Tag Archives: technology

Are Computers Changing Us or Are They Just Another Tool?

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Sometimes I dream about starting a small group or worshiping community built around listening to podcasts and discussing them together. There are so many provocative ones that are secular, yet lend themselves to spiritual and ethical reflection: The Truth, Radiolab, New Tech City (which I’ve written about recently), and even certain segments of Pop Culture Happy Hour.

The latest is Invisibilia, which sadly has finished its season. But that gives you plenty of time to get caught up if you’ve missed it. The latest episode, Our Computers, Ourselves, was outstanding and great fodder for Spirituality in the Smartphone Age—both the book and the workshop. If you take a multi-day class with me on this topic you WILL listen to excerpts of this podcast!

The first segment follows Thad Starner, a professor at Georgia Tech who’s been wearing a computer for decades now. It’s like a home-grown Google Glass that helps him record what he’s doing, call up thoughtful details about people he’s talking to (“how’s your daughter adjusting to college?”), and much more. Thad sees his wearable computer as no different than eyeglasses—a tool that helps him make his way in the world. He sees no downside. Is he right? Does this strike some people as creepy just because it’s so new? Or is a computer that integrates with us so seamlessly—that helps us think, and on some level thinks itself—somehow different than an inert thing like a pair of spectacles? And is a smartphone really that different from a wearable computer?

The second segment is about a man who started a Twitter account to publish pictures of boorish behavior on the New York subway. At first, the affirmation he received for posting the pictures provided validation and helped him let go of his indignation. Then he began to crave the attention and got snarkier and snarkier… until the N train fought back. A great reflection about the psychology of Internet venting. (Spoiler alert: it doesn’t help you let the bad feelings go. Quite the opposite.)

Check out Our Computers, Ourselves on Invisibilia. And tell me what you think.

Image is from the Invisibilia website.

Day 4 of #BoredandBrilliant: Take a Fauxcation

BoredAndBrilliantSquares_ButterflyIt’s day 4 of the Bored and Brilliant Challenge! #BAB is the brainchild of the folks at the New Tech City podcast, who argue that boredom is essential to creativity—our best thinking comes when we allow our minds to be idle. Check out their website and the podcast.  You can also read my reflections on the project.

Today’s challenge:

Your instructions: Set an email auto-reply just as you would if you were out for a real vacation, send an “I’ll be back later” text out on group chat, or put up an away message status on social media.

I haven’t taken part in today’s challenge, since I do something very similar on tech Sabbath days and feel like I get it. But I have lots of friends who use their email signatures to communicate their email habits: “I respond to email only twice a day,” “I don’t check email on X days.”

Then there’s the person whose vacation message says “When I return from vacation I will delete all the messages I received while away. Please re-contact me then.” I can’t decide if that’s brilliant or jerky. Or both.

To be sure, not every profession lends itself to unplugging from the constant nag of email. But many more do than we probably want to admit, especially if you’re talking about a matter of hours rather than days. And as the podcast makes clear, breaking away from the tyranny of the urgent is important for our thinking and productivity.

One way to dip your toe into this practice if today’s challenge seems too hard: take a faux-cation from responding to messages, if not reading them. I check email throughout the day–I’ve never been able to break myself of the practice. Truly urgent messages are dealt with as soon as possible. But I respond to everything else the following day. I find batching them makes them go faster, and often the issue has resolved itself in the meantime. If someone really needs an answer quickly, I find they’re quite resourceful in getting ahold of me.

What do you think? How does a fauxcation, or a tech sabbath sound to you? Check out what people are saying about today’s challenge on Twitter.

Day 3 of #BoredandBrilliant: Delete That App

BoredAndBrilliantSquares_headIt’s day 3 of the Bored and Brilliant Challenge! #BAB is the brainchild of the folks at the New Tech City podcast, who argue that boredom is essential to creativity—our best thinking comes when we allow our minds to be idle. Check out their website and the podcast.  You can also read my initial reflections on the project and reflections about the previous challenges.

Today’s challenge:

Your instructions for today: delete it. Delete that app. Think about which app you use too much, one that is the bad kind of phone time. You pick what that means. Delete said time-wasting, bad habit app. Uninstall it.

In today’s podcast, New Tech City’s host Manoush Zomorodi takes on her addiction to the game Two Dots. She interviews a cognitive psychologist to find out whether such games have cognitive value, helping our brains get better or smarter. (Spoiler alert: no.) She interviews the game designer of Two Dots and even brings in a friend for support as she deletes the app, including about 150 levels of playing history. She feels sick to her stomach.

I’m fortunate not to have an inclination toward game addiction. I’ve never had an interest in them. Social media, on the other hand…

This was an ironic challenge for me on this of all days. I haven’t had Twitter on my phone in months, but was helping a friend with some social media stuff this afternoon, which required me to install the Twitter app. One step forward, one step back.

Another step forward: I deleted Pinterest right away. I don’t use it that much on my phone, but every time I do I am all-too-aware that I’m avoiding something else. That app is nothing but technological empty calories and it was easy to get rid of. I also took the opportunity to get rid of some apps I don’t use much, including some games that my kids used to play when they were little.

Once that bit of smartphone decluttering was done, I had no choice but to confront the big kahuna:

Facebook.

I don’t have an inclination to overindulge in games, but connection? Conversation? New things to read and discuss? Yes please.

To counteract this tendency, I used to delete my Facebook app every Friday during my tech sabbath and reinstall it on Monday. Sometimes I would forget to reinstall and go a week or more without it. Of course you can access Facebook through a web browser, but my password is long and complicated, which cuts down on that.

Then I joined Moms RUN This Town, my beloved running group, and they do all their communicating via Facebook, so I ended up needing Facebook on weekends.

But today I decided to uninstall Facebook again. It’s rare that I need to connect with the group so urgently that I can’t wait until I’m at a computer, and when I do, I have a workaround that lets me access it through the smartphone browser.

I am experiencing phantom app syndrome in which I go for an icon that’s no longer there, but it feels quite good to have it gone.

How about you? Do you have “that app” you should really get rid of for the sake of your own boredom? See the Twitter discussion here.

 

Day 2 of #BoredandBrilliant: No Photos!

It’s day 2 of the Bored and Brilliant Challenge! Read my initial reflections on the project, yesterday’s reflections, or check out the website and the New Tech City podcast, which sponsors the project.

Here’s day 2:

Your instructions: See the world through your eyes, not your screen. Take absolutely no pictures today. Not of your lunch, not of your children, not of your cubicle mate, not of the beautiful sunset. No picture messages. No cat pics. 

Today’s instructions are not a big stretch for me—I think I’m enough of a digital immigrant that I don’t feel the need to record everything with a photo, and I can easily go a day without taking a picture. But I did take note of the neurological research showing that taking a photo negatively impacts your ability to remember the event.

I think a lot about the impact technology has on memory. Evernote is one of my killer apps; I use it for almost everything. I also know that I often reflexively dump stuff there rather than doing the deeper thinking that can help it lodge in my memory. You can argue that in the age of cheap storage, memory has become obsolete. But how can you access something if you don’t even remember what the something is?

What will be the collective effect of all this outsourcing of memory?

Louis CK has a hilarious, on point, and crude bit about people who record their kids’ performances. It is here–and I have warned you about the language, so don’t write me letters. But for something quite different on the same topic, check out the following short video about a museum guard who works at the Guggenheim. He has seen immense change in how people experience the museum since the advent of smartphones:

Day 1 of #BoredAndBrilliant: Tips for Keeping Your Phone in Your Pocket

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It’s day 1 of the Bored and Brilliant Challenge! Read my initial reflections on the project, or check out the website and the New Tech City podcast, which sponsors the project.

Here’s today’s challenge:

Your instructions: As you move from place to place, keep your phone in your pocket, out of your direct line of sight. Better yet, keep it in your bag.

While you’re boarding the train, walking down the sidewalk, or sitting in the passenger seat of a car, we’re asking you to look at your phone only when you have reached your destination.

I had a recent Facebook discussion about whether people use their phones while at stoplights. Given the number of folks who copped to it (raising hand), today’s challenge is badly needed.

The webpage describing today’s challenge offers some suggestions for curbing those cravings for your phone while you’re in transit or between one activity and the next. Some good tips there, and they got me thinking about others. Here are a few I’d add. Some are silly, some are obvious, a couple invite a deeper reflection (I hope!).

  1. Wear old-fangled gloves: it’s hard to find gloves that aren’t texting gloves, but it’s not impossible. Having to take off your gloves (or better yet, mittens) may short-circuit the phone reflex just enough so you won’t bother. (Texans in summer need not apply.)
  2. Lotion up: Yes, I’m serious. Put some nice moisturizing lotion on your hands before getting in the car. Who wants to get that goop all over their phone? Plus your hands will look years younger.
  3. Find five: When you feel yourself in an idle moment and are tempted to pick up your phone, STOP, look up and around, and notice five things that you hadn’t seen before.
  4. Put the phone in the back seat of the car: Even better than your bag or pocket! Yes you can.
  5. Turn OFF notifications, but turn ON the sound: The Bored and Brilliant site alludes to this—it suggests customizing your ring tones for the most important phone calls and texts and assigning everything else a generic ring. I changed my sounds awhile back but almost always have my phone on vibrate. Now I’m experimenting with having the sound on and only picking it up when it’s one of my most important people.
  6. Clutter your house: This is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I wonder whether we pick up our phones because they’re easy, and if there were other, better options available, we’d grab those instead? Knitting project at your elbow instead of stashed in the bag? Books and magazines strewn about instead of on the shelf? I’m not a big fan of clutter, but I do wonder whether my need to tidy means I pick up my phone more readily than other things.
  7. Use your lock screen to your advantage: The page quotes an author who has a message on his lock screen that says Breathe. He says people often hold their breath unconsciously while waiting for messages to load. How about an image that reminds you to be mindful about your phone? (The Bored and Brilliant logo above?) I’ve taken a screen capture of a quote I like and made it my lock screen so it’s the first thing I see when I press that magic home button.

What do you think? What would you add? And Bored and Brilliant participants, how’s it going? I’ve been home all day but will soon be leaving for a bit of kid carpooling. We’ll see how it goes!

~

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