Intentional Technology

Would it be easier if we carried around devices devoted solely to one function instead of our multifaceted gadgets? There’s no reason we couldn’t go back to pocket calendars, contact lists, photos, wallets, and pens, other than that it wouldn’t be quite as convenient. Video game consoles are great at just playing video games, and we still put up with them. You wouldn’t be distracted by mail delivered to your door when writing down the date of your next dentist appointment, so why should you settle for that experience in a phone?

Katie Reid wonders if we can relearn to live without using smartphones. What will it take for us to feel comfortable being bored? We gotta think of some weird slow activities to fill the time.

My smartphone obviously helped me with a great number of cognitive tasks. It communicated with my friends. It managed my finances. It delivered work emails. It alerted me to emergencies in the area. It reminded me of appointments. It captured and stored memories. But this sudden and overwhelming awareness of its physical absence indicated that it had become just as important to my body as it had to my mind. If I’m honest, much of what I did on my phone could be characterized as mindless. I can’t count the number of times I pulled out my phone just for the feeling of unlocking the screen and swiping through applications, whether out of comfort—like a baby sucking her thumb—or boredom—like a teenager at school, tapping his fingers on a desk. In those cases, I sought not mental stimulation, but physical release.

Dear iPhone—It Was Just Physical, and Now It’s Over by Katie Reid

It can be fun to mindlessly watch YouTube videos for hours or scroll endlessly through your friends’ Instagram feeds, but when the action becomes habitual and reactive, it can be problematic. Reading the New York Times is a similar experience online and in print, but did anyone ever self distract themselves by picking up a newspaper and scanning the headlines for 30 seconds? There’s a more intentional decision making process to read the physical paper. It’s a single task you mindfully opt into for the course of reading a few articles (or cover to cover).

What happened is that the internet stopped being something you went to in order to separate from the real world — from your job and your work and your obligations and responsibilities. It’s not the place you seek to waste time, but the place you go to so that you’ll someday have time to waste. The internet is a utility world for me now. It is efficient and all-encompassing. It is not very much fun.

I Don’t Know How to Waste Time on the Internet Anymore by Dan Nosowitz

Maybe it’s time to stop wasting time on the internet and start using the tool to accomplish what we want to do. In their own ways, people are beginning to realize the many of the most popular services online have been designed to keep us amused rather than help us develop.

Here’s the reality:

– there are more interesting independent blogs now than there were pre-Facebook/Twitter. Maybe less “per-capita” of total online usage, but there’s still a higher volume

– every single person is capable of making an online community using cheap tech, and using corporate social media to promote it; way easier than it was in the past

– developers are still “allowed” to make sites in plain HTML/CSS that look great and load fast

Comment from Hacker News

It ironic how engrained these services are in our lives that companies trying to help us be more mindful are leveraging the same platforms they warn us about.

The addictive qualities of these platforms make them the best place to reach potential new customers or fans. Kindred notes that she’s proud of Mindful Technology’s Instagram account. “It’s blowing up,” she says. “I think a lot of people like me are fed up and over it.”

Tech Addiction and the Business of Mindfulness by Erin Griffith

 

But they still provide some overly simplistic tips for dealing with tech overload.

Conveniently, they have five tips for mindful sharing on social media. For starters, don’t just suddenly drop into phone-mode around other people. Tell your companions, “I’m going to do a social post right now,” and step aside. Next, tap into your inspiration, asking yourself, “What about this feels special to me that I want to build up as part of my world?” Don’t forget to check yourself. So much of posting on Instagram can be an exercise in vanity and proving one’s self-worth; instead, pause and “find the place where you’re inspired.” The fourth tip – “have fun with it”—seemed obvious, but Instagram can be an anxiety-inducing place for many. And lastly, let it go. “There is a nice moment where you can say, ‘I kinda don’t care if anyone likes it … I’m just gonna I hit send and then move on,” Pettit says.

In your mind, will telling your companions you are going to do a social post right now really fix your social media concerns? What about following another account on Instagram. I don’t think so. We need steps to remember how to leverage technology as a tool. It’s meant to help us be more productive, connect with people and build new things. Perhaps the internet really is just a utility that isn’t so much fun anymore, but we need to be intentional about our use of technology instead of slipping into mindless habits. We can use the internet to create and not just consume.

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Week in Review – October 8, 2017

Another stock image of a person simulating an open office environment

Readings

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Thich Nhat Hanh via Lion’s Roar

Teach tech with cartoons by Julia Evans

Why We Contradict Ourselves and Confound Each Other with Daniel Kahneman via On Being (listen)

On Overuse of Technology

Follow Cal Newport. He lead me to Jony Ive’s talk at the New Yorker Tech fest. Here’s the transcript

Jony Ive’s thoughts on Focus

I tend to be so completely preoccupied with what we’re working on at the moment. That tends to take the oxygen. Like any tool, you can see there’s wonderful use and then there’s misuse.

This isn’t a new phenomenon that we have to exercise a modicum of self-control to try and find the right balance. I do think sometimes, it’s just nice to have space. I think we fill space because we can and not because we should.

If I get to sit down for two hours with one of the world’s best silicon chip designers, I could not be happier. And what connects us is a curiosity, and also sort of sense of the authentic pursuit of excellence.

The art of focus is even if it is something you care passionately about, focus means ignoring it, putting it to the side. And often, it’s at real cost. And [Steve Jobs] was remarkable at that. And there have been a few occasions, a few periods where I felt have achieved that focus, and it’s a little eerie. You do have a sense — boundaries before impedance, before that seems insurmountable, seems trivial. And it takes so much effort and is exhausting to sustain, but all of the good things we’ve done have required that sort of focus.

If you’re going to do something new that means that the reason it has not been done before is that is there’s 55 reasons why it hasn’t been done before. And so you have to be so focused and so resolute, and in some ways almost blinkered, but you have to be so determined, but then you have to move between these two behaviors that are almost on the polar opposite.

I am confident that the mistakes weren’t born from laziness or some self-satisfied belief that it’s inevitable that they will be successful. I think we’re bunch of very anxious, worrying individuals who generally assume it’s not going to work unless we can prove otherwise.

Smartphone habits and addiction transforming into information dystopia

via The Guardian

This is classic Nir Eyal

One morning in April this year, designers, programmers and tech entrepreneurs from across the world gathered at a conference centre on the shore of the San Francisco Bay. They had each paid up to $1,700 to learn how to manipulate people into habitual use of their products, on a course curated by conference organizer Nir Eyal.

His book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products is a recipe book to shows how to game human psychology to get people addicted to your product, or as he puts it:

“Just as we shouldn’t blame the baker for making such delicious treats, we can’t blame tech makers for making their products so good we want to use them,” he said. “Of course that’s what tech companies will do. And frankly: do we want it any other way?”

But there is a line between solving a problem through satisfying a need and engineering products for more usage. Read Don Normans’ The Design of Everyday Things instead.

And push notifications, turn them off:

Brichter says he is puzzled by the longevity of the feature. In an era of push notification technology, apps can automatically update content without being nudged by the user. “It could easily retire,” he says. Instead it appears to serve a psychological function: after all, slot machines would be far less addictive if gamblers didn’t get to pull the lever themselves. Brichter prefers another comparison: that it is like the redundant “close door” button in some elevators with automatically closing doors. “People just like to push it.”

Sometimes psychology can make boring situations a little more convenient, even elevator rush hours and grocery store queues.

On the Open Office

Open offices are overrated via Vox

The idea is worth executing well because it matters too much to stop trying to fix it. By that we mean the 40 hours a week, the 8700 hours, the nearly 10 full years of your life you spend inside the four walls of one room.

The Office Gets Remade Again via NY Times

Salesforce’s new skyscraper campus in San Francisco, for example, has areas on every floor for meditation, partly inspired by the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk.

Create things so others can create

Getting to the Future Faster from Exponent

The conversation starts with a discussion on long term thought development via writing on a blog instead of cementing a momentary mindset in a book. In a blog, the audience can learn and grow with the author, while the author can support writing with a subscription business model. They move into universal basic income, single person businesses with an audience of 100s and Etsy as a model for unlocking creative potential of people across the world. Also, Instagram and YouTube stars are entrepreneurial in a job that did not exist five to ten years ago. How can we build technology that enables more people to create?

Stories

Folded newspaper, cup of coffee, and phone on a wooden table

Some of the articles and podcasts that came through my feeds recently had similar themes. It got me thinking about a few things.

  1. The idea of using misinformation as a way to hack one’s mind and shape one’s view of reality.
  2. How we carry out our lives differently. We surround ourselves with people we like and ideas we agree with.
  3. And after reading of Russia’s influence into the discussions of fake news and alternative facts, when we are all content in our filter bubble (how many buzzwords can I fit into one sentence?), slight white lies that confirm our beliefs go unnoticed.

The Invisibilia podcast episode called The Culture Inside explored feedback in the real world and confirmation bias in what we experience.

COX: Human brains are very good at learning things and not so good at unlearning things.

SPIEGEL: Because of the way that our minds work, it is just much easier for a stereotype to perpetuate itself than to be overturned because to change a concept you need to get extremely consistent feedback that the concept is incorrect. But most of the time we get no feedback at all.

COX: You know, imagine you’re walking around downtown and you see a guy in a pink shirt who’s maybe listening to Britney Spears, maybe talks with a lisp. And often people will see that and what’ll pop to mind is the idea that he’s gay. They’ll make an assumption. Oh, look at that gay guy. But they’re not going to run up to him and ask him, oh, are you gay? I had the thought that you were gay, but I just want to, you know, confirm or disconfirm it.

SPIEGEL: If you instantly found out that the man wasn’t gay, that stereotype wouldn’t gain power. But you don’t, so just the assumption strengthens the stereotype.

COX: The way it gets stored in their memory is that that was a gay guy, that having a pink shirt means he’s gay because that’s how our learning happens. It happens by the activation of these associations.

SPIEGEL: In other words, the deck is kind of stacked in favor of whatever stereotype is already in there.

From an early episode of Better Call Saul (I can’t find the episode, but here’s a montage and reddit post), I posited that in today’s world it is impossible hustle people and too easy to call BS (baloney sandwich). They can simply look up the answer on the internet and believe it as true. But what happens when we run into truthiness and the things we take as fact are not quite so?

This part of the TED Radio Hour Truth and Lies episode about credibility of what we see online makes novel connections between the real world and the web. How to hack your mind, reality, truth, and lies via misinformation on the internet.

The dependence that we have for not just our news but really for how we’re thinking about our collective experience as people and as a country and as a world is just so intensely derived from the Internet right now. Your smartphone is more your reality than walking down the street. So it’s now time to figure out what seems fake, what seems real, why that’s the case. And you don’t yet have the same Spidey feeling or, you know, goosebumps on the back of your neck that you get when you’re walking down the street and there’s a shady character walking down and, you know, you’re not going to trust something that they say or take it at face value. You don’t have that feeling yet on the Internet.

As our realities are increasingly based on the information that we’re consuming at the palm of our hand and from the news feeds that we’re scanning and the hashtags and stories that we see trending, the Russian government was the first to recognize how this evolution had turned your mind into the most exploitable device on the planet. And your mind is particularly exploitable if you’re accustomed to an unfettered flow of information now increasingly curated to your own tastes. This panorama of information that’s so interesting to you gives a state – or anyone, for that matter – a perfect back door into your mind.

It’s this new brand of state-sponsored information operations that can be that much more successful, more insidious and harder for the target audience – that includes the media – to decipher and characterize. If you can get a hashtag trending on Twitter or chum the waters with fake news directed to audiences primed to receive it – all tactics used in Russian operations – then you’ve got a shot at effectively camouflaging your operations in the mind of your target. This is what Russia’s long called reflexive control. It’s the ability to use information on someone else so that they make a decision on their own accord that’s favorable to you.

Ben Thompson discusses truth vs beliefs in his post Not Ok Google:

Deciding how to respond to fake news is a trade-off; in the case of Facebook, the fact that fake news is largely surfaced to readers already inclined to believe it means I see the harm as being less than Facebook actively taking an editorial position on news stores.

Google, on the other hand, is less in the business of driving engagement via articles you agree with, than it is in being a primary source of truth. The reason to do a Google search is that you want to know the answer to a question, and for that reason I have long been more concerned about fake news in search results, particularly “featured snippets”

Facebook may be pushing you news, fake, slanted, or whatever bias there may be, but at least it is not stamping said news with its imprimatur or backing it with its reputation (indeed, many critics wish that that is exactly what Facebook would do), and said news is arriving on a rather serendipitous basis. Google, on the other hand, is not only serving up these snippets as if they are the truth, but serving them up as a direct response to someone explicitly searching for answers. In other words, not only is Google effectively putting its reputation behind these snippets, it is serving said snippets to users in a state where they are primed to believe they are true.

And finally, in The Stories We Tell Ourselves, Todd May discusses the complicated lives we all lead:

Why might this matter? Here is one reason. The presidential election has displayed in stark terms a phenomenon that many have commented on in recent years. With the proliferation of various cable news channels, the internet, niche marketing, clustering in communities of like-minded people, most of us live in echo chambers that reflect the righteousness of our lives back to us. We are reinforced to think of ourselves as embodying the right values, as living in ways that are at least justified, if not superior. Reflecting on the stories we tell about ourselves might reveal to us other aspects of who we are and what we value, aspects that would complicate the simple picture provided by our echo chamber.

And that complication, in turn, could lead us to another revelation: that those who live outside our echo chamber might also be more complicated than we have imagined. While the values we take them to be expressing might be mistaken — or even abhorrent — to us, there are perhaps other aspects to their lives as well, other values those lives express, values that would become manifest to us if we listened to some of the stories they tell about themselves. If we are more complicated than we like to think, perhaps others are also more complicated than we would like to think. (And also more complicated than they would like to think.)

 

Week in Review – July 30, 2017

A dramatization of our team at the hackathon

Hackathon

Bot framework, bot services, LUIS, and text sentiment

You can make a conversational chat bot in less than a week. It may not understand everything you say, but with some added intelligence, the bot can be very chappy!

Books

Some progress on Sapiens, and my reading list expanded

programming blogs from a YC post

Podcasts

Julia Galen on how to argue better and change your mind more

(from: The Ezra Klein Show)

The first half of this podcast contained some thought provoking ideas on arguments and point of view. Biases can influence the way we view ourselves and learning about biases can make us more worse at fixing our our biases. It was discussed how paradoxes lead us to develop deeper labeling of people and ideas. For example, you say you are of one camp, but you fall into the other camp for certain things. The more you associate with the other camp, the more people will think of you as in that camp. I don’t think this is that bad, but we need to realize we are not so simple creatures. Black and white does not always tell the story.

Casey Neistat

(from: The Tim Ferriss Show)

Two of my three inspirational people on a podcast (throw in Ryan Holiday, and it would be quite the show)
Make it count. Always motivational, Neistat inspires me to write more, create more, do more.

The stupidest thing people can do with their money

(from: Freakonomics Radio)

I do not listen to Freakonomics much anymore, but this episode caught my eye. On the Marketplace Morning Report episode from this Tuesday, they talked about the risks of more people moving to passively invested, low cost index funds. I wanted to learn more about the downsides (as I am onboard with the upsides), and by chance, this week’s Freak podcast was all about the topic! Dubner interviewed John (“Jack”) Bogle, the 88 year old and founder of Vanguard. Definitely worth a listen or two. The contrast between Bogle and Buffett is both similar and remarkable.

Odds and Ends

  • Went for a 10 mile run and made sure Strava was working this time before starting.
  • Edited Iceland Day 2 for half a day. Final video coming soon! Watch Day 1 (which is really day 2)

Relax

Fox sleeping in a tree

Fox sleeping in a tree

Relax. Be mindful of my breathing and body positioning. Rest my muscles and let all tension melt away. Start at the top of my head and slowly scan down how I am holding each part of my body. Relax the mind and loosen the neck and shoulders, slow my heart rate, expand my stomach, stretch my legs, spread my toes, and open my mind.

Test Yourself

work harder blue neon sign

work harder blue neon sign

Over the next few days put your learning to the test. Along with over coming the fear of exposing yourself as an imposter, you will also attempt to keep you ego in check and build relationships with others. That sinking feeling you get when encountering a difficult social situation will be redirected to external action rather than receding inside yourself. Most importantly, you should remember to be yourself, live small, build up others, and keep learning. You’ll be great.

Passion

Person jumping on the beach

Person jumping on the beach

Passionate players will give it their all while winning, but play discouraged when losing big. Purposeful players will see the challenge as an opportunity to show determination, resolve, and sportsmanship. Displaying their grit to continue playing, even when all hope seems lost.

Passion inflates you. Purpose defines you.

Something New

Coin-operated binoculars overlooking a beach

Coin-operated binoculars overlooking a beach

While something may make sense in your head, you must work hard to have it click for others. Furthermore, you must create a space where others can feel safe in being vulnerable and asking questions. Don’t be angry someone doesn’t know certain things. Be happy you are able to teach them something new.

 

Bonus track: Something new at Somewhere New

Explore

Person ties their shoes on a bridge in a city

Person ties their shoes on a bridge in a city

Exploring a new city can be daunting at first. I knew little to nothing of how to get around and barely knew anyone here. I did all the research and tried to avoid routine for as long as possible to take advantage of all the opportunities. To expand my view of the surroundings I went on running tours of the area trying to uncover new places. This slower paced, in person exploration gave me a great feel for the city and where I wanted to venture next. Running out with no destination in mind, I used the few landmarks I knew to guide me back at the end of the day. Running, rather than driving connected me to the city first hand and exposed me to much of what the city has to offer. I noted restaurants, parks, concert venues, and trails to return to later. Physically exploring new areas instead of scrolling on a screen was a fruitful exercise, but I won’t let it stop. Build on my findings, explore more, and keep running.