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Is Google Making Us Dumb? 21% (and me) said Yes March 5, 2010

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A portion of the Pew Research Center’s project, “The Future of the Internet IV”, examines an article written by Nicholas Carr in the summer of 2008 entitled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” (published in the Atlantic Monthly). The study asked respondents if they agreed with Carr, that human intelligence (measured by IQ) would not have increased and may have even decreased by 2020. Results were as follows (for totals): 76% did not agree with Carr, 21% did, and 2% did not respond. What is most interesting about this study is the lengthy comments that follow explaining their stance on human intelligence and how it will be affected by Internet information searching. Most discussion revolves around the issues we are well aware of–engaged reading has turned into skimming and jumping, what we used to have to remember we can always access, and (on the positive side) the number of resources available has exploded (although one could also start the debate on quality versus quantity).

Carr argues that our thinking is changing from a more strenuous method to a less vigorous one. He states that,”the ease of online searching and distractions of browsing through the web were possibly limiting his capacity to concentrate”. I see changes in my own thinking daily and have always believed this to be a product of information overload. Never one to have an attention problem, I too find myself unable to read an entire article, feeling the need to skim and move on. Many of Carr’s adversaries don’t see this as a negative thing. They believe that we are required to process information this way now

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that we have so many sources available to us. While these objectors have a point, one has to ask where this will end? When will we max out? Information resources continue to proliferate and there has to come a point when we say ‘enough is enough’. If we spend all day skimming and comparing, when does the actual thinking and decision-making take place? Clearly, I agree with Carr and his small set of followers that Google (symbolically representing the Internet as a whole) will make us dumb.

Another argument that the commenters seem to miss is that knowledge and intelligence are not the same thing. While someone may have the most knowledge from browsing the Internet, this does not mean they can harness or process it in any useful way. However, you may take someone with limited knowledge and a lot of intelligence and teach them to do amazing things. True, an intelligent person with no knowledge cannot do much, but a person with a plethora of knowledge and no intelligence is just as useless. In conclusion, I would have to say that though “Google” will inevitably make us more knowledgeable,  it cannot make us think more clearly.

Microsoft Surface: the future of tables February 11, 2010

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I like games. Pretty much all games of any kind. Tabletop, board, video and card games. I like puzzles too, even those tricky logic puzzles with the strange grids full of dots and crosses. So, every once in awhile I pick up the current issue of Games Magazine. I grabbed one the other day, and I’m so glad I did because (besides the hours of nerdy puzzle solving pleasure) the first article was a preview of the Microsoft Surface.

I haven’t come across this before, although I’m sure I must have at least seen the idea in some sci-fi movie. It’s essentially a table, the surface of which is a sort-of touchscreen, but which can interact with objects, as well as fingers. There’s tons of potential applications, a few of which you can see in this video:

The article in Games Magazine of course, was more focused on how the Microsoft Surface could revolutionize tabletop games – with digital boards and physical pieces. One idea is to use digital pieces as well, especially for table games in bars, where pieces inevitably get lost. The units are still extremely expensive, so I doubt I’ll get to try one anytime soon, though the article mentions some hotels (such as Sheraton Hotels) are starting to buy them for guest use. If you didn’t already feel like we’re in the future – this is sure to do it!

How to Start a Conversation With an Alien January 20, 2010

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How would you convey information to someone faraway if you didn’t speak the same language? Often, we use images. But what if the recipient doesn’t see the same way you do? Or hear the same way? And what if you weren’t exactly sure where your recipient was located or if the message would reach him before the end of your civilization? What then? These are all the questions that New Scientist raises in their exploration of attempts to contact intelligent life in our universe.

For years we have been listening to radio waves and other inter-galactic noise hoping for a message from deep in the cosmos. But after frustrating years of silence, various groups have decided that it is time to send messages into space. Leading the vast attempt is the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute, founded in 1984. Despite its somewhat dubious name, the institute has worked on various projects with a long list of well-respected institutions both public and private.

Attempts by SETI and other groups are perhaps most interesting in the way they are constructed, often building off mathematics with the idea that this is the only truly universal language. Once the mathematical concepts are understood, more complex messages can be decoded such as what humans look like, or something more complex like the periodic table of elements. Many scientists believe the key to comprehension will come with quantity over quality. As with the deciphering of any code or the comprehension of any language, more is more.

Astronomers Yvan Dutil and Stephane Dumas from Defence Research and Development Canada in Valcartier, Quebec, sent a message in 2008 comprised of contributions from a social networking site as well as 26,000 text messages, along with more complicated graphs and diagrams towards a planetary system near a sun-like star. These messages will reach the system in 2029, a short amount of time compared to the bulk of these types of messages that may take thousands of years to reach their destination. Besides time, where to send messages and to which planetary systems are a wide source of debate.

While the prognosis sounds doubtful, I believe that, not too far into the future, scientific innovation will allow us to send these messages further and more quickly. What I believe our biggest challenge will be is to (for lack of a better term) “think outside of the planet.” Until we can understand what it means to truly communicate outside the limitations of humanity, we will not be able to start a universal conversation in any manner.

Make sure to read the whole article by New Scientist here.

Learning From Disasters January 13, 2010

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I would feel irresponsible and self-absorbed if I didn’t take the time to mention the horrific earthquake that occurred in Haiti yesterday. The estimated death toll has risen to over 100,000. Please visit RedCross.org to make a contribution to help people in Haiti.

As in the event of any disaster, once recovery is underway it is important to learn from our mistakes. While learning about earthquakes will not help the people in Haiti now, it may help us to predict future earthquakes and take precautions to minimize the damages. That’s why this catastrophic event made me think of one of my favorite exhibits at the New York State Museum — the M&T Bank New York State Museum Earthquake Center which includes a, “real-time display of earthquakes in New York and around the world.” In some ways this exhibit is mollifying, because it shows that earthquakes are daily, global occurrences. It is important museum exhibits like this that will kindle interest in today’s youth, creating the scientists and seismologists of the future, the ones who will hopefully curtail the loss of life from terrible natural disasters.

The Future of Video Gaming January 7, 2010

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This new game system is incredible…hard to believe.

The Flying Cars You’ve All Been Waiting For…(sort of) January 5, 2010

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It seems I can’t go a day in this new decade without someone complaining that the flying cars they were promised (by whom? the Jetsons?) have not yet materialized. Well I am here to say, your prayers have been answered (sort of). Sonex Aircraft, a company specializing in making kits for the adventurous brainy types who like to put together small air-crafts in their spare time, are close to introducing “a small, single-seat jet designed to provide high performance in an airplane that fits in your garage” (Wired.com) for retail. Price estimation ranges from $30,000 to $60,000 for a plane with one or two seats that can fly over “240 mph and climb at well over 2,000 feet per minute” (Wired.com). Though tests have not yet taken the craft into the air, the optimistic company hopes to be airborne by July. Make sure to check out the whole article by Wired here.

The Way We’ll Live in Ten Years December 16, 2009

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Today I stumbled across Microsoft Office Lab’s vision of the world (or the connected world) in 2019. This is a great video that reminded me a lot of Minority Report (a great film you should see if you haven’t yet). My only issue with this vision is that there seems to be a great proliferation of devices, whereas other prescient voices argue otherwise.

A Step Closer to Google World Domination December 9, 2009

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Google has recently rolled out some new features (admittedly, a phrase I could probably repeat every week). But these features are finally interesting enough to take a closer look at.

1. Adding live updates to results: Has anyone tried this yet? I just did a trial run with “Iraq” and watched as the news continually updated. The New York Times Companies section makes the good point that this feature will be most beneficial when information is changing at a dramatic pace. In my own experience, this is how I learned of changes to the now infamous “balloon boy” scandal back in October on Twitter, as people continued to update with links from multiple news stations.

On the other hand, there is the “search overload” so hilariously addressed in bing.com commercials. As librarians, this is something we are constantly combating, both in search strategies and information literacy instruction. So while Google may be attempting to remain the public’s primary source of information by competing with live websites like Twitter and Facebook, we must always remember that quantity does not always equal quality.

2. Google Goggles: This feature particularly interests me because I presented a paper about just such a “futuristic” innovation being researched by Japanese companies only a year ago, to the oohs and aahs of classmates. Google Goggles will enable users to take a picture and then, sending it to Google, receive information on it, much like a reverse image search. The same Times’ article suggests that this feature might help you to remember the name of a forgotten acquaintance, but I would surmise that we are still a long way from that. (More info from PC World on Google Goggles.)

3. The article finally discusses improvements to Google’s voice search, a feature I already use regularly and with which I have had great success. Google voice search will be adding Japanese to their list of usable languages, a list that already includes English and Chinese.

What’s the next feature that you wish Google would develop?

Check out the whole article here.

Web Trends to Watch in 2010 December 3, 2009

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Pete Cashmore, CEO and founder of the social media blog Mashable and now a writer for CNN.com, has come up with his list of the “10 Web Trends to watch in 2010.” While my eyes usually glaze over by point three of such lists, I was happily surprised to find myself agreeing with Cashmore’s prescient points. Particularly compelling are his points on the soon-to-be ubiquitous GPS, information overload, and convergence of functions in one device. Cashmore, unlike other netizens, intelligently (I believe) predicts a short faddish life for the kindle. He also argues that more information, while seemingly attractive, may not always be helpful. Cashmore closes with his most compelling argument, one that has already been a hot topic among librarians, teachers, parents, copyright lawyers, artists, and anyone else interested in privacy. He states, “We’re seeing the ongoing voluntary erosion of privacy through public sharing on Facebook and Twitter, the rise of location-based services and the inclusion of video cameras in a growing array of devices…Expect personal privacy — or rather its continued erosion — to be a hot media topic of 2010.”

What do you think will be the hottest web trend in 2010?

What the National Book Awards tell us about the publishing industry November 19, 2009

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I can’t say the winners of the National Book Awards even made it to my TBR. Perhaps this is because, as the Times states,

This year’s nominees had some in the publishing industry wondering about the relevance of the National Book Awards, in part because most of the titles had sold so little and few people had heard of them. The biggest selling finalist was Mr. McCann, with “Let the Great World Spin” selling 19,000 copies in hardcover, according to Nielsen Bookscan, which tracks about 70 percent of retail sales.

19,000 copies sure pales in comparison to Twilight’s 85 million copies sold worldwide (even quartered for the sake of considering only hardcover this still far surpasses Let the Great World Spin), or Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, which sold over one million copies (presumably hardcover) in the first day. What does this mean? Has the National Book Award become arcane and meaningless; is it an award solely for erudite academicians?

This train of thought led me to research the criteria for the National Book Award and here is what I found on their website: “Juries develop their own criteria for awarding the National Book Award and discussions are held independent of the Foundation.” Granted, the panel is composed of authors of that genre but the selection of the judges itself sounds political and elitist as well: “Judges are nominated by past National Book Award Winners, Finalists, and Judges and then selected and recruited by the Foundation’s Executive Director in consultation with the Board of Directors.” Should the finalists really be choosing the judges?

Obscure choices aside, talk at the National Book Awards was reported by a few sources to revolve around the kindle and the growing popularity of ebooks, in defamatory tones. Looks like the writers finally understand what the musicians have gone through for a while. And like the musicians, the writers need to understand, like Cory Doctorow does (and like all librarians do), the need to evolve in order to stay relevant.

On a side note and to follow-up on our previous post about the public voting on the “Best of National Book Awards Fiction”: (another lackluster choice, in my opinion), the Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy blog reports,

Flannery O’Connor won the “Best of the National Book Awards” prize. Ten thousand people voted on the National Book Foundation’s Web site to nominate the best award-winning work of fiction in the last 60 years. The six finalists were Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow,” Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” “Collected Stories of William Faulkner,” “The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty” and “Flannery O’Connor: The Complete Stories.

 

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