Category: Technology

The Wednesday Eudemon

FrankenmuthThe Disappearing Art: Doing Nothing

While sitting on a bench outside a shop in Potemkin Bavaria last weekend, I reached for my iPhone. I had 10-15 minutes to kill while my wife and children shopped, so I thought I’d do some Internet surfing, maybe read from my Wall Street Journal or USA Today applications, check my Facebook and email, play a game.

But then my thoughts suddenly turned to Henry Hazlitt’s little classic Economics in One Lesson The lesson:

A vandal breaks a man’s window. His neighbors think it’s sad that his window got broken, but at least it creates $250 worth of work for the glass-maker, so that’s a good thing.

But it’s not. What the neighbors don’t see is, the neighbor now has $250 less. And his net loss of $250 isn’t replaced by the glass-maker’s net gain of $250 because the man was going to spend the $250 on a new suit, with the result that his tailor would have $250 and the man would have an intact window and new suit. Instead, the glass-maker has the $250, the man has his intact window, and the tailor has nothing. The net loss to society’s wealth: One new suit. But the neighbors just see the creation of a job for the glass-maker. They don’t see the loss of the new suit, so they think the vandal’s act of destruction has a benefit, which, of course, it doesn’t.

The lesson underscores an enormously important, yet even more enormously fundamental, point: Society’s wealth depends on stuff. The more stuff it can get, the better. The lessons from there reverberate: mere job creation for the sake of jobs is bunk, wasteful government spending saps our wealth because it doesn’t create anything, deflation (to a degree) is healthy because it lets us … Read the rest

ADD, Buddhist Monks, and Misleading Titles

“In the intellectual order, the virtue of humility is nothing more nor less than the power of attention.” Simone Weil

A Distracted World

The May 25th issue of New York Magazine featured this cover story by Sam Anderson: The Attention Crisis–And Why Distraction May Actually Be Good For You.

I’ve long been fascinated with the effects of multi-tasking, which stems in part from my interest in Marshall McLuhan and in part from watching my own mental world get torn apart by distractions. I thought to myself, “It’ll be good to read something positive about the issue.”

Thing is, the article isn’t positive about our world of distraction. It’s the best pop magazine article I’ve ever seen about the causes and problems of our distracted world, but its title is misleading. At the end of the article, Anderson throws a couple of positive spins on the mess, but that’s about it for the “benefits of distraction”: a couple of reasons why it might not be so bad after all . . . if we can just survive the dumbing down that is currently taking place at an alarming speed. (If you read the article and have a short attention span, I recommend you just skip the first page of the online version and start at the top of page two.)

Two years ago, I bought my first real cell phone (digital, not analogue). I loved it. I wrote about it at TCS Daily, where I recounted this personal anecdote: “I’ll often use my cell phone and return the call while walking, so I can exercise and earn money at the same time. I did this the third day I had the phone, while walking back to the office after lunch. I called the client at Point A and … Read the rest

Feature Essay

The Cell Phone Imbroglio

An interesting thing happened at my local high school on Friday. The senior class organized a school-wide prank: the students programmed their cell phone alarms to go off at 10:30. Because cell phones are supposed to be kept in lockers during class, this would result in a large number of muffled cell phone rings emanating into the hallways during class. It was a fairly harmless prank.

The administration got wind of it. In response, it assembled a team of adults. When the phones went off, they used master keys to open the lockers quickly and turn off the phones. They then confiscated the phones, telling the students who participated in the prank that they could get their cell phones back on Monday.

The fairly harmless prank was met with a fairly benign penalty. (Note: I’m not interested in whether the penalty was appropriate, lawful, or proportionate. I’m merely noting that it was, in the grand scheme of things, benign: 70 hours without one’s cell phone.)

The Rage

But oh my, the reaction from students and parents was extreme. The police were finally called in, after a number of parents started screaming, a few even threatening physical violence. I was talking with a friend of mine who witnessed some of the reactions. He said students and parents could in good faith disagree about whether the punishment was appropriate, but he was stunned by the amount and level of rage he saw.

That’s what got me. The rage . . . over temporary confiscation of a cell phone. Parents were yelling, “My child is going away this weekend! She needs her cell phone!” Or “My mother is having surgery, I need to keep in touch with my teenager by cell phone!” Some parents didn’t even have a particular … Read the rest

Twitter Me . . . but Briefly

The evil of Twitter:

“Twitter can make you immoral, claim scientists.” So reported the U.K.‘s Daily Mail on April 14. Hardcore Register readers will see this merely as scientific vindication of Melinda Selmys.

Continues the mail: “A study suggests rapid-fire news updates and instant social interaction are too fast for the ‘moral compass’ of the brain to process,” says the report. “The danger is that heavy Twitters and Facebook users could become ‘indifferent to human suffering’ because they never get time to reflect and fully experience emotions about other people’s feelings.

I signed up for Twitter last weekend, but not a single person I know uses it. The online introduction also told me that posts are limited to 140 words.

So what can you say in 140 words? Not much. It’s intentional. Posts are intended to tell people what you’re doing: going to the store, getting gas, buying a bag of weed. The, you know, inanities of life we all have to deal with . . . and precisely the thing I don’t care to share with others or others to share with me. They say that Twitter is one of those things that seem stupid until you try it. I appreciate that sentiment, but I can’t imagine that my opinion is going to change after I get going on it.

A fellow blogger told me that we need to Twitter and do Facebook because younger people are favoring Twitter and Facebook over blogs. Twitter posts are limited to 140 words and Facebook similarly defaults against lengthy posts. It suddenly dawned on me: “Holy Brevity! Blogs have become the new literary periodical genre!” Just five years ago, blogs were attacked for their superficial literary quality. It now looks like they’re getting too heavy for the average young reader. Heck, … Read the rest

Did You Know?

Nifty 5-minute video a friend sent earlier this year:

I haven’t verified the interesting facts in the video, but I know teachers are showing it to their high school students, and the facts seem plausible enough (in an “implausible just ten years ago” way). A few of the facts that grabbed me:

**The top ten in-demand jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004;
**Four exabytes of unique information will be generated this year;
**The first commercial text message was sent in 1992; today, the total text messages sent in a day exceeds the planet’s population;
**In 1992, there were 1 million internet devices; in 2008, there were 1 billion;
**Technological information doubles every two years . . . for students earning four-year degrees in technology, half of the information they learn as Freshmen will be outdated by their Junior year.

At the end, the video asks, “What does it all mean?”

A person could induce all sorts of general ideas from those facts, but in the sphere of education, I think they point to a paradox: the wave of cutting-edge technology means we should stop studying technology.

Over thirty years after this death, the dinosaur education ideas of Robert Hutchins should (probably won’t, but should) make a comeback.

Hutchins’s models of a collegiate education were the medieval Trivium—rhetoric, grammar, and logic—and Quadrivium—arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. Technical knowledge was to be strenuously avoided: “Facts are the core of an anti-intellectual curriculum,” he observed. “Facts do not solve problems. . . . The gadgeteers and the data collectors have threatened to become the supreme chieftains of the scholarly world.” The true stewards of the university, said the career administrator, should be those who deal with the most fundamental problems: metaphysicians. Link.

If, as the video says, technology … Read the rest

Gmail

Anybody else use Google Mail? Anybody else have troubles accessing it the past two days? It’s like the site has been completely crashed. I couldn’t get on all day yesterday, got on last night once, then today it’s down again. Go figger. … Read the rest

Stuff for Saturday

This might be the consumer tip of the year so far (okay, so it’s only Jan. 5th, it’s still a good tip): Asus Eee 4G-Galaxy 7″ PC Mobile Internet Device. Only $399, and it’s getting good reviews. This writer approves (and even approves of the $299 model), and 29 (out of 33) Amazon users give it five stars. I look at a lot of Amazon reviews, and it’s rare you get such a consensus about any product. I need (well, could really use) a new laptop. I’m going to mull this one a while, but I might bite. I’ve been wanting to try the Linux operating system. This might be a good chance.
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New Dalrymple piece (is Dalrymple blogging at City Journal? If so, good for us). The piece isn’t great, but I like this quote: “[S]elf-destruction . . . grows out of attitudes to life, beliefs, and mentalities; it is not a mechanical response to a mechanical problem.”… Read the rest

Stuff for Sporadic Saturday

Reminder: I don’t blog on Saturdays. I haven’t been for about three months. Though I’ve blogged every Saturday for the last three months, I’m not blogging on Saturdays.

If that makes sense, you drank more beer than I did last night at the office Christmas party.

I guess it’s more accurate to say, “blogging is sporadic on Saturdays.” Some Saturdays are regular blog days, some are much lighter. Whereas I make myself blog Monday through Friday and always post something edifying but short on Sunday, on Saturday you get solely what the Hour Glass and Muses allow.
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A few administrative things:

(1) A few readers email potential stories to me. This is appreciated. If you’re thinking, “Boy, this story should get out there; I wish I had a blog,” send the link to me. I’ll post it, unless the story is stale or lame (and even if it’s lame, I might post it, if it’s a public service type of thing).

(2) If you’re a blogger and think you’ve written an insightful or funny post, email me the link. Don’t be modest. Don’t be angry if I don’t post it, but don’t be modest. (And if the blog post is from that day, I might use it at The Register’s Blog Watch page.)

(3) Don’t forget to use the Amazon link on the right for buying stuff. If you don’t use my blog link, use someone else’s. It’s kind of bogue not to (unless, of course, you simply forget). It doesn’t cost you anything, except the extra mouse click and page load.
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First, bowling alone. Now, foosball alone: “The table system cost about $500 to build, and combines a webcam, an 800MHz Pentium PC and servo-controlled paddles to move, twist, and kick. Here’s how it works . Read the rest