Sunday, December 15, 2013

From Cyber Zombiness to Ambient Awareness

Dr. Phlox, the Enterprise surgeon, responded to the comment about movies (aka stories unfold on the screen) by answering: "Well, we had something similar a few hundred years ago, but they lost their appeal when people discovered their real lives were more interesting."

At this stage of our evolution, virtual characters and screens are taking over our lives. We stare at our devices - smartphones, tablets, laptops, TVs - 12 or more hours a day.  We are less fully aware of our surroundings and reality. We already lost many of our ancient abilities - like the ability to recognize certain smells related to survival and identity (check the color wheel bellow). We lost the desire to move fast (see this study about today's kids taking a minute-and-a-half longer to run a mile than kids did in the 1980s or this piece about marathon runners), and are losing fine motor skills - as more children can not hold a pencil.

The average American socializes offline by about 5 minutes less than 10 years ago. And does a little less of everything that involves communicating with the real world. Perhaps this is the reason for headlines like "Completely oblivious cellphone users didn't see a gunman in their midst" or "Americans don't trust each other anymore."

Meanwhile more and more devices are watching everything we do - online and offline. This holiday season, at least a thousand of retailers - from large chain stores to small boutiques will track shoppers' movements in real time using iBeacons, Gimbal sensors and other high tech innovations. Mobile phones will soon be analyzing our emotions, isles in the grocery store and mannequins modeling clothes will be able to scan our faces and offer well-timed in-store commercials and coupons. So will smart TVs and cars. And technology worn by other people - such as google glass or Kapture wristband. And even more technology to watch when we are being watched, so we can smile when on camera. Everything will spy on us and we are gradually becoming used to it, outsourcing self-awareness and self-management to machines.

Will this ever lead to devices bringing real value to human life? And new ways to extend our senses and cognitive abilities, and enrich our daily lives without interfering with them?

Only time will tell.


Colin IM, & Paris I (2013). Glucose meters with built-in automated bolus calculator: gadget or real value for insulin-treated diabetic patients? Diabetes therapy : research, treatment and education of diabetes and related disorders, 4 (1), 1-11 PMID: 23250633

Scott Wallsten (2013). What Are We Not Doing When We're Online The National Bureau of Economic Research DOI: 10.2139/ssrn.1966654

Shoham, A. and Pesämaa, O. (2013), Gadget Loving: A Test of an Integrative Model. Psychol. Mark., 30: 247–262. doi: 10.1002/mar.20602

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