Driving Into the Future

If you’ve been following the news lately, you’ve probably noticed a quickly emerging trend in new car technologies: park assist, self driving cars, eye level projection screens, etc. This is the first in a series of posts looking at how these new innovations will impact how we drive into the future.

Part One: Driving Distracted

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=pKL4PJICS40

I’ll admit, this video impressed me. Sleek, fast, and confident, it makes an impact. But when we look critically at the core of what distracted driving means, the illusion starts to become a bit more clear.

Let’s start by looking at the logic underlying the new technologies connecting our cars and phones. The current social norm is that people use their phones while driving. Texting has become less acceptable, but we still do it, and talking while driving is still widespread and legal in most states.

Secondly, the way most of us use our phone is by physically looking down at it, thus taking our eyes off the road. Common perception is that the physical distraction of looking down causes the danger of distracted driving. So if we can have a way to use phones without taking our eyes off the road,  we can improve driver safety. This is the argument put forth by companies marketing these products. However, many experts in driving safety think that these arguments are based on faulty claims.

All Seeing is Not Created Equal
If you read any popular psychological theories, you will notice the common theme that as humans, we strongly overestimate our cognitive abilities. Our brains make us think that we notice everything that happens in front of us, and that we have a great ability to multitask. However, the reality is in fact opposite; we are poor multitaskers and commonly miss things that happen right before our eyes.

These are the ideas underlying the concept of cognitive distraction, which is essentially how even though our eyes may be physically on the road, if our minds are not focused on driving we will miss things even if they may be in our visual field. Studies have shown (based on the work of Dr. Paul Atchley) that cognitive distraction is just about as dangerous as physical distraction (i.e. looking down).

If this is true, then hands free or screen projection technologies are no safer than normal phone use, as they will lead to equally dangerous distraction. I may take this a bit further and say that they have the potential to be more dangerous, as they give a strong illusion of safety, tricking our minds into thinking we aren’t distracted at all.

Social Norms
We’ve all felt that familiar pull, that undeniable urge to take just one quick look at our phone to see who the text is from, besides I don’t see any other cars on the road and it will be quick and I’m a safe driver anyways so this is ok  and it might be important. Yea, we all rationalize it, don’t deny. But why is the urge so strong that we disregard what we know about safety to fulfill it. Some would say because we can’t handle being alone.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=5HbYScltf1c

Or maybe it’s the fear of missing out, that if I don’t read this text right now some great chance at success will be unfulfilled, an opportunity gone forever. Whatever the reason is, it doesn’t seem rational. There seems to be no good reason for this widely accepted social norm.

So, the question that naturally follows is, why not change it? Public perception does seem to be shifting a bit. Public service ads are pretty much on point with the “it can wait” theme. This is only a partial answer though, because we rationally know it can and should wait, but if we aren’t more intentional about locking the phone away, that urge often gets the best of us.  And if we blindly accept the new “safe” technologies and don’t look more critically, we’ll continue to perpetuate the illusion.

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Communication Breakdown: The Text Message

If you’ve grown up in the era of cell phones, texting, and emoticons, the following scenario is likely very familiar:

(Set scene) Group of guys/girls hanging out.  One [guy/girl] is romantically interested in person of opposite sex, wants to text said person.  Asks group what to send in text message.  Group discusses word choice, smiley faces, and level of flirtatiousness in message.  After 5 minutes, it is agreed upon to send “Hi :)”   (End scene).

First off, don’t worry, this isn’t a post about dating in the 21st century, I’m way too out of date to do that.  For example, I first learned what emojis were this morning, and I still don’t really grasp the concept.  Rather the above scene will be used to illustrate some important points about how modern methods of communication affect us.  At some point in time, most of us have been a part of such a scene, either on the sending or receiving end.  Texting has become a fairly standard part of the progression of modern relationships.  I don’t find the trivial details of texting and relationships to be too interesting, but we can learn a lot when we dive into why we are so drawn towards texting.

So, why are we so inclined to send text messages?  To list a few of their merits, they are fast, easy, fairly inconspicous, and very convenient.  Specifically though, why do we choose to text in the situation described above, when you are interested in a guy/girl?  It’s certainly not faster or more convenient, as a quick call to say “would you like to go to dinner” would be twenty times faster and require less effort than navigating the intricacies of texting.

The reason we are so drawn to texting is because it eliminates risk.  When we call someone up, a direct connection is made with that person, which puts us at risk.  At risk for rejection, embarrassment, failure, or even success. Texting allows us to hide behind the glass walls of an LCD touch screen, providing a safe barrier between us and the other person.  You don’t have to have that gut-check moment right before asking the girl out and waiting for her to reply yes or no while you hold your breath for what seems like an eternity but is really 2 seconds; instead you just type, tap send, and wait.

I like to use dating as an easy example, but this holds true for any communication.  If you don’t want to talk to your parents about what’s really going on in your life, you can just text them that you’re ok.  If you don’t want to confront a friend about some problem, just hash it out over an hour long texting conversation.   In any relationship we can avoid risk by using indirect methods of communication (texting, email) instead of on the phone or face to face.

Pause here: I’ve probably run into a bit of dissention with you, the reader.  You validly want to point out that the way we communicate has constantly been changing over time.  First we grunted at each other, then we developed words, then wrote those words down on stone and pieces of bark, then talked through a nationwide system of wires.  Now we send signals up to a satellite, back down, and into a little black device.  What difference does it make, you say?  So now we text instead of calling or writing letters, it’s just part of the natural continuous progression.  What we say hasn’t changed, just the means we use to say it.

Which is a good argument. However, the key point here is that how we communicate fundamentally affects the nature of our relationship with that person.  Asking someone out, calling an old relative you haven’t talked to in years, or talking over an important problem with a friend face to face are all hard, and as we saw earlier, involve risk. But this risk, this leap of faith across the boundary between you and the Other that puts your neck on the line, is what creates the foundation of the relationship.  By opening up and exposing yourself and your vulnerabilities to the other, you inherently make the focus of the relationship about that person, not yourself.  And a true relationship is one in which you desire for the good of the other person as much or more as for yourself.

Contrast this with texting. When we text, we avoid risk and don’t truly extend ourselves to the other person. This causes us to focus the relationship inwardly on ourselves: what should I send to make her come to the party with me tonight? what can I say to make her not be mad at me any more? what do I need to say to get my parents off my back? You get the point.  The absence of risk on my part makes me unconsciously focus on what I can get out of the relationship instead of what can I give.

This is not meant to be a full fledged attack on modern communication. In some, if not most cases, texting likely does no harm. But as modern relationships and communication have undoubtedly changed, it’s something may have more impact than it seems. If you think about it a bit and look at how your own experiences have played out, you might find a bit of truth in it.

 

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Religion in the Digital Age

The subtitle of this blog reads, “searching for humanity in a technological world.”  At the core of this statement lies a belief that our lives have meaning and purpose. For better or worse, we live in an increasingly digital world, and it’s our goal to search for how we can retain the rich cultural and individual value of our lives within this modern context.

No matter what your personal beliefs are, it would be hard to deny that religion has and still does give meaning to the lives of billions of people on earth; that it has been a huge part of the historic, political, and cultural story of humanity; that most of us practice or have at least been affected in some way by religion.

prayer

It’s also hard to deny that how we live, work, play, and communicate have all been altered by modern technology.  (If you aren’t convinced of this, read some of our other articles!)

So what about religion–has the practice of religions changed?  Have they converted their teachings to PDF files?  Can you download an app that helps you remember the Muslim prayer times or to not eat fish on Fridays during Lent? (More on this to come in future posts).

pope tweets

A bigger question may be is this an issue at all, or am I splitting hairs?

As you can guess, I think it is something worth looking into. On one side of the spectrum, social media opens up huge outlets of communication for religions to tap into and spread their messages–i.e. the Pope’s Twitter account.  Social media allows religions to instantly access the home pages of millions of people; no more going from door to door with clip boards and pamphlets.

On the other hand, much of what is at the core of religions happens between two people face to face.  Showing true love and forgiveness for one another is hard to do in 140 characters.  And a heartfelt discussion about your prayer life isn’t likely to happen on a Facebook wall. You can’t get down and dirty serving the poor from behind a laptop screen.  In essence, I think a true experience of religion requires interaction in the physical world with the other person, whether that person is your Priest, Rabbi, a homeless woman, your spouse or friend.

jewish altar

This post is NOT meant to give answers, but just to get you thinking about these ideas that we’ll be diving into in our series on religion.  I don’t pretend to have the answers, but hopefully we’ll be able to discover some insights along the way.  Stay tuned!

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Images from:

jspace.com, muslimvoices.org, and Pope Francis’ Twitter page

Top 8 Reasons to Use a Map

As the writer of a blog that (mostly!) criticizes technology, it’s not surprising that I don’t have a smart phone.  However, I was almost changed of my stubborn, “dumb” phone ways a few weeks ago.

I was a groomsman in a good friend’s wedding in Savannah, GA ,a city I don’t know too well.  Between rehearsal dinners, wedding errands, and jumping around hotels, I realized that I was completely dependent on my friends’ iPhones to navigate the city.

What’s the point of not having a smart phone if I have to rely on others’ phones to get by?  How can I be so dependent and helpless in a new city?  As you can guess, my world began to collapse.

antique-maps-world

Then someone suggested that I just get a map.  So I grabbed a free, not-to-scale cartoon map from the Holiday Inn and set out to conquer the city.  Here’s why you should too:

8.  Blindly following Siri’s directions gets you from A to B, but it doesn’t help you actually learn the layout of a city.  Using a map helps you understand the layout and geography of a new locale.
7.  It makes you feel like Ferdinand Magellan.  Just on a slightly smaller scale.
6. Maybe it’s just me, but looking at a map and planning your day over coffee with friends is a great way to start a morning.
5. When a phone has only one bar, you’re in trouble.  When a map has only one bar, all it means is that you know exactly where you’ll end up that night.
4. You can fix a map with tape.
3. It’s a great skill to have, and the more you practice the easier it gets.
2. Contrary to what Verizon wants you to think, there’s a lot of un-connected places even in America where you can’t get cell phone or GPS service.
1. If the world goes the way of The Walking Dead, you’ll want to have your map of Georgia on hand.

dead

So go grab your map, machete, and Indiana Jones hat and go discover the unknown.  I’ll see ya there.

Images from:
travelbetweenthepages.com
wall.alphacoders.com

There and Back Again: A Tale of Two Weeks Without the World Wide Web

-by a lovely guest contributor

2 weeks, 5 days, 4 hours and 8 minutes.

Just kidding, but it has been about two weeks since I’ve been sans the world wide web.  I’m not going to lie, it hurts.  It hurts like giving up a cigarette, a Lenten promise, or quitting something cold turkey.  When you grow used to the web…it’s tough.  No internet means:

  • No TV
  • No Youtube
  • No email
  • No news
  • No Google search
  • No online banking (What?  You mean I actually have to keep track of my spending!?!?)

The internet is the gateway, the key to the city, and without it, life is rough out here people.  It’s hard to entertain a brain used to megapixels and Vine videos.  I’ve learned two things on my journey without the web:

1. The real world is out there for you to see, with or without the internet.  It’s like a really confident single woman. If you are into it, that’s cool, but if you aren’t…it’s not waiting around or pining over you.  Sunsets don’t replay or stop and pick up where you left off to watch 6 straight episodes of “The New Girl.”  Relationships don’t have pause buttons or text message breaks or instant replay.

The internet and media give the illusion that you have everything at your fingertips.  When you have access to it, it transports you to a place where this illusion of everything warps the reality of what is around you.  The world is happening when you are glued to your screen, and that screen is promising you something that can never fulfill you and forces you to miss out on Life.

2. The internet and technology make the pace of life so rapid that without it, you have to lag behind, often just enough to see how stupid it is to rush through life.  My job is a constant race to complete task after task, compressing productivity into the pressure cooker that is my 8 hour day.  Why should I spend my afternoon and night tripping over my laptop search button trying to find the quickest, easiest, closest, simplest way to make dinner, look up a phone number, or watch a 10 second cat video?  Why should I attempt to crunch my thoughts into 140 characters when I can journal freely? Why should I catch the Grammy red carped highlights condensed version on Youtube when I can light a candle, sit on my back porch and watch my roommate’s dog run around in the yard?  Technology tricks you into thinking what’s fastest is best, when really you want the best things in life to last as long as possible.

My journey ends here as I have internet again at last.  Will I fall back into old habits (marathon episode viewings of The Only Way is Essex…don’t judge me)?  Who knows, but I do know that I’ve seen the other side.  I’ve been bored, slow, and out of the loop, and for some reason, it was great.

Run and tell that, Charter.

If you keep making that face, it might get stuck that way!

Previously in the Sound Body and Mind series, we looked at how media affects children’s health.  This post focuses on certain detrimental effects of staring at screens. (Which I am doing right now as I write this!)

At some point between the ages of 3 and 5, 97% of Americans have an insatiable desire to make weird, obnoxious faces for no apparent reason.  True story.  Our parent’s cure for this ailment: threaten us with the statement that is the title of this piece.  At the time it was an effective method, as our parent’s word was Law.  But why the heck am talking about this anyway?

face

While I admit it’s a loose analogy, when we stare at computer, TV, or cell phone screens, our brains actually do get stuck in a certain pose.  The brain doesn’t stick its tongue out and go cross-eyed, but certain patterns of neuronal firing do change when we become screen zombies. This can affect vision, sleep, and how the brain processes all the data that it gets throughout the day.

First, let’s look at vision.  Excessive screen use can cause what is referred to as computer vision syndrome, or CVS, and I promise I didn’t make this term up.  While it usually goes unnoticed, using a computer is like a workout for your eyes; the eye muscles are constantly having to flex and relax to adjust to the changing images, light, and glare that emanate from  a computer screen.  This can cause eye strain, blurred vision, headaches, and neck or back pain.

Being constantly bombarded by screens can also interfere with how the brain learns and interprets the world around us.  When we interact with our surroundings, our brains have to process this information.  Studies in rats have shown that the brain requires “down time” to process new information.  Without being allowed to rest and be devoid of stimuli, the rats weren’t able to form the neural connections necessary to make a permanent memory.

rats

We can extrapolate and apply this to humans.  Whenever you have to wait in line or get a moment alone, with nothing imminent at hand, what do you do?  Whip out the phone, check email, text, play games, the list goes on.   I’m as guilty as anyone.  If we apply lessons from the rat brain to our own, it seems that this time may be better spent by doing nothing.  Relax, take deep breath, stare mindlessly out the window.  This may be just what the brain craves.

Lastly, studies have shown that screen time before bed may affect sleep. Just in case you aren’t sick of neuroscience already, here’s a little more.  Melatonin is a hormone released in the brain during the evening and night, and it is important for regulating the sleep cycle.  Exposure to light inhibits melatonin production.   This makes sense evolutionarily, as you wouldn’t want to fall asleep while running away through the jungle at high noon to avoid a meeting with a friendly tiger.  However, humans have recently evolved a strange trait; reflexively checking our phones and computers before bed.  It turns out that phones, tablets, and computers emit a very potent light, which is capable of suppressing melatonin.  Checking your email one last time may seem harmless, but it may in fact disrupt sleep.

cancle

In conclusion, all of you should turn off your lights, your TV, sit in the dark for two hours before bed, and check your cell phone only twice per day.  Candles are allowable.  All joking aside, the verdict seems to still be out on the extent that these occurrences affect our health.  Most of the studies do seem to make sense though, and think we take some good practical advice from them:

  • Try to cut off screen time about 30 minutes to an hour before bed
  • Turn down the brightness on a tablet or computer screen at night
  • Turn the iPhone off, and just take a little time each day to sit and relax (it may also help in other ways)
  • When using the computer for long periods of time, take a break and look away every 20 minutes or so

Overall, if you use modern technologies in a responsible, moderate manner, I think the problems discussed in this post can be avoided.  And I hope our brains don’t get stuck that way!

Sources:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22850476

http://www.webmd.com/eye-health/computer-vision-syndrome

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/05/health/05light.html?pagewanted=all

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/25/technology/25brain.html?pagewanted=all

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/10/really-using-a-computer-before-bed-can-disrupt-sleep/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

Images from:  wikipedia.com, npr.org, and knowyourmeme.com