Technology to Inhibit Technology

December 17, 2010 at 10:03 am 3 comments

I’ve heard about this new kind of software, that prevents you from touching Facebook and Twitter, so that you can concentrate and get something done.  “Stop me before I Facebook Again,” is such an interesting idea for CS teachers.

Are we as humans really genetically wired to want information, to want to deal in information, as this article suggests?  Is the suggestion that we really are helpless to prevent ourselves from checking email and Facebook?  More to the point for us: Why is it, if we’re wired to love information, that so few people want to make it their profession?

This whole argument strikes me as McLuhan-esque.  He might have been talking about the desire to Facebook when McLuhan said, “Appetite is essentially insatiable, and where it operates as a criterion of both action and enjoyment (that is, everywhere in the Western world since the sixteenth century) it will infallibly discover congenial agencies (mechanical and political) of expression.” (I also liked this one: “Anyone who tries to make a distinction between education and entertainment doesn’t know the first thing about either.”)  I think McLuhan would particularly critique the Facebook designers for not considering the implications of what they were designing (or maybe they did?  Maybe they aimed to create an addiction?)  What do we teach our CS students about the implications of their designs?  To those who talk about Facebook use as a moral question, McLuhan might remind them that he said:

Is it not obvious that there are always enough moral problems without also taking a moral stand on technological grounds? [...] Print is the extreme phase of alphabet culture that detribalizes or decollectivizes man in the first instance. Print raises the visual features of alphabet to highest intensity of definition. Thus print carries the individuating power of the phonetic alphabet much further than manuscript culture could ever do. Print is the technology of individualism. If men decided to modify this visual technology by an electric technology, individualism would also be modified. To raise a moral complaint about this is like cussing a buzz-saw for lopping off fingers. “But”, someone says, “we didn’t know it would happen.” Yet even witlessness is not a moral issue. It is a problem, but not a moral problem; and it would be nice to clear away some of the moral fogs that surround our technologies. It would be good for morality.

Here’s the NPR clip:

Being surrounded by a nonstop stream of information hasn’t exactly helped us focus or concentrate on our work. But a new software application can help social media addicts kick the habit.

Sure, the Web helps us do our jobs, but it can also distract us from them.

“We get a serotonin hit from this,” says Kathy Gills, who teaches about the intersection of digital media technologies and social institutions at the University of Washington. “So those of us who are susceptible to that high keep getting these little Pavlovian dog responses. It’s new, it’s shiny…wheee! So, if that’s part of your personality or genetic makeup, then these technologies can be something that you need to consciously think about managing.”

via Stop Me Before I Facebook Again : NPR.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Erik Engbrecht  |  December 17, 2010 at 10:21 am

    “about the desire to Facebook”

    When did “Facebook” become a verb?

    Reply
  • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  December 17, 2010 at 11:10 am

    http://www.macmillandictionary.com/buzzword/entries/facebook.html — looks like 2005.

    Reply
  • 3. John "Z-Bo" Zabroski  |  December 19, 2010 at 9:29 am

    The amusing part is that people pay money to block sites that they could do for free with hosts.deny (on Linux, not sure of the Windows equivalent), and it also isn’t hard to set it up with cron such that you can control the time of day when it is okay to browse Facebook (say 1 hr per day, 8pm to 9pm).

    Reply

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