We need an internet of unmonetisable enthusiasms

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We should be cheered that these deep pools of detail are emerging in podcasting. It’s been around since 2004, after all, maybe this exploration of qualities other than surface and scale is what happens in a mature digital medium. I’m looking forward to Deep Twitter and The Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire on Snapchat.

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Laptops Are Great. But Not During a Lecture or a Meeting.

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But a growing body of evidence shows that over all, college students learn less when they use computers or tablets during lectures. They also tend to earn worse grades. The research is unequivocal: Laptops distract from learning, both for users and for those around them. It’s not much of a leap to expect that electronics also undermine learning in high school classrooms or that they hurt productivity in meetings in all kinds of workplaces.

In a series of experiments at Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles, students were randomly assigned either laptops or pen and paper for note-taking at a lecture. Those who had used laptops had substantially worse understanding of the lecture, as measured by a standardized test, than those who did not.

The researchers hypothesized that, because students can type faster than they can write, the lecturer’s words flowed right to the students’ typing fingers without stopping in their brains for substantive processing. Students writing by hand had to process and condense the spoken material simply to enable their pens to keep up with the lecture. Indeed, the notes of the laptop users more closely resembled transcripts than lecture summaries. The handwritten versions were more succinct but included the salient issues discussed in the lecture.

The Useless Agony of Going Offline

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In his book, Levy, who also teaches tech and mindfulness courses at the University of Washington’s Information School, writes that most people who attempt this sort of experiment successfully complete it, and that they often “feel good about it.” He offers examples of individuals who noted that a day unplugged represented “one of the best days I had had in a long time,” and who “welcomed the silence and the relief of pressure.”

…Good on those folks, sincerely. But I hated spending three days without computers. And I feel no deep shame about this. I don’t think my disdain for the logged-off existence was due primarily to the fact that I’m addicted to social media, or cannot live without my phone, or have morphed into the prototypical “Distracted Man.”

Levy writes that when we choose to cast aside “the devices and apps we use regularly, it should hardly be surprising if we miss them, even long for them at times.” But what I felt was more general. I didn’t miss my smartphone, or the goofy watch I own that vibrates when I receive an e-mail and lets me send text messages by speaking into it. I didn’t miss Twitter’s little heart-shaped icons. I missed learning about new things.

During the world’s longest weekend, it became clear to me that, when I’m using my phone or surfing the Internet, I am almost always learning something. I’m using Google to find out what types of plastic bottles are the worst for human health, or determining the home town of a certain actor, or looking up some N.B.A. player’s college stats. I’m trying to find out how many people work at Tesla, or getting the address for that brunch place, or checking out how in the world Sacramento came to be the capital of California.

What I’m learning may not always be of great social value, but I’m at least gaining some new knowledge—by using devices in ways that, sure, also distract me from maintaining a singular focus on any one thing.

The Minecraft Generation

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Since its release seven years ago, Minecraft has become a global sensation, captivating a generation of children. There are over 100 million registered players, and it’s now the third-best-­selling video game in history, after Tetris and Wii Sports. In 2014, Microsoft bought Minecraft — and Mojang, the Swedish game studio behind it — for $2.5 billion.

There have been blockbuster games before, of course. But as Jordan’s experience suggests — and as parents peering over their children’s shoulders sense — Minecraft is a different sort of phenomenon.

For one thing, it doesn’t really feel like a game. It’s more like a destination, a technical tool, a cultural scene, or all three put together: a place where kids engineer complex machines, shoot videos of their escapades that they post on YouTube, make art and set up servers, online versions of the game where they can hang out with friends. It’s a world of trial and error and constant discovery, stuffed with byzantine secrets, obscure text commands and hidden recipes. And it runs completely counter to most modern computing trends. Where companies like Apple and Microsoft and Google want our computers to be easy to manipulate — designing point-and-click interfaces under the assumption that it’s best to conceal from the average user how the computer works — Minecraft encourages kids to get under the hood, break things, fix them and turn mooshrooms into random-­number generators. It invites them to tinker.

At a time when even the president is urging kids to learn to code, Minecraft has become a stealth gateway to the fundamentals, and the pleasures, of computer science. Those kids of the ’70s and ’80s grew up to become the architects of our modern digital world, with all its allures and perils. What will the Minecraft generation become?

“Children,” the social critic Walter Benjamin wrote in 1924, “are particularly fond of haunting any site where things are being visibly worked on. They are irresistibly drawn by the detritus generated by building, gardening, housework, tailoring or carpentry.”

… In Minecraft, as he notes, wood is one of the first resources new players gather upon entering the game: chopping trees with their avatar’s hand produces blocks of wood, and from those they begin to build a civilization. Children are turned loose with tools to transform a hostile environment into something they can live in.

 

 

YouTube to the rescue: how it taught us to fix boilers, wash denim and master beauty tips

Tim Dowling plumbing

Excerpt from this article, which I can totally relate to, having recently searched for videos on repairing doorknobs, fixing a stove and resetting my wifi router:

The video site is 10 years old this week and now contains tricks and guides to pretty much every problem ever. Guardian writers reveal the lessons they’ve learned.

For several years running, I had to call out a plumber every autumn; the central heating pump would quit shortly after I turned on the system. One year, I had a magnetic filter installed to catch the gunk that kept jamming the pump, but the next year it quit right on schedule. I called the plumber. He cleaned out the magnetic filter, restarted the system, and sent me a bill.

The next year, the annual breakdown of the pump coincided with a warm spell, so I did nothing for a week. One day, while I was staring into space, it occurred to me that YouTube might hold the answer to my problem.

The Case For More Screen Time

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For many of us, a certain mundane habit produces a surprising amount of guilt: Staring at a screen.

…Screen time can boost “executive function skills,” those competencies like reasoning and problem solving. For youngsters, time spent with the proper video games… can boost hand-eye coordination and foster logic… And as we rely more on texting and email, Calvert says small, positive symptoms could emerge: A knack for brevity, or a renewed appreciation for propriety, brought on by events like the recent Sony hack.

…”There seems to be pretty good evidence that our visual acuity improves… People’s ability to keep track of lots of different images or other bits of information simultaneously gets better.”

Online “lots of things tend to happen… So, the more time you spend online, you get quicker in your ability to shift your visual focus from one thing to another.” …Certain professionals—like surgeons, pilots, and soldiers—can hone their craft through video games.

…And what of the social impact? Lee Humphreys is an associate professor of communications at Cornell University. She specializes in the social effects of technology and the use of mobile phones in public spaces—and is swift to debunk the notion that whipping out a cell phone in public is taboo.

“We tend to romanticize history and the past in thinking that before cell phones, we were actively talking to the person next to us on the bus or in the park,” she says. “Of course, that was not the case at all. We have used media—whether it be newspapers, or books—as kinds of privacy shields historically.” Besides: Time spent socializing with others through screens can be time well spent, Humphreys adds.

This Man Uses Twitter To Augment His Damaged Memory

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…Dixon has relied heavily on his smartphone to augment the part of his brain that is no longer functioning properly. He uses Twitter throughout the day to make note of the details he isn’t likely to remember tomorrow: What he was reading about, what kind of coffee he ordered, who he spoke to. Even the details of his sex life, which he tweets about in Korean to avoid embarrassing over-the-shoulder moments. All of this goes into his private Twitter account, which he can later refer to, search, and analyze.