Me and my shallow brain

Howdy? How have you all been. It’s been so long since we talked. I’ve been cheating on you with Facebook, I admit it. But Facebook is giving me tennis elbow, (damned Farmville!) so I need to lay off the junk for awhile.

Also, according to Nicholas Carr in his rather alarming book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains – Facebook is making me stupid. Actually, the whole internet is. It’s probably your fault.

Seriously, though – the book set off some alarm bells for me. The central idea is this – the way we read on the internet is fundamentally different than how we read books and longer works of literature, and that difference in the way we read is re-writing our neural pathways and fundamentally changing the way we think as well. People who have been reading and writing on the internet, because it makes us prone to skimming, focusing in short bursts, and jumping from one thought to the next, have lost the ability to concentrate on reading a single lengthy work. We’ve lost the ability to focus on tasks for long periods of time. We’re addicted to feeding our brains with short bursts of knowledge, and we keep going back to that like lab mice to the food.

I heard Carr speak at SXSW, and I immediately could recognize on a personal level what he was talking about – it’s partly the concept I was struggling to express in my “Goodbye Twitter” blog post:

2) Micro-thinking
When you have to parse every statement down to 140 characters, you throw out complexities, paraphrase, and, inevitably, make your meaning less clear. You start to think in simpler thoughts. After tweeting for so long, I find it to be a struggle to think things out and examine ideas in a more complex form. Hence the lack of longer writing on this blog. That is a trend I desperately need to reverse.

I can sit down and read light reading, but if I have to sustain attention for any length of time, I’m screwed. I’ve been trying to pick up and read Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time” for three years. It’s only 7 volumes. I read more than that in a year. I should be able to read and comprehend it. But I can’t stay focused for anything more than the first 30 pages. That’s ridiculous.
And other books have given me problems, too. The Diane Arbus biography was a struggle. Non-fiction leaves me stranded mid-chapter. To tell you the truth, even this book “The Shallows” is giving me fits. And I whole-heartedly want to read it.

So how do I “fix” it? That is indeed my question, and one that I tried to ask him at SXSW in vain, because I couldn’t get his attention. So I snapped up the book as soon as it was published in hopes that he provides an answer. I haven’t finished the book yet (see above problem) so I don’t know the solution.
Carr dives pretty deeply into how the brain works – especially the insight science has gathered over the last 30 years. Turns out that our brain makes new neural pathways throughout our lives – our development isn’t stuck in one place after adolescence. We can re-write and re-map our brain’s functionality throughout our lives, simply by doing different things, training our brain to act differently. And the internet is training us to think differently than we have in the past — that may or may not be a good thing.

I’m going to finish this book – I swear I will. And at that time I’m going to revisit this subject and answer some of the outstanding questions in my head. We’ll see if I get there.

UPDATE 2012: I never finished this book. So…
2022-03-12 Update: I went back to Twitter eventually, but not under my own name, and I mostly do political posting.
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Civility on the Web – New York Times has me ROTFLMAO

From the NY Times “A Call for Manners in the World of Nasty Blogs“:

Is it too late to bring civility to the Web?
The conversational free-for-all on the Internet known as the blogosphere can be a prickly and unpleasant place. Now, a few high-profile figures in high-tech are proposing a blogger code of conduct to clean up the quality of online discourse.
Last week, Tim O’Reilly, a conference promoter and book publisher who is credited with coining the term Web 2.0, began working with Jimmy Wales, creator of the communal online encyclopedia Wikipedia, to create a set of guidelines to shape online discussion and debate.
Chief among the recommendations is that bloggers consider banning anonymous comments left by visitors to their pages and be able to delete threatening or libelous comments without facing cries of censorship. [emphasis mine.]

Let me see, what was I saying last week? Oh, yeah – I delete comments I don’t like on my site, and have for years. Thank goodness Tim O’Reilly has finally given my permission to do so; I was sweating bullets over that one.
I think the thing that exasperates me most about this article is something that I’ve railed about in an offhand way several times before (if I were diligent, I’d track down all the instances, but I’m not) – the Times seems to be blaming the medium, and not the messenger. The incivility is not the fault of the technology, it’s the fault of the people using it. Incivility in public discourse in general is horrendous – case in point; this recent argument between Bill O’Reilly and Geraldo Rivera. Or, just listen to any Limbaugh show in the last 10 years.
Given that the level of civility in public discourse from pundits in the media is so rotted and toxic, it’s bizarre to think that that same incivility wouldn’t also exist on the internet. So why are we just calling for civility on the internet – among the masses, the hoi polloi – and not on the damned TV set, or on the radio? I think we’re washing out the wrong stables first, here.

Continue ReadingCivility on the Web – New York Times has me ROTFLMAO

It’s all Cyclical

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Elizabeth pointed out a NYT article to me about employers checking myspace and facebook pages on job applicants that I thought was interesting and a bit odd.
It strikes me as strange because this has all be done before… It sort of happens in waves over the years as more people get online. A lot of this has happened back in the 1990s when people were first starting to build their own web pages; geeks went overboard posting edgy stuff, and tech employers went overboard freaking out about it. Eventually tech companies realized they were overreaching themselves by telling people what to put on their personal sites, and the employees learned where the “too far” line was, and they met somewhere in the middle.
Now it’s happening as non-geeks have ways to create their own pages online in myspace or in blogs — they post questionable stuff, and their non-tech employers freak out. The furor over people’s blogs and myspace pages will correct itself over time.
You know how whenever someone new gets on the internet, they start forwarding all the goofy neiman marcus cookie recipes and chain letters until they realize how silly that is? Then their mom gets e-mail four years later, and does the same thing. Then four years later, grandma does it.
It all goes in cycles.

Continue ReadingIt’s all Cyclical

Computer One-Liners

Author Unknown

Home is where you hang your @

The E-mail of the species is more deadly than the mail.

A journey of a thousand sites begins with a single click.

You can’t teach a new mouse old clicks.

Great groups from little icons grow.

Speak softly and carry a cellular phone.

C: is the root of all directories.

Don’t put all your hypes in one home page.

Pentium wise; pen and paper foolish.

The modem is the message.

Too many clicks spoil the browse.

The geek shall inherit the earth.

A chat has nine lives.

Don’t byte off more than you can view.

FAX is stranger than fiction.

What boots up must come down.

Windows will never cease.

In Gates we trust.

Virtual reality is its own reward.

Modulation in all things.

A user and his leisure time are soon parted.

There’s no place like <>

Know what to expect before you connect.

Oh, what a tangled website we weave when first we practice.

Speed thrills.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him to use the Net and he won’t
bother you for weeks.

Continue ReadingComputer One-Liners

If Restaurants Functioned Like Microsoft

Author Unknown

Patron: Waiter!

Waiter: Hi, my name is Bill and I’ll be your Support Waiter. What seems to be the problem?

Patron: There’s a fly in my soup!

Waiter: Try again, maybe the fly won’t be there this time.

Patron: No, it’s still there.

Waiter: Maybe it’s the way you’re using the soup; try eating it with a fork instead.

Patron: Even when I use the fork, the fly is still there.

Waiter: Maybe the soup is incompatible with the bowl; what kind of bowl are you using?

Patron: A SOUP bowl!

Waiter: Hmmm, that should work. Maybe it’s a configuration problem; how was the bowl set up?

Patron: You brought it to me on a saucer; what has that to do with the fly in my soup?

Waiter: Can you remember everything you did before you noticed the fly in your soup?

Patron: I sat down and ordered the Soup of the Day!

Waiter: Have you considered upgrading to the latest Soup of the Day?

Patron: You have more than one Soup of the Day each day?

Waiter: Yes, the Soup of the Day is changed every hour.

Patron: Well, what is the Soup of the Day now?

Waiter: The current Soup of the Day is tomato.

Patron: Fine. Bring me the tomato soup and the check. I’m running late now.

[Waiter leaves and returns with another bowl of soup and the check.]

Waiter: Here you are, Sir. The soup and your check.

Patron: This is potato soup.

Waiter: Yes, the tomato soup wasn’t ready yet.

Patron: Well, I’m so hungry now, I’ll eat anything.

[Waiter leaves.]

Patron: Waiter! There’s a gnat in my soup!

The check:

Soup of the Day . . . . . . . . . . . $ 5.00
Upgrade to newer Soup of the Day. . . $ 2.50
Access to support . . . . . . . . . . $10.00

Editors Note: Bug in the soup included at no extra charge (will be fixed with Tomorrow’s soup of the day)

Continue ReadingIf Restaurants Functioned Like Microsoft

Top Fifteen Signs Your Webmaster is in a Cult

Author Unknown

15. Every link seems to take you to

14. Repetition of same banner ads: Stoli, Mott’s… Stoli, Mott’s…

13. He brings twenty-three wives to the office Holiday Party.

12. Instead of counting up visitors, your site counts down days to the apocalypse.

11. Suddenly your travel agency’s site is featuring interplanetary excursions for comet watching and one-way tickets to Guyana.

10. His home page says "Best viewed from the Mothership."

9. Your website’s "Hall of Fame" inductees required to do stint handing out flowers at airport.

8. Your website is honored as the David Koresh Fan Club’s "Site of the Day."

7. She has 38 roommates, yet is oddly stress-free.

6. Insists that Sabbath actually begins when "X-files" ends.

5. Frequently mutters about the "Prophet Steve Jobs" returning to rescue the true believers.

4. Not only does he understand Unix, he *IS* one.

3. Big "N" on your browser replaced by spinning head of Charles Manson.

2. He only answers to the name, "Doe-bert."

and the Number 1 Sign Your Webmaster is in a Cult…

1. Ugly clothes; insufficient diet; lack of sleep; goofy haircut; lives in a mansion; has many followe… Hey, wait a minute! That’s Bill Gates!!

Continue ReadingTop Fifteen Signs Your Webmaster is in a Cult