Archive for October, 2013

Nobel Prize Recognizes Behavioral Economics

October 27, 2013

Two of the three economists awarded the Nobel Prize for 2013 are behavioral economists. Historically and, unfortunately, currently, economic theory is largely dominated by the rational model of man. In 1978, the psychologist Herbert Simon, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his research showing the human beings do not, and often cannot, evaluate all available information before making a decision. He found that people satisfice, that is, use only enough information to think they need to make a decision (see the healthymemory blog post, “More on the Dangers of Information Overload”). In 2002, the psychologist Daniel Kahneman shared the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his work with Amos Tversky showing the relevance of psychological research on human judgment and decision making under uncertainty to economics. Readers of the healthymemory blog should be familiar with Kahneman’s work on the Two System View of Cognition.

Of the three economists awarded the Nobel Prize in 2013, Eugene Fama is a traditional economist who employs the rational model of human beings. He has argued for efficient markets in which all relevant information is immediately incorporated into an asset’s price. Robert Shiller‘s work has criticized the efficient market hypothesis by showing that stock prices behave in a manner not predicted by the efficient market hypothesis. Lars Peter Hansen, who is sympathetic to behavioral economics, built on Shiller’s work and developed statistical methods to test exactly what drives stock price volatility. The financial crises of several years ago were the result of irrational human behavior with respect to the value of real estate and the financial instruments underlying real estate. We humans are not rational, but rather have limited information processing capabilities and are also driven by emotions. These psychological factors are what, at bottom, drives economies. It is interesting to note that Shiller is married to a psychologist.

I am compelled to note that Daniel Kahneman has been honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In addition, the White House has invited psychologists to help transform policy.1

The influence of behavioral economics is only slowly being felt, but there are questions as to why with all this automation we are working so hard (enter “why are we working so hard” into the healthymemory search block to see relevant posts on this question). Perhaps we shall eventually move from measures such as Gross National Production (GNP) as measures of economic success, to more relevant measures such as Gross National Happiness (GNH) (enter “Gross National Happiness” into the healthymemory search block to find relevant healthymemory blog posts on this topic).

1(2013). A Seat at the Table, Observer, September 2013, p.21.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Digital Sabbaths

October 23, 2013

Appendix Three in The Distraction Addiction1. is titled “DIY Digital Sabbath.” In other words it discusses do it yourself techniques for taking a day off from digital technology. The first appendix describes the the technology diary that Ohio State University professor Jesse Fox assigns to her students. The diary is supposed to capture every mediated/technological interaction over the course of a day. I think the first question regarding digital Sabbaths is whether we should observe one. The results of such a diary might help someone make this decision. I think the answer to this question depends upon whether you are addicted to technology. I think the best test of this is whether you can go an entire day “cold turkey” without using any technology. If you answer, “yes,” then I think there is some question as to whether a digital Sabbath is in order. If the answer is “no,” then I think consideration of whether a digital Sabbath or an alternative I shall offer at the end of this post is in order.

Should you decide you need to observe a digital Sabbath, here are some guidelines offered by Dr. Pang:

Set a regular time.

Figure out what to turn off.

Don’t talk about digital sabbaths (except for friends who complain about your nonresponsiveness).

Fill the time with engaging activities

Be patient.

Be open to the spiritual qualities of the Sabbath.

Enjoy your escape from “real time.”

Before offering my alternative to a digital Sabbath let me provide some context. Within my lifetime, information overload had been raised as a serious problem before the advent of personal computers. I remember reading that this problem of information overload was raised after the invention of the printing press. Now the use of personal computers has increased this overload further, and the advent of mobile computing has increased this overload further still.

I don’t regard myself as being addicted to technology. I can easily pass the cold turkey test. When I go on a vacation, I don’t use technology. I do bring a cell phone, which I do not use unless there is an emergency. Had I been asked many years ago if personal computing devices would become popular, I would have confidently offered the opinion, “No.” My reason would have been the displays would be too small, and the keyboards would be difficult to use.” Time has proven me to be to both wrong and a fool. But personally I don’t use these devices because nothing is so urgent that it will not wait until I can get to a laptop that I can use in comfort. I do have a dumb cell phone and a Kindle, but that’s all.

So I think a good way of dealing with the distraction addiction is to consider the urgency of using this technology. Many healthymemory blog posts have addressed the dangers of using a phone while driving. Whether hands are free or not is irrelevant. The problem is that using a device that detracts attention from driving increases the risk of accidents, injuries, and deaths. I would argue that there is a similar risk in using a personal computing device in an area in which there are also automobiles. Information overload can best be dealt with, and the distraction addiction avoided, by using technology when it can be conveniently and safely used. I’m well aware that this is not the cultural norm. So you might want to explain to your friends why you might appear to be unresponsive, and suggest the benefits that they could enjoy by using technology with discretion.

1(2013) Pang, Alex Soojung-Kim.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Using or Abstaining from Technologies in Ways That are Restorative

October 20, 2013

The eighth principle of contemplative computing1 is using or abstaining from technologies in ways that are restorative. With the possible exception of flow, using technologies requires mental effort. Even in the case of flow, eventually we all tire. In other words, our conscious mental resources deplete and need time to be restored.

So we need to know how to restore our mind’s ability to focus. We can arrange our environments to make it easier to concentrate for longer periods. It is also important to find activities that offer a respite, but not a complete break from steady concentration. Things that offer a sense of being away with a mix of fascination and boundlessness can help our minds recharge. Complete breaks are also essential. Take time off to meditate. A good walk can help the mind recharge. Then, too, it is also necessary to know when it’s time to quit for the day (or night). Be assured that even when we give our conscious minds a break, our subconscious minds keep working. It is possible that our conscious minds can get caught in a rut thinking about the same things, and a complete break can facilitate our subconscious minds breaking through with the answer.

So, there we have it. The eight principles of contemplative computing: be human, be calm, be mindful, make conscious choices, extend our abilities, seek flow, engage with the world, and use or abstain from technologies in ways that are restorative.

1(2013) Pang, Alex Soojung-Kim. The Distraction Addiction.

Engage with the World

October 16, 2013

Engage with the world is the seventh principle of contemplative computing.1 Engage with the World complements very nicely the fifth principle of contemplative computing, Extend Your Abilities. They both involve transactive memory. Whereas Extend You Abilities focused on using the memory resident in technology to enhance your cognitive growth, Engage with the World, focuses on engaging with you fellow humans to enhance your cognitive growth. Remember that transactive memory includes both memories resident in technology (both electronic and conventional such as books and journals), and in your fellow human beings. Engaging with the world implies both that we will receive knowledge from our fellow humans, but that we shall also contribute knowledge to the store of human knowledge. Do not underestimate yourself. You have knowledge to contribute. If not, acquire additional knowledge so that you can add your own unique contributions. These contributions might be additions/corrections you make to Wikipedia, or contributions you make through your own blog. It might even be information you pass on to individual humans. Remember that social interaction is a key component of a healthy memory.

When engaging, please keep the following in mind.” Engaging with the social world isn’t just interacting, it’s about putting people rather than technology at the center of your attention. For some, this involves applying Christian or Buddhist precepts to their virtual interactions and using media in ways that let them be spiritual presences, not just social ones, and see the spark of divinity in everyone”.2

The first six principles of contemplative computing have been discussed in the immediately preceding healthymemory blog posts. The next blog post will discuss the final principle of contemplative computing.

1(2013) Pang, Alex Soojung-Kim. The Distraction Addiction.

2Ibid p. 225.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Seek Flow

October 13, 2013

Seeking flow is the sixth principle of contemplative computing.1 Flow is a state identified by Mikhaly Csikszentmihalyi (Chick-sent-me-high’-ee).2 It has the following components. “Concentration is so intense that there is no attention left over to think about anything irrelevant, or to worry about problems. Self-consciousness disappears, and the sense of time becomes distorted. An activity that produces such experiences is so gratifying that people are willing to do it for its own sake, with little concern what they will get out of it, even when it is difficult or dangerous.”3 He says that you can reach flow doing almost anything. He gives an example of how lox cutters achieve flow.

Situations in which there are challenges, clear rules, and immediate feedback are likely to achieve flow. Usually video games are good for achieving flow, and they have been found beneficial in helping older people keep mentally sharp. Unfortunately, once you become especially good at something it can become boring. That is why many games have different difficulty levels. Once you have become bored with one level and are no longer achieving, you can advance to the next level and improve to the point where you again achieve flow.

Flow can be experienced in many activities, and some require considerable time before you start to achieve flow. I remember studying German in college. The first course was slow going. In fact, I received my first and only “D” in introductory German . I then learned that I needed to spend time drilling in the language laboratory until things started flowing. As I studied further, I could read German without consulting the dictionary so frequently. And got to the point where I could understand lectures when they were given in German.

Seeking flow can be regarded as an extension of the preceding principle, extend your abilities. Play video games and achieve flow. But don’t stop there. Consider athletic, and especially mental, activities were flow can be achieved. Mnemonic techniques can be developed to the point where flow is achieved in memorization.

The first five principles of contemplative computing have been discussed in the immediately preceding posts. The final two principles will be discussed in the subsequent posts.

1(2013) Pang, Alex Soojung-Kim. The Distraction Addiction

2 (2008) Csikszentmihalyi, E. The Psychology of Optimal Experience

3 (2013) Pang, Alex Soojung-Kim. The Distraction Addiction

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Extend Your Abilities

October 9, 2013

The fifth principle of contemplative computing1 is to Extend Your Abilities. Readers of the healthymemory blog should realize that this is one of the healthymemory themes. It comes under the rubric of transactive memory. Transactive memory refers to knowledge that is resident in technology, ranging from the world wide web to conventional texts, as well as knowledge that is resident in our fellow human beings.

Some of what we know is resident in our individual minds, our brains. There is other information that we know, cannot recall, but know how to find. This is referred to as accessible transactive memory. That is, we know how to find and access it quickly. Then there is information that we know exists, but cannot find or access readily. This is referred to as available accessible information. This is information that we are fairly confident we can locate given enough time and searches. Finally, there is potential transactive memory. This is all the knowledge and information that is available on earth. As individuals, our task is to transfer some knowledge from accessible transactive memory to our individual minds and brains. Then we need to transfer some knowledge from available transactive memory to accessible transactive memory. And, finally, there is this vast store of information and knowledge that is currently unknown. Although we can hope to learn only a fraction of this information, this is still a matter of extending our abilities.

We are constantly confronted with the epistemological question, how well do we need to know something? Do we need to know it well enough so that we can expound upon it without notes? Perhaps knowing how to access it quickly will suffice. Or perhaps, we only need to know that it exists, and that we can find it if we search long enough for it. It would be a mistake to put too much knowledge into any one of these categories. The percentage placed in each, will be a matter of individual choice. But we still should have the goal of upgrading the storage category for a certain amount of this knowledge. And we should always be extending our knowledge into the potential transactive memory category. This is all a part of extending our abilities and growing cognitively.

The first four principles of contemplative computing have been discussed in the immediately preceding posts. The next three principles will be discussed in subsequent posts.

1(2013) Pang, Alex Soojung-Kim. The Distraction Addiction.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Make Conscious Choices

October 6, 2013

The fourth principle of contemplative computing1 is to Make Conscious Choices. Always remember that it is you who decides when to use which devices and which software. It is you who decides if and when you will answer your phone and your voice mail. Don’t let technology dictate what you do. Make conscious choices and be mindful of your choices.

Dr. Pang also makes a useful distinction between multi-tasking and switch tasking. True multi-tasking involves doing multiple tasks that go together. Cooking several dishes at the same time in the preparation of a meal is one of the examples provided by Dr. Pang. Conducting a teleconference on your computer is another example. My wife likes to walk and talk on her cellphone. As long as this is done in a quiet environment, this is another example of multitasking. However, were she walking in an urban environment, this would, of necessity, be an example of switch tasking because she would need to switch her attention to assure that she would not be hit in traffic. Similarly, driving and talking on the phone is an example of switch tasking. The tasks do not go together and attention much be switched from one task to the other. The very act of switching tasks demands attention. And remember when you are driving, you are controlling a vehicle that can kill. Previous healthymemory blog posts have not make a distinction between multitasking and switch tasking. The multitasking dangers discussed in previous healthymemory blog posts have been switch tasking dangers using Dr. Pang’s distinction.

Properly designed Zenware reminds you that you make your own choices about where to direct your attention by helping you focus your attention.

The first three principles of contemplative computing were discussed in previous healthymemory blog posts. The four remaining principles of contemplative computing will be discussed in subsequent healthymemory blog posts.

1(2013) Pang, Alex Soojung-Kim. The Distraction Addiction.

Blogging Buddhists

October 2, 2013

Yes. Buddhists do use technology and they blog. This post is so titled because of the third principle of contemplative computing1, Be Mindful. We need to learn what being mindful feels like and to learn to see opportunities to exercise it while being online or using devices.

Buddhist monastics use the web to test their beliefs and objectives, that is their mindfulness, capacity for compassion, and right behavior. In the digital world it is easy to forget that we’re ultimately interacting with our fellow human beings rather than Web pages. Damchoe Wangmo recommends that you “investigate your motivation before each online action, to observe what is going on in your mind,” and stop if you’re driven by “afflictive emotions” like jealousy, anger, hatred, or fear.2 Choekyi Libby watches herself online to “make sure I’m doing what I’m doing motivated by beneficial intention.”3 Others argue that we need to bring empathy to technology, to have our interactions be informed by our own ethical guidelines and moral sensibility. If we can be a positive presence online, we can be an even better one in the real world. “Approaching your interactions with information technologies as opportunities to test and strengthen your ability to be mindful; treating failures to keep focused as normal, predictable events that you can learn from; observing what helps you to be mindful online and what doesn’t—in other words engaging in self-observation and self-experimentation—can improve your interactions with technologies and build your extended mind.4

The following Rules for Mindful Social Media are taken from Appendix Two of The Distraction Addiction:

Engage with care. Think of social media as an opportunity to practice what the Buddhists call right speech, not as an opportunity to get away with being a troll.

Be mindful about your intentions. Ask yourself why you’re going onto Facebook or Pinterest. Are you just bored? Angry? Is this a state of mind you want to share?

Remember the people on the other side of the screen. It’s easy to focus you attention on clicks and comments, but remember that you’re ultimately dealing with people, not media.

Quality, not quantity. Do you have something you really want to share, something that’s worth other people’s attention? Then go ahead and share. But remember the aphorism carved into the side of the Scottish Parliament: Say little but say it well.

Live first, tweet later. Make the following promise to yourself: I will never again write the words OMG, I’m doing doing x and tweeting at the same time LOL.

Be deliberate. Financial journalist and blogger Felix Salmon once lamented that most people believe that online content is not supposed to be read but reacted to. Just as you shouldn’t let machines determine where you place your attention, you shouldn’t let the words of others drive what you say in the public sphere. Being deliberate means that you won’t chatter mindlessly or feed trolls. You’ll say but little and say it well.

The remaining five principles of contemplative computing will be discussed in subsequent healthymemory blog posts. The first two principles were discussed in the immediately preceding posts.

1(2013) Pang, Alex Soojung-Kim. The Distraction Addiction

2Ibid. p. 219

3Ibid. p.219

4Ibid. Pp 221-222.