This is Your Brain on Google – Part One

Have you been gorging on information?   Well please don’t feel too bad because you are not the only one.  Reseachers are now just beginning to study what the Internet may actually be doing to our brains, and Google seems to be the most likely subject.  Doesn’t everybody google?

There is a lot of think about here, at least for my brain, so I am going to blog about it this week in “smaller” pieces that might work for me.  Today let’s  begin with the fact that the brain is a muscle.  The more we search on Google, for example, the stronger it becomes.  But it seems that the better (i.e., faster) we become at searching, the more likely we are to overestimate our intelligence.  At the same time, we also seem more likely to skim what we read.  Faster but not better?

I now see more Trivia games and challenges online.  Perhaps an example of a game where we feel that we can test or improve our memory (intelligence?) as many times as we want everyday?  Ironically, early research tells us that we are more likely to remember where we found desired information, but not the actual details it contained.

Ray Myers

My Wild and Crazy Online Senior Summer Vacation

What better way to prepare for college life than spending all that spare time taking MOOCs online or working at a chess camp. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but don’t you think that these kids might be missing something, or enjoy doing something else? I guess some recent high school graduates just can’t wait to dig into real time higher education academia. But are taking courses online what higher education is all about?

Well okay, these courses are really just meant to be resume builders, whether you actually complete them or not! They surely fill up those resume pages, and who knows who might be impressed or curious? I remember when I had a summer job packing college textbooks for the Collier-MacMillan Publishing Company, I simply thought of it as making some summer spending money and possibly saving some cash for the school year ahead. And just to think, I could have included it in my college resume under “Advanced College Preparatory Reading,” or “Getting to Know the Names of Every College Bookstore in the Country.”

Please excuse me of I’m getting a little nostalgic here. I was just a “packer” in a book publisher’s warehouse. We were the male brawn of the shipping operation, while the ladies and coeds (summer) were the more cerebral “pickers” of the correct books for the college bookstore customers. Life was much simpler then.

Ray Myers

“Huddled Masses (with Smartphones) Yearning to be Free.”

So we are not talking about the good old days when European immigrants crossed the Atlantic to start a new life in the United States.  Today’s migrants from the Middle East (predominantly Syrian) are going overland through the Balkans hoping to arrive safely in Hungary, their gateway for other destinations in Europe.   Thanks to their GPS-equipped smartphones they are also able to avoid the expense of paying traffickers who have traditionally provided that such “travel”services for a fee.  And then there is Facebook.

This renowned global social networking site has now become host to such groups as “Smuggling Yourself to Europe Withoit a Trafficker” and providing analytics reports on safe water distribution centers in Aleppo as well as real-time accounts of mortar rounds falling on Damascus.  This is not your grandmother’s Facebook (if she is using social media).  This is about real time, real war and real tragedy in a war-torn part of the world.

Tragically, many people have lost everything, but those fortunate enough to possess a smartphone can still cling to memories of their past.  One man lost his wife, but still had her photographs on his smartphone.

Ray Myers

Too Much Internet?

While we have all benefited from the technological innovations that are becoming increasingly available to many more individuals around the world, there are skeptics who warn us that there are also huge risks that tend to be minimized.  Simply put, the more activities we put on the Internet, the more vulnerable we become to hacking, cyber warfare, and software glitches and the like.  The Economist magazine recently reported that the number of connected devices could grew from 15 billion now to 50 billion in 2020.

The chief threats are from cyberterrorists and other nations; they seek to weaken our defenses and sow confusion and disorder.  Ironically, the more we are able to enhance the interoperability among data systems, the more we are perhaps increasing the opportunities for hackers to get get access to multiple systems after they have successfully penetrated one.

Apparently we have now entered a phase of technological innovation where we will be playing more defense than offense.  More concerned with protecting the advances and improvements that technology brings, and less with expansion that may also make us more vulnerable to negative consequences.  One writer asserts that the charms and conveniences of the Internet have seduced us into ignoring these threats.

Ray Myers

Vacation Envy?  Put Down Your Instagram!

IRI (In Real Life) is the cure.   Don’t get me wrong.  I am an Instagram fan.  How else would I get instant pictorial updates on my grandkids, and how my daughter and son-in-law are faring in the their family adventures in coastal New England.  It seems like the trick to all of this is not to become so envious of the lives of others as depicted on their Instagram accounts that you don’t enjoy your own..  The obvious appeal of vicariously sharing in the good times of the jet set as they party around the world is undeniable.   The downside, however, is that it also seems to make most people feel worse over all.

As in most things, there in a happy medium if you really want to live in the Instagram moments of others and still have terrific moments of your own.  Looking for a sense of well being over passively using Instagram to see what “real” fun everyone is having?  Then try this: experts advise that making time to interact face-to-face with other people, or talking to someone on the phone, will lead to a more enhanced sense of well being.

So have a real vacation of your own.  It’s still summer and Labor Day is still over two weeks away.  Have some real fun with real people.  “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing, Baby!”  IRI.

Ray Myers

Clicking Will Make it So

Vox populi!  Pardon my Latin, but now thanks to the Internet, we really do have a way to let the people’s voice be heard.  If you and your friends just start clicking, liking, or tweeting your favorite stories or articles found online, you will be able to become major “influencers” of public opinion.  And to think all you really need to do is have the right technology, point and click.  Now why did I have to go to college and get a degree?

One of the most recent examples of this Internet phenomenon is all the buzz about “Cecil the lion,” who was unfortunately (accidentally?) killed by an American dentist who was on a hunting safari in Africa.  I guess you can only drill just so many teeth before you get the urge to go for something bigger than just killing cavities.  But the real story here seems to be how we are becoming more focused on stories that go viral at the expense of being substantive.  If you search for “Cecil the lion” on Google News, you will now easily get over 3.2 million results.  As one media analyst recently stated, the economics of producing original content and its value is being diminished.

So will Cecil’s death raise our awareness of how endangered life on the African plains has become?  Somehow I am afraid that the real tragedy of his death is that he became an overnight Internet sensation.  The people have spoken.  Now let’s click on something else.

Ray Myers

Looking for a Gig – Not a Career?

Well if the title of this post sounds appealing to you, just remember that technology has made it all possible.  Just think, more of your “workplace experience” as similar to playing a game online like  “Words with Friends,” getting nudges and cheers as you struggle to complete the puzzle with a cooperative competitor somewhere else in the wired world.  But then again it really may not be all that much fun?

One employee is now suing her employer who was tracking her whereabouts twenty-four hours a day.  She deleted the app that she was required to download for that purpose.  Her attorney is now accusing her employer of an invasion of privacy.   Many companies maintain that the work force technology relies more  on engagement than enforcement and increases transparency and fairness.  How the workplace has changed!

It just seems that we are increasingly joining our work place and personal lives into one.  And it also appears that twenty-first century employees are changing their jobs (careers?) more often, having to become more active and engaged learners over their life times.  Technology, I believe, is making this all possible, but let’s not make it our “Big Brother” to our personal and professional detriment.

Ray Myers

Heads-up in Your Car

Keep your eyes on the road and keep your heads up.  In a very short time it looks like you will still have to keep your eyes on the road and on your Heads-up at the same time.  You will soon feel like a jet pilot except you will be driving your car on terra firma.  And instead of seeing puffy white clouds as you glide through the open skies, you will be looking at cars and trucks competing with you for open space on busy highways. 

Now will this all help us improve our driving skills?  I guess the answer is that it should, but I remember failing my first driver’s license test because I could not parallel park.  My excuse at that time was that I was driving a stick shift in the family Ford.  Well I still can’t parallel park very well (maybe not at all when my wife is in the car), but I am sure that my next car will probably help me do that thanks to improved spatial technologies.

I better start learning to use all these improved driving technologies soon before I become a relic of the automotive past.  Just another “heads up” for everyone: Jaguar is working on a “360 Virtual Urban Windscreen.”  While you are driving it will highlight pedestrians, show points of interest and display a “ghost car” that drivers could follow for directions.  I only hope I can keep my eyes on the road, and still sing along with the radio at the same time.  Whew!

Ray Myers

Play On, MacDuff

Now I feel so much better since I now know that video games will not eat away at my brain cells, at least what’s left of them.  I just read an interesting article that said doctors could soon be prescribing video games for mental health.  And I used to think that Tetris was a waste of my time and distracted me from some important work I had to do.

These video games may actually help me sharpen my working memory and attention, which will certainly  make my wife happier, I think.  I’ll have to remember to tell her.  In any case I think this is good news all around, and I can improve my mental health in the privacy of my own home (or wherever!).

Some scientists are still skeptical about the effectiveness of these brain games in improving mental health.  But I don’t think that will really stop most people from playing.  Do you?

Ray Myers

Woman’s Touch in EdTech

This is not an uncommon phenomenon.  Women often become the intermediaries or “translators” in moving from the theoretical to the practical.  Many also excel at the theoretical, but in a tech world that has become increasingly male dominated, they often play a more critical role in terms of integrating their technological skills to improving learning outcomes.

How’s that for opening a can of worms!  I think that the more critical issue is that we don’t continue to perpetuate stereotypical gender differences in the tech world.  Nor do I believe that appointing female CEOs of technology companies is the key to making everything right with the world.  This is not the answer, and does not really address how opportunities should be increased in both the business and education worlds for girls and women.

Our girls deserve a level playing field in applying all their skills in any field.  Technology may be the latest fast track to success in the evolving economy of the twenty–first century, but let’s ensure that it can benefit from the creative contributions of all its citizens.

Ray Myers

Movies on the Move Digitally

I don’t go to the movies that often.  And now with all of our digital wizardry we will be able to see new releases on our own personal devices much sooner than we ever thought possible, if the movie industry agrees.  Why go to the movie theaters at all?  It use to be a great place to take a date (maybe some of you remember?)

It the movie companies all agree, which they have not, we may have made “going to the movies” a thing of the past, making it a more personal, individual experience, like reading a book, digitally or the old-fashioned printed page way.  Take your pick, but it seems that everything is moving in a “faster is better” way.  At the same time, there are so many more ways to access any information or entertainment you want at any time.  OstensIbly, this will make  everything fit into your busy and busier daily schedules more easily.  But how much more do you want, and how much time do you have?

For a more “senior” person like me, more time is certainly available, and I have the freedom to control the amount of time spent in the digital and real worlds.  But with so many more digital devices easily available, it can become so much easier to live life exclusively digitally.  Unfortunately of you do, you may miss having a real life that can combine the best aspects of both.

Ray Myers