Studies Show…

Studies show we are amused by this article written by Ellen Vanstone, published in the November 2004 issue of The Walrus.  An excerpt:

My study has pointed inexorably to three main truths:

1) A study with encouraging results will always be followed by a study with contradictory results.
For example, a study showing that aspirin prevents heart disease will
be followed by a study that says this may not be true, depending on the
individual heart. Likewise, a study that says drinking two glasses of
wine daily increases longevity will be followed by a study that says
women who drink two or more glasses of wine a day are twice as likely
to develop breast cancer as non-drinking women. Acrylamides in
deep-fried French fries definitely cause cancer. Oops, maybe they don’t. …

Computers and pseudo-A.D.D.

Speaking of distractions at the computer… This NYT story talks about the problem and some people studying it.

"It’s so hard, because of the incredible possibilities we have that
we’ve never had before, such as the Internet," said John Ratey, an
associate professor at Harvard Medical School who specializes in
attention problems. Dr. Ratey said that in deference to those who live
with clinically diagnosed attention deficit disorder, he calls this
phenomenon pseudo-A.D.D.

A growing number of computer scientists
and psychologists are studying the problem of diminished attention. And
some are beginning to work on solutions.

The article mentions possible technology-based remedies to distraction ("semantic e-mail", predictive interfaces that will guess when to politely interrupt), though

Many people, even the experts, have devised their own stopgap solutions to the attention-span problem.

But to call non-technological solutions "stopgaps" gets it backwards.  It’s not like  humanity has just been waiting, distracted and unproductive for millennia, or even since they’ve been sitting in front of computers, for some magical AttentionFocuser 1.0 software to come along.  These silicon-based technologies will never surpass personal, proven mental practices for improving concentration, whatever the form: from a simple routine for when to check e-mail to a strict meditation or yoga practice to train the mind.  And those will stay with you long after the software becomes obsolete.

Link: NYT > You There, at the Computer, Pay Attention


The Center for the Study of Technology and Society (is it still active?)

I learned of this non-profit thinktank in DC through google.  The site has a lot of interesting content and links, but doesn’t seem to have been updated since 2001.

From their mission statement:


The purpose of the Center for
the Study of Technology and Society is to study and report on the
important technological issues that affect society.

Through original research and in-depth analysis, the Center will
emphasize and clarify the point that advances in technology are neither
inherently good nor inherently evil. Every new technology has the potential to cause problems, and the
capacity to solve problems. In all its work, the Center will be guided by the belief that
properly utilized technology can be beneficial, but that uninformed
government interference will only stymie technological achievement and
close off avenues to progress.

The founder, Adam Keiper, is now managing editor of The New Atlantis, "A Journal of Technology & Society" (writing from a mostly Conservative viewpoint, I believe), begun in 2003.