Category Archives: commentary

How do Smartphones Affect Human Thought?

Ecology of thought

My feeds this week kept popping up with a bothersome headline, stated in a variety of ways: Smartphones are Making Us Stupid, Technology is Making us Lazy, Does Smartphone use Decrease Intelligence?

The University of Waterloo released a paper this week that was originally published in Computers in Human Behavior back in July. Titled The Brain in your Pocket: Evidence that Smartphones are used to Supplant Thinking, the authors find a negative correlation between cognitive functioning and the use of search engines via smartphones.

The authors refer to smartphones as an “extended mind,” and make causal claims about the effects of this technological extension upon the current and futures state of human cognition. Namely, they predict that increased use of smartphones to gather information will indulge the human tendency towards lazy thinking, and we will become increasingly reliant upon devices. That is, the authors predict an outsourcing of critical thought. It’s kind of scary, really.

But before the phone stackers triumphantly proclaim that they told us so! Let’s look more closely at the research and the underlying assumptions of the research question.    (more…)

Demands from the Margins

Ferguson Protest, NYC 25th Nov 2014

Statistics are never objective. Rather, they use numeric language to tell a story, and entail all of the subjectivity of storytelling. Indeed, the skilled statistician, like the skilled orator, can bring an audience into the world of their creation, and get the audience to buy fully into the logic of this world. Numbers, like words, are tools of communication, persuasion, connection, and dissent.  Statistics are not objective. But my goodness, statistics can be powerful.

Check out this particularly compelling statistical story about Ferguson Missouri: (more…)

Player Engagement and Shared Space (ugh, there are people here)

THE HELL IS THIS

WHAT THE HELL IS THIS

So I’m basically destroying my gamer cred here – to the extent that I had any, which is probably precisely not at all – by admitting that until this week I hadn’t yet played Destiny.

Look, I just hadn’t, okay? Leave me alone.

(Don’t worry, it gets a lot worse.)

Anyway, I had some free time so I dove into the demo. Many of the more critical (in the more academic sense, not the “this sucks” sense) reviews I had barely skimmed said it was both beautiful and ultimately pretty soulless, which I found – at least from the demo – to be true. But I can get behind a soulless game. I can even get behind a “walking simulator with stuff”. Sometimes I want to Not Think About Things in a fairly aggressive fashion.

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Would if… Nah it’ll never happen.

image

I started writing something about funding community media houses using fees extracted from cable companies, something that local governments will have more political leverage to do with this recent FCC ruling, but as I look back at the dissenting opinions from the Republican commissioners, and the palpable fear of claiming anything close to regulation in the final FCC order, I feel pretty deflated. Don’t get me wrong, its good that net neutrality was preserved, but we should also call it what it is: holding ground. This wasn’t a step forward, it was a lot of work and campaigning just to keep a not terrible status quo. (more…)

the only life you could save

image courtesy of Eduardo Mueses

image courtesy of Eduardo Mueses

A couple of days ago I finished writing a short story and burst into tears.

Anyone who knows me knows I have a lot of emotions. The point of this story is the story.

It started out as a story about a mysterious plague of suicides documented and shared via social media, which I seized on just because it resonated for a bunch of reasons, and I felt like writing something profoundly troubling. What it became was a story about me, about what the last year has been like, about what the last six years have been like – in a graduate program regarding which I seem to be moving from feelings of ambivalence to outright anger and resentment – and really what it’s been like since we first started using these technologies to connect with each other.

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#SpeakBeautiful: Reinforcing a dangerous metric

Twitter and Dove have teamed up in a new campaign to combat criticisms of women’s bodies on social media. The #SpeakBeautiful campaign, which kicked off with a short video (shown above) during the pre-show of this year’s Academy Awards, cites the staggering statistic that women produced over 5 million negative body image Tweets last year. The campaign implores women to stop this, to focus on what is beautiful about each of us, and bring our collective beauty to the fore. Set to musical crescendo and the image of falling dominos, this message is both powerful and persuasive. (more…)

Why Do Many Reasonable People Trust Science?

I have a secret to tell all of you: I kind of don’t care about teaching evolution in science classes. Put another way, I’m less than convinced that most people, having learned the story of species differentiation and adaptation, go on to live fuller and more meaningful lives. In fact, the way we teach evolution ­­––with a ferocious attention toward competition and struggle in adverse circumstances–– might be detrimental to the encouragement of healthy and happy communities. I also see little reason to trust the medical community writ-large, and I cringe when a well-meaning environmentalist describes their reaction to impending climate change by listing all of the light bulbs and battery-powered cars they bought. I suppose –given my cynical outlook– that the cover story of this month’s National Geographic is speaking to me when it asks “Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?” Good question: what the hell is wrong with me? (more…)

Writing as an exclusive aesthetic (it is)

image courtesy of matsuyuki

image courtesy of matsuyuki

I was doing a post on writing for my author blog, and I wanted an image for it, so off to the Flickr Creative Commons search I went. I searched the “writing’ keyword. Almost all of what I got back was some version of the above. Almost all of the rest of it was just random stuff. There were a few shots of laptops or computers but they nearly always also prominantly included notebooks and pens/pencils. Do a Google image search for “writing” and you get the same damn thing. All very attractive photos of pens and hands and often lovely, swooping script.

I do not write that way.

I can’t write that way.

(more…)

Theorizing Affordances

Affordances

There’s a tricky balancing act to play when thinking about the relative influence of technological artifacts and the humans who create and use these artifacts. It’s all too easy to blame technologies or alternatively, discount their shaping effects.

Both Marshall McLuhan and Actor Network Theorists (ANT) insist on the efficaciousness of technological objects. These objects do things, and as researchers, we should take those things seriously. In response to the popular adage that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” ANT scholar Bruno Latour famously retorts:

It is neither people nor guns that kill. Responsibility for action must be shared among the various actants

From this perspective, failing to take seriously the active role of technological artifacts, assuming instead that everything hinges on human practice, is to risk entrapment by those artifacts that push us in ways we cannot understand or recognize. Speaking of media technologies, McLuhan warns:

Subliminal and docile acceptance of media impact has made them prisons without walls for their human users.   

This, they get right. Technology is not merely a tool of human agency, but pushes, guides, and sometimes traps users in significant ways. And yet both McLuhan and ANT have been justly criticized as deterministic. Technologies may shape those who use them, but humans created these artifacts, and humans can—and do— work around them.   (more…)

The Conspicuous Absence of Solidarity

The slain, Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha

The slain, Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha

My small city of Troy, New York is drawing up a new comprehensive plan. Lots of towns and even universities do this from time to time as a way of coordinating and re-aligning the institutions and organizations into some kind of general direction. These sorts of moments encourage individuals to be reflective as well as divisive. There’s a lot at stake (or at least it feels that way) and people feel the need to protect what they see as threatened by change, or go on the offensive and try to root out what they see as a long-standing problem. More than anything, these sorts of comprehensive planning efforts force us to confront our everyday lives as a set of conditions and decisions that exist outside of our control but are ultimately steerable if enough political will can be leveraged, if enough organizing around a particular issue gets done. Last night, a wide variety of people came together to discuss what they thought was working and what was needed attention in our city. (more…)