Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Digital Dementia: Is this the end of Critical Thinking?

It’s a new phenomenon in the medial field—something that’s robbing millions of people of their mental and physical well-being. And all they have to do is reach in their pocket and pull out their smartphone to begin a long, intimate, emotional relationship with technology.

It’s a simple act that everyone’s doing: tap on a smartphone, get information, and feel smarter in the process. But what is this doing to their critical thinking abilities? What about the old-fashioned methods of pure memorization? How about taking time to ponder, reflect, and make a proper decision?

This is truly the age of electronics; and this is also the age of digital dementia. Yes, digital dementia means “resulting in the breakdown of cognitive abilities in a way that is more commonly seen in people who have suffered a head injury or psychiatric illness,” according to Neuroscientist Manfred Spitzer uses this term to describe the on-going deterioration in cerebral performance in the use of short-term memory abilities. In other words, the common man is losing his ability to remember things, simple things, important facts and figures, dates and times, a simple phone number, and even his own email address.

What Evidence Supports this Claim?
You don’t have to look far for answers and/or proof. Ask anyone this simple question: Name 10 email addresses of your friends? Or this one: Write out 10 of your favorite websites?  How about this one: What’s your cell phone number? Honestly, the third one they should get, but it’s becoming more and more common that people can’t answer that simple request. Do consider that people are using technology on an average of 4-5 hours per day, leaving them the opportunity to indulge in long, long hours, in silence, asking questions and getting answers without any human interaction.

Why memory loss? Why can’t we focus? It’s simple. The database of endless answers is in place. Ask Google anything, anything at all. You get answers. Football scores. Historical facts. Distances between places. Celebrities. Health news. Political news. Weather. Gobs and gobs of raw information that can be pulled from the greatest tool ever created, the greatest tool that brings everything into the palm of your hand. Where’s the memory loss, then, if all information is good? The loss happens because people don’t have to think to get answers. You ask. You receive. It’s convenience over convention; it’s lifestyle over tediousness; it’s entertainment over boredom. Thus, the decline and deterioration spells the end of critical thinking skills in people. 

No wonder people can’t focus. So much precious time is spent juggling all the digital aspects of our modern world: emailing, texting, posting, Facebooking, Twittering and Googling. Even this small list could be even larger for those hardcore addicts who use technology to run and manage every aspect of their lives.

People tend to fall into loneliness and depression with these types of behaviors. Because of the lack of human connection and critical thinking, the average person looms on the brink of disaster, both emotionally and physically. In some strange way, we internalize our knowledge construction. We tend to keep things inside, rather than express; we tend to sit back in silence, rather than speak. That leaves many people overly dependent on the Internet and incapable of understanding complex concepts.

This explains why suicide is the highest it’s been, statistically, in 30 years. The overall suicide rate rose by 24 percent from 1999 to 2014, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Middle-aged women, ages 45 to 64, jumped by 63 percent, while it rose by 43 percent for men in that age range, the sharpest increase for males of any age.

People, it seems, are reeling in the arms of digital dementia, but don’t really understand various solutions to the matter. These few simple suggestions may help ease the pain of electronic dependency:
  • Use Your Head. Sit and think about something. Thinking is good.
  • Crack Open a Book. Reading an actual book rather than a tablet has been shown to improve memory retention.
  • Learn a new language. Putting you outside your comfort zone helps your brain work harder, which makes you smarter.
  • Play a new instrument. Instruments require the use of both sides of the brain.
  • Get physical. Physical exercise increases blood flow to the brain.
  • Talk to others. Talking to strangers is a skill. Engage. Converse.
Any of these steps above require critical thinking. It’s time people get busy!

Author's Note: Let's get one thing straight: It's impossible to turn back the hands of time. We live in an electronic world, the age of digital living. We live in an age where everyone has a voice, an opinion, and a message to send to the masses. But in all of the hype, we let technology slowly take over some control over our thinking abilities, especially critical thinking skills. Ask anyone. They'll admit they spend too much time mesmerized by a small gadget that provides endless information into their weakening brains, but bleeds them dry of their spirit and personality, unknowingly. 
On a side note for a good read: Monthly Computer Maintenance Guidebook.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Sensory Control: The Internet of Things

Let’s face it: computers are appearing everywhere. You can’t escape the harsh reality of technology. Its presence is gaining strength by the sheer amount of uses a computer has in society. As of late, they’re being put in toys, appliances, heart monitors, automobiles, traffic lights, smart grids, electrical stations, pop machines, gas stations, and even in modern homes. And even that list doesn’t cover the extent of the devices possible to connect to the Internet and collect data.

What does the Internet of Things mean?
“The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of physical objects, devices, vehicles, buildings and other items which are embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity, which enables these objects to collect and exchange data.” Simply put, technology’s being used in smaller, unknown objects that would otherwise be meaningless to collect data. Times are obviously changing. There’s some incredible goldmine in collecting data from small, unassuming things. Experts may indicate that it’s making for a “smarter society,” but I beg to differ. It’s a true invasion of one’s privacy in an already nosy world of personal affairs turned into national news stories and national headlines. Our world is becoming a “he-said” “she-said” dramafest. These objects only add to the variety of ways one could learn more about an individual and what they do in private.

Believe me—that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

As of 2013, the vision to the Internet of Things has rapidly evolved due the increase in wireless communications to the Internet and embedded systems. Small computer sensory chips are monitoring and exposing useful, potential data to top corporate companies.

Experts estimate that the IoT will consist of almost 50 billion objects by 2020. That’s 50 billion objects transmitting data, through wireless means, back to the mother ship. What do you do with all that data? What does it all mean? Is it a way to control your habits, shape your behaviors, alter your beliefs, or, better yet, turn you toward new products similar to what you like?

To me, this is the next level of advertising gold (that’s if you believe someone out there is trying to top what advertisers did to the Internet). Not only will they sell you those jeans you like at the gas pump terminal, but now, because you own a wireless device that updates itself, you’ll get suggestions and insights from an object on what is best to suit your needs. It’s a perfect world of sensors watching every little thing you do, and then taking the initiative to shell out advice for free. The digital world is becoming more real by the day; humans are taking a step back.

Imagine little sensors in your car. Little sensors in your clothes. Little sensors in your flower garden. Little sensors in your coffee cup. Okay, okay. Maybe not that far. But, then again, maybe the sensor in the coffee cup will indicate when the drink turns cold and then heats it back up.

Some support this technology. For example, Philip N. Howard, a professor and author, writes that "the Internet of Things offers immense potential for empowering citizens, making government transparent, and broadening information access." Howard cautions, however, "that privacy threats are enormous, as is the potential for social control and political manipulation.”

But there seems to be a build-up of doubt about how good this technology will work in real life. Specifically, editorials at WIRED magazine have also expressed concern, one stating “What you’re about to lose is your privacy. Actually, it’s worse than that. You aren’t just going to lose your privacy, you’re going to have to watch the very concept of privacy be rewritten under your nose.”

However you look at this subject, the Internet of Things may look good on paper and great in theory, but people are curious creatures. They will notice these behaviors and these suggestions. They’ll hear the beeps, and then be immediately annoyed by its presence. Because in the real world, people want to be private. It’s in their hearts to be private. People desire to do things on their own terms. And, honestly, if they are monitored and watched, they won’t like it. Not one bit.

You won’t either.

Author's Note: It's easy to understand all the "hype" behind the Internet of Things. Having an imaginary helper seems useful, right? Honestly, everyone could use a little help at times. Some quick suggestions and reminders could be useful with certain products and devices. Then, again, you're allowing yourself to trust that this friendly product or device will keep things private. Is your little helper that trustworthy? One will never know.
On a brighter note for reading: Monthly Computer Maintenance Guidebook.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Rio 2016 Olympics: The Unknown Competitor

There has been one long-awaited extravaganza waiting to unfold this year: the Rio 2016 Olympics. This is where human beings are put to the test in a series of physical and mental competitions to reveal the world’s best athletes. It’s also a time to celebrate—together in one city—the peace and harmony of all creeds, all religions, and all walks of life in a string of unity. There isn’t many times in life that everyone agrees on one thing: goodness. Goodness can be found in the efforts of all athletes who strive to do and be their best in these upcoming Olympic Games.

But there’s another quiet, unknown competitor that waits in the shadows, waiting for the right time to come out and bask in the limelight. It’s one that very few people speak of; it’s one that doesn’t speak a word, doesn’t cross a finish line, and doesn’t do an interview or win a medal; it’s a competitor that causes a huge controversy without qualifying for an event.

Who’s the unknown competitor?

It’s technology.

As the Rio 2016 Olympic Games go on for the next 16 days, we’ll read about great finishes, new world records, spectacular displays of human grace and perfection, and storylines about sacrifice and dedication by athletes to earn the grand prize of a gold medal for their respected homelands. These games will bring news media attention to an all-time high, with Internet websites and news channels broadcasting live feeds of major events in Rio. Social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook, and even Instagram will be teaming with insider information about the athlete’s conditions, welfare, mentality, and their overall opinion about being in Rio.

That’s where the unknown competitor steps in. With scammers and hackers working hard behind the scenes, new kinds of solicitations, malware, and tricky scams will move into high gear during these next few weeks, sailing around the world in the form of fake emails, bad hyperlinks, and false websites. Every time there is a major news event, the unknown competitor plays into the storyline, causing grief, financial loss and unexpected pain for anyone (even for the athlete) who decides to look up information online about the event.

Technology is at the heart of all communications in 2016. It’s all too evident. If you observe technology with a keen eye, you can’t miss people in stadiums using smartphones, wireless tablets, cameras, and recording devices to capture the intimate moments of the Olympic Games. This information is eventually posted to the Internet. Some of this “raw data” is what journalists and sportswriters want to see—all the “behind-the-scenes action” that doesn’t appear in print. This makes for a richer, more personal take on a future headline story that is filled with moments of frustration, reward, success and hardship. The main event to capture is the failure of an athlete in the midst of a competition—but even better than that—capturing the emotions of that athlete hours later after the event finishes. That’s what gets hits on websites; that’s what boasts malware on the Internet.

We are a society hungry and desperate for digital information—any kind of information will do: video blogs, emails, snapchats, electronic postings, video highlights, digital photos, personal blogs, and, one of our favorites, digital articles. With the digital era spinning into high gear during these Olympic Games, one personal statement by an athlete can reach billions of followers in a matter of seconds. That’s power; that’s control; that’s the satisfaction of a “billion digital addicts” getting what they want: digital information.

With so much focus and hype from around the world about these Olympic Games, it comes as no surprise that technology works its magic and offers another layer of sophistication and an honest security matter for everyone involved. You’ll find few private moments with technology’s presence being on high alert; you’ll even see a sense of falseness prevail long after the games finish. Technology does all that; it garners all this attention without anyone realizing it, without anyone ever knowing. That’s what it does best.

The unknown competitor achieves an imaginary gold medal of its own, crossing the finish line in world record time, alone. Technology doesn’t have any other competition—only itself.

Author's Note: The Rio 2016 Olympics serves as general reminder to all of us how technology really works its magic. With so much coverage happening on the playing field, we soon forget how much coverage is taking place behind the scenes and off the field. Technology is the unknown competitor of our times. It shall dominate and progress into its own as the years move along, and it'll never miss a beat. With billions of people waiting for more digital information each day, it has now found a subtle place of acknowledgement in our society.

Review this interesting little book: Little Black Book: Protecting Your Digital Life.