Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Are you using technology, or is it using you?

… I see people walking down the street, eyes fixed on the screens of their mobile phones, ears plugged into their iPods, oblivious to their surroundings…to reality itself. They are not managing their tools; their tools are managing them.

by Larry Geller

The pull-quote above is from the IEEE Spectrum article, Virtual Reality Is Addictive and Unhealthy (IEEE Spectrum, 8/2012). Both the quote and the title of the article are a bit unfair to the whole work—the author, William H. Davidow, notes, for example, how much technology has benefited the human race:

Chimpanzees, genetically close to us though they are, have bodies two to five times as strong as ours on a relative basis and brains about a quarter as big. In humans, energy that would have gone into other organs instead is used to run energy-­hungry brains. And those brains, augmented by tools, more than make up for any diminishment in guts and muscle. Indeed, it’s been a great evolutionary trade‑off: There are 7 billion people but only a few hundred thousand chimpanzees.

But I think this is the basis of the author’s concern:

I now believe that our minds, bodies, businesses, governments, and social institutions are no longer capable of coping with the rapid rate of change….[Barnes & Noble] set up its first bookstore in 1917, and by 2010 it was operating 717 stores. … Compare that long history to the rise of, which started in 1994 and was operating in virtual space throughout the United States by the next year, putting a bookstore in every home that had an Internet connection.

Snips can’t represent the article as a whole, so check it out at the link above.

IEEE Spectrum is a great technical publication, and they are very generous in posting their content on-line.

I’d like to add that I feel sad for the extended Chinese family enjoying dim sum at a nearby restaurant—maybe ten people around the table—all enjoying the food except for the two little girls playing electronic games and listening to something on a separate iPod through their earbuds. Eating together is a valuable tradition in many cultures, but will it survive into a generation that has no use for real-world culture?

Afterthought: How much of your life depends on Apple? on Google?

Related: Rites of passage—from vacuum tubes to smartphones (12/20/2011)


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