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Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Onion Imitates Life

One thing the internet is good at is making an inventory of what you’re doing and where you have been. And that’s a scary thought. Just look at your browsing history, multiply it by the amount of time you’ve been using to wander the internet, and despair. The internet provides the best and worst aspects of the best friend you wish you had and yet wish you never had. The amount of time we spend using the internet is generally spent serving up redundant, trivial, and mainly unmemorable information that leaves us regretful of the time wasted that could have been spent mastering a foreign language, spending quality time with the spouse and kids, or vacationing in Paris. Obviously, the folks at the satirical website ‘The Onion’ agree, and have given us this personal account of a fictional sort who could easily be us.

During an unexpected moment of clarity Tuesday, open-minded man Blake Richman was suddenly struck by the grim realization that he's squandered a significant portion of his life listening to everyone's bullshit, the 38-year-old told reporters. A visibly stunned and solemn Richman, who until this point regarded his willingness to hear out the opinions of others as a worthwhile quality, estimated that he's wasted nearly three and a half years of his existence being open to people's half-formed thoughts, asinine suggestions, and pointless, dumbfuck stories.

According to Richman, it was just now hitting him how many hours of his life he's pissed away listening intently to nonsense about celebrity couples, how good or bad certain pens are, and why a particular sports team might have a chance this year. The husband and father of two said that every time he's felt at all put out or bored by a bullshit conversation—especially a speculative one about how bad allergy season was going to be—he should have just turned around, walked away, and gone rafting or repelling or done any of the millions of other things he's always wanted to do but never thought he had time for.

At various points throughout the day, Richman could be heard muttering to himself that he couldn't believe he was almost 40 years old.

"Twenty minutes here, 10 minutes there. It all starts to add up," said Richman, who sat down and figured out that between stupid discussions about favorite baby names and reviews of restaurants in cities he'll never visit, he'd wasted 390 hours of his life. "And you know what the worst part is? It's my fault. Here I thought being considerate to others by always listening patiently to what they had to say was the right thing to do. Well, fuck me, right?"

…….By his estimates, Richman's receptiveness has resulted in 160 irreplaceable hours of listening to grossly uninformed political opinions, 300 hours of carefully hearing out both sides of pointless arguments, and at least a month of listening to his parents' bullshit about how important it is to be open-minded.

"All those hours I could have been relaxing, or reading all these great books, or getting into shape, or working on side projects that I'm really excited about," Richman said. "But instead I've been listening to overrated albums recommended to me by my asshole friends."

"Did you know that in my life I've listened to five days' worth of people talking about their furniture?" he added. "It's true. That's a trip to Europe right there."

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Psychology of the Mundane

Read a book about history, biography, or fiction, and you find a narrative of complex motives, intrigue, and action. For the drama of being alive, psychologists have followed the lure of the literary, and have focused on explaining the high points of the human narrative. But the human narrative, if looked at from moment to moment with no special attention given to the intermittent drama of human existence is a rather boring slog. Take the American Civil War for instance. We know the Civil War as an exciting narrative of battles, heroism, and sacrifice, but what Civil War soldiers did ninety nine percent of the time was merely march around and wait. For individuals, although we remember the special moments of our lives, almost all of it is pretty un-special and involves marching around our real or virtual environments, and waiting. Of course all that marching and waiting eventually adds up to something, but perhaps what is needed in the interim is not good advice, but some really good walking shoes. For Civil War soldiers (particularly the Confederates) the prize to be won on the battlefield was not gold or booty, but a good pair of boots. Similarly, for us ordinary Joes to get to the intermittent accomplishments that mark our lives, the mundane solutions are best because that is where we spend the overwhelming majority of our time.  

The question as to how to best spend our time is can best be answered if we consider where we spend our time. Life is mundane, but our accomplishments derive from doing mundane things. Even Civil War victories often depended upon getting to the field of battle the ‘fastest with the mostest’.  The psychology of the mundane, or of the ordinary entails a command of mundane things, but it also implies that behavior is controlled by mundane things. The mundane of course represents the familiar, the simple, but too often if the simple is not familiar, then motivation becomes not complex but subtle. And of course, ignore the subtle details of behavior, and your behavior will go astray. Ultimately, to understand the sameness of behavior, the often dreary consistencies that merit little narrative of how to get where we want to go is to master the trajectory of your life. Indeed, to win a battle without fighting, as the Chinese martial philosopher Sun Tzu said, is to master the mundane, and understand that the clash of emotions, like the clash of arms is dealt with best by understanding and controlling the countless unremarkable events that is sum allow us to do great things.

 Inaction scenes from the Civil War

The emotional problems that beset us are most often due to failures to perform or to meet the feasible demands of our daily lives, from working hard to playing hard. But success in any performance is due to an accumulation of scarcely remarkable things. This is bad news for philosophers, since if motivation depends upon momentary incentives and disincentives of slight import, then wisdom is easier than we think. Thus to be or not to be is not the question, but what’s for lunch.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Elephant in the Living Room

“In applying a method, we need to be as sure as we can that the method itself does not either determine the outcome in advance of the empirical inquiry or artificially skew it. A common method for achieving this… is to seek converging evidence using the broadest available range of differing methodologies. Ideally, the skewing effects of any one method will be canceled out by other methods. The more sources of evidence we have, the more likely this is to happen.” (Lakoff and Turner, 1999) [i]

"… has been increasingly the task of specialists. Today there are few scholars who can call themselves mathematicians or physicists or biologists without restriction. A man may be a topologist or an acoustician or a coleopterist. He will be full of the jargon of his field, and will know all its literature and all its ramifications, but, more frequently than not, he will regard the next subject as something belonging to his colleague three doors down the corridor, and will consider any interest in it on his own part as an unwarrantable breach of privacy."  Norbert Weiner, Cybernetics (1961)[ii].

“Psychological theory today is a patchwork, much like the mosaic of principalities that eventually became Italy and Germany circa 1870. A major goal for all theorists must be to integrate what exists rather than to neglect or denigrate the rest of psychology. Connecting theories conceptually exposes our mutual blind spots and can lead to new and bold insights.” Gigerenzer (2008)[iii] .

As the story goes, "A number of blind men came to an elephant. Somebody told them that it was an elephant. The blind men asked, ‘What is the elephant like?’ and they began to touch its body. One of them said: 'It is like a pillar.' This blind man had only touched its leg. Another man said, ‘The elephant is like a husking basket.’ This person had only touched its ears. Similarly, he who touched its trunk or its belly talked of it differently.”(Wikipedia)

In this story, the blind men were not trying to figure out how the elephant got there, or how it evolved, lived, or even how it breathed. They were just trying to figure out what it was. A simple task, if they just compared notes. But why didn’t they? They interpreted the elephant from the perspective of where they stood. Vantage points of course can have costs, and each blind man may have been more comfortable with his expertise at the rear of the elephant than at its trunk. Moreover, to venture a guess as to what its trunk was like would have been unspeakably rude. Thus each of the blind men would keep to his own perspective or method, and regard the perspective of his blind fellows to be outside his expertise, and consider his own prospective interest in such matters as an unwarranted breach of privacy. So goes the parable, which might indeed be a parable about modern psychology.

Blind Men’s Bluff

Consider this modern day elephant in our living room, taking an elephant size grab of our psychological space. It is of course the all in one entertainment and information center, which streams to you non stop all the information you need to entertain you, enlighten you, inform you, and help you make the mundane and vital choices you need to get by.

But you still don’t know what to make of it, because like the elephant, it just looks differently depending upon the perspective you take. So you have a thousand channels to choose from, but don’t choose any. The social psychologist within you calls the box a purveyor of choice tyranny. As you bounce back and forth your work and the endless distractions the box has to offer, your memory fails you, and the neurologist within you explains the box from the vantage of memory. The box interests you and gives you the urge to want more, and the affective neuro-scientist within you looks at the box from the perspective of the percolation of neurochemicals. The box makes you tense and nervous, and the learning theorist within you views it from the perspective or reward or reinforcement. Finally, you see a commercial for the box on TV, and the consumer within you sees the wellspring of happiness and progress.

Of course, all of these perspectives are valid, and merge into a synthesis that reveals the true nature of the technological animal you are dealing with. You just have to take a few steps back and open your eyes, a luxury the blind men never had.

[i] Lakoff and Turner (1999) Philosophy in the Flesh
[ii] Weiner, Norbert (1961) Cybernetics
[iii] Giegerenzer, G. (2008)  “Why Heuristics Work.” Perspectives in Psychological Science, 3(1), 20-29

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Stalin's Maxim

 “The death of one is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.” Josef Stalin

What is the future of the republic? It’s smart phone enabled, that’s what. We start with the future inaugural of a new president, and then track back, way back, until we stop at the president’s soon to be dad, using his smart phone to book a ticket on the outbound train so he can just in time introduce himself to the president’s soon to be mom.

Moral of the story: AT&T and Blackberry Smart Phone: Your future enabled!

Back to the future app

When the hype machine morphs into a time machine, we know we have problems. In the blissful world of Web 2.0, we are in touch continually, simultaneously, productively, and happily with everything that counts everywhere. And we are constantly reminded of this great boon through the flash of sights and sounds and breathless imagery of nonstop advertising and bleeping reminders. Now, tethered to our i phones, pads, pods, and assorted information appliances, it’s not just you, but the Web 2! However, bring your appliances to work and have them enabled for you at work is akin to ‘bring your daughter, puppy, or mother in law to work day’. Needless to say, you won’t get that much done. Unfortunately, there’s no profit to device manufacturers, content providers, and software developers in telling you differently, until you realize it the hard way when your company shows ‘no profit’.

And then there are statistics, statistics, and more damn statistics. The web is a distracter mechanism par excellence, and to how measure distracters on the web take their toll on the productivity of homo-sapiens in his working habitat, you simply add them up. It’s all in the numbers.

Stat Sheet

So, on average, 28% of our time at work is spent wasting time. Sounds bad, until you realize that averages have a way of getting away from you because deep down, they aren’t you! Thus we know that half of us are over weight, most of us are too stressed, and nearly all of us waste too much time. But so what?  Against the dead hand of numbers and percentages are those everyday experiences of you and I who use the web to get the score, settle a score, or in the case of our stranger on a train, just score. Individual experiences trump statistics, even though in the end we all become one of them. Statistics are an ineffective counterweight against the immediate pull of personal experience, and inverts Stalin’s maxim for a new score of happy victims. One may say in these gentler times on internet omniscience that a simple search is a happy fact, but that the inconvenience and suffering wrought by millions of them is but an unhappy statistic.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Plato's Garbage Pile

The internet is a distraction medium par excellence, as it can sidetrack you to areas that scarcely reflect your main interests at hand. But even if we keep our focus on the straight and narrow, in lieu of making our attention roam wide, the internet can make our attention long. This may represent the most insidious distraction of all.

Consider a shopper going to Wal-Mart in search of a couple of tomatoes. Upon quickly finding his perfect, ripe red veggies (fruit actually), his attention is drawn to the other tomatoes in the aisle that are a bit overripe. Soon his attention moves again to a row of spoiled tomatoes, and then finally to a bushel of rotten tomatoes. He becomes eventually up to his ears in tomatoes, entranced not so much by their ripeness but by the novelty of their rottenness.

Now consider an individual who wants to go out to the movies. Wanting to note the critical opinion on a specific film, he goes to the website ‘Rotten Tomatoes’. The site, which contains scores of reviews for individual films, gives him fresh information on the quality of the film. But other reviews of the site’s page remain compelling, even if the information is redundant and stale. But our information shopper persists, accessing even more reviews as the quality of the information becomes progressively more stale and ‘rotten’.

In hindsight, both shoppers would have been better off searching in a smaller venue such as a farmer’s market or local newspaper. They would have gotten good tomatoes and good movie reviews, and not have wasted time with the diminishing returns of looking at fruit or film reviews that have less and less useful knowledge to give.  When we apply the moral of this story to the internet, we note that the internet is super in finding important things that with slight variations endlessly repeat themselves. We hook on to the variation, but forget the fact that the information is redundant, and is likely as stale as a three week old tomato.

Plato’s Garbage Pile

So if you are looking about facts about the economy, a Mideast war, a football game, or whatever, you will find a pile of facts that have as much enduring value as a bushel of rotten tomatoes. You are what you eat, and you are also what you learn. And if you end up consuming a lot of redundant information only to learn scarcely nothing for your trouble, you’ve just filled up on virtual garbage.

Monday, March 07, 2011

The Web grows up

Progress is infinite, as the pundits say, and we can allow it to carry us off, or we can wave it adieu as it passes us by and out of sight. We can always get off the technological train, and be all he healthier and happier in spite of it. The Amish would attest to that, as they had the wisdom to climb off the caboose long ago when it became obvious to them that the internal combustion engine and radio were not good for the soul.

It’s about human augmentation, when the mere attachment of a device, electrical or mechanical, can supplement and even replace our appendages. Since the advent of local, personal, and global computing, our senses have been expanded so that we can see, hear, and interact with others on a global scale. Of course, all this global goodness degenerates into static when you have a million channels of information, so new flavors of the web will neatly pare it down for you. Thus Web 3.0, or the ‘semantic web’ will take a simple question: ‘I want to see an action movie, have dinner in a place that serves great nachos, do it on Tuesday, within three miles from home, and all on a $10 budget. Like a personal ghost in the machine, the new web will whip up your itinerary instantly, thus reducing your need to use the web.
But as it learns more, Web 3.0 will mature into Web 4.0, and advice it will give you, and more. So instead of telling you about good things for you, it will advance to telling you about things that are good for you. So the semantic web morphs into the ‘stop your antics’ web, as it examines your browsing, walking, talking, eating, etc. history (after all, it is plugged into all those things by now) and comes up with not games, but a game plan. Of course, we may not take the web’s advice to eat our broccoli, and perhaps a paternalism setting on your browser can control for too much good advice. But again, we are generally not wont to reject the advice of a friend, even if it’s not human.

In the past, to have or have not meant the mentorship of good parents, good teachers, and good friends; but in the future it will likely turn on a browser setting and a non human purview of humankind that may eventually suggest to us it is perhaps time to jump off the caboose. Then we will know, like the Amish, that it would be good for the soul.

from 'One Track Minds'. available for free on 

Sunday, March 06, 2011

The Paradox of Choice

Tyranny of Choice: Provocative theory in social psychology, advanced by Dr. Barry Schwartz, who argued from a wealth of observational data that the abundance of choice in the modern world makes people stressed, unhappy, ill, and indecisive. The compelling importance of this fact was unfortunately not noticed by his publisher, who produced Schwartz's book on the topic in paperback, hardback, coffee table size, pop up book, DVD, and on a podcast. Faced with these confusing choices, the public may someday actually read his work, as soon they make up their minds.
Choices have exponentially expanded with technological progress, and so has human dissatisfaction. Although we have access to goods and services that surpass anything envisioned by our parents, we are still unsatisfied. Compared to our lives in generations past, unhappiness, dissatisfaction, and stress has increased in lockstep with our material progress[i]. Although we are effectively more in control of our lives than ever before, our self control has declined, and with the resulting sense of helplessness comes a sense of ennui, dissatisfaction, and despair[ii]. Indeed, it is not the stuff, but how stuff influences our decisions, and we can’t make any, and rue the day for many of the choices we eventually make. Social psychologists think they have the answer. Since the touchstone of our society is our greater material affluence, somehow it is how all that affluence influences decision that is at fault. Affluence underscores options, and when wealth trends to infinity, so do our choices. With infinite choices come indecision, stress, and regret as no decision is good enough in lieu of our apprehension of alternatives lost. That’s a bad thing, and for many social psychologists, the obvious thing. And experiment seems to bear them out. When faced with many options, people are reluctant to make decisions, and when they do they are often stressed and later regretful.
This argument is expounded in Barry Schwartz’s book ‘The Paradox of Choice’[iii], wherein the author lays out the expansive empirical evidence of his position, and the logical conclusion that happiness comes from knowing and accepting our limitations. And that means limiting our choices. Is he right? Well, yes and no. Sometimes choice makes for indecision and unhappiness, sometimes it doesn’t, and why this is so is anyone’s guess. That at least was the conclusion of Benjamin Scheibehenne and colleagues, who performed a ‘meta-analysis’ of fifty studies on choice overload, and concluded that they “could not reliably identify sufficient conditions that explain when and why an increase in assortment size will decrease satisfaction, preference strength, or the motivation to choose[iv].”
Part of the problem is due to the fact that there are many different cognitive antecedents to choice overload, and as Chernov and colleagues noted in commentary on the Scheibehenne paper, “simply searching for a main effect across all conditions and a single “sufficient” condition that is likely to solely predict this effect is not informative”[v]. These may reflect the decision maker’s expertise, the composition and the organization of the assortment, and the nature of the decision task. More specifically, choice is constantly narrowed or attenuated through non-conscious mental processes that discard redundant information and the use of heuristic strategies to attenuate choice, but this is countered by the fact that affective processes in decision making may supplant choice with the mere apprehension of choice, and may render rational decision making difficult or impossible.
For example, place ourselves in uptown Manhattan, and as a neophyte we would be overwhelmed with choices of things to see and do. Live there for a few years, and the debilitating static of choice is blocked as we habitually follow routine in our day to day behavior. Besides the non-conscious processes underlying habit, evaluating a choice imparts information that successively reduces the informative value of successive choices similarly considered. That is, the marginal or added utility of considering alternatives falls as we consider more and more choices. We therefore naturally limit choices because considering more of them will not add any new information. Thus, we may refrain from getting more than three bids for a project, reading three movie reviews on the same film, or getting two medical opinions on the advisability of a medical procedure because evaluating more choices would be of little marginal value. Attenuating choice is further expedited through the use of technology. Want to get the best deal, the best product, and even the best date? Now we have expert systems mediated by the web that can tell us in a heartbeat what choice is best for us. We can in a sense offload our decision making to avatars, expert systems that learn from our previous choices and can navigate a world of infinite abundance. We also can act like ‘experts’ in our own right by using heuristics or rule of thumb strategies to make effective choices. Indeed, common heuristic techniques are not second best strategies to make choices, and generally result in decisions as good as those dependent upon complex statistical or logical models[vi].
On the other hand, the fact that decision making has an affective component can put a decision on ‘hold’ merely because of the fact that considering options can be a pleasant thing. For example, that men generally abhor shopping for clothing means that when they do shop they get to the point and isolate the characteristics they desire, and then purchase the item without a second thought. Women on the other hand can spend an entire day perusing a thousand items that are only marginally distinguishable. However, to say that women are paralyzed by choice is a misnomer, as they are generally ‘delighted’ with choice and are happy to take their time before finally making a purchase, while men would prefer to go home and watch the football game rather than ‘delighting’ in perusing infinite variations of French cuffs. Indeed, the mere apprehension of choice is often a pleasurable thing. Having a thousand different shirts, jams, wines, or mates to choose from may not make for fast decisions, but getting to those decisions can be fun. Of course choice may not be all that pleasant, as an affective choice may contrast with a rational alternative, thus making an evaluation as difficult as comparing apples to oranges. Eating a snack or dieting, checking your social network or working, or sleeping an extra hour rather then rising early are contrasting choices that are difficult and stressful to make.
Ultimately, the pain and regret due to indecision and decisions gone wrong does not point to a surfeit of choices, but rather to a lack of information that allows us to evaluate choices, the positive affect that comes from merely apprehending choice, and a natural inability to decide between affective and informative events that leads to stress and later regret. In other words, it may be difficult to make choices or be emotionally content with choices made because of a lack of information that allows us to mediate between alternatives, or because affect makes indecision a pleasant thing that vanishes with choice or an unpleasant thing that occurs concurrently (stress) subsequently (regret) to a choice.
So we remain left with our question, does exponentially expanding choice correlate with indecision, regret, and unhappiness? It is here that we agree with Schwartz’s conclusions, but not his explanations. Correlation is underscored by causality when the separate diminishing and rising roles of utility and novelty are considered in decision making. When choices are unlimited, the predicted utility of considering each separate option results in a decrease in the predicted utility of evaluating the next option, but the affective ‘utility’ or incentive salience of each considered option does not fall to zero, and always has a constant positive incentive value. In other words, affect predominates when we have and subsequently make too many choices, as considering more choices has diminishing marginal utility but not a corresponding diminishing affective utility. Thus to check one movie review or one model car is both informative and affective with the added or marginal degree of new information falling with each successive review or automobile we consider, but the novelty remains significant even though we have little to glean from the twentieth review or vehicle we consider. When we look back to a day of such ill considered choices, we see no return for our efforts in contrast to more rational alternatives forgone, and are understandably regretful at a day misspent. Thus making too many choices can indeed increase choice tyranny and the indecision, tension, and regret that accompanies it, but it is often due to a rise in the role of ‘affectiveness’ in choosing that causes a reduction in the effectiveness in choosing.
An alternative and perhaps better solution to the tyranny of choice is to recognize that the question is not a matter of reducing choices, but of deciding when we can make them, or to time them. This is done not to limit choices, but to limit the affect that impedes making effective choices. We see this in mindfulness and meditative disciplines that reduce the choices you can make or even consider, for a time. The problem is that timing our choices is hard to do because choice has an affective component that overwhelms rational alternatives, and indeed disguises itself as the mark of a rational alternative. Thus we want to immediately check email, go shopping, watch TV, or indulge in a medley of other diversions because there is some method or logic in such slight madness. The problem therefore may not be in having too many choices, but in making too many choices. Indeed, the advance of the internet means not just that we have more choices before us, but also that there are many more times wherein we can make choices. But it is not information that is the problem, but an abstract property of information of information, namely its relative novelty that is accentuated by the easy availability of ubiquitous knowledge. To ignore the latter is to miss the opportunity to determine their separate influences of information and affect on decision making and emotionality.

[i] David Myers-American Paradox, Spiritual hunger in an age of plenty
[ii] Robert Lane- The loss of happiness on market democracies
[iii] Schwartz, Barry- The Paradox of Choice
[iv] Scheibehenne, B, Greifeneder, R, Todd, P. (2010) “Can there ever be too many choices? A meta-analytic review of choice overload”, Journal of Consumer Research, 37, 409-425
[v] Chernev, A., Bockenholt, U., Goodman, J. (2010) Commentary on Scheibehenne, Greifeneder, and Todd. Choice Overload: Is There Anything to It?, Journal of Consumer Research, 37, 426-428

Saturday, March 05, 2011

The Gutenberg Divide

Install a book on your bookshelf, and what you’ve got is a book. Install a TV between your bookshelves, and unless you lock the channel selector to PBS, you’ve got an entertainment center. The same thing can be said about computers, as PBS or related topics are consigned to an unused hyperlink somewhere because the channel selector is deliberately unlocked and you’re long gone surfing elsewhere. A book has built in content controls, whereas electronic media which allow you to access online books do not, unless of course you have an e-book reader.
But digital divides have never been about books but rather about having ready access to the entire ocean of knowledge available on the web. The fact that children in lower socio-economic classes had less access to information than their more well off peers was long presumed to be a major factor in their lower intellectual accomplishment. So give them the information processors they need plus the broadband connection to pipe all that ocean of knowledge through, and what do you get? You get even lower levels of accomplishment! This is what Jacob Vigden and Helen Ladd found when they surveyed adolescent’s behavior. Specifically, they found that students who gain access to a home computer between 5th and 8th grade tend to witness a persistent decline in reading and math scores.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Indeed, as the authors’ state, “It was thought that the introduction of technology would lead to an improvement in future living standards if it primarily lowers the cost of activities with strong future returns.” However, ‘strong future returns’ are a distant dream compared to the gratification of the moment, as fast food for thought becomes as fortifying as fast food is for one’s health. Which is to say, not much.
When we use tools, it’s not wise to use them ‘under the influence’. Thus when we drive cars and operate power tools, being of sound mind is a prerequisite. However, when we use information tools, being under the influence can come from the very use of the tool, hence the use of the tool must be especially monitored. Because the web can be a literally intoxicating thing, adult supervision is definitely required. As the authors non-surprisingly discovered, the web is indeed a useful thing if it is used under benevolent parental direction. If not, it rapidly devolves into a tool for goofing off, and will set its users blissfully off course and to the wild side of the digital divide.
But perhaps quality trumps quantity, and it is not a digital but a Gutenberg divide (as coined by Nicolas Carr) that is the issue. Just having access to a well stocked library is a more reliable predictor of academic success. Indeed, students who come from homes that emphasize reading do consistently better in their academics than those who do not. Recently, Ann McGill-Frazel and Richard Allington of the University of Tennessee extended this observation to disadvantaged students during summer break. Giving each student twelve books from a list the children provided, the children took pride in their little libraries, read the books and significantly improved their test scores. As they waded in their little worlds of information, digitally divided from the oceans of information available to their better off peers, they nonetheless learned to swim, demonstrating that what divides us is merely the chance to read.
Science Daily: Retrieved form http://science releases/ 2020/ 07/ 100721112234/htm

the Digital Divide- Home computer technology and digital achievement. – Jacob Vigden and Helen Ladd (available at National Bureau of Economic Research working paper no. 16078, June 2010
from 'One Track Minds', available on in July, 2011

Friday, March 04, 2011

We can forget it for you wholesale

It was meant to be just a night out with the boys, and bowling at that. But these were no ordinary chums, but a group of wayward dwarves. And where was the location of the bowling alley? How about that cloud on the left, just follow the thunder. Well, to old Rip, it seemed like he was there only a short time, but as they say, time flies when you’re having fun. And when he settled afterwards in a nap, time flew. Perhaps it was the nap, perhaps it was the game, but when he awoke, generations had past, and Rip Van Winkle, the loyal subject to the English crown woke to a new world, and a new United States. And so, with King George forgotten to all as was his kith and kin, he found his daughter, and passed his remaining days full of memories of simpler days when time had measure and substance and meaning.


Time is money, but time is also memory. In the past the argument to spend one’s time was pecuniary, in the future is may be regarded as the stuff of life. Without memory time vanishes, and when memory is truncated our lives lose meaning because meaning devolves into a void and a blur.

In Philip K. Dick’s novelette ‘We can remember it for you wholesale’ (later morphed into the movie ‘Total Recall’, time was memory, so that life seemed longer and certainly more interesting when your noggin was injected with fabricated memories. Unfortunately, we can’t add memories except through actually doing things, but we sure can eliminate them and speed up their passage. And now on the internet, we can do it wholesale!

Consider two mind experiments we inflict upon our minds all the time.

Time Erasure Experiment #1
You go to a party, and invariably meet a long line of your spouse’s friends, one by one they tell you their names, which or course you immediately forget.

Time Erasure Experiment #2
On Monday you begin playing Halo Fantasy XXIII on your computer. Blink your eyes, and its Tuesday.

In both experiments we are doing everything so quickly each short term memory is pushed aside by the next meaningful sight or sound before it can register in long term memory, so time flies because we literally can’t remember different times. In the first experiment, the memory loss is piecemeal; in the latter it is wholesale. This is why taking a break assists memory when it is a mere pause in behaving, but hinders memory when it is not a pause from behavior but a different behavior entire. Further, when memory falters, so does time, and we wonder when we are because we cannot recall where we have been.

Moral, when you go from daylight savings time to internet time, your time is not just spent, it is lost, and your life is shortened to that of a mayfly. So, if you’re not careful, you may wake up some morning and find out that you have a proverbial long white beard and live in the Peoples Republic of America.

(But of course if you don’t want to listen to this, you can just forget it!)

From 'One Track Minds', available on for free in July 2011