Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Twitter-pated, Gmail Labs, and Black and White Movies

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (Special Edition)I follow quite a few blogs, and every so often, I see some things that I just really have to share. Typically I'll share them through my personal Facebook feed (and often Twitter, too), but now and then there are some links that I have a bit more to say about. Today is such a day. Three links for your reading and viewing pleasure. Here they are:
  • There was an excellent piece this week in the New York Times, all about how Twitter is making us stupid. It's a fascinating article--one which I highly recommend--but if you just want the executive summary, the author (Bill Keller) argues that we're training our brains to abandon actually using our memories. In days of yore, people would regularly memorize all sorts of things, including the entire contents of books. These days, stunts like that make a person seem freakish, even though it's (apparently) not that hard to do. (Check out this article for a more thorough discussion in that vein--more great reading in and of itself.) With the advent of calculators and Wikipedia, it's argued that people are outsourcing control of their knowledge to the Cloud. Here's an excellent quote that captures the essence of the argument:
    Many of us have discovered that navigating by G.P.S. has undermined our mastery of city streets and perhaps even impaired our innate sense of direction. Typing pretty much killed penmanship. Twitter and YouTube are nibbling away at our attention spans. And what little memory we had not already surrendered to Gutenberg we have relinquished to Google. Why remember what you can look up in seconds?
    What do I think about the argument? I have to admit that I think he's got a point. As we rely more heavily on computers, it's bound to change the way our mind operates. At the same time, I'm not sure that's a wholly bad thing. At least, it won't be if we don't let it. Sure, we could easily jettison all our hard won knowledge for fluffier things, like American Idol statistics or brownie recipes, but at the same time, we can divert our attention to bigger challenges, instead. I'd say this is a good observation, but in the end it's a glass is half empty/half full situation, which brings to mind an excellent Woody Allen quote I just read in Entertainment Weekly:
    Nostalgia is an unhealthy trap that’s very seductive,” says Allen. “The problem is, life is a very cruel, tragic, and unsatisfying experience and you always think that another time in the past would have been ideal for you. For example, if I think back to belle-epoque Paris, it’s like Gigi, with beautiful costumes and carriages and great wine. The reality is there was no novacaine when you went to the dentist.
    In other words, it's all fine and good to wish for days of yore--but don't forget that those days had their own problems, too.
  • Next up is something for you if you're a Gmail user. Lifehacker has two excellent posts (first, second) on features in Google Labs that you should turn on in your Gmail account. I'm not going to say that I use all of them, but some of these are real gems. (Unread Message Icon, Background Send, Message Sneak Peek, and the wonderful Undo Send all stand out.) This is one of the reasons I love Gmail--the ability to turn on little things that can make the whole thing feel so much better. I think it's fantastic that Google doesn't have to wait for a whole new upgrade to push out improvements. They do it with Chrome (still my browser of choice these days), and they do it with their whole line of services, from Search right down to Gmail. If you're not a Gmail user, I really don't see a good argument for why you don't switch. Anyone care to enlighten me?
  • Finally, here's one last link that isn't tech-related, but I really wanted to share it. Flavorwire has a great piece focused on modern movies that are better in black and white. Now, I know that some of you are thinking to yourself, "Why in the world would I want to watch something made in color in B&W instead?) Well, just watch the first clip of Raiders of the Lost Ark in B&W, and I almost guarantee you'll see the light. A really cool experience, and each of the clips has an accompanying commentary discussing the differences the change in color bring to the table.


  1. The argument that the latest technology will be an irrevocable detriment to our ability to think and function is very old. Plato said very much the same thing about writing:

    "The fact is that this invention will produce forgetfulness in the souls of those who have learned it. They will not need to exercise their memories, being able to rely on what is written, calling things to mind no longer from within themselves by their own unaided powers, but under the stimulus of external marks that are alien to themselves…. Then any man who imagines that he has bequeathed an art to posterity because he put his views in writing, and also anyone who inherits such an "art" in the belief that any subject will be clear or certain because it is couched in writing such men will be utterly simple-minded."

    Personally, I agree with Donald Norman: there is knowledge in the head, and knowledge in the world. To an extent, knowledge in the world aids and expands the knowledge in our heads. Books, calculators, GPS are all part of our extended phenotype, and serve to expand our limited faculties. There are certainly tradeoffs to relying too heavily on knowledge in the world (of course the same is true for relying too heavily on knowledge in the head), and I think Keller brings up some interesting points, but I sincerely doubt Twitter and Facebook will be turning us into Eloi any time soon.

  2. Interesting points--thanks for the comment!