“Who Owns The Future” by Jaron Lanier (My book review in USA Today)

Lanier_Who Owns_coverUnless we want mass unemployment, poverty and revolution in the future, we need to start compensating people for the contributions they make to digital networks.

That is the central theme of computer scientist Jaron Lanier’s new book Who Owns The Future, an in-depth followup and expansion on ideas he first explored in his 2010 best-seller, You Are Not A Gadget.

I recently interviewed Lanier, and wrote a review of his excellent new book for USA Today.

Here’s a link: Review: The Dark Side of Technology’s Disruption

Is Technology Making You Sick?

iStock_000019120930XSmallA Scottish teenager who was banned from using the internet as part of his sentence for crimes including hacking into the CIA, Visa, and Sony Pictures , wrote in the British online newspaper, The Guardian, that in the year he’s been offline, his health has improved.

Jake Davis, known as “Topiary” when he was involved with the hacktivist groups Anonymous, and LulzSec, says, “the feeling of being able to close my eyes without being bombarded with flashing shapes or constant buzzing sounds, which had occurred frequently since my early teens…. Sleep is now tranquil and uninterrupted and books seem far more interesting. The paranoia has certainly vanished.”

This caught my eye, because of a book I read recently called, “iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession With Technology and Overcoming Its Hold On Us ” by Dr. Larry Rosen. Rosen is a psychologist who found that over-immersion with technology actually causes changes in our brains that can lead to sleeplessness,  anxiety, depression, stress, and other psychological, mood, and personality disorders.

These ill effects, he says, are the result of  lack of sleep due to so much time spent online, spending less time  interacting with friends offline, and focusing on negative, depressing, content online.

In addition, there is some indication that depression is somewhat like a contagious disease; i.e., if the friends you’re hanging out with online–say, on Facebook, for example– are talking about depressing stuff all the time; you’re more likely to start feeling that way yourself.

On the plus side, if you’re feeling bad and get empathy from your online friends; that online empathy can actually make you feel better.

Anxiety and depression are just the tip of the iceberg. Other problems include obsessive-compulsive behavior, narcissistic personality disorder, hypochondria, delusions, hallucinations, and social avoidance.

Although you may have heard  some of this information before; you probably haven’t heard quite as much of it, or in as much depth as Rosen presents in iDisorder.

Whether it’s your laptop, mobile phone, iPad, XBox, or whatever–the more you use it; the more you want to use it. The more you want to use it; the more likely you are to do annoying things like constantly check your email during dinner with your family, narcissistic things like obsessively updating your Facebook status, or outright dangerous things like texting while driving.

Of course, not everyone who gets anxious when they can’t check their email, texts, or Facebook status every few minutes has an iDisorder. But, the more you find out about how prevalent illnesses related to over-use of technology really are; the more seriously you might take ideas such as:

  • Technology breaks: Consciously set aside a certain interval–say, every 15  minutes or so–to check your email, texts, Facebook status, etc. Give yourself one or two minutes at that time, and then don’t check again until your next scheduled break.
  •  Get social offline: Spend more actual face-to-face time with actual people in real life, than online, texting, video-chatting, or on the phone.
  • Spend more time in nature: Go outside and chill out. Even just 15 minutes in a natural setting can help you calm down. If you can’t get outside for a break; apparently even pictures of trees, streams, and the like, will work.  And no–don’t look at them online. Try looking at pictures in a book, or maybe at photos you’ve tacked up on the wall  at your office.

I found the book to be very interesting, informative, thought-provoking, and more than a little worrisome. Don’t be surprised if you see  some of your own behavior described.

If you find yourself saying  repeatedly; “Hey, that’s me! Yep. Check. Right. Me. Yeah, me too. Uh-Oh…me again!“; you might just have an iDisorder.

But you’re not alone.  These days, we probably all have a bit of an iDisorder. The question is, “how much?”

iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession With  Technology and Overcoming Its Hold On Us” by Larry Rosen PhD

CNET: A Peek Behind The Mask: Anonymous “Topiary” Speaks

The Guardian UK: Anonymous: Behind the Masks of The Cyberinsurgents

The Guardian UK: My Life after Anonymous “I Feel More Fulfilled After the Internet”

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Device Envy: Resitance Is Not Futile!

Cyborg-heartA new HTC mobile commercial touts their new Droid as “not just a phone; it’s an extension of you”.

The commercial shows a guy being “cyberneticized” by getting all sorts of cool robotic additions to his body, including (of course) the Droid.

That old “it’s an extension of you” appeal isn’t new; but what concerns me is that so many people seem to be buying into this line of BS, and internalizing it as “truth”, when in fact; it most certainly is not.

The particular device you buy–whatever it may be–is just that; a device. It’s a tool. It’s something you use because it allows you to complete specific tasks in a way that suits your needs. It is not a fashion accessory, or an extension of your body.

For those who think having the latest greatest electronic gizmo is an important fashion statement; I say; save your money and buy a new belt or pair of shoes. Buying any internet-connected device based on pure fashion without regard to whether or not you actually need or will use the functionality it offers is absurd.

In addition; buying into the idea of cybernetic enhancement of the human body as an absolute good or even desirable option is unwise. While many think of these images as pure science fiction; look deeper, and you will find they are not.

They stem from the concept of a coming “technological singularity“, popularized by science fiction writers and futurist Ray Kurzweil, who is now head of Engineering for Google.

Your phone is a tool, and your body is your own. Do not be fooled into believing otherwise by glitzy ads that attempt to make it seem as though you will attain superhero status if you just buy their newest, shiniest object.

The newest technology is only a wonderful tool if you have a reasonable expectation that you actually control it. But the fact is, right now; you do not.

In light of increasing reports of supply chain exploits, state sponsored cyber attacks, political hacktivism, an explosion of malware distributed by cyber criminals , and even the spoofing of digital code-signing (security) certificates; it is folly to allow yourself to be drawn inexorably by advertising and pop culture in general into adopting a world view that advocates the melding of man and machine.

It is hard enough to control yourself when it’s just your own frail human nature calling the shots. Do you really want to cede control to someone–anyone–else?

I think not.

Resistance is not futile. It is absolutely necessary!

“The Tinkerers”: (USA Today Book Review)

The Tinkerers-Book Cover

The Tinkerers-Book Cover

I’m not even any good with tools, but I was so fired up after reading Alec Foege’s great new book,“The Tinkerers: The Amateurs, DIYers, and Inventors Who Make America Great”, that I sat down and took the hard drive out of a PC. Then, I put it back in, just for the heck of it.

Wow! Who knew tinkering could be so much fun?

Of course, it does help that I didn’t break it!

Check out the review I wrote for USA Today. Review: Tinkering Spirit Made America Great

If you’re interested in buying it; visit Amazon.com.

Pioneers Of Digital (USA Today Book Review)

Pioneers of Digital-book coverIf you’ve ever wondered why things look and work the way they do on the internet; you’ll enjoy reading the book I recently reviewed for USA Today; Pioneers of Digital:Success Stories from Leaders in Advertising, Marketing, Search and Social Media.

The book profiles twenty extremely influential, but not generally well-known people who have shaped online experiences for billions of people worldwide.

From search engine marketing, to pay-per-click, online political fundraising, and even virtual reality gaming; these unsung heroes of the internet have literally made your online experience what it is today.

Click here to read my review on USAToday.com: ‘Pioneers of Digital’ Has Key Start-Up Advice‘.

Time Out: Jazz Legend Dave Brubeck Dies At 91

take-five-dave-brubeck-jazzJazz legend Dave Brubeck died today from heart failure at the age of 91. He will be sorely missed, but leaves behind an amazing legacy of incredibly beautiful,  complex, and emotionally compelling music.

Brubeck was my inspiration and introduction to the world of jazz. His iconic 1959 album, “Time Out” was a revelation. How could such complex rhythms still swing? How could such wildly improvisational tunes still be catchy and accessible enough to become hits on the Billboard pop charts?

An innovator in the “cool jazz” movement of the late ’50′s, Brubeck led me and millions of other listeners on a journey to discover, experience, and appreciate the ever-evolving, ever-changing, ever-expressive nature of improvisational jazz.

Over the course of my career in broadcasting and music; I’ve been to hundreds of concerts. But none of them moved me as profoundly, as deeply, and in such a personal way as the Dave Brubeck concert I attended in Seattle sometime in the late ’90s or early 2000′s.

While I cannot remember the exact date; I can remember my great joy and bliss being tempered by a sense of deep melancholy, when I realized that this great lion of jazz piano who was at the time in his ’80s, might one day soon pass away.

Who could possibly take the place of such a great master? Who could possibly play, inspire, emote, and mesmerize as adeptly, beautifully, and meaningfully as this wonderful man?

I didn’t have the answer then, and I don’t have it now. But, what I do have, is great praise, gratitude, and appreciation for the incredible music Brubeck left us.

If you’re not yet familiar with his music; take a few moments to listen to “Time Out”, and you will understand why millions of people have become such devoted fans over the last half century. He was one of a kind, a true original; gone now, but never to be forgotten.

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