Overloaded and Distracted by Tech

Who me?  It could be.  Clinically speaking, there seem to be two major conditions that might describe this phenomenon more accurately.  We could be suffering from “compulsion loop” or perhaps “cognitive overload.”  It is not the technology itself that is the cause of these behaviors, but how we use or overuse all the technology that surrounds us.  Some researchers describe our dependency more if terms of being an addiction that can unknowingly impact our personal and family lives in the most negative ways.

The brain’s craving for novelty, constant stimulation and immediate gratification creates something called a “compulsion loop.”  Like lab rats and drug addicts, we need more and more to get the same effect.  Similarly, endless access to new information also easily overloads our working memory.  When we reach “cognitive overload,” our ability to transfer learning to long-term memory significantly deteriorates.  It’s as if our brain has become a full cup of water and anything more poured into it starts or spill out.

So I guess it’s all about moderation in all things which you may have heard before.  Some “addicts”  also suggest specific rehabilitative measures such as going offline for specific portions of the day.  Maybe the most dramatic, and sometimes described as the most restorative, is going offline for several weeks at a time.  Call it a digital-free vacation.

Ray Myers

Digital Motion Sickness – Too Much Sensory Stimuli?

Some people call it cyber sickness and I hope you don’t get it, but there is something you can do to avoid it.  Stop staring too long at your computer or smartphone graphics.  But there is also help on the Web that literally might bring you some relief.  I hate to bring this up so close to having your annual Thanksgiving feast, but if you plan to watch movies over this holiday season, you may want to visit MovieHurl.com (I am not kidding).  This site rates movies on how likely they are to make you feel sick!  I would avoid those.

You can also search mobile device and gamer forums to see postings for advice on how to engage with the latest operating systems and interfaces without throwing up.  Sounds like some pretty helpful advice, but I wonder what it really is?  I guess you can “tone down” the visual stimuli for these games, and hope that you can hold down your last meal.  I would suggest not trying this after eating your Thanksgiving dinner.  

Some researchers have noted that digital motion sickness has been kind of swept under the rug in the tech industry.  Others call for long-term studies to understand the full impact.  It’s a natural response to an unnatural environment.

Ray Myers

Happy Thanksgiving week everyone!  I’ll be back next Monday with more “TechtoExpress.”

Cell Phones Help Fight Polio in Pakistan

Talk about your unintended consequences in the midst of fighting the Taliban in Pakistan.   When displaced residents from Northern Waziristan were given free SIM cards for their mobile phones when they registered at refugee camps in other parts of the country, they did not realize that these cards would be one of the most powerful technologies in helping to eradicate polio in their country.  When more than 100,000 families were evacuated from the area, health officials used the SIM cards to track them as they resettled in other parts of Pakistan.

Their locations were mapped in new polio-eradication command centers located throughout the country.  When clusters of residents resettled from North Waziristan were identified, teams were sent out to administer the vaccine.  These same teams unfortunately were not welcome in North Waziristan when the families resided there.  In the course of one year, the new cases of polio were reduced from 240 to 40 in 2015.  

So these little SIM cards can not be credited with saving lives in some of the most remote parts of the world.  These cards may not represent the most “cutting edge” technology in the struggle to save lives.  In Pakistan they have now reached out to roughly a half million children who were out of reach two years ago.  Just to think, cell phones can help fight polio!

Ray Myers

My Fitbit and Me

I keep it in the front pocket of my jeans, shorts or pants, depending on the season, or wherever I may be going.   If I am playing tennis, for example, it is tucked away in my back pocket.  I used to clip it to my belt or belt loop, but that became a problem when it too easily slipped out of its little pouch and fell to the ground.  I guess you can tell by now that I have become very attached to my little step-counting friend, Mr. Fitbit.

Seems like most people proudly display their Fitbits.  But I think I have gotten very comfortable with knowing that mine is very safely secured in some pocket of whatever I may be wearing.  Maybe I just don’t want everybody to know that I am secretly a step-counter trying to meet my daily goals.  Not that there’s really anything wrong with that, is there?

Some business professors lend cautionary advice: “people need to manage their relationship with the technology and not become dependent on it.”  It may become more about reaching goals than doing what’s good for you.  I am really not sure how this could actually happen, but I guess you could physically exhaust yourself in taking too many steps in one day? And you really can’t let that little Fitbit be the only measure of how your whole day went.

Ray Myers

Too Much Information – There’s an App for That!

Some call it “pushing information to Internet users.”  In an age of data overload, social networks and information providers are competing to provide just the highlights you want when you want them.  News outlets send alerts with breaking news.  Twitter curators top tweets, and weather apps warn you of rain minutes before the droplets arrive.  No more surprises!  Not that there is anything wrong with that, unless you like to be surprised once in a awhile.

One such app, Notify from Facebook, proudly offers custom alerts from 70 sites to Phone screens.  You can build a notification experience that works for you!  No more bothersome news bulletins about  terrorism and ISIS if you don’t want them.  As the App advertises, “it is the most intimate way for you  and the  information you’re interested in to connect.”  What a convenience and a luxury!

Please believe that I am not opposed to the expediency and personalization (independence?) that the Internet brings us in learning about events around the world.  But at he same time, it seems that it can also insulate us in only those “worlds” of interest to us, if we let it.

Ray Myers

Tech Transforms the Search for Looted Artifacts

Let’s call it “cultural thievery” to be polite, but the looting of these historic archaeological sites in Egypt that date back to 2030 B.C. may be one of the most tragic outcomes in this war against ISIS.  The trade in stolen antiquities has been flourishing since time immemorial, but now appears to be tied to other more modern criminal activities like drug trafficking, and arms running, and may even be an income source for ISIS.   Hopefully, satellite technology will transform this search for looted artifacts so that they can be preserved and not be “lost” as they become financial booty for the terrorists.

Ironically, access to digital mapping of these sites also serves as a “roadmap” for prospective looters. Google Earth is perhaps one of the most commonly used tools.  Once the looters are able to confirm the locations of the sites through sources on the ground, they can then proceed with other modern tools such as metal detectors and geophysical testing equipment to begin their work.  Satellite technology becomes an enabler in this process.

So human ingenuity in the use of newly created twenty-first technologies can lead us to untold historic treasures.  Man’s motivation in the use of this newly acquired wealth is still very much a human choice.

Ray Myers


Out-smarted by Smartphones?

It’s all in the palm of your hand.  Or is it really?  Many tech experts and forecasters see the smartphone as being the technology tool that will connect rural America, and perhaps the rest of the world to the Internet.  For example, eighty-five percent of the Choctaw Nation in rural Oklahoma stay connected by using them.  Similarly, many rural citizens in India rely on this mobile service for enhancing their children’s education and their own communications with family and friends.  Half-way around the world from each other yet relying on these small digital devices as their best resources for knowing more about the larger world.  Is it really that simple?

I am always amazed at the amount of “palm-gazing” I see everywhere I go now (not as widely traveled as I used to be, but I still think far enough to give me a good sample size).  I first noticed this phenomenon in the summer of 2008 when I returned to a part of India where I had served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the mid-sixties.  Mobile phones were quickly being adopted as a preferred means of connecting with others.  There were clearly technical limitations to their use in the most rural areas of India, but I think most users were learning how they could become more active participants in the Information Age.  Their formal educational system was simply becoming less relevant in the dawn of the twenty-first century.

But is something being lost as we gain something new.  Are our mobile devices our new “best friends.”  They will always be with us, and really don’t demand too much from us.  Maybe they are really outsmarting us, if we let them?

Ray Myers

Obama Got Digital Identity!

Not only is he the country’s first black president, but now he is the first digital one!  Let’s just say he has created a digital presidential presence that wasn’t there before.  Obviously he and his team at the White House realize the value of using social media to connect with the American public.  Now there is an Office of Digital Strategy at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  Roughly twenty aides spend their days managing his Twitter account and the White House Facebook page, Instagram account and YouTube channel. 

So many ways to “reach out” to everyday Americans if you have all the necessary tech tools, and the time?  Social media is becoming a very crowded place, and I am sure that Mr. Obama’s followers are voluminous.  But can social media really be persuasive?  My own view is that we use this media primarily for our own personal entertainment and edification, “following” only those messengers who reinforce our own personal, social, and political views.  Most people will search out where they will find those media sources that express only those opinions that coincide with their own, and tune out the others.

How many Republican followers do you think President Obama really has?  From what I have read, most disagreements with his social media postings have largely taken the form of personal attacks rather than substantive replies.  Maybe we will all learn to become more civil in the political social media world, and learn more about what we really need to know, regardless of whom the messenger may be.  Let’s hope so.

Ray Myers

Mass surveillance of Web Data – U.K. and U.S. Differ

I know we are not talking about a war of independence here, but there are interesting parallels in terms of how these two governments on either side of the Atlantice view access to data on the Internet.   The U.K. is proposing in recently introduced legislation, the  Investigatory Powers Bill, that they would have access to citizens’ “Internet connection records,” for up to a year.  This would not include the actual content of the Internet activity, but if deemed necessary, they could obtain a court warrant in order to collect this additional information.

The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, is perhaps the strongest advocate for the Bill.  “Do we need that data when people are using social media to commit . . . crimes rather than just a fixed or mobile phone?  My answer is yes.”  For many Americans this more expansive type of government oversight may be seen as a threat to our engrained sense of individual liberty and independence.  We may even feel compelled to declare our own “inalienable right” to freedom from such government surveillance.

Who ever thought that social media would become a tool for terrorism?  But this may have only been inevitable.  These powerful new communication tools are in all of our hands to be used for either good or evil.

Ray Myers

Technology Brings Car Service and More to You!

Don’t worry about scheduling automobile service appointments with your dealer, and finding an available time and date to bring your car in.   Now a certified mechanic will come to your car wherever it is, knowing all the scheduled service needs.  And even before the servicing begins, you will receive a quoted price that can typically save the customer up to 50% or the standard servicing costs at a dealership.  When the customer agrees to the estimate, the necessary parts are ordered and a mechanics is dispatched to provide the service wherever your car may be.

Once again, this is all made possible through the interactivity of websites and mobile apps that are now available to automobile owners and their dealers.  Interestingly, when you enter into this type of service-client relationship, other aspects of this relationship may also vary.  Let’s take the service rating practices.

One company in particular has instituted a rating practice that involves both the mechanics and their customers.  Customers can rate the mechanics, and the mechanics can rate the customers?  Are we really sure that we want to know what mechanics think of us?

Ray Myers

Weather apps?  The new weather forecasters!

I think windows work pretty well.  Or even better, opening the door and going outside to get the morning paper does too.   And when you open the paper (or look at the forecast in the corner of the front page in some cities), you can read what is being predicted for that day and several days ahead.  So many other resources are also available that you can easily access in the privacy of your own home: TV, radio, telephone, etc., to name a few.

As I try to better understand the excitement around the creation of the weather app, I now realize that I have not understood the obviois commercial value of combining advertising around access to a fast and convenient app telling you about the weather.  The Weather Channel app contains a list of advertisers that include L.L. Bean, Starbucks, and State Farm Insurance, and other “weather-oriented” sponsors.  What better place to advertise than where people will check for how they can better prepare for the weather that day.

Perhaps you have heard the old adage: Every body talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it!”  Well, in the case of weather app advertising, I don’t think you can say that anymore?

Ray Myers