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Posts Tagged ‘progress’

The Misuse is the Feature: Cognitive Tech & Action

December 29, 2014 Leave a comment

Technology can be categorized into two distinct categories: “cognitive” and “non-cognitive”. In the “cognitive” camp I place items like Facebook and Twitter, which prompt the user to interact with its features. A user of these sites is asked to share their thoughts. One is capable of sharing every thought, desire and idea on the site and it works to encourage the user to do so. The user must choose the level of interaction and one could very easily (and many often do) over-share or over-interact with the site. One could very easily destroy a reputation by publishing every thought on Facebook. To fully interact with the site means to respond to its prompting to share fully. Every half-thought idea, emotional impulse and desire becomes fodder for its prompting and if shared material for public consumption.

In the other category, which I call “non-cognitive”, I group items like cars, cooking equipment and material we often see as tools. These items do not prompt us for their use. The microwave does not display a text encouraging you to use it and the car doesn’t honk to encourage you to travel. Among these devices is an in-built limitation that leaves the user to determine interaction. Though one can very easily do damage to a reputation with these tools (for example a car driven dangerously) the level of hazard is lower than the items in the “cognitive” tools category because the user is less influenced by the actual technology.

My suggestion is that the “cognitive” tools are dangerous because their development outpaces our psychological ability to understand the correct way to use them. One must learn to use Facebook correctly. This learning includes an increased awareness of the material suitable for public consumption and the boundaries therein. One should not share secrets or security information like passwords, bank codes, etc.. on these mediums. We learn just what to share.

Such learning though is not automatic and many do not develop these skills or choose not to use them. Commenters make rash and vile commentaries on the internet but in public maintain a calm, cool demeanor. Would these commenters act the same if viewing the video in a public theater? The user chooses the level of interaction. Wisdom comes in learning how to use the technology and gaining the skills for correct use. Many will not gain this info or will choose to disregard these skills.

This disregard for proper use is common with all technology. An ancient technology like alcohol or sugar continues to be misused despite centuries of use and consideration. One can incorrectly drive and destroy a home with the technology of fire. This challenge of learning proper use is common to all technologies. The distinction remains; however, with the “cognitive” versus “non-cognitive” technology: prompted by “cognitive” technology we are forced to develop skills in spite of its asking. This technology form doesn’t want us to filter our interactions. Perhaps the evidence of our struggles with this form are in the constant slew of comment boards and “over-sharing” where a user misuses the technology. Cognitive technology is dangerous because it battles our development of skills.

Veruca writ large

December 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Conservative talk-show host Jim Bohannon often jokes that Americans “are the only society in history that can stand in front of a microwave oven yelling ‘hurry up’.” We’re an impatient bunch, it seems, but regardless of our tiny skills at patience we’re doomed in our developments.

With each technological development we’re quick to move the goal posts back. The car has GPS, but what about satellite radio? So the seats have warmers but what about the steering wheel? “Blessed” by a constancy of technological development we’re never satisfied and ever-wondering on the next greatest feature.

And yet perhaps this is less a detriment and more an engine of development. Is our impatience actually a virtue? Necessity, says the English proverb, is the mother of invention but how many of our inventions come directly from our needs? Viagra and artificial sweeteners are just two examples of items found on accident. One’s desires for solution often leads one to another perk for profit.

Often we admonish lack of patience as a sign of being spoiled. Always wanting more or being disappointed smacks quite often as a denial of the benefits at work. The tablet’s running slowly but just months ago its benefits were desires. How quickly we can move from wanting something to receiving it and wanting more. The goal is ever-moving and perhaps will never rest. Impatient as we are one wonders whether virtue hides inside this trait. Veruca wants it all and so do we. Are we better in our wanting? Do desires spur development? Spoiled on and on.

Identity Badges

July 31, 2014 Leave a comment

Our identities are similar to badges. We wear them for authority and use them to communicate who we are. As we age we change our badges: progressing from student to professional to spouse and the slew of other roles we play. We have multiple badges, stemming both from our personal and professional roles. One might use the metaphor of exchanging badges to summarize human existence. Exchanging one badge for another we gradually work to learn who we are and fully embrace the roles we select.

For those without a sense of self, it is likely that they do not have “their badge”. What role do you play in society? For some this question is easily answered. For some it is their personal life that gives them identity: son, father, grandfather. For others the professional realm will serve: teacher, writer, worker. Still others find definition from the arts: painter, singer, critic. While all categories are used, the essential process one must undergo is the selection of a badge. Be without a badge and one is absent of identity.

 

Symbol Drain

July 14, 2014 Leave a comment

Just as Nixon drained the symbolic power of the two-finger peace salute, figures who embrace the symbols crafted to criticize them quickly drain symbolic power. Symbols are, by definition, an object that represents something else. They are stand-ins for bigger ideas. The peace salute, the red ribbon or the complicated matrix of patriotic emblems all work to represent a larger idea or cause. Groups utilize symbols to simplify a message and create a stamp from which to mark their work. Need to make a statement quickly or refute some absurd state? The symbol is the best bet.

And while symbols hold great meaning, their power is easily drained and erased by imitation. Embraced by one who misrepresents the cause creates a static of understanding. Dilute the message and the message is defeated. For groups who seek to eliminate their opposition the keenest tactic is to not parody the other sides imagery but instead embrace it and redefine it for their own.

Herein lies the danger of the symbol’s simplicity. While powerful and direct, the symbol’s power comes only from its lack of complicated detail. By removing detail and nuance the audience does not fully receive the ideas behind the idea. It is far easier to simply stick the decal on the car or wave the random banner. Strength in numbers, yes, but once a symbol becomes common fare its power is depleted. View the countless decals of the numbers 13.1 and one begins to be less impressed by one’s bragging of athletic prowess. One must be careful when using symbols: powerful when limited but easily depleted, our symbols are less our greatest bullets and more a sharpened jab to the brain. We may strike with solid fervor but with every continued strike the punch becomes better known and the opposition’s ability to counterattack or even disregard becomes all the more easy.

Ethical Generic?

July 14, 2014 2 comments

A scientist who toils towards progress works with intellectual property rights by her side. Knowing that her great discovery will be protected so that the organization she works for can profit and further fund discoveries allows her to absorb additional costs. In essence, greater risk allows for greater reward if a major breakthrough is found. Medical companies often cite these protections as essential components to their work: by profiting from a drug like Viagra, Pfizer can work towards medications for highly puzzling yet unknown diseases. Is the road towards the cure for cancer paved in prescriptions for Viagra or Botox?

These controls over intellectual property are not eternal. Depending on the industry the law declares a certain amount of time for protection to exist. Once extinguished the “secret sauce” is revealed and other companies can create their own forms of the drug. This gives way to the wave of generic forms that are far more affordable. And yet despite the benefits of more people having access to these medications one wonders whether longer extensions of protections might give way to faster discoveries of solution to our most horrible conditions.

Might eternal patent protection be better? Is it unethical to buy generic because in doing so we deny the “creator’s work” from receiving compensation? On strays away from this conclusion when details of profit are considered. Pharmaceutical companies are far from destitute and continue to discover important medications in spite of the loss of protection.

In the end, its humanity that charges forward. Despite the global spread of workers dedicated to finding solutions for a multitude of companies each works towards the common goal of fixing human ills. No matter the politics or legal details the scientists who toil towards progress do so not for their companies well being but for the unending war against our ills. Each battles for a better tomorrow and despite the details that come between progress and profit a greater tomorrow comes only by the grace of the brains and brawn of those concerned.

Consensus Conversations

June 20, 2014 Leave a comment

While cultural values vary from community to community, it is society’s role to facilitate discussion and enforcement. Varied and wide-ranging, the perspectives we hold stem from numerous sources.

Perhaps a religious group believes in varied rights between the genders, or another feels that certain foods should not be eaten. These are real examples from our society that we allow to exist and often celebrate as unique features of the group. Of the Amish or other orthodox communities we recognize a unique way of living and see their existence as a sign that we live in a rational and fair society. Only tyrants squash any sense of “other.”

Who is to say that one group’s ideas are better than another? As a society we collectively discuss the varied ideas and come to a consensus about ideal rules. Such “universal values” come as products of consensus. We allow for massive differences and yet work to make sense of the diversity. What is best for the group is not decided by a specific person; instead it is a concept determined by a massive conversation. One of our greatest accomplishment as a society is this allowance for diversity.

Of “Nostalgic Spasms”

May 21, 2014 Leave a comment

In Taming Lust, a brief study of the prosecution of bestiality in early America, Doron S. Ben-Atar uses the phrase “nostalgic spasm” to refer to a sudden shift in social norms that looks back in light of changes. Such “spasms” come in times of social change, he suggests, and demonstrates with his book how in moments of social change an older generation can grasp its power in a last-ditch attempt to stop oncoming change. It is a process we see repeated throughout history: moments of social shift occurring but only after actions of incredible bigotry and cruelty. With each change in social perspective an old view is tossed away.

Critical to these shifts are the individuals involved in making new ideas reality. Too often we look only at the actors involved with the winning side. History is, they say, written by the victors and such limited consideration is evidence of its truth. Who creates the change? Both the actors whose new ideas become enacted and the losers whose old, out-dated ideas are discarded.

In changing our social norms we look away from old ideas. In transitioning to new ideas we discard old views and shift power from those who held these views to those with new ideas. Abstraction may lead us to only view these changes from the perspective of the idea: the women’s right to vote became enacted or civil rights were extended to African-Americans. Changes, yes, but abstract ideas that only become reality when people work (and often die) to make them reality. Human beings move ideas from abstract ideas to actual policy.

Often people claim an “evolution” of thought with new ideas. The right for same-sex couples to marry is a contemporary issue where people often cite an “evolution of perspective” in explaining their delay in drawing conclusions. President Obama is one individual who has cited such evolutions. Herein is the older generation gradually coming to terms with new ideas. For some this evolution is difficult, but for others its simply too much. For those whose perspectives cannot accommodate a change in norms the “nostalgic spasm” might seem critical. Rapid action to block a social change often occur in areas where values are deeply embedded in the community. Severe punishments for crimes typically treated less severely or the creation of new, more strict rules and punishments reveal the spasm in action. Moral panic might explain their actions, but in their works we see both reaction and change. Though their fight to keep things the same hurts many, time cannot control the change. Unfortunately our greatest social changes come with painful baggage. Before we have great change we have the panic of the powerful whose last grasp for power provides them with the ability to instill a brief, painful period of suffering. Such actions are dual symbols: the older power fading and the dawning of the new ideas to come.

 

 

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