rumblings in the times


I read newspapers (seriously, print newspapers) as they pile up around my house.  A nice thing about such piles is they don’t admit order, producing serendipitous juxtapositions (I should credit my children at this point). The data-driven life is an article by a Wired writer that looks into wearable computing and how the ability to outfit oneself with sensors might better inform decisions and behavioral strategies. By my reading, it was a basically positive take on the application of technology to help people live better lives on their own terms, whatever they might be.

Next I came across Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price which took a fairly negative slant, ranging somewhere between blaming technology for diminishing our quality of life and attributing to it irreversible neurological damage. So there’s ambivalence towards the increasing presence of technology in our lives. The role of technology is clear in the first piece. Collect the data, and facilitate its analysis. Computers do little else as well as they do this. In the second piece, technology was the protagonist, while its users played a subordinate role. The family described seemed to involuntarily provide various shared data streams both their content and their currency.

While both depictions are extreme, people are considering both what technology can do for them, and what technology can do to them. This probably reflects the increased penetration of smartphones and social media amidst people old enough to have print subscriptions to the newspaper of record.

Ultimately, these visions of technology in the wild are complementary, assuming active rather than passive consumption. Sensor data or psychological tests (e.g. here) can help you assess your own (in)abilities to multi-task or focus, and in turn, our practices can evolve. That technology might drive behavioral evolution represents a shift in how we relate with it (let’s not mention the word singularity). The hyperbole in the press simply signals the advent of a shift. It is interesting to observe the terms of the shift being negotiated between the technology and its users (with some input from policy types and investors).

The challenge may be finding something like serendipity in a much larger pile when newspapers are extinct.