Here’s reason number ten thousand and one for why you really ought to shut down your browser/tablet/smartphone and reenter the existential immediacy of your actual surrounding environment with its network of in-person social relationships just as soon as you finish reading this and then clicking through to read the full, brief article from which it’s excerpted:
Most of us are well aware of the convenience that instant electronic access provides. Less has been said about the costs. Research that my colleagues and I have just completed, to be published in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science, suggests that one measurable toll may be on our biological capacity to connect with other people.
. . . Your brain is tied to your heart by your vagus nerve. . . [In addition to the fact that the relative strength of this brain-heart connection is related to overall physical health], the behavioral neuroscientist Stephen Porges has shown that vagal tone is central to things like facial expressivity and the ability to tune in to the frequency of the human voice. By increasing people’s vagal tone, we increase their capacity for connection, friendship and empathy. In short, the more attuned to others you become, the healthier you become, and vice versa. This mutual influence also explains how a lack of positive social contact diminishes people. Your heart’s capacity for friendship also obeys the biological law of “use it or lose it.” If you don’t regularly exercise your ability to connect face to face, you’ll eventually find yourself lacking some of the basic biological capacity to do so.
. . . When you share a smile or laugh with someone face to face, a discernible synchrony emerges between you, as your gestures and biochemistries, even your respective neural firings, come to mirror each other. It’s micro-moments like these, in which a wave of good feeling rolls through two brains and bodies at once, that build your capacity to empathize as well as to improve your health. If you don’t regularly exercise this capacity, it withers. Lucky for us, connecting with others does good and feels good, and opportunities to do so abound.
So the next time you see a friend, or a child, spending too much of their day facing a screen, extend a hand and invite him back to the world of real social encounters. You’ll not only build up his health and empathic skills, but yours as well. Friends don’t let friends lose their capacity for humanity.
More at The New York Times: “Your Phone vs. Your Heart“
In his 2010 book Cognitive Surplus, released in hardcover with the subtitle “Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age” and in paperback with the subtitle “How Technology Makes Consumers into Collaborators,” Clay Shirky expanded his reputation as everybody’s favorite digital guru by arguing that “new digital technology” — primarily of the social media sort — “is unleashing a torrent of creative production that will transform our world. For the first time, people are embracing new media that allow them to pool their efforts at vanishingly low cost. The results of this aggregated effort range from mind-expanding reference tools like Wikipedia to life-saving Web sites like Ushahidi.com, which allows Kenyans to report acts of violence in real time. [The book] explores what’s possible when people unite to use their intellect, energy, and time for the greater good.”
Here he is expounding the idea in a popular TED talk:
Although Shirky can be criticized for an undue optimism, since it’s quite likely that his view of how people tend to use the freeing of their time and mental energy by technology is overly rosy, the fact that such a freeing-up has happened is incontrovertible. And now comes a paper written by two experts in digital communications and published in one of the longest-running online journals about the Internet itself that argues the cognitive surplus is a side effect of our massive exploitation of fossil fuels, and that its fate and future will therefore parallel the arc of fossil fuel-based civilization, which is, in the wide scope of things, a fleeting phase in human history, since “fossil fuels are not forever.” Read the rest of this entry →
Posted by The Teeming Brain
Is it possible for a short film to pack the same punch — philosophically, artistically, culturally, spiritually — that a longer one does? Is it possible for a short film to be as artistically and culturally significant as a feature-length one? If the answer can be “yes” for other storytelling forms, such as written fiction — where many short stories are recognized as classics right alongside novels — then surely the same is true of film, despite the fact that feature-length films get most of the attention.
We humbly submit that the first of this week’s Cinema Purgatorio offerings is, basically a classic. “Sight” is a short film by Eran May-raz and Daniel Lazo, two students at Bezazel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. Or rather, by this point they’re probably former students, because “Sight” served as their graduation film. It has made a considerable splash on the Internet ever since they uploaded it several weeks ago, and as you’ll see, it is an exquisite, and in fact a well-nigh perfect, exploration of current societal trends in full-bore dystopian science fiction fashion. For anyone who has ever contemplated the grim nexus of narcissism, distraction, and the trivialization and corruption of human experience and human relationships that may be portended by the social media revolution, the fusion of humans with machines, and the universal digital interconnection of society, this film hits all the right notes to fascinate and horrify. And it does so not only with a brilliantly conceived and realized script but with beautiful production values, special effects, and lead performances.
Trust us: You want to watch it without knowing too much ahead of time, so that it can surprise you with where it starts and where it’s going. Watch it first, before you read the brief explanatory notes below. And be sure to fullscreen it and turn up the volume.
Media company VentureBeat, which is “obsessed with covering amazing technology and why it matters in our lives,” spoke to May-raz and Lazo by email, and received the following explanation from Lazo for the thinking that went into the film:
“I’m a video game geek and Eran is a film buff, and we both have a passion for sci-fi and technology,” Lazo wrote in an email to VentureBeat. “At first we were set on making a film that had augmented reality in it. We did some research, delved into every kind of augmented tech out there today, and somewhere along the way we thought ‘Hey, I wonder how augmented reality would be like without the device or apparatus barrier. What if we could just SEE augmented reality?’ So we kind of tried to envision the world and how it would act after this kind of technology is standard, and it rolled on from there.”
– Jolie O’Dell, “Beautiful short film shows a frightening future filled with Google Glass-like devices,” VentureBeat, July 27, 2012
Lazo also told VentureBeat that the similarity between the film’s future vision and Google’s augmented reality project called ProjectGlass, which was unveiled earlier this year, represented a serendipitous bit of timing:
As for the Glass connection, Lazo said, “The Google Glass video just came out about a day or two after we started work on Sight. It was pretty cool; it kind of gave us an affirmation that we’re on the right path.”
(Note that for an earlier consideration of a similar theme, you can look to”Stream of Consciousness,” an excellent episode of The New Outer Limits from 1997.)
Posted by T. E. Grau
The Extinction Papers – Chapter Two
I am routinely wrong about many things. The enduring popularity of televised talent shows. The assured success of former Raider Bill Callahan as the new head coach of my 2004 Nebraska Cornhuskers. The viability of something called Twitter. While the second one caused me more pain (barely edged out by the first), the last might be my biggest miss as a cynical and formerly smug prognosticator.
From what I knew of Twitter at the time, I just couldn’t imagine that this insignificant and seemingly limited tentacle of social media would be embraced, let alone last long enough to metastasize into a societal norm, and even a verb (“tweeting” <shudder>). Allowing one to send out uninteresting life updates in 140 characters from the line at the grocery store (“Ugh! I’m SO ANNOYED by people who pay for their cat food with checks! FML!”), or the gym (“Just ripped off 15 reps at 230 on bench, bruh . . . Feeling pumped”), or from their own living room (“Watching re-runs of ‘Cagney & Lacey’ on Oxygen, y’all, and gotta’ admit, Tyne Daly is at the top of her game”), just didn’t seem to have any cachet, let alone meaning. Even with the proliferation of insipid reality programming, I still didn’t foresee the voracious interest in the mundane minutiae of the lives of everyday people. I had no idea that sharing random thoughts on traffic lights or a blurring phone pic of what one is about to eat for lunch would enthrall a nation, let alone a world. One would assume that a so-called enlightened civilization would have more important things to occupy their hopefully expanding brains than your college roommate’s recent sock purchase at Target.
But, I was wrong. Lords of Light, was I ever wrong. People dig this shit. CRAVE this shit. JOIN IN on this shit.
So I sat, baffled — with my quiet, unintelligent phone stowed somewhere in my bag — by the explosion of Twitter and the flood of tweets that were now an essential part of seemingly everyone’s daily lives. And baffled I remained, until I remembered that in the 21st century, EVERONE wants to be famous and recognized, even if only amongst a small group of friends, family, and online acquaintances. This is the era where fame trumps all, trampling the desire for talent, happiness, and stability, and just barely edging out success. Fame is king, queen, emperor, and god. As such, it attracts acolytes of the Status Cult, who routinely have sacrificed and will sacrifice anything upon the freshly stained, newly hewn titanium altar to achieve immortality, which these days can last only a few minutes, falling far short of that promised Golden Fifteen.
Read the rest of this entry →
This week’s recommendations cover the history of Wall Street’s addiction to inhumanly fast and economically abstracted trading practices; the history of “dark money” in American politics, culminating in the current game-changing dominance of hidden funding; the rise of real-life “cyborgs” via the burgeoning body-hacking movement; a couple of considerations of what it means for human social and personal existence to be wired into a digital social network of ad hoc spying and self-promotion; a look at the rise and definition of “knowledge art” in an age dominated by objectified scientific understandings of life and reality; a look at the meaning of art in light of evolutionary biology; an opinion piece from The New York Times lambasting the “positive thinking” movement as exemplified by Tony Robbins; and links to podcasts on “recovering environmentalists,” Jung and synchronicity, and findings from the new scientific study of the biological unconscious with neuroimagining technology.
This week’s links, reading, and viewings encompass America’s apocalyptic obsession, the troubled future of America’s electricity situation, the continued rehabilitation of psychedelic research in academic and governmental contexts, the rise of America’s internal surveillance state, a worried critique of art’s monetization, the hijacking of social media by megacorporate interests, a warning from by-God Silicon Valley itself about the dangers of digital addiction, and a fascinating preview of an upcoming conference in Australia that will explore the origins of consciousness.