Filling all the gaps

In a recent presentation, entrepreneur, angel, and Googler Joe Kraus provided a good overview of the costs of our “culture of distraction” and how smartphones are ratcheting those costs up. Early in the talk he shows, in stark graphical terms, how people’s patterns of internet use change when they get a smartphone. Essentially, a tool becomes an environment.

For those of you who are text-biased, here’s a transcript.

3 thoughts on “Filling all the gaps

  1. Tom Lord

    I live in Berkeley. Around here there is alarm about a kind of street crime that’s become fairly common: finding people that seem oblivious to their environment and robbing them of the smart phone they are either displaying or almost certainly have on them.

    When this is discussed in public, sometimes someone will suggest not walking down the street with your face in a phone, or even just carrying more basic non-smart phones. This reliably provokes howls of outrage and entitlement to the effect that that is just “blaming the victim”. As if the issue were not situational awareness but moral righteousness (robbers are bad, don’t ya’ know). Junkies.

    When I was a child (pre-Internet), from the earliest possible time, I was trained to regard urban settings as filled with risk. It could be pretty safe to roam about most of most cities but part of the bargain was that you had to Pay Attention. That seems to be a world view slipping away among some. And then people act surprised when their kid goes off to college — free to wander the city for perhaps the first time — and gets robbed.

    Worse, when I was young — and allowed to wander big cities on my own — I was kept safe partly because of all the adults around who were even more aware of the environment than I was. In a culture with less distraction we not only protect ourselves better, but one another. People who live “in the Internet” even when they’re on the street harm not only themselves, but they withdraw from helping to maintain civic environments for others.

    Finally, on the topic of addictiveness, I’ll add that aside from the distracting brain candy that makes these tools dangerously addictive, there is their role in social one-upsmanship. I think a lot of people perceive (perhaps wrongly) that their being constantly wired gives them social and economic advantages. They can groom their on-line “social” networks, competitively and in real time, to maintain status. They can gain an edge in transactions — locating or evaluating deals. They can “settle” a point in a conversation by withdrawing, pawing at a browser, and then thrusting an illegible snippet in your face. These devices give rise to lots of competitive games of dubious value.

    I like the idea of “slow tech”.

  2. Tony Winn

    This video seemed to echo a lot of what the shallows had to say. I kept waiting for him to quote you! What I really enjoyed was he identified a name for technologies that try to counter the disconnected and distracted culture that we’ve created. As someone trying to write this sort of software it’s really helpful to have a buzz word when trying to explain why and what you’re building.

  3. KevinandErin Knox

    This post and your previous one on the further evolution of digital sharecropping are particurlarly chilling.

    As a longtime meditation practitioner I was interested to hear Kraus talk about mindfulness practice as a corrective to web-induced distraction. Currently in the Buddhist meditation world there’s a great deal of research going on into the effects on the brain of practices that develop calm, focused attention (e.g. the work of B. Alan Wallace and Richard Davidson), but not much discussion of the cultivated distractedness people bring to the cushion (though one well-known teacher does prescribe an hour of concentration meditation for every hour spent in front of any screen – be it TV, smartphone or computer).

    You address this all wonderfully in “The Shallows” and I also want to point out that Jerry Mander predicted all of this stuff in “Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television” (1977!) and “In the Absence of the Sacred.” How to deal with it all without turning into a Luddite is frankly beyond me, but I don’t share Kraus’s faith that more technology to deal with problems caused by technology is the solution.

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