Tag Archives: Dubner

Technology is not Kind, Does Not Wait — and continues to change the world

“The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.”
Winston Churchill


I’ve been thinking a lot about what has changed without us hardly noticing it – until after it has happened.

For example:

• I now read e-mail, and blog posts, and news sites, during commercials while watching television – on my iPhone.

• I never have to worry about having any of my “stuff” from my computer with me – it is available practically everywhere, on any computer, or on my iPhone.  For example, all of my book synopsis handouts are always accessible from my iPhone.

• I never have to record any appointment twice.  The whole computer cloud thingamajiggie syncs it all.  (Yes, I know that many of our readers know the right vocabulary – I just know that when I put an appointment down in my iPhone or iMac, it shows up in both places).

These are just stories of convenience.  But there are some much bigger stories, with real life significance for the way we live..  You might say that I am becoming a believer in the possibilities of technological fixes to all sorts of problems.

In SuperFreakonomcs, Levitt and Dubner describe how one Doctor, Craig Feied, combined his early love for machines (“he is a fervent early adopter – he put a fax machine in the ER and started riding a Segway when both were novelties”) turned his passion into a technological fix for the need for information for the health professionals in an emergency room.  (“The WHC emergency department had a severe case of ‘datapenia,’ or low data counts.”)  And in the process, his initiative and dogged pursuit of such technology has turned the emergency room in his hospital from the worst in his area to the best, and he is now an example of the power of technological fixes in SuperFreakonomics.

All of this made me revisit a terrific book by Juan Enriquez, As the Future Catches You:  (How Genomics and Other Forces are Changing Your Life, Work, Health, and Wealth).  He writes:

If it seems like your world has been topsy-turvy over the past few years…  Consider what’s coming.  Your genetic code will be imprinted on an ID card…  For better and worse.  Medicines will be tailored to your genes and will help prevent specific diseases for which you may be at risk…  It all starts because we are mixing apples, oranges, and floppy disks.

But this is the money quote:
Technology is not kind.  It does not wait.  It does not say please.  It slams into existing systems, and often destroys them – while creating a new system.

The creation of new systems is what today’s entrepreneurs are deeply engaged in.  We don’t know what they are developing/discovering/bringing, but what they bring will be different, I think better, and absolutely amazing.  And I believe that solutions will come to some very big problems because of the promise technology holds.

About that multi-tasking expertise…

A person using a computer experiences “cognitive drift” if more than one second elapses between clicking the mouse and seeing new data on the screen.  If ten seconds pass, the person’s mind is somewhere else entirely.  That’s how medical errors are made.
Levitt and Dubner, Superfreakonomics

The books say that women are better at multitasking than men.  Maybe so.  But I’ve got a theory that all of us have trouble multi-tasking.  In fact, I would argue that focus is lost by most attempts to do multi-tasking.  Some call the problem Adult ADD, but I think I would call our era the era of focus deficiency syndrome.

The quote above from Superfreakonomics jumped off the page at me.  The quote comes from a section of the book discussing medical errors.  But it’s the first part that grabs me:
A person using a computer experiences “cognitive drift” if more than one second elapses between clicking the mouse and seeing new data on the screen.  If ten seconds pass, the person’s mind is somewhere else entirely.

This rings true – to me.  I had not heard of “cognitive drift,” but the phrase certainly describes me — a lot; frequently; maybe constantly.  My mind is constantly drifting.  I will look something up/do a google search, and as I am waiting for it to load (and, yes, I do have a fast-speed connection) my mind has already gone elsewhere, and it may or may not make it back to where it was just a few seconds earlier.

For my own life, I have found that to read a book effectively – you know, with focus — I have to turn my phone off, my e-mail off, and keep my sight lines relatively clear of anything but the pages of the book.  Otherwise, I find myself constantly facing the problem of “my mind is somewhere else” entirely.

The ability to focus on one thing at a time — the ability to single-task — may be a new necessary job skill.  I know that it’s a skill that I definitely need to master.