Posts Tagged ‘Contemplative Computing’

There Will Be Another Brief Hiatus in New Posts

February 1, 2015

Nevertheless with more than 550 Healthymemory Blog posts I think there is sufficient reading material.  If I had to recommend one blog post to read it would be “The Myth of Cognitive Decline.”  This can be found by entering this title in the search box of the healthy memory blog.  This search block can be used to identify blog posts on the following topics.

Posts based on whom I regard as the most important cognitive psychologists:  Nobel Prize Winner Kahneman, plus Stanovich and Davidson.  There are posts on the important topics of attention and cognitive reserve.  Other topics of potential interest are The Flynn Effect, mindfulness, meditation, memory champs, contemplative computing, behavioral economics, dementia, and Alzheimer’s.

Of course, you are encouraged to enter any of your favorite topics into the healthymemory blog search block

Enjoy.  I shall return.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. 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.

Creative Time

December 27, 2014

Creative Time is another section in the chapter Organizing Our Time in Daniel J. Levitin’s book The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload. The section begins with a discussion of creativity and insight. We’ll skip this as many posts were written about insight fairly recently. Then he moves on to the topic of flow. Although flow has been discussed previously in this blog, it is an important enough topic and Levitin does provide some new information. Flow refers to the experience of getting wonderfully, blissfully lost in an activity losing all track of time, of ourselves, our problems. Flow is the sixth principle of contemplative computing as formulated by Dr.Alex Soojung-Kim Pang in his book The Distraction Addiction (you can use the search box to find these posts). The phenomena of flow were identified and discussed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced MEE-high, CHEECH-sent-mee-high). It feels like a completely different state of being, a state of heightened awareness coupled with feelings of well-being and contentment. Flow states appear to activate the same regions of the brain, including the left prefrontal cortex and the basal ganglia. Two key regions deactivate during flow: the portion of the prefrontal cortex responsible for self-criticism, and the brain’s fear center, the amygdala.

Flow can occur during either the planning or he execution phase of an activity, but it is most often associated with the execution of a complex task, such as playing a solo on a musical instrument, writing an essay or shooting baskets. A lack of distractability characterizes flow. A second characteristic of flow is that we monitor our performance without the kinds of self-defeating negative judgments that often accompany creative work. When we’re not in flow, a nagging voice inside our head often says, “It’s not good enough.” In flow, a reassuring voice says, “we can fix that.”

Flow is a Goldilocks experience. The task cannot be too easy or too difficult, it has to be at just the right level. It takes less energy to be in flow than to be distracted. This is why flow states are characterized by great productivity and efficiency.

As mentioned earlier, flow is also in a chemically different state, although the particular neurochemical soup has yet to be identified. There needs to be a balance of dopamine and noradrenaline, particularly as they are modulated in a brain region known as the striatum, the locus of the attentional switch, serotonin, for freedom to access stream-of-consciousness associations, and adrenaline, to stay focused and energized. GABA neurons that normally function to inhibit actions and help us exercise self-control need to reduce their activity so that we are not overly critical of ourselves, and so that we can be less inhibited in the generation of ideas.

Flow is not always good. If it becomes an addiction, it can be disruptive. And it can be socially disruptive if flow-ers withdraw from others.

Levitin goes on to describe how creative individuals and groups structure their environments and lives to enhance flow.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. 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.

Maintaining Focus on the Internet

November 1, 2014

I become angry, furious even, when I hear, see, or read something about humans being victims of the internet. Supposedly, attention spans are shortened, and we are forced to switch from topic to topic. Consequently, we are exposed to volumes of information, but fail to develop knowledge or to understand topics in depth.

Now it is true that this can be the consequence if we are data driven by what pops up on the internet. But there is no excuse if we end up being victims of technology. Technology is a tool. A tool is something we use to accomplish some goal, not something to be victimized by.

So, when we get on the internet it should be with some goal or prioritized goals to accomplish. We need to maintain our focus to accomplish because never before have we had such a tool that enables us to learn so much in so short a time. First of all, we can search on a topic to get suggested links. When we find a fruitful link we can begin to read and to take notes. We’ll encounter hyperlinks. When a hyperlink is encountered we need to make a decision. Should it be ignored? If we ignore it, we still can return later. If we think it is potentially important, but not something to be pursued at the moment, we can bookmark it. Or, if we feel like we really need more information to continue, we can click on the link and drill down for more information.

Remember what was needed in pre-internet days? We have an article or a book. We read. We take notes. We identify holes in our knowledge and look for more references. All of this is time consuming, requiring going through card catalogs and other sources of additional information. Consider the time involved here and compare it with clicking on hyperlink. When a book is needed, it can be ordered from Amazon or some other online vendor.

In the lingo of the healthymemory blog, the internet is a superb example of transactive memory. Remember that there are two sources of transactive memory. One is technology, which can range from the internet to books and journals. The other source is our fellow human beings, We can and should use the internet to connect with fellow humans with knowledge and expertise in topics of interest.

For more healthymemory blog posts on this topic, enter “contemplative computing” into the this blog’s search block.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. 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.

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.

Be Calm

September 29, 2013

The second of eight steps to contemplative computing1 is to be calm. Contemplation involves a special kind of calm. It’s active rather than passive. It’s disciplined and self-aware. It’s like the placidity of the samurai. Or the coolness under pressure exhibited by an experienced pilot. It’s the product of masterful engagement that fills one’s attention and leaves no room for distraction.

Training and discipline are required for this type of calm. It involves a deep understanding of both devices and the self. This calm does not require getting away from the world. Rather it allows for fluid quick action in the world. The goal is not to escape, but rather to engage. We need to set the stage on which we can bring our entanglement with devices and media under our control so that we can more effectively engage with the world and extend ourselves.

Remember that technology affords the opportunity to be calm, if only we make use of it. There is voice mail, so phone messages can be answered, or not answered, when we decide to answer them. Similarly, email awaits our attention. Always remember that it is our attention. We can decide if and when to devote our attention to it.

Also remember, that meditation is a practice that can help us be calm. You will find many posts on meditation in the healthymemory blog.

Zenware, which assists us in being calm, is discussed in The Distraction Addiction. Writeroom and Ommwriter are two examples of Zenware. Try going to http://www.donothingfor2minutes.com/.

The remaining six principles of contemplative computing will be discussed in subsequent healthymemory blog posts. The first principle, Be Human, was discussed in the preceding blog post.

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

Be Human

September 25, 2013

Be human is the first of eight steps to contemplative computing.1 Perhaps, this could be rephrased, remember what it means to be human. It means doing two things.

First, it means appreciating entanglement is a big part of us. Entanglement refers to our being entangled with our technology. This goes back to the first tools and weapons developed by the early humans. There is a misconception that technology refers to something new. The term technology really refers to any systematic application of knowledge to fashion the artifacts, materials, and procedures of our lives. It applies to any artificial tool or method. We use technologies so well that they become invisible. We incorporate them into our body schema, and employ them to extend our mental and physical capabilities, our human potential. Our species has honed this capability for more than a million years. It includes the domestication of plants and animals for food and clothing, the invention of language and writing. Moreover, concerns about our entanglement with technology are not new. Socrates objected to the development of the Greek alphabet. In the 1850’s Thoreau wrote in Walden, “But lo! Men have become tools of their tools.” Nevertheless, all of these have made us more human and more entangled with technology. Information technology is no different. We should insist on devices that serve and deserve us.

Second, it means recognizing how computers affect the way we see ourselves. Information technologies are developing so quickly, vastly increasing in power and sophistication. Computer power has a thousandfold increase every ten years, a millionfold increase every twenty years. They invade every corner of our lives and threaten to not only match, but also exceed our own intelligence. Consequently, we can easily feel stupid and feel a sense of resignation about our approaching cognitive obsolescence as computer overlords surpass human intelligence and memory. We need to realize that human intelligence and memory are biological and different from silicon counterparts. Real time is not human time, but the speed of commercial and financial transactions can continually be ratcheted upward. Although the lag between events and reporting on events can be reduced to virtually zero, we do not have to take less time to read, decide and respond to changes in the world and workplace. Our biological brains complement digital silicon brains. We need to be users, not victims, of technology.

The remaining seven steps to contemplative computing will be addressed in subsequent healthymemory blog 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.

Contemplative Computing

September 22, 2013

According to Nielsen and the Pew Research Center, Americans spend an average of 60 hours a month online. That’s 729 hours a year, which is the equivalent of 90 eight-hour days per year. Twenty of these days are spent in social networking sites, 38 viewing content on news sites, YouTube, blogs, and so on, and 32 doing email. Remember, these numbers of averages, so numbers for individuals can be considerably higher or lower. The usual response to this is that we are being overwhelmed by technology.

Readers of the healthymemory blog should know that this blog is not sympathetic to articles and books complaining that we are suffering victims of our technology. The Distraction Addiction, in spite of its title, is not one of these books. Its author, Dr. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang is a senior business consultant at Strategic Business Insights, a Silicon Valley-based think tank, and a visiting scholar at Stanford and Oxford universities. He has also been a Microsoft Research fellow. Dr. Pang is an advocate of contemplative computing, of not letting technology rule our lives, but instead of using this technology and interacting with our fellow humans to extend and grown our capabilities. Using technology and interacting with our fellow humans is referred to in the healthymemory blog as transactive memory. Contemplative computing aligns directly with what is being advocated in the healthymemory blog. Transactive memory, mindfulness, and meditation are central to the message of the healthymemory blog.

There are four big ideas, or principles in The Distraction Addiction.

The first big idea is our relationships with information technologies are incredibly deep and express unique human capacities.

The second big idea is the world has become a more distracting place—and there are solutions for bringing the extended mind back under control.

The third big idea is it’s necessary to be contemplative about technology.

And the fourth big idea is you can redesign your extended mind.

Were I to assign a text for the healthymemory blog, it would be The Distraction Addiction. Although it would not be appropriate for me to assign a text, I certainly do recommend your reading The Distraction Addiction. Given its relevance, I shall be basing many healthymemory blog posts on this book, but I can never do justice to the original.

In the meantime, you can visit www.contemplativecomputing.org

© 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.