The Case for Online Distractions

It’s easy to blame Google and PowerPoint for distracting us and making us employ bullet points. But, as Steven Pinker, professor of psychology at Harvard, argues in last week’s New York Times, we shouldn’t get worried about technologies’ power of distraction. Perhaps, he says, we should be thankful since “technologies are the only things that will keep us smart.”

Pinker states that new forms of media usually meet initial skepticism. The printing press, radio, television, comic books and, of late, video games have all been labeled dangerous in one way or another during their admission into popular culture. With time, each medium eventually finds acceptance and praise.

Today’s critics of new technologies like Twitter, PowerPoint, e-book previews, and blogs worry that we’ll all suffer from information overload. We often hear the line that computer and smart phone users will get lost, confused, and increasing unproductive in a content-filled cyberworld.

Pinker doesn’t see it that way. People who seek to increase their knowledge on a particular subject will and be able to do so with greater ease with new technologies and won’t necessarily be driven to idle distraction. While the computer age has bred a new variety of time-wasters, it has also created a powerful learning tool.

Ultimately Pinker thinks we must approach new technologies with caution. Exploit its benefits while diligently abstaining from its idle pleasures. He advocates turning off smart phones at dinnertime and logging out of your email for hours. For Pinker, with great internet access comes great responsibility.

The internet has cataloged great amounts of information and Google (and sites like it) have become its sponsored librarian. Pinker argues that if we stay in the smarter sections of the library for a prescribed amount of time, we won’t suffer from information overload all that much. If we start wasting time in the general interest and entertainment sections, we’ll distract ourselves and not get anything meaningful done.

Perhaps, but wandering has its benefits and charms.

While new technologies make it easier to waste time, they aren’t responsible for time wasting. Pinker’s conclusions are welcome among worried headlines technology critics who fear the loss of rational thought in the age of Twitter. We don’t have to fear the perpetual distraction of new technologies since they can inform progress, help rational thought, and aid analytical research in exciting ways.

Artwork by: Hotdiggitydogs


Twitter Isn’t a Social Gathering–It’s a Newspaper

In the presentation below, Haewoon Kwak and his colleagues from KAIST, argue that Twitter isn’t exactly “social.” They state that Twitter emulates traditional media more than you might think.

It’s not a surprise. Twitter is less about interaction and more about trying to wade through a sea of tweets from across the globe. It’s essentially a newspaper with hundreds and thousands of columnists who write about what they had for breakfast and the events they stumble across. The ‘social’ aspect of twitter stems from your ability to ‘follow’ a variety of people and communicate with them. But, as any Tweeter will tell you, it’s not that easy to start a dialogue with a random person on Twitter.

Twitter is still fun. It’s a real-time newspaper with a large pool of writers that can be funny, smart, insipid, or shocking. It can also provide great links to exciting content in your field. While Twitter belongs in many people’s definition of ‘social media’–it might not remain there. It’s not as social as Facebook nor is it a reliable as other media sources. What do you think? Is Twitter a failed social project or do you think it has an exciting future? Further, do you think Twitter can continue to be a valid source for news?

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Head in the Clouds: Businesses Must Deal With Cloud Computing

Cloud computing, a term originating from an old network designers’ icon, is really just the ability to access and use everything you normally work with and need on your PC–without your PC. In other words, it’s the ability to hop on the Internet, or hop in the ‘cloud’, and start working on your spreadsheets, updating your order-forms, and listening to your music without your PC, your flash drive, or your external hard drive. However, even the experts are having a hard time defining cloud computing’s scope, power, and use….

So what are the implications?

Everyone is trying to see this one coming. The New York Times suggests that cloud computing may lend itself to larger censorship. Business Week thinks more and more businesses will rely on it. Newsweek is guessing that the technology will help developing nations. And the Wall Street Journal is witnessing a trend every business is dying to get into.

The thing is…everyone is right. Cloud computing will be huge and it’ll be a boon for emerging economies, new businesses, and consumers. However, cloud computing also comes with its own set of problems: security and censorship key among them.

What does this mean for your office?

Cloud computing is neither swift nor capable enough to reliably support the files and data your business likely uses everyday….