View Full Version : Misc Our gadgets, ourselves (interesting read IMO, not political)

06-11-2010, 12:28 PM
I read this column in the local paper this morning and it rang true for me. I find that my attention span for reading a book or having a conversation or just doing nothing (I believe it was once called "thinking") isn't the same as it once was. I knew that to be true but until reading this it hadn't occurred to me that the internet could have a connection.


Our gadgets, ourselves

By Ruth Marcus
Wednesday, June 9, 2010; A21

I've come down with a bad case of the shallows.

That's technology writer Nicholas Carr's term -- and the title of his new book -- for the invisible, invidious impact of computers on the modern brain. Carr compares himself to HAL, the malfunctioning computer in "2001: A Space Odyssey," lamenting as its circuitry is unplugged, "Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it."

As Carr writes, "I can feel it too. Over the last few years I've had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn't going -- so far as I can tell -- but it's changing. I'm not thinking the way I used to think." Trying to read a book, he says, "my concentration starts to drift after a page or two. . . . I feel like I'm always dragging my wayward brain back to the test."

Me, too. I thought it was middle age, and maybe it is, or perhaps belatedly self-diagnosed adult attention-deficit disorder. But Carr's assessment -- "what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away at my capacity for concentration and contemplation" -- jibed uncomfortably with my own experience.

Once upon a time, which is to say before the advent of the Internet, my work as a journalist involved reading documents, making phone calls, attending events. Turning to the keyboard, or the screen, was the end of the assembly line.

Now, it seems, it is the totality: I spend hours skittering across the virtual surface of the Web, flitting from place to place, never resting for very long. I read a few sentences -- or write a few -- and my hand twitches, like an alcoholic reaching for the bottle, toward the BlackBerry.

I must know -- now -- what has arrived in my inbox, even though almost all of it is junk. I live an alt-tab existence, constantly shuttling among the open windows on my browser. I have switched, in Carr's formulation, from "reading to power-browsing." I am a lab rat "constantly pressing levers to get tiny pellets of social or intellectual nourishment."

I love technology. It lets me work better and faster. It untethers me from a physical office and allows me to, well, alt-tab efficiently between work and family. E-mail and social networking, with the combination of ease of access yet remoteness of interaction, help make and renew personal connections.

But technology also takes its toll -- including physically. "The technology is rewiring our brains," Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, told the New York Times. The brain is malleable, and, like any regular exercise, the instant gratification world of the Web helps build certain neural connections while others molder.

The implications of this are most worrisome for children. Like Carr, I had an "analog youth" before a "digital adulthood." A modern child's existence is all digital, all the time. They have constant access to stimulation -- on their laptops, on their iPods, on their cellphones. It is no surprise that their capacity to submerge themselves for hours in the world of a book has been diminished. Their brains are wired to expect more stimulation.

My current household technological battle involves making the kids turn off Facebook and cellphones when studying. They believe this to be not only unnecessary but rude: In an age when no one is ever really out of contact, how could they possibly be inaccessible to their friends?

And then there is the disturbing question of how the era of virtual communications affects friendships and personality. Kids prefer text over talk; it is, to them, more efficient. But the inability to discern tone and inflection enhances the possibilities of misunderstanding, and the distancing effect of disembodied language lowers the barrier for hurtful speech.

In a new study, researchers at the University of Michigan found that college students today are about 40 percent lower in empathy, measured by standard personality tests, than their counterparts 20 and 30 years ago. The biggest drop occurred after 2000, coinciding with the rise of online communications and social networking, and the author, Sara Konrath, sees a possible correlation. "Empathy is best activated when you can see another person's signal for help," she told USA Today.

The subtitle of Carr's book is "What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains." Perhaps he should worry about our hearts as well.


06-11-2010, 05:38 PM
I tried reading this article but my mind kept wandering to something else. :D

Seriously though I can relate to this article. I very rarely read books anymore. When I see long articles posted on here I very rarely finish reading it before moving on. I almost never go back through threads that have a couple pages of posts to see what everyone says, I usually skip around and just get a general feel.

06-12-2010, 11:09 AM
I tried reading this article but my mind kept wandering to something else. :D

Seriously though I can relate to this article. I very rarely read books anymore. When I see long articles posted on here I very rarely finish reading it before moving on. I almost never go back through threads that have a couple pages of posts to see what everyone says, I usually skip around and just get a general feel.

I hate to admit it but I know exactly what you mean. A book that I once might have read in a few days now might take me a month, mainly because I never seem to be able to just sit down and stay with it for an afternoon. I say it's because I'm too busy but I do always seem to find time to check out CP or see how my fantasy teams are doing or read my email. Maybe it's because I can easily stay on the internet while doing other things, like work (right now) or cooking dinner or playing with my daughter. It's easier to go back and forth since not much concentration is required. Whatever the reason, I don't think my concentration is what it once was.

06-12-2010, 12:23 PM
This is a pretty good documentary IMO on this topic and how it impacts education:


<script type="text/javascript" src="http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/js/pap/embed.js?frol02c39f7qdbb"></script>

Ironically, I believe that during the broadcast, I stopped and started it approximately 6-10 times to variously: check email, answer text messages, do laundry, cut the grass, check this forum, cook, and look at a bid I had on Ebay.

06-12-2010, 12:39 PM
Also, while checking on one of my stocks (TLAB) I ran into this (IMO) disturbing instablog:

Imagine Your Life in 2020: Investing Ideas



How will human-computer interaction, mobile technology, data storage and bioscience change over the next decade? Given the ever-increasing rate at which technology advances, the answer is anyone's guess. But if Frog Design's new prototypes are any indication, we're looking at a future with 3-D holographic data visualizations, body sensor networks and tradable social networking currency.

Global innovation firm Frog Design recently completed a project called Life in 2020 that predicts that data will one day flow alongside the physical world. Which means that in the future, computers won't look or feel like computers as we know them, and massive amounts of data will always be accessible, no matter where in the world you may be.

We've compiled a few lists of investing ideas exposed to three of Frog Design's predicted trends. (Note: Article was originally published on June 7, 2010)

Our Second Brain or "ThingBook"

"In the future nearly every visible thing will be cataloged and indexed, ready to be instantly identified and described to us," according to Frog Design. "Want to go shopping? In the future we won't need big retail stores with aisles of objects on display. We'll be able to shop out in the world (see image, below). Do you like that new car you saw drive by? Or those cool shoes on the woman sitting across the room? All you’ll have to do is look at it and your mobile handset or AR-equipped eyeglasses will identify the object and look up the best price and retailer."


Companies that profit from the mobile internet may be affected by this predicted trend. Here are a few ideas:

Apple (AAPL): Mobile internet device maker (iPhone and iTouch Senior Citizen Edition). The company's stock has gained almost 80% over the last year, and Wall Street analysts expect the company's earnings to continue to grow by 18% over the next 5 years.
Research in Motion (RIMM): Mobile internet device maker (Blackberry). The stock has had a rough year, declining by almost 30%. Investors will be keeping a close eye on the company's earnings report due out June 24.
Palm (PALM): Mobile internet device maker. The stock has declined by 60% over the last year, with earnings growth declining by 8.36% over the last 5 years.
STM Micro (STM): This company produces the orientation sensor that detects whether you are holding your iPhone vertically or horizontally and automatically changes the display to portrait or landscape. The company's profit margins have declined by 9.00% over the last year.
Cisco (CSCO): Mobile internet component maker. Cisco's annual earnings have grown by 8.27% over the last 5 years, but analysts expect earnings to accelerate to a 12.45% growth over the next 5 year.
Ciena (CIEN): Cisco's smaller rival. Institutional investors have been loading up on the stock over the last 3 months, increasing their holdings of the stock by almost 20%.
Tellabs (TLAB): Another mobile internet component maker. The company currently offers a dividend yield of 1.15%, and has a low level of debt relative to shareholder equity (14%).
Tekelec (TKLC): The company's EAGLE 5 signaling platform can be used to transfer large amounts of data over a mobile network. The company has no debt, and Wall Street analysts expect earnings to grow by 5.00% over the next 5 years.
Commscope (CTV): Provides infrastructure solutions for communication networks worldwide. The company operates in four segments: Antenna, Cable and Cabinet Group; Enterprise; Broadband; and Wireless Network Solutions. The company's sales have grown by 21.3% over the last 5 years.
RF Micro Devices (RFMD): Designs and manufactures radio frequency components. Wall Street analysts expect the company's earnings to grow by 17.5% over the next 5 years.
Skyworks Solutions (SWKS): Offers analog and mixed signal semiconductors worldwide. Institutional investors, who currently own 92.77% of the company, increased their holdings in the stock by 3.63% over the last 3 months.


"Like Google for our bodies, future technologies will allow us to monitor our body's vital conditions and compute the outcome of our actions on-the-fly," predicts Frog Design. "So you'll know right away what it's going to take to work off that Burger and Coke."


Here are three companies currently working on body sensor networks:

General Electric (GE): GE Healthcare is developing a Body Sensor Network (BSN) whereby sensor devices collect and store patient-specific data. Note that GE Healthcare contributes a very small percentage of GE's revenues.
Medtronic (MDT): Develops, manufactures, and sells device-based medical therapies worldwide. The stock has gained 13.47% over the last year, and currently offers a 2.16% dividend yield.
Cyberonics (CYBX): Designs, develops, manufactures, sells, and markets implantable medical devices. Wall Street analysts expect the company's earnings to grow by 31% over the next 5 years.

Social Media Currency

What about the future of social networking? Frog Design thinks that your virtual popularity on social media sites may one day be tradable for cold hard cash. Think that's far-fetched?

Whuffie, a conceptual social metric based on what others think of you, has already taken the first step towards making it a reality: "In the future this metric might actually be usable as real money," predicts Frog Design. "Why not? Celebrities are used to getting things for free based on their popularity. This is the same idea taken to its democratic extreme.

Socializing will take on completely new dimensions when we can see everything public about a person right as we are talking with them. Think dating is difficult today? Imagine the hoops we'll have to jump through when everyone in the bar can see your complete dating history the minute you walk into the room."


Although there are no pure-play social networking stocks to invest in, the following stocks can be used to gain indirect exposure to this rapidly growing industry.

Microsoft (MSFT): Owns a small stake in Facebook. Microsoft's stock currently offers a dividend yield of 2.02%, and the company's debt as a percentage of shareholder equity is only 13%.
Google (GOOG): Owns several social networking services, including Orkut. Wall Street analysts expect Google's earnings to grow by 20.57% over the next 5 years.
Newscorp (NWSA): Owns Myspace. The stock has gained about 25% over the last year, and currently offers a dividend yield of 1.20%
Yahoo (YHOO): Owns several social networking services. The company has seen declining earnings growth over the last 5 years, and the stock has declined by about 10% over the last year.