Just sent this email to my ‘web guy*’:
And I thought, “I’m in the medieval digital age.”
*names have been changed to protect the innocent
Just sent this email to my ‘web guy*’:
And I thought, “I’m in the medieval digital age.”
*names have been changed to protect the innocent
No surprise, Yuval Noah Hurari does an excellent job of summarizing this year of Covid pandemic in his article: Lessons from a Year of Covid.
Some key takeaways for me:
“If it is not too complicated to start monitoring what you do — it is not too complicated to start monitoring what the government does.”
“…we need to safeguard our digital infrastructure. It has been our salvation during this pandemic, but it could soon be the source of an even worse disaster.”
“…each country should invest more in its public health system. This seems self-evident, but politicians and voters sometimes succeed in ignoring the most obvious lesson.”
“…we should establish a powerful global system to monitor and prevent pandemics.”
Any current or aspiring politicians out there looking for action items need look no further.
Neuroscientist/Philosopher Sam Harris tells a story of walking on stage to give a talk somewhere and upon seeing that there was bottled water on a table next to the podium he did what so many of us do and thought to himself, “oh good, they put some water there.” He then asks – why is he thinking that and who is he thinking it to? He sees the water there – his brain registers it, he already knows it’s there, but why is there this internal monologue or voice that reaffirms it to ‘himself’ when really, ‘himself’ already knows the water is there?
We all have this internal monologue or voice and it’s uniquely ours. It speaks in language and tone and with colloquialisms and slang that indeed often only we know and recognize. It’s an infinite loop of inside jokes with ourselves.
Saturday morning I was sitting in a grassy clearing behind a subdivision watching the sun come up. There wasn’t much to watch actually, it was an overcast day. I watched the world around me get lighter. At the edge of the clearing there were some deer grazing that I don’t think had really noticed me sitting there – the grass was pretty tall and I was hidden.
When I stood up to leave, they froze a bit and realized I was there. Inside my head, my internal voice said a line it uses all the time in these situations, “the jig is up, the news is out – they know I’m here.” The first part of that, “the jig is up, the news is out” comes from a line in a Styx song that I first heard so long ago I can’t remember when. It often pops into my head in instances like this where it fits. Why it does is a totally different blog post, because I’ve never even really been a Styx fan or listened to one of their records all the way through. I will tell you it has something to do with that ancient technology, radio.
I don’t usually listen to music when I’m riding my bike, but I chuckled at this opportunity and dialed up the song on my phone in Apple Music, set my speaker volume as loud as it could go, a proceeded to tear through the gray suburbs of Fredericton’s North Side with it playing 3 times in a row.
I didn’t see anyone. It was very early on a Saturday, but I bet some folks saw or maybe even heard me through sleepy, coffee-fueled gazes out of kitchen windows. Maybe some dog-walkers heard strange noise a block away but couldn’t quite pinpoint it as it was moving. Some guy up early to wake-n-bake in his backyard probably thought, “whoah this is some great shit, I think I just heard Styx.” I enjoy doing my part to keep Fredericton weird.
It occurred to me that the whole transaction – from that moment when I thought of the lyric through to fishing out my phone, searching it up and hitting play – that is what digital companies are trying to capture and ultimately monetize. That’s the hook.
The voice in my head is uniquely mine, but science has basically determined that – leave arguments about the true nature of consciousness aside for a moment – those thoughts, my internal monologue (or dialogue, since it seems to be two-way with someone) is merely electrical impulses zapping through my brain that I quite literally have no control over.
The March of Technology continues to advance. I’ve heard discussions on podcasts and elsewhere about the eventual availability of ‘neural nets’ – the mess of wires and transmitters that measure brain activity you see in the science shows – potentially in the form of wearables like hats or headbands and coupled with devices and apps to read your brain activity. Most of the discussions I’ve heard are about the beneficent use of this tech – say for example an app to help you quit smoking that can read your brain activity faster than you can even think and then prompt you via an app or otherwise with a behavior or thought that works counter to the craving.
Ostensibly, one day there will be surgical implants that can be placed into your head, connected to your brain to then connect with external devices – such as a phone – but then again, at some point, there’ll no longer be a need for the external device. Everything will happen right inside your head. Your phone calls, reminders, music – all right there.
In the case of my Styx example, the process would change from a clunky physical one – thought of the song, reaching for phone (or even asking Siri to play it) – pressing button – to simply thinking of the lyric and then thinking “oooo, play that,” and my head will ring with 1979 era rock. I guess the downside is that the neighborhoods I ride through won’t be able to hear it – which ruins most of the fun.
More ominously though, if our internal monologue/dialogue is just electrical impulses, then eventually, the technology will exist for the implant in your head to be 2-way. It will no longer just ‘listen and monitor’ – it will respond or prompt. And the response will indiscernible from your own thoughts. It will speak to you in that same voice and language that you’ve known your whole life. The device will – of course – be connected to external sources via wi-fi, bluetooth, and/or whatever new invisible data transfer technologies are created between now and then. At some point it will be very lucrative and very compelling for advertisers, organizations, causes, or anyone really – to be able to get into your thoughts – and you won’t even know it.
So it begs the question, at what point will your experience of the moment become inauthentic?
Because I know you’re wondering, Sunday’s ride soundtrack was The Bosstones. Now you’ve been inside my head, no fancy gadgets needed.
So after all the hype and final shutdown of the Light Phone Experiment, since I was due for an upgrade of my iPhone SE, I went and pulled the trigger on the Xr – well, 4 of ’em actually – as my wife and 2 kids were all due for upgrades too. Got a screaming good Black Friday* deal on them, I’m ashamed to admit.
I’m sure I’ll come up with more over time but here’s the quick and dirty I’ve got so far:
*It’s a strange world when one reaches a point where your family has so many phones that one has to set up a spreadsheet to compare all the various options, deals and service plans before making any purchases or adjustments to your mobility plan. Perhaps theres a market for an app for this.
So if you’ve been paying attention to my posts at all, you’ll know that I was planning on running an experiment based around using a Light Phone 2 provided by a buddy of mine with the intention of seeing what it was like to be ‘smartphoneless’ for some given period of time. Well, that idea has crashed and burned or perhaps more accurately, fizzled.
First off, it was taking awhile for the Light Phone folks to ship their product – a not-unexpected occurrence – given that this was an Indiegogo thing and these things take time. Not an un-ironic comment on how our everything-immediately-on-demand world has influenced our expectations and perceptions of time. Still, the length of time it was taking started to sap interest in the desire to play around with the device. Steve – the guy who was going to loan me his version of the phone – and I remarked on this a few times in our correspondence. Still, I remained committed to giving it a shot and he still felt I was a good candidate to put it through its paces.
When the phone finally shipped to Steve, once he received it, decided he wanted to give it a temporary spin so set about trying to get it up and running with his cellular service provider. He hit some snags though, and then decided to try using the Light Phone’s own SIM plan and ordered up a card – only to have issues with getting the SIM to be recognized once it arrived. Last we spoke, he still didn’t have the thing up and running.
In the meantime, I had my own circumstances change in that I agreed at the last minute to coach my kids’ hockey team this winter. Based on my previous experiences coaching, the prospect of trying to run the team as well as coordinate with parents and league staff all without a ‘smart’ phone (one with a calendar and access to a web browser and email) seemed like an exercise in futility and one that would only make life miserable. Due to the time it was taking to get the Light Phone into my hands, my interest in the experiment as it was initially formulated had waned. Being faced with this new organizational challenge – I told Steve I wasn’t really interested in it any longer – at least not at this point.
I will say this though, that the whole idea wasn’t without it’s upsides. Through the process of thinking about the phone and preparing to use it, I went through several phases of evaluating and thinking about what apps I have on my current phone and how I use them. That process has led to a major cull in both apps on the phone as well as phone usage/screen time in a way that has been overwhelmingly positive. Probably the largest single change has been the elimination of email from my phone. While I did, initially re-install it after agreeing to coach, I uninstalled it after only a short while realizing that the several months prior of having no access to it on the phone had taught me I don’t need it and I was able to pretty much manage things by sticking to the routine I’d established of basically checking email once a day, intentionally, at a regular time.
In closing, I’m still glad that I went through the whole process, even though things fell apart at the end. The result is I’m still using a phone that’s about as ‘light’ as I can get, and the apps that are on it I’ve given a lot of thought about whether I want to give my time and attention to and if they’re of real value in my day-to-day. This idea of considering how we use the technology we have very intentionally is something Cal Newport talks about at length in his book Digital Minimalism: Choosing A Focused Life in a Noisy World . Although I’ve actually only just started reading this, I had inadvertently already begun what Mr. Newport calls the ‘Digital Declutter’ without even knowing it. When I wanted to reevaluate my relationship with the technology in my day-to-day life, it just seemed to be the sensible way to do it. That said, the book is great so far and I highly recommend it if it sounds like something you’re interested in or are considering.
For those interested/playing along – I’ve stuck to my initial plan of keeping my phone to ‘one-screen’ of apps. Each one has had to ‘earn’ its real-estate there (exception being the un-installable apps, some of which I wish I could nuke). I also didn’t cheat by putting apps I can’t remove in a folder to give me more space on the ‘one-screen’, so I really had to think hard about it. Interesting note – I’m up for an upgrade of my iPhone SE and I notice that even the smallest of the newer iPhones is larger than this one. While I’m not excited about that – I like a small phone – I think it does mean more screen real-estate for apps, I guess I’ll have to see how that goes.
Cal Newport talks in his latest post, A Piece of Advice I Wish I’d Included in My Book about leaving your phone in the foyer of your house once you get home.
The Phone Foyer Method: When you get home after work, you put your phone on a table in your foyer near your front door. Then — and this is the important part — you leave it there until you next leave the house.
Several months ago, I started something similar, only, my dresser is where the phone stays. This also happens to be where I charge it. I come home, empty my pockets and leave the phone there and don’t carry it with me around the house or out into the garage or the yard. It’s been great. Very liberating.
Naturally since we’ve all become accustomed to being ‘connected’ all the time, at first there where those pangs of ‘what if I miss a call or a text?’ If I’m inside, I can still hear the ring and go answer if I want, same with a text. If I’m outside – there’s voicemail.
I’ve experienced all the benefits and good mojo Cal mentions in the post in spades. Sometimes, I even put my phone there and – gasp – turn the ringer off.
What’s funny is when my kids or my wife notice it vibrating or ringing and come and find me in a panic – “your phone is ringing – making noises! You’ve got a text!”
“Yep. That’s what it does.” is what I usually say.
I had a convo with my buddy Steve who has backed the LP II and decided that he probably won’t use it, so once he gets his in the mail and has a chance to check it out, he’s gonna ship it to me for a demo. I’d like to say thanks to him for the opportunity – it should be an interesting and fun experiment. In his own words, “I can’t think of anyone better for test driving this thing.”
Rather than just use the LP II once in awhile to “go light” as the creators suggest, I’m going to go all the way and replace my iPhone with the LP II. For how long remains to be seen, I’m waiting to see how it goes. There’ll always be the option to jump back to my trusty iPhone as moving between the two simply means moving the SIM back and forth.
For those too lazy to check the link or just looking for the TLDR info, the Light Phone II has three functions – phone, text, and an alarm. The developers have talked about adding some other things like directions or playlists, but it remains to be seen what will be on it when they start shipping at the end of the month. As far as I’m concerned, the less, the better.
I removed the email app from my iPhone a couple of months ago and have been pretty happy about it. There were still some other apps I used on it pretty consistently though and it could be interesting to see how much I miss them and/or how I adapt with them gone. Chief among those would be Notes, Calendar, Banking, Books, Music, LastPass, Weather, ScannerPro and the camera.
These are all things I can access/use for the most part from my desktop Macs at home or at work, but it will mean rethinking the way I use them, i.e. creating a time of the day to use them more deliberately or consciously.
In preparation of the LP II landing, I’ve removed everything I possibly could from my iPhone and started sort of working with that. There’s a few things you just can’t remove without jailbreaking the phone, but I’ve removed everything else. It basically leaves you with phone, text, the camera/Photos and Safari. It’s been a few days and it’s already getting interesting. A few things that have come up already:
Though I won’t have access to all this stuff on my phone, with me at all times, the reality is that I will on my Mac desktops – one of which I stand in front of at work for 7 hours a day. How much hassle will the non-constant contact end up causing? It remains to be seen. I’ve been getting a little taste for a few months with no email, and now will find out a little more. Stay tuned for updates on the goings on.
I’ve been trying for quite sometime to be better with my sleep habits – I’ve read a lot about the importance of sleep – it’s interesting that so many people choose to neglect or disregard its importance. There is a laundry list of mental and physical benefits of getting enough quality sleep – as well as some considerable downsides of not – many of them quite surprising and rather substantial.
This short talk by scientist Matt Walker has some compelling reasons why you should pay attention to the quality and amount of sleep you get.
His advice is relatively short and sweet and would seem rather simple until you consider the way most of us live our lives today:
“Go to bed at the same time, wake up at the same time, no matter whether it’s the weekday or the weekend,” and “aim for a bedroom temperature of around 65 degrees, or about 18 degrees Celsius.”
I’ve almost got the first part almost nailed, but the temperature thing is hard when we don’t have central air-conditioning and our summers can get pretty hot and humid.
Gerry McGovern writes in his latest newsletter: Digital Contributing to Climate Crisis:
According to “The Cost of Music,” a joint study penned by the University of Glasgow and the University of Oslo, greenhouse gases were recorded at 140-million kilograms in 1977 for music production activities (vinyl; plastic packaging). Moreover, they were at 136 million kilograms in 1988 and 157 million in 2000. In 2016, the age of streaming, greenhouse gases were estimated between 200- and 350-million kilograms in the U.S. alone.
“Storing and processing music online uses a tremendous amount of resources and energy,” Dr. Kyle Devine, an associate professor in music from the University of Oslo explained, “which has a high impact on the environment.”
Furthermore, I read an article a while ago, which said that the amount of energy consumed by a voice assistant while turning the lights off or on is significantly greater than the amount of energy required for a human to get up and turn the lights off or on.
Bet you thought doing everything online was guilt-free or carbon net zero. But vinyl is made from petroleum, so that is bad too, right? Do we go back to 8-tracks? Cassettes?
I know that I have been giving more thought to the volume of data I keep ‘online’/in the Cloud. Photos, documents. All this stuff takes server space which also means electricity and energy. Whereas before I had been keeping things redundantly on different servers/platforms, I’m trying to trim down my ‘digital footprint’ as well.
It also raises an interesting question with regards to my kids and the next generation of data users/hoarders. My kids will be of the first generation to grow up completely ‘online’. As such, when they move out, presumably, I’ll have to facilitate some sort of ‘massive data transfer’ of all their photos, documents and other ephemera that are currently stored on the ‘family’ computer. There’s a discussion there to be had and a protocol to be established for sure. In the case of my oldest, she has already set up her own Flickr Pro account to house all her photos.
I can see it coming as a bit of a shock down the road though, so should probably get started planning now.
“Congratulations on your new place, son! Here’s your 17 terabytes of ‘crap’ – find somewhere to store it! Mom and I will be in our cabin in the woods if you need anything.”
Also, get your lazy ass up and turn the lights on and off.
“But I want to suggest that the loss of control that might be delivered by some neurointerventions is not really the issue because we are never actually in control anyway, even though it might seem that we are. The real issue is that the subjects of these neurointerventions might become alienated from their own thoughts and behaviours.”Hazem Zohny
Everyone likes to talk about the prospect that eventually, we won’t have smartphones anymore, there’ll just be chips implanted right in your head, and possibly wired directly into your brain.
What will that mean for our decision-making and thought process? What if advertisers and companies could buy insertion into our subconscious? We already have algorithms that can predict our moods and tailor advertising accordingly, wouldn’t it be the next step to just rig some to actually put you in the mood – or make the decision for you – to buy something before you even knew it?
Ethically, one would have to think that there would be some sort of oversight with regards to this kind of tech, however, once the circuitry is in place, it would be rife for the hacking. Obviously everyone thought Facebook would be just groovy forever and look what it’s gotten us now.
I’ll be sticking with my ‘ancient’ iPhone SE for now.