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The Misuse is the Feature: Cognitive Tech & Action

December 29, 2014 1 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.

No Photos, Please

August 17, 2014 Leave a comment

The cameras are everywhere. From pockets to street corners, to concerts and games, the world is full of image and video capturing devices. One can venture into the eyes of these devices without willingly participating. Walk the dog on the trail, take a friend to a concert and one might just be photographed.

Given that one might not desire such “captures” to take place, modern technology should include an option to protect the identity of those involved. If one does not want to be captured, he or she should have the right to be blurred or distorted in some form that renders the captured image free of identifying marks.

As Native Americans were suspicious of the photograph, contemporary citizens might find similar concerns with technology of today. For whatever reason one feels uncomfortable it is to the benefit of all involved that technology work to embrace the rights of privacy and establish means to remove the unintended subjects of photography.

Impersonal The Person

March 24, 2014 Leave a comment

In her interview with Brian Lehrer, Danah Boyd discusses contemporary challenges in child maturation. Well-versed in technologies complicated relationship with parents and their children, her work bases its conclusions on anecdotal evidence with young people. Her arguments are cogent and well-researched, and present a slew of new ideas about technology. From Boyd it becomes clear that a new perspective about technology must be developed to educate both parents and children. How has the internet changed the way we mature? Clearly, the relationship between peers has been altered drastically by technology. In Boyd we hear the complicated levels of these changes: alterations both for peers in similar age groups and between peers of different groups.

Each generation relates to technology differently. The ways in which an older generation uses Facebook is drastically different from a younger generation. Despite a common platform the two groups both utilize and understand the technology differently. From this great void of understanding comes significant confusion. How do children relate to their parents posting on Facebook? What do children do when their parents refuse them Facebook access or insist they function as a gate-keeper?

As our relationship with technology develops so to will our relationship with those who use technology. Just as users of Facebook come to understand the platform, the means of understanding others who use the platform will develop. Will a sense of someone’s “Facebook-self” become more common? Are we capable of allowing someone to exist as someone else on the internet? The online world is rich with opportunities to be someone else. In these new identities an amazing wealth of power can be seized. Where confusion enters the picture is when these distinct personalities are blurred. With the use of alternative identities it becomes critical that distinctions remain intact. How do parents keep their children safe? Ultimately each family must reach their own conclusion; though, a recognition of the multiple identities of online life is essential. Disregarding this is to disregard the rules of the internet and the very reality in which we live.

 

Commerical Box of Soap

December 13, 2013 Leave a comment

The image of a speaker on a soap box is one of the most profound images of democracy. The rugged individual, determined to be heard, climbs a box and uses it to better address the crowd. This image of a “platform” now expands to include social media sites like Facebook where individuals use the site to share ideas. Create a game on Facebook’s platform and one has access to a user base of billions. Many see this as a definite benefit: it’s where the users are and the most efficient way to reach an audience. And while this is true, it is important to distinguish Facebook’s platform from the classic image from which the term “platform” derived.

Facebook is a commercial medium. It exists to make money for its creators and strives constantly to expand its use to as-yet unknown streams of revenue. New apps are new opportunities: both for creators and for Facebook who use its giant network to distribute and collect. Herein lies the power imbalance at the heart of the relationship. For while Facebook provides access to the user base, maintains its existence and popularity, the user engaged on Facebook retains minimal rights in his or her creation. Agree to distribute your ideas on Facebook and you engaged in a trade: significant details of ownership for access to a massive user base.

When one publishes on Facebook, or any social media sites, he or she forfeits significant rights of ownership. What do these platforms say for potential intellectual endeavors? If great creations must utilize corporate platforms to gain access is something lost? In essence we have a system where, in another domain, a chef must launch his own restaurant inside McDonald’s. Yes, he’ll have access to a massive user-base and a popular platform to launch, but what is lost for what is gained?

Impossible to Luddite

November 12, 2013 Leave a comment

Technological change comes fast. Consider the number of phone numbers you held in your memory a decade ago. Was it more? How has GPS affected your ability to give directions. Many often respond with “Do you have GPS?” when asked to give directions. Technology changes who we are and how we live.

But what of those who loathe technology and instead desire “good old days”? Is anyone capable of existing in a world divorced of technology? Technology is everywhere and impossible to avoid. From grocery stores to libraries every location in society has been affected by technology. One cannot be a Luddite now.

Perhaps most profound about technological change is this inability to avoid it. We need not own technology to be affected. Pew reported in 2013 that just 56% of Americans have smart phones. What of that 44%- are they floundering alone and lost in their world without a data plan and killer apps? Does the user of the “dumb phone” flounder in a world without GPS and data plans? Of course not.┬áTechnological change is inherent and profound.

Relationship Comparatives

November 8, 2013 Leave a comment

What defines a quality relationship? Realistic expectations, quality communication and respect are just three commonly accepted expectations. One’s list, while highly personal, ultimately boils down to equality and respect. We might supply the analogy of a balance to illustrate the idea for a quality relationships.

Paradoxically, we best understand quality relationships by our experience with bad ones. From our nightmares come our sense of peace as often bad begets our sense of good. What is evil if not the direct opposite of good. Does not greater evil demand a greater sense of heroism? We are locked, it seems, in an endless game of cognitive leap frog.

If a quality relationship can be understood and its features stated, we can use this list to evaluate other relationships in life. What is the state of one’s relationship to food? How might one consider his/her relationship to charity or employment? Consider the features of a bad boyfriend: obsessive, indifferent to rational emotions and blind to common needs. Might these same features be used to evaluate one’s relationship to food? Does an eating disorder not treat its object (food) with the lack of concern?

By considering the ways we relate to other people and the expectations that guide our interactions we gain a useful tool for other applications. How should one interact with others? Branch beyond these human-to-human expectations and apply them elsewhere. How do we treat these other objects? Too much time at work? Obsessive compulsion towards a diet? Perhaps we gain a sense of balance by these considerations and learn from common social standards how we might best behave with that which surrounds our daily life.

Jurassic Dreams

October 1, 2013 Leave a comment

The United States government’s shutdown allows one to consider perks and perils of privatization. Privatize a National Park and get Jurassic Park? A private company is the only way that a fantasy land like that displayed in Jurassic Park could exist. The Federal government functions to “protect and preserve” the nation’s interior. While possible, a private company might think otherwise and function instead with the goal of customer desire.

What if the market demands a more exciting use of national landscapes? Do we need another waterfall to photograph? Might we benefit more from some white water rafting parks? Maybe that beautiful field is just perfect for a roller coaster. For some the goal of “preserving and protecting” is the most important role of the government. Save those sacred places for the future. Such glad handing strikes one as insulting- are we truly unable to resist some latest desires to destroy the landscape? Do such suggestions and goals underpin a belief that greedy capitalists will seek out any and all square inches for monopolization opportunities? Some seem convinced that Walmarts on every corner could actually happen.

A government that goes away allows us a moment to consider its value. Might some areas of government be reduced or eliminated? How might a world of less government work? Let’s consider areas where government might trade its role to industry. No, we still need some regulations as in meat inspection and the countless other areas of consumer protection. We do not need no government; but let us muse on where we might adjust. A little tweaking never hurt anyone.

The Coward’s Way

July 27, 2013 Leave a comment

“A screaming comes across the sky,” writes Pynchon in Gravity’s Rainbow. Though set in World War II, Pynchon’s novel reminds us of the sheer terror of war technology and new-found means of delivery. Whether drones or IEDs, war technology can now come from a distance and provide warriors with an ability to kill from a distance. This ability comes as a contrast to older forms of warfare where warrior met warrior. In today’s war there are variable forms of battlefield. No longer do we limit war to self-contained battlefields; instead, entire regions are open to attack. Terrorism further expands these notions of battlefield so that citizens and their public spaces are viable targets.

Do these evolutions suggest a new-found form of war? Is war a game of cowards now? Surely the use of remote technology exists for its claimed benefit of allowing war from a distance. No longer must the soldier face the hazards of the battle field. In our new form of war the battle takes place somewhere else and despite the higher risk of innocent casualties, the muddied terms of war grow increasingly popular. War exists without definition when a battle field is never actually defined. A war that exists everywhere ironically exists nowhere as any place and person plays a part.

Despite our sense of progress with remote technologies we remain blind to the real costs of war. Technology often assists us in making the pains of reality more tolerant. Communication is easier and the daily chores of life become more focused with technology. Does war also benefit from these conveniences? Perhaps a better form of war is what existed in the past. Crude and ugly, the war that exists on the defined battle field recognizes the horrors at play. Working to expand and muddy our definition of war only serves to spread its pain further. War technology accomplishes less in its existence as a remote format. If battle we must than we might better be served by the goal of limiting its exposure.

Beyond Apology

June 21, 2013 Leave a comment

Certain individuals achieve a heightened level in society that renders bad deeds beyond apology. The Celebrity X whose racial epithets become public or the popular singer whose demands appear monumentally selfish. These are the figures whose fall comes just as fast as their rise: born via media attention they fall away in flames as the very beast that allowed them platform falls away and leaves them desperate.

Unfortunately the skills that give birth to additional attention do not provide the ability to control message. Celebrity X may write a great song or cook a great dish, but if he or she cannot control behavior than very little remains safe. Protection comes cheap in a world of public attention and a citizenry fascinated with a rapid rise is just as entertained by a rapid fall. The flames that kiss so often burn to ash.

When an individual achieves celebrity status, he or she transcends their human form and becomes a symbol. Is the Celebrity Chef really a human being or is her existence less about who she is and more what she brings to those who give her platform. Comedian Marc Maron often simplifies the process of celebrity making as essentially determined by a single question: “Have you made me money?” Those that do are granted attention because they provide the source with profit. Advertising runs media and anyone who fails to provide this capital or tarnish a networks ability to profit risks annihilation.

When the celebrity does violate the brand and his or her image has been destroyed there is little that remains. Damage to one’s reputation is damage to the brand. The Celebrity Chef may try to apologize but her position has been eliminated. She has violated the image and tarnished brand. Try though she might she has little left to save: the meals been burnt and her tables long been cleared.

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