Technology That Gives People The False Sense Of Being In Control

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Pressing the door-close button on an elevator might make you feel better, but it will do nothing to hasten your trip.
Karen W. Penafiel, executive director of National Elevator Industry Inc., a trade group, said the close-door feature faded into obsolescence a few years after the enactment of the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990.
The legislation required that elevator doors remain open long enough for anyone who uses crutches, a cane or wheelchair to get on board, Ms. Penafiel said in an interview on Tuesday. “The riding public would not be able to make those doors close any faster,” she said.

Though these buttons may not function, they do serve a function for our mental health, Ellen J. Langer, a psychology professor at Harvard University who has studied the illusion of control, said in an email.
“Perceived control is very important,” she said. “It diminishes stress and promotes well being.”
John Kounios, a psychology professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia, said in an email there was no harm in the “white lie” that these buttons present. Referring to the door-close button on an elevator, he said, “A perceived lack of control is associated with depression, so perhaps this is mildly therapeutic.”

– image and excerpt from ‘Pushing That Crosswalk Button May Make You Feel Better, but …’ By Christopher Mele, NYT, OCT. 27, 2016

Hi-tech mobile device equivalents will emerge.
It’s interesting that the NYTimes wasn’t tempted to name the most obvious button giving citizens a false sense of control… the one they press in the voting booth!
– AS

“All I want is for technology to stop trying to be my friend, and to give me a bit of personal space.”

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“I would love to find the core truth about my own relationship to technology within these modern moral fables, but ultimately, I have realised that my issues are far more basic. All I want is for technology to stop trying to be my friend, and to give me a bit of personal space.”
– from ‘Dear technology, please could you stop being so needy’, Rebecca Nicholson, The Guardian, 26 Oct 2016, in part a review of technology-subject tv programs like ‘Black Mirror’

What To Suggest To People Who Say That Bob Dylan “Can’t Sing”….

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If somebody you know offers the opinion that “Bob Dylan Can’t Sing”, suggest that they listen to these two recordings of the same song, and compare their experiences:

Elvis Presley singing Bob Dylan’s ‘Tomorrow is a Long Time’
from the soundtrack of the movie ‘Spinout’, released 1966

Bob Dylan singing his own composition, ‘Tomorrow is a Long Time’
from April 12, 1963, concert at New York’s Town Hall, released on Greatest Hits Volume 2 (1971)

Yes, Elvis has the ‘sweeter’ voice, and his version is very pure and smooth. ‘Tomorrow is a Long Time’ becomes a soaring love song. It is luscious, and confident. Elvis is in complete control. He floats off and luxuriates in the comfort.
Dylan himself, in a 1969 interview with Rolling Stone’s Jann Wenner, called Elvis’s cover “the one recording I treasure the most”, and he may still feel that way.

The experience of hearing Dylan’s own version is something else entirely. Vulnerable, plaintive, complex. It sounds like he’s singing about loss, about something that’s actually unlikely to happen “once again”. (When Elvis says “If..”, it sounds like he’s already there.) Dylan’s version is human, and imperfect. We feel far less confident that we know what’s going on; it’s enigmatic. The song is ‘delivered’ as much as it is ‘sung’. Every word “trembles”.

To paraphrase the other Elvis (Costello), “you don’t listen to Dylan to hear sweet voice singing, you listen to experience the feeling he is singing about.”
Christopher Ricks points out that “song is a triple art, a true compound. And it doesn’t make sense to ask which element of a compound is more “important”: the voice, or the music, or the words..”.
With Dylan, the ‘compound’ becomes more than the sum of the parts, and we experience something that combines emotions and intellect and spirit; something that transmutes, and transcends.

Of course, the experience is very personal, and subjective, and we have to respect that this does not resonate with every listener.
In part, the difference may be because some people prefer their art, prefer their experience of the world, to be as apparently ‘perfect’ as possible. They seek fantasies of purity and perfection, and they like their art to do the same.
Others embrace the imperfection of the world, and prefer art that rolls up its sleeves, immerses itself, and gets dirty in the uncertainty and muddiness of it all.

Regardless of all this, the above example, contrasting Elvis’s fine performance with Dylan’s perfectly imperfect one, may show a few who don’t get it why so many do.
It’s about the humanness in Dylan’s voice.


Anton Scamvougeras
October 2016


Appendix:
There is a special beautiful, symmetrical bonus, about this performance comparison, for those who care to read on:

Note how the written version of the first four lines of this song (confirmed as the current definitive version on bobdylan.com) now read:

If today was not an endless highway
If tonight was not a crooked trail
If tomorrow wasn’t such a long time
Then lonesome would mean nothing to you at all
.

Yet, in the recorded versions above

Elvis sings

If today was not an endless highway
If tonight was not an endless trail
If tomorrow wasn’t such a long time
Then lonesome would mean nothing to me at all

and Dylan sings

If today was not a crooked highway
If tonight was not a crooked trail
If tomorrow wasn’t such a long time
Then lonesome would mean nothing to you at all

Elvis has the ‘endless’ voice, and Dylan the ‘crooked’, and they consciously or unconsciously changed the lyrics to reflect that.

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Image credit: Dylan performing in Germany 1984 – Istvan Bajzat – EPA

“This is life, this is what is happening. We can’t switch to another channel.”

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cartoon by Robert Day, New Yorker, 1970
Many thanks to Barabara Stowe for sending it along and drawing our attention to it.

Technology has always been distracting, but, arguably, the latest mobile devices with high speed internet connectivity are more seductive and offer more of a challenge to attentiveness than anything else that has ever come along.
If this cartoon were to reflect a 2016 scenario, the girl and boy would likely be hunkered away on their tablets or cellphones, unaware of the weather, the predicament, the solution to the problem, or their father’s technical and emotional response. Of course, they may also be able to text for help, or search for technical advice. As the prior post headlined: “What matters, I suppose, is where, and how, you are clicking…”
– AS

“What matters, I suppose, is where, and how, you are clicking…”

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“As Tim Wu writes in what might be the central thesis of ‘The Attention Merchants’, “Where the human gaze goes, business soon follows.” When that gaze eventually shifted to the smartphone — portable, social, location-aware, always on — whatever last reserves of human attention were still left unexploited were suddenly on the table. The smartphone would become “the undisputed new frontier of attention harvesting in the twenty-first century, the attention merchants’ manifest destiny.”

Picture Thoreau now, on his obligation-shedding saunter through the Massachusetts woods. There are unanswered emails from the morning’s business a twitchy finger away. Facebook notifications fall upon him like leaves. The babbling brook is not only lovely, but demands to be shared via Instagram, once the correct filter (“Walden,” natch) has been applied. Perhaps a quick glance at the Health app to track his steps, or a browse of the TripAdvisor reviews of Walden Pond (“serene and peaceful”). There may be Pokémon Go baubles to collect—the app may have even compelled his walk in the first place.

One question that Wu never really resolves is what exactly constitutes a meaningful use of one’s attention. He laments that we have taken our attention and parted with it “cheaply and unthinkingly,” but at one point, he seems to hold up cable shows like House of Cards and Game of Thrones as harbingers of “deep engagement.” Exactly why ten hours of binge-watching is qualitatively better or more life-affirming than ten hours of pursuing one’s active interests online, he does not convincingly say, but it speaks to the reflexive distrust of time spent, as Goldsmith terms it, “clicking around.” But, as a journalist, clicking around virtually defines my job these days; what matters, I suppose, is where, and how, you are clicking.

– excerpt and image from ‘The Perils of Peak Attention’, a review of two new books by Tom Vanderbilt, New Republic, 17 Oct 2016

‘Tricks When You’re Trying To Be So Quiet’ – Bob Dylan Esoterica, 9/11, and the Birthday Problem

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Bob Dylan has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. This is a joyous occurrence. While the world celebrates, we share this piece of Dylan esoterica, about the unintentional and arcane ‘prediction’ of a fateful day…

Humans are prediction machines. We look for patterns in the world, and we can’t help but try to guess what comes next. We do this because thousands of years of selection rewarded those of us who anticipated best. We instinctively seek out arrangements… in clouds, in images, in words, in the behaviour of others, in events in our lives… whether they prove to be vital to our survival or not. Sometimes the patterns are completely meaningless, but we notice them nonetheless.

In the early summer of 2001, Margot and I were living in Vancouver and preparing for the arrival of our first child. Our nest preparation included polling friends on subjects such as diaper change tables and optimum baby nutrition. For me, parental preparation was accompanied by an inexplicable compulsion to organize, and add to, my collection of Bob Dylan recordings. Why? Displacement activity, perhaps – when an animal disguises fear by picking away in the sand in a meaningless fashion, busying itself with trivia when facing a terrifying predator. Or, maybe a more complex mechanism: an attempt to preserve a soon to be lost “long lonesome road”? Oblivious to the exact cause, I found myself making wish-lists of sought after concerts, searching websites, emailing fellow collectors, burning discs, sometimes late into the night; tippy-toeing about our apartment, as my wife slept and her belly steadily swelled.

Two months earlier I had been contacted by ‘arlo’, over the web. My e-mail address, attached to a whimsical posting at an online Dylan site, identified me as being from Vancouver. Would I like to get together with a small group of local fans to celebrate Bob’s 60th? Sure I would, I replied. ‘Arlo’ turned out to be Arthur Louie, born in Winnipeg, now living in Vancouver. Connoisseurs of ‘handles’ will appreciate arlo’s; a contraction of his name, as well as the first name of the son of Dylan’s own hero, Woody Guthrie. Neat. At our first meeting, an enjoyable gathering of a handful of friends and a few guitars, I discovered that in early 2001 Arthur had started a website called the ‘Dylan Pool’, based on the fantasy pools enjoyed by sports fans. Dylan had been touring frequently since 1988, playing 3 to 6 tour ‘legs’ a year, about 100 shows per annum, an endeavour that aficionados had hopefully dubbed ‘The Neverending Tour’. Prior to each tour leg, the one thousand members of the ‘Dylan Pool’ would each chose a ‘team’ of songs from Dylan’s immense 500 song catalogue, hoping to best foresee which of these he would choose to play in the upcoming shows. Dylan famously keeps himself and his audience guessing as to what he’ll play each night, and he is one of the very few performers you can see two or three nights in a row with confidence that a large percentage of the material is not repeated each show. The contest was to predict the set lists as closely as possible.

Part of the culture from which the Pool had emerged was that of sharing ‘bootlegs’ – surreptitiously produced, and strictly speaking illegal, recordings of Dylan’s live performances. Unlike the Grateful Dead, who had encouraged recording at their concerts, Dylan had fought for decades to deter tapers at his shows, but he also later sent a message, in verse, that was interpreted by many to be an endorsement of the archivists: “Some of these bootleggers/ they make pretty good stuff”. Most scholars agree that the existence of these recordings is a very good thing indeed. With Dylan frequently changing the interpretation and delivery of his material, the detailed record is an invaluable trace. What better homage than to have everything you have ever sang or said on stage recorded for posterity? The bootleggers are arguably Boswells to Dylan’s Johnson.

As you may guess, the Pool ‘skeleton’ that was the sport of song prediction served to support the arguably more important ‘flesh’ of online discussion and camaraderie. While waiting for tour legs to commence, or set-lists to be phoned in (sometimes live from the mosh pit at the very feet of the Man), ‘poolers’ would share their anticipation, and expand their knowledge of Dylan minutiae: When did Bob first play ‘- – -’ ? What does he mean when he says “- – – ”? Will he ever play ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’ live? Is ‘Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands’ really about Sara? Is that his real hair? Does anybody have a recording of the second 1988 Radio City show?

An etymologist once said that an understanding of the roots of the word ‘apricot’ make the fruit taste “that much sweeter”. Dylanologists argue that knowledge of the trivia improves one’s enjoyment of the songs. As ‘poolers’ prepared for a new tour leg, participants would volunteer to donate prizes for various achievements in the coming contest. Awards for first and second places, obviously, but also for achieving more playful and inventive targets, or answering arcane challenges. It was in this milieu that I found myself organizing my collection, reading the trivia, all while listening to awe-inspiring live versions of songs such as ‘Watchtower’ (fans refer to the songs in shorthand). I became curious as to whether Dylan had ever played any songs live prior to releasing them on albums, and this led to me arranging my recordings chronologically, and that led to me making a ridiculously esoteric observation, which I then could not resist presenting to the pool in the form of a prize challenge, which read as follows:
“If Dylan’s new album, ‘Love and Theft’ is indeed released as described in the recent press releases, it will achieve a feat that, against odds, no other Dylan album has ever achieved. What feat?”

The winning respondent would get their choice of a handful of discs from my growing collection of ‘boots’. Moderator Arthur, ever the Canadian egalitarian, suggested that I allow a 24 hour window for correct responses, as it’d be unfair for a pooler in India to answer over morning tea while an adversary in Argentina was still asleep. We awaited replies.

They came, in many forms, testimony to the breadth of Dylan fandom. Ideas concerning almost every know aspect of the coming album, but none anywhere close to the answer I had in mind.

Thirty-six hours after the start of the contest, just when I began doubting the sanity of the exercise (was I being too esoteric, even for this gang?), along came this response from James Wilson of the U.K. : “If ‘Love and Theft’ is, as advertised, released on September 11, 2001, it will be released on the same day of the year as was ‘Under the Red Sky’, which was released on September 11, 1990.  This will mark the first time that two Bob Dylan albums will share a release date.” About twenty hours thereafter Stewart Garrish, of Boston, answered in a similar fashion. These two got it.

The observation involves the same principle as the intriguing probability phenomenon known as the ‘Birthday Problem’. One needs to gather only 23 people in a room for the chances to be more than 50% that two of them will have a birthday that falls on the same day of the year. This is fewer than most of us would guess. As more people are added, the chances rise. By the time you get to 42 people, the chance that two will share the same birthday is already over 90%. To translate this to the puzzle at hand, consider album release dates as ‘birthdays’ (which they are, of course). The chances that none of Dylan’s 42 albums had the same release date is low, less than ten percent. And thus it was ‘against odds’, that no other Dylan album had ever achieved the feat that ‘Love and Theft’ would now achieve.

Both Jimmy and Stewart received prizes for their astute observations, and I posted a summary of the various fan responses and a discussion to the Dylan Pool on July 27, 2001.

Two days later, our son Adam was born; a fine, healthy baby, with a cowlick.

Six weeks thereafter, Bob Dylan’s 42nd album, ‘Love and Theft’ was released, as promised. In the months following it received deserved critical acclaim, but on the day, September 11, 2001, nobody noticed. We were all transfixed by the horrific events in New York City that very same morning. The release of the first Bob Dylan album ever released on the same day as another Bob Dylan album had also coincided with the 9/11 attacks; another kind of birthday entirely, that of an unwelcome new era.

Now, I am not prone to magical thinking. When my mother accidentally spilled salt, she would throw some over her shoulder. If I spill salt, the extent of my superstitious thinking is that I am reminded of my mother. I know, as much as I know anything, that Dylan’s numerically ‘special’ album coming out on 9/11 was nothing more than random coincidence; the kind of statistical trick that the world plays on us frequently. It doesn’t mean anything; yet I feel the desire to report the facts of it, nonetheless.

How does one respond to this? Dylan himself questions “minds that multiply the smallest matter”, yet he also points to the limitless meaning contained “in every grain of sand”. He also finds magic in numbers*. Our minds play with patterns in the world, and there may be resonance in some of the things that emerge. The apricot is sweeter, the song more emotive, and the universe that much more electric.


Anton Scamvougeras, October 2016
dysconnected1 (at) gmail.com

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*UPDATE:
Comments made by Dylan in a Q&A with Bill Flanagan, posted 22 Mar 2017 at bobdylan.com, confirms that Bob finds magic in numbers, and thus we would imagine he’d be very much interested in the numeric co-incidence described in the above piece:

“BF: Each disc is 32 minutes long – you could have put it all on 2 CDs. Is there something about the 10 song, 32 minute length that appeals to you?

BD: Sure, it’s the number of completion. It’s a lucky number, and it’s symbolic of light. As far as the 32 minutes, that’s about the limit to the number of minutes on a long playing record where the sound is most powerful, 15 minutes to a side.”

Striving To Break With “The Slot Machine In My Pocket”

“Tristan Harris had just arrived at Unplug SF, a “digital detox experiment” held in honor of the National Day of Unplugging, and the organizers had banned real names. Also outlawed: clocks, “w-talk” (work talk), and “WMDs” (the planners’ loaded shorthand for wireless mobile devices). Harris, a slight 32-year-old with copper hair and a tidy beard, surrendered his iPhone, a device he considers so addictive that he’s called it “a slot machine in my pocket.” …
Under the auspices of Time Well Spent, Harris is leading a movement to change the fundamentals of software design. He is rallying product designers to adopt a “Hippocratic oath” for software that, he explains, would check the practice of “exposing people’s psychological vulnerabilities” and restore “agency” to users. “There needs to be new ratings, new criteria, new design standards, new certification standards,” he says. “There is a way to design based not on addiction.”

– from The Binge Breaker, Bianca Bosker, The Atlantic, 8 Oct 2016

Never Mind Future Virtual Reality, Here’s An Argument That We’re ALREADY Living In A Game !

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The chance that we are not living in a computer simulation is ‘one in billions’ – Elon Musk

Philosophers have long been concerned about how we can know that our world isn’t just a very believable simulation of a real one. But concern about that has become ever more active in recent years, as computers and artificial intelligence have advanced.
That has led some tech billionaires to speculate that the chances we are not living in such a simulation is “billions to one”. Even Bank of America analysts wrote last month that the chances we are living in a Matrix-style fictional world is as high as 50 per cent.

– from ‘Tech billionaires convinced we live in the Matrix are secretly funding scientists to help break us out of it’, Andrew Griffin, The Independent, 7 Oct 2016

Watch video of discussion HERE

US University Students Send HUNDREDS of Texts PER DAY

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Researchers at Kent State surveyed 493 students, ranging in age from 18-29
Female students reported spending an average of 365 minutes per day using their cell phones, sending and receiving an average of 265 texts per day, and making and receiving six calls per day.
Male students reported spending less time on their phone (287 minutes), sending and receiving fewer texts (190), and making and receiving the same amount of calls as the female students.

Study: Andrew Lepp, Jian Li, Jacob E. Barkley. College students’ cell phone use and attachment to parents and peers. Computers in Human Behavior, 2016; 64: 401 DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2016.07.021

– from Science Digest, 17 Aug 2016

That average of 265 texts per day for female students means that, assuming the student sleeps for 8 hours per night, they are sending or receiving a text on average about once every 3.6 minutes throughout their waking hours.