 94-95, I've learned to manage my time and goals. Stay focused! Fit the first time (excluding encyclopedias) we have all this info at our finertips, and lets face it, we can't know it all. Choose wants important to you. Sacrifices to be made.

    But definately wear sunscreen.
  • Return of the Luddite, anyone?
  • Paul, I don't know that life would necessarily be worse--or better without the cell phone or any other technological innovation.

    I don't think technology is the symptom or the disease, but perhaps at most a catalyst, or more accurately a vector.

    When the automobile was invented, what means of transportation were around: Horses, feet, bicycles, trains, wagons, etc.

    The purpose of the automobile as envisioned by the inventor was probably just an enhancement of one the functions of these mechanisms.

    But as humanity is wont to do, other uses are found that were not intended, or even smart. Thus drunk driving is a problem that horse riders were less aware of.

    Cell phones have endless potential for enhancing lives (ask anyone who has blown a tire in the middle of nowhere), and for damaging the quality of life (ask anyone who has tried to watch a movie while the joker in front of you chats with a friend on the phone).

    The point is, we are a tool using species. Tools can be used well or poorly.

    This is true of Fire (one of the oldest) or the Internet (one of the newest, but certainly not the last).

    Look to the (mis)user, and their ignorance of what makes life happy for the symptoms, the disease--and the cure.

    Of course this is just my opinion, but I use most modern technologies, I am very happy, I keep my life simple, and I don't use cell phones :)
  • Or how about the college students who flunk out of school because of internet addiction? Without the internet, these students probably would've still been in school.

    Absolutely. I attended college from 1984-1989, and while email and usenet were around, they were not well known. So, I had absolutely no friends drop out of school because of internet abuse. I did know some people that had scholastic troubles and even dropped out of school, but I'm sure it wasn't related to alcohol or drug abuse, or freedom from parents, or too much role playing games, or hacking on the computers, or being disenchanted with collegiate life, or not being sufficiently motivated...

    Not to be too harsh, but students have been dropping out of college for a long time, the internet is just the latest reason.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Why doesn't anyone talk about the success stories? I play the guitar- here are some instances where the net has helped me play the guitar more, for less money. -I can sell equipment I don't want on ebay for top dollar -go to Harmony-central.com and link to tabs that help to help figure out songs -Find a schematic for my old tube amp so I can fix it -Build vintage effects from schematics on the net Most of these activities have minimized my net time and maximized the time I spend playing guitar, messing around with electronics, and jamming. I am becoming a net zombie?
  • Transport of the mails, transport of the human voice,
    transport of flickering pictures - in this century,
    as in others, our highest accomplishments still have the
    single aim of bringing men together.

    -Antoine de Saint Exupery
  • There appears to be a gradual moronization of society.

    I've noticed this in the UK over the past few years. Our television is getting dumber, even the BBC are bowing down to the lowest common denominator. Commercial television is just unwatchable, especially channel 5.

    The chain stores are also taking over. It is getting more difficult, unless you visit a large city centre, to buy challenging media, whether these are CDs, books or magazines. This was not the case a few years ago. I live in a small market town (although at the moment only at weekends), and most of the town centre shops either belong to one of 5 companies, or are going out of business, driven by pricing. In a few years, only the big companies will remain.

    Also, I'm having great difficulty at the moment finding anywhere that sells real beer!

    It appears that the large companies are attempting to make everyone the same, with the same tastes, purely to maximise profits.

    I've always strived to be different, striving to like what I believe in, and not what some mega-corporation dictates. I do not like things because every-one else does.

    Whatever happened to the individual?
  • Try coming up with a real article if you want readers to click those "hits" your editors want.

    Oh! D'uh. I get it now.

    If you were a journalist writing for the web, and you weren't actually a techie, but you needed to get your editor those hits, what better way to ensure the most connected of demographics (i.e. us) flocks to your article?

    Why, write about technology, of course. Say anything at all, allege that the net will make your toenails green, anything, just so long as it's about technology.

    And it worked, too. We all trooped over there to read that nonsense. We just gave them a slashdotting for free, which they can turn around and show their advertisers: look how many hits we got!

    It doesn't matter to the advertisers who rent space on that page whether or not we like what we read there. They're as happy to pay for ad space on an incendiary piece of crap as on insightful exposition. Just so long as they get their several seconds of our eyeball time.

    Days like this, I wish that when a pointer to a web article is posted as a story here on /. that we could moderate the story. Heck, then Rob could sell a service to advertisers: "find out the /. karma of the stories on which your ads are running".

  • Someone else said that this territory was covered by Alvin Toffler's "Future Shock", basically discussing the question of whether we can handle "information overload". This book was written about 30 years ago, and while it's a bit dated, it still applies today. It doesn't have a doomish alarmist feel to it either.

    This article wasn't too bad. Advertising saturation is a key point. The cliche goes "its not the technology, it's how you use it." I agree with that to a point but the technologies that are developed are not deveolped just for technology's sake. Lately the net has seen a lot of e-commerce growth.

    The do everything but say that a lot of the problems present are due to our economic system itself. But that doesn't suprise me, you generally can't get mainstream approval by questioning capitalism our our government.
    Communication technology is a great thing. It's a bad thing when it is turned into a one-way marketing and impulse buying system. I think that outcome is a ppredictable one, just look at how companies work. I say this in every post but it applies to almost everything I write about. Companies are about money and nothing else. With all the fierce competition among net startups, and established companies looking to expand, the internet seems to be expanding into one big advertisment.

    It boils down to how we allow the internet to be used. If it is simply a marketing tool, we all lose. If it is more like a forum such as slashdot, we all win. Do we want dumb consumers or informed citizens?

    The books reviewed here didn't look like they had much to say. I think a lot of these writers just ride the current wave of fear or euphoria to sell books.
  • Basically, I think that technology as we have it now, presents information - and ways of accessing it - in more and varied forms than even two years ago. Internet time is a fact, but that doesn't mean that you HAVE to be plugged in 7/24/365.

    The info is there as are the means to access it faster. That's a good thing. Example. I'm in the smoke room contemplating email clients' whimsical natures when my boss says:

    I need info on sat dishes for X. He needs 'net connection. I think Hughes has some. Get me the spec sheets and prices. Oh, yeah, order another UPS."

    Done in 15 minutes. While listening to music, monitoring the mail server, checking my email. Then I get to relax and read /. What's the problem?
  • A gentleman named Henry Spencer who is almost always correct on everything has his .sig say:

    The good old days weren't.

    I know this simplifies the "issues" a lot, but it basically stands. We, the children of the 80s and 90s are so much better off than our predecessors, and most of us don't even realize it.

    If life is so bad now, why don't these neo-Luddites build cabins in the woods and live by kerosene lamps and gardenning. Oh, wait, maybe it's because central heat, telephones, computers and modern medecine are Good Things? I've lived like that before, it's actually quite pleasant, but it's hard. Getting up at 3:30 AM to stoke a stove, so that you won't freeze that night, every night, gets tiring. Hauling water from a well up a hill to a cabin is very rustic, but loses it's shine really quick.

  • Adults and teenagers often look back to the life of a small child, and envy the simpleness that their life is. They see the child as a care-free existence, with no significant worries about the future.

    I don't know about the rest of you, but I've been worrying about things my entire life. Any memory I have, I've had things at the same time that worried me. Did the report I did on tigers in the second grade have any substantial effect on my life, and therefore justify the worry I gave it? Probably not.

    Does that change anything? Of course not. I thought it was extremely important at the time, and it caused quite a bit of stress (rarely will you hear the term "stress" with "second grade," but there ya go). Now my worries seem much bigger--the major essay I have due on the 15th, the pain I feel sometimes in my left hand that I think is mild carpal tunnel syndrome, what the fuck I'm going to do with my CS degree when I get out of college, will I even get that CS degree--but you can't make someone understand that what they think is important really isn't when they can't grasp what it is you worry about. The same goes for 40 year olds who look at high school kids and think they have a care free life--they don't, high school is very stressful.

    Even if the president has to worry about "more important" matters than I do, we can still have the same stress levels about what we worry about.

    This is the exact same thing. During the "information age," we're looking back ten years, a generation, 100 years, however long, and saying to our selves "Life was so much simpler then." In many respects, yeah, but on the other hand, did it make any difference in how much and what a person had to think about? No, I really don't think it does. A farmer 100 years ago probably had just the same level of stress (think about all of the things a farmer has to worry about: will his crops fail, can he feed his family, will he have any surplus to sell, if he doesn't have any surplus where will the money come from, etc.) that we do now. We adapt.

    In ten years, a generation, or 100 years, people will look back at 1999 and say "Gee, they had it so easy, they didn't have any important issues to worry about." Every generation does it. These theories are just a more articulate way of saying "Life is complicated now, it was much simpler in the past."

    Thing is, there is no such thing as a simple life.

  • What we need is a society that values pleasure, and places less emphasis on paid work. Sadly I suspect that's some distance away.

    My thoughts exactly. Technology is not the culprit, but an accelerated demand for it is. We've been duped into believing that high-tech toys are necessary for work and fun, so we work more to afford them. The growth created by all this working just makes it easier to make more expensive high-tech toys, which of course we are all duped into believing we need. Normally, this wouldn't be a problem, but it seems to me like our demand is outpacing the natural drop in prices as technologies mature. Sure, some stuff is cheap now, but that just makes us buy more in addition to the costlier stuff. To justify the expense, we try to integerate the crap we buy into every facet of our work and lives. So up goes the demand again.

    Aarghhh! I'm turning into a neo-luddite! :)
  • I think you hit the nail pretty squarely there, it's the inappropriate use of technology that's at issue, and the problem is the impossibility of knowing the appropriateness of technology when it is introduced.

    Advertising is not helping either, because it causes people to buy things they don't really need. Use of unneeded technology is very often inappropriate. We need consumer education on the differences between needing, wanting, and being suckered into. Compulsive buying anyone?

    To mention another unforseen implication of cars, there is the exodus to the suburbs. That was supposedly about nice houses in nice places to raise kids, but again unexpectedly resulted in decay of our inner cities as well. That's the problem with technology, the side effects take years to become apparent, and can be profound.

    Since we will not be able to stop technology I think we have to examine our response to it. I'd like to suggest that one aspect of this problem is the inflexibility of our social structures. Even though the problem of inner city decay has been apparent for years we seem unwilling or unable to do much about it. We need to be better at noticing when new technology is creating a problem and factoring the cost of corrective measures into the cost of use of that technology as soon as they appear. We need the *true* cost of each technology factored into supply and demand in order for the free market to converge to the best solution without government help.

    When social programs aren't working we should -- *stop them* -- and try something else. Let's stop talking about what's the right thing to do, forever and always, and start looking at the most efficient response to current conditions. Including new technologies, as appropriate, in our calculations.
  • Technology is wonderful, and although I will agree that it makes life more complicated, it also enables humans to communicate more easily. The most interesting technologies of the 20th century to me are in communications.

    This article hits on the problem - marketing and advertising based conciousness, but doesn't even remotely go into it in any depth. Television was a bad technology, the internet is better and will eventually replace it. The danger is in seeing the internet an amusement park.

    The problem is capitalism.

  • How about mentioning his Power Shift and ... The Third Wave (I believe that's the right title), also both by Toffler, but slightly more recent. Or perhaps National Geographic's Aug 99 "Global Culture" article. (I write, with future shock sitting a foot above his machine on the rack, and power shift sitting in a static bag for it's protection)

    What I find interesting about this rampant technolust they're constantly describing isn't effecting me like they describe. I don't have a cell phone, I don't have a pager. In fact nobody in my immediate family has one. I think that some of my extended family may, but I don't think that many do. I don't have a PDA or laptop (though I wouldn't mind a wearable, but it wouldn't be netted most likely), and I value substance over style on the web (to a point -- unreadable-colored pages suck whichever you value more). My friends (mostly CS majors like me who spend a lot of time in front of a machien) don't have cell phones, and I need one finger to count the number of them who have PDAs.

    Makes me wonder if those who are creating this technology are somehow immune (not quite the right word but) to its effects.

  • If you blindly think information should be free, then please, post your credit card number, expiration date, and the name on the card for us.

    I would fear someone who says information wants to be free more than someone who says information wants to be protected. Do you want anyone having access to your personal private information? Bank statments? Emails to friends? There is some information that should be free; protocols, standards, file formats, maybe even some source code or all source code. But that's not all that there is to information.

    And if you read the blurb about government regulations on protocols, it says that we need to trust the government because we can't trust corporations to do open protocols. Well, let's see, you say you don't trust the government, then you probably don't trust TCP/IP, because it was probably funded by the government's money (DoD?), and so it's the government's protocol.

    I'd also note that it doesn't actually say that tech standard should be determined by the government, it says that corporations who don't really have the public interest at heart should not determin the standards. This doesn't exclude open-source groups from proposing standards, much like now. In fact it specifically mentions that governments should respect the rules and customs of cyberspace. That could just maybe mean stuff like RFCs, etc.

    Not that I'm saying that group is all peaches and wine, but that you need to read and think a little bit yourself. Actually that's one of the principals they mention. ;)

  • What we need is a society that values pleasure, and places less emphasis on paid work. Sadly I suspect that's some distance away.

    ... and may be getting farther away. Idleness and leisure and "stopping to smell the roses" is at least as frowned upon as it ever was.

    As far as "dumbing us down", well, it's not exactly a scientific observation but look at all the dismissive responses to these ideas. Everybody thinks that they seen it before, thinks that they've thought about it before, so they don't bother really thinking about it at all. Our pace has made it even more tempting than ever to make cognitive shortcuts, leaving us more vulnerable than ever to manipulation by those who know how to train us into those shortcuts.

    Pay attention. It's the last thing you have left of value ...

  • Very true, and Future Shock was published in 1970, four years before I was born.

    The article reports that Shenk links speedup with the appearance of "shock jocks" like Howard Stern. George Carlin was doing similar material, again, before I was born.

    Recycling in action.

  • Having a healthy skepticism about the benefits claimed by the marketers of a technology hardly makes one a Luddite.

    The good old days? Maybe, maybe not. I think it depends largely on your own individual circumstances. I love technology, but I don't think we're using it to make the world any better for most people - better for some, worse for many, and no real difference for most.

    And I'd love to have a cabin in the woods. But I'd have photovoltaic and wind power, and heat it with a ground-source heat pump. It's all about appropriate choice, and I think that many people just don't know how to make good choices. Certainly at the institutional and societal level, our choices are generally piss-poor.

  • One of the solutions (Shenk's) in the article was:
    ...we must "relinquish power back" to authorities, giving politicians, rather than individuals, responsibility for managing our technological advances.
    Another commenter pointed out that politicians aren't exactly well suited to deal with technology. If, on the other hand, we have an AI of the type Katz envisioned, you end up with something:
    • Knowledgeable about technology - we should hope that something created from technology would have a good knowledge of it.
    • Knowledgeable in general - If the AI is capable of thinking faster than a person, and has access to the sum of human knowledge nearly instantly (or as much of it is as evident on the Internet) than it is much better informed than any politician could even hope to be.
    • Not self-serving - We more than likely wouldn't be able to forcibly eject a sufficiently advanced AI, once we put it in a position of authority. Logically, then, it doesn't need to look out for itself as its position is secure (as opposed to politicians, who have to worry about getting ousted next election). Why not serve humanity as it was programmed to do?

    I'm not saying that the solution is the correct one - don't get me wrong there. I don't like being told what I can view, what gadgets I need, etc. I believe that other posters are correct when they say that people are becoming more sophisticated and can deal with the new information. However, if it became absolutely necessary that something stop our brains from becoming overloaded, I think an AI would be preferable to a group of lawmakers.

  • Check out Brunner's Shockwave Rider. It was written back in the 70's and the tech is a little weird but the sociology is cool and fun. G
  • James Billington, a Library of Congress librarian and author pointed out in a commencement address at American University that early on, the TV was lauded as having fantastic potential for education. Now it's the babysitter.

    A similar thing is happening on the internet -- less information content and more eye candy -- and it's not just because the marketing monkeys are pushing it. Those of the mode want it, or it wouldn't be that way. THAT is capitalism. The means that people employ to make the money (the capitalists) are manifestations not of their own rotting souls, but of the tastes of the general public. In the words of George Carlin (explaining why we have such terrible politicans to choose from) "Maybe it's the public that sucks."

    I agree that the internet stands to be better than the TV, as it is not restricted to finite channels controlled by marketers, or governments, appealing to or controlling the majority. It can be this way only if people are free to build any sort of webpage they want, i.e. laissez-faire. I suppose capitalism has become a bad word, but its real meaning is the closer ideology to the spirit of the internet.

    It should be kept in mind, however, that such Industrial Age economic/cultural terms will cease to have much meaning in a few decades. We are on the crest of Alvin Toffler's third wave. As Peter Drucker pointed out in a piece [theatlantic.com] in October's Atlantic Monthly, it's likely that we will need to live in the Age of Information for a few decades before life with computers, biotechnology, etc. will have so shaped our thinking that our cultural institutions evolve into those which will be characteristic of the Third Age. Toffler predicts that many of these institutions (economics, government, family, etc) will be more similar to the first Age (the agrarian age) than the second (the Industrial age). Eric Raymond's essays [tuxedo.org] are particularly interesting to me for this reason--he likens many aspects of the evolving culture to forgotten philopsophies. The collection of analyses really suggest a movement towards thinking and acting in ways which transcend "capitalism".

    Once in a while you get shown the light,
  • As was pointed out many times in the response to the Katz article, keeping up with the accelerating pace of technology is a choice, not a requirement for survival. I could identify with a lot of points made in the Salon article such as not being able to keep up with or wade through all of the information that is pushed at us through media. Up until recently it was driving me crazy and making me feel empty. So I gave up on trying to keep up.

    I've felt much better since then!

    I know that I'm not cut out for the ultra fast paced, cell phone and PDA lifestyle. I need plenty of free time to pursue my own interests and a low stress occupation. I guess I'll never be an IPO billionaire, but my sanity is more important to me than money, status or fame. That's a choice I have made and I'm happy with it.

    Technology is not the problem. Seems to me that greed, keeping up with the Jones's, and doing what we think society expects of us are the REAL problems!
  • i gave up my car and television two years ago after seven year of
    commuting -- it's the best thing i ever did. i don't watch TV anymore.
    instead, now i actually live the life people sit about passively watching.
    one thing i've noticed is that the faster people go, the less patient
    they become. i walk to work now, and it takes me abotu 40 minutes. there
    are peopl driving in cars by me that are moving about ten times as fast,
    yet they are impatient and frusterated with 'how slow' traffic is moving,
    but they're going faster than me -- i just think people in cars are
    crazy now, i see them angry all the time. people flip through 500 channels
    and "there's nothing on". but they spent two hours watching nothing, and
    i read half a book. it all comes down to deciding whats important. i think
    in the case of media, less is definitely more. one good book is worth
    several days of TV watching, but people say they don't have the patience.
    but they have less patience, because they don't make the effort, it's
    NOT AS EASY, but its more worth it. :-)

    "If you own a machine, you are in turn owned by it, and spend your time
    serving it..." (Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Forbidden Tower)(br>

    On the effect of Computers on Children in Education:

    http://www.ime.usp.br/~vwsetzer/comp-in-educ.htm l

    On the effect of computers in relation to: doing, feeling, thinking:


    On the Nature of Technology:

    http://home.earthlink.net/~johnrpenner/Articles/ NatureTechnology.html

    Remember - it's not HOW MUCH information you have, its a matter of
    having THE RIGHT information -- the rest just bogs you down. The
    better question is not "how much can you get", but "HOW MUCH CAN

  • COERSION is a rather interesting read. Not so much because of the subject matter, but because of the deconstructionist analysis of Rushkoff it provides. Namely a portrait of a man who got caught up in all the Wired buzz of the Great Generation of chaotic rough'n'ready cyberpunks and the world they were going to make, proceeded to tell advertising companies about it(for thousands of dollars an hour), and how this generation thinks, and now is acting all horrified because *gasp* THE ADVERTISERS USED THIS INFORMATION TO SELL PRODUCTS!

    So, rather than fess up to the full realization that he was a completely niave chucklehead drunk on the promise of New Media and the notion that corporate america will never adjust to the cultural and technological changes that have occured this decade, he drones on with a translucent mask of objective distance about how bad and evil those advertisers and manipulators were for using the information he sold them.

    They're advertisers. Adaptation is their job. You got your $7.5k/hour, shut yer whining.

    Still, the Salon article itself is nicely tempered, in contrast to Katz's earlier article and any of these books. Yes, there's more data flying about, but you can control your own input. Sure, TV ads are getting fast'n'furious, but why do you need to watch TV anyway?

  • All these complaints about technology overcoming some mythical golden age are merely signs that have been repeated throughout the last 100 years. Think about it, technology is employed to control decision making processes. By that I mean it is used to facilitate the gathering and dissemination of information (Which is required for decisions to be made) and production. The techniques had their roots in the Industrial Revolution with the American System of manufacture (Taylorism), continuous processign of materials, efficient plant design, cost control, time studies, scientific management etc. These were all systems that look to use information in order to control distribution, consumption and production.

    The continued evolution of mass communications, combined with increases in production and distribution, have reached the point where there is very little time required for significant changes in any one of these fields to have a large impact in the other two. So what we are seeing today and some are lamenting, is merely a continuation of things that have happened since the Industrial Revolution. The fact that some feel they have lost control is due in part to the fact that there is no one person making decisions. It is a large non-personal entity that gathers all information available, processes it and then makes a decision based on the available information.

    Computers merely make the process faster than humans can. Even today the stock market has to slow down through artifical limits simply becuase the computers process the information faster than humans, which can cause wildly erratic changes in the economy. And yet, people try to compete hoping to get a competitive advantage over somebody else in order to benefit through some real or imagined gain.

    And this isn't something that is new either. Many people realized this and put their own view on it. Look at Babbage! The rise of the information class and information workers was seen in 1958, McLuhan (patron saint of the pre-Conde-Nast Wired) saw a global village based on mass media in 1964. Corporate control from Galbraith in the 60s, Brzezinski's technetronic era (1970?) Toffler etc etc.

    Its in human nature to control. Its just that right now the means to control production, distribution and consumption of materials is faster and more interdependent than ever. It also depends on a centralized means of gathering information. In 1984 the top 5 information-processing equipment manufacturers were IBM, Digital Equipment, Burroughs, Control Data and NCR. Guess who were the 5 largest in 1928? Remington Rand, National Cash Register (NCR), Burroughs, IBM, and Underwod Elliot Fisher.

    Its hard to win against human nature.
  • We're all being slowly, but surely, convenienced out of existence.

    The big companies can afford to (mass) produce a conveniently available alternative. They can't do the same for specialized products, because then they incur the same costs as the small business. It is, as you suggest, a matter of profit - simple economics. And as long as the majority of us chooses to save a buck, rather than be patrons of our local small business, the trend will continue.

    Ultimately, the skills needed to do anything will be held only by the big companies. (I know, I'm naysaying, but only to make the point)

    I'm originally from Poland. There, families typically make a day-trip out of going to an area forest to pick edible mushrooms. There's a whole variety out there that is usable as garnish, flavoring, condiments...

    In the US, the only mushroom that people know is the store bought little round one - and the very gourmet Shittake and Portabella. And for all these are worth, Americans don't know a Shittake from a Portabella from Nightshade on sight. It's only the printed label that makes the distinction. (Though, to their credit, a small segment of the population knows enough to spot the psychoactive variety that the Europeans see as poisonous.)

    This is not a shot at Americans. It is simply more convenient to not have a knowledge of mushrooms. It's not a needed skill. But what about other skills. Brewing your own beer? Darning your own socks? In a society of convenience, where mega-corporations provide cheap, disposable goods, it is easy to simply buy into the convenience.
    It's easy to abdicate power, but it's damn hard to get it back later. This holds for consumerism, security and human rights, everything.
  • I find there is no such thing as being TOO cynical. the more you criticize, the more people can improve. That guy who wrote the paragraph does have a point about being able to do many things at once (Heck, at this very moment I have 3 browsers up, a couple of folders I'm looking at and listening to music, but what he did is WAY too much. And about that tv thing, GOD THAT'S RETARDED!

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun