Dave Stewart on The Future World

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Dave Stewart:  Hi.  I'm David Allen\r\nStewart, and I'm a cultural engineer. \r\n

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Topic:  The\r\nInternet. 

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Dave Stewart:  Well, the Internet right about 12 years ago was a revelation when I\r\ndiscovered what it did.  And my\r\nimagination leapt into, like, what it possibly could do, and would do.  And right about 1995, '96 maybe, I\r\ncreated my own sort of version of a YouTube channel called Sly Fi, the Sly Fi Network, I called it. \r\nAnd I was running around telling everybody, "Oh, this is it.  Look, we can all have our own T.V.\r\nchannels." 

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And I made all these crazy\r\nprograms with Damian Hernst and The Edge, Bono, and Deepak Chopra, and I had\r\nthem up, you know, but the trouble was, it was only about, you know, 100 people\r\ncould see them because they had Broadband, and they loved them, they were going\r\n"hurray!  This is the new\r\nway!  It's the future world,"\r\nand all that stuff, but not enough sustainability to keep it going.  And then I was-- I think I was probably\r\nthe first person to put out a total digital release album, which I also called Sly\r\nFi.  And the company that I did it with, they were very forward\r\nthinking and they realized everybody was going to want to just download stuff\r\nand so I said, "Okay, let's not release this as a physical product."  This is back in 1996 or something.

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Dave Stewart:  Well, let's rewind back to 1982, you know, where Sweet Dreams came out and we were using technology then in a\r\nway.  I drove with this friend of\r\nmine about 200 miles to this place where a guy had made a prototype of a drum\r\ncomputer, a little screen, and you could actually-- it was black and white. It\r\nlooked like a little Siloscope, you know, and you could actually program a beat\r\ninto it.  Now, this was a\r\nrevelation and I was so excited about the idea of this. 

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But, again, being sort of\r\nsomebody who has a sort of vision about, "Oh, what would that lead\r\nto?  And what would that lead\r\nto," I realized straight away, okay, everything is going to change and\r\npeople are going to make records in their bedroom, or wherever they want, because\r\nthey don't need to have these great big studios anymore to make a certain kind\r\nof music, obviously for orchestras and stuff, and bands playing loud.  And I found that every exciting.  I did a lot of interviews at the time,\r\nand it spawned a lot of young artists going, "Oh, great, yeah, I\r\nunderstand I can go in my bedroom and I can write a song."

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But the long tale of the\r\nartist is something that's yet to really be unleashed because it took ages for\r\nfilm companies and record labels to realize, you know, that piece of film of Bob\r\nDylan talking to Allen Ginsberg, stoned, you know, poetry, is actually a valuable\r\nthing that lots of Dylan fans would love. \r\nBut CBS was like, "What the hell are we going to do with\r\nthis?"  Now, all artists\r\nhave-- and creators and filmmakers and scriptwriters, and everybody, have a big\r\nproblem that everybody is trying to work out about what's the transactional\r\nmodel, what's the revenue streams, how do we get transparency, what about if we\r\ngive this stuff and it happens like the last time where some great big sort of\r\ncorporate company goes, "Oh, yes, we own all this and whatever else you do\r\nforever and ever, even if you go insane. \r\nPlease sign here." 

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And what's exciting about--\r\ngoing back to your question about how it's changed and how it's changed the way\r\nyou think about what you're doing, is I see a world of transparency coming that\r\nis going to be impossible to stop. \r\nIt's like a juggernaut, you know, people want to know what's going on.

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And there's no reason why\r\nthey shouldn't because, now, with cell phone technology and Internet, and so\r\nforth, you should be able to say, "Oh, I see, I buy this, and this person\r\ngets paid that, and that person gets paid that, and the person who created it\r\ngets paid that, and the person who…" \r\n

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Dave Stewart:   I was really a student of a\r\nguy called Conny Plank, who was a German producer who worked with Craftwork in\r\nCannes and he was already far ahead of anybody, you know, he produced Devo and\r\nbands like this and he taught me really what recording is all about, and he\r\nalso taught me things to do, even before looping, you know, or sampling.  He was creating these big tape loops\r\nand playing with everything like a collage. 

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He really let me understand\r\nthat, "Listen, whatever anybody says the rules are, there are no\r\nrules.  And you can just do\r\nwhatever you want and if it sounds fantastic to you, then you do it."  So he was, like, a really big influence\r\nand a kind of mentor at the time.

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Dave Stewart: At the moment, there's a wonderful Indian composer called\r\nA R Raman, now he's sold\r\nabout 300 million cassettes in India, and you can imagine, you know, there's a\r\nlot of bootlegging goes on in India, so he scored hundreds of movies and he's\r\nstill only about, I don't know, 38 or 40 years old.  And I'm sending files backwards and forwards to him to India\r\nand we're collaborating on something. \r\nThen I'm collaborating via a chap in Hong Kong, Hans Ebert, looking for a Chinese girl to do a duet with, to be\r\nin my video, which he'll film against green screen, and I'll put her in a\r\ncomplete out of context song with me. 


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I'm doing all these things\r\nall day long as part of my sort of creative inquisitive nature, and I have no\r\nrhyme nor reason why and how this would come out in a commercial way, like,\r\n"Oh, yes, and now I'm going to make a pop video like this."  It's just part of something. 

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Dave Stewart on the mobilizing forces of technology.


This series brought to you by Dell and digitalnomads.com

Are we really addicted to technology?

Fear that new technologies are addictive isn't a modern phenomenon.

Credit: Rodion Kutsaev via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink, which has partnered with the Build for Tomorrow podcast to go inside new episodes each month. Subscribe here to learn more about the crazy, curious things from history that shaped us, and how we can shape the future.

In many ways, technology has made our lives better. Through smartphones, apps, and social media platforms we can now work more efficiently and connect in ways that would have been unimaginable just decades ago.

But as we've grown to rely on technology for a lot of our professional and personal needs, most of us are asking tough questions about the role technology plays in our own lives. Are we becoming too dependent on technology to the point that it's actually harming us?

In the latest episode of Build for Tomorrow, host and Entrepreneur Editor-in-Chief Jason Feifer takes on the thorny question: is technology addictive?

Popularizing medical language

What makes something addictive rather than just engaging? It's a meaningful distinction because if technology is addictive, the next question could be: are the creators of popular digital technologies, like smartphones and social media apps, intentionally creating things that are addictive? If so, should they be held responsible?

To answer those questions, we've first got to agree on a definition of "addiction." As it turns out, that's not quite as easy as it sounds.

If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people.

LIAM SATCHELL UNIVERSITY OF WINCHESTER

"Over the past few decades, a lot of effort has gone into destigmatizing conversations about mental health, which of course is a very good thing," Feifer explains. It also means that medical language has entered into our vernacular —we're now more comfortable using clinical words outside of a specific diagnosis.

"We've all got that one friend who says, 'Oh, I'm a little bit OCD' or that friend who says, 'Oh, this is my big PTSD moment,'" Liam Satchell, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Winchester and guest on the podcast, says. He's concerned about how the word "addiction" gets tossed around by people with no background in mental health. An increased concern surrounding "tech addiction" isn't actually being driven by concern among psychiatric professionals, he says.

"These sorts of concerns about things like internet use or social media use haven't come from the psychiatric community as much," Satchell says. "They've come from people who are interested in technology first."

The casual use of medical language can lead to confusion about what is actually a mental health concern. We need a reliable standard for recognizing, discussing, and ultimately treating psychological conditions.

"If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people," Satchell says. That's why, according to Satchell, the psychiatric definition of addiction being based around experiencing distress or significant family, social, or occupational disruption needs to be included in any definition of addiction we may use.

Too much reading causes... heat rashes?

But as Feifer points out in his podcast, both popularizing medical language and the fear that new technologies are addictive aren't totally modern phenomena.

Take, for instance, the concept of "reading mania."

In the 18th Century, an author named J. G. Heinzmann claimed that people who read too many novels could experience something called "reading mania." This condition, Heinzmann explained, could cause many symptoms, including: "weakening of the eyes, heat rashes, gout, arthritis, hemorrhoids, asthma, apoplexy, pulmonary disease, indigestion, blocking of the bowels, nervous disorder, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria, and melancholy."

"That is all very specific! But really, even the term 'reading mania' is medical," Feifer says.

"Manic episodes are not a joke, folks. But this didn't stop people a century later from applying the same term to wristwatches."

Indeed, an 1889 piece in the Newcastle Weekly Courant declared: "The watch mania, as it is called, is certainly excessive; indeed it becomes rabid."

Similar concerns have echoed throughout history about the radio, telephone, TV, and video games.

"It may sound comical in our modern context, but back then, when those new technologies were the latest distraction, they were probably really engaging. People spent too much time doing them," Feifer says. "And what can we say about that now, having seen it play out over and over and over again? We can say it's common. It's a common behavior. Doesn't mean it's the healthiest one. It's just not a medical problem."

Few today would argue that novels are in-and-of-themselves addictive — regardless of how voraciously you may have consumed your last favorite novel. So, what happened? Were these things ever addictive — and if not, what was happening in these moments of concern?

People are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm.

JASON FEIFER HOST OF BUILD FOR TOMORROW

There's a risk of pathologizing normal behavior, says Joel Billieux, professor of clinical psychology and psychological assessment at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, and guest on the podcast. He's on a mission to understand how we can suss out what is truly addictive behavior versus what is normal behavior that we're calling addictive.

For Billieux and other professionals, this isn't just a rhetorical game. He uses the example of gaming addiction, which has come under increased scrutiny over the past half-decade. The language used around the subject of gaming addiction will determine how behaviors of potential patients are analyzed — and ultimately what treatment is recommended.

"For a lot of people you can realize that the gaming is actually a coping (mechanism for) social anxiety or trauma or depression," says Billieux.

"Those cases, of course, you will not necessarily target gaming per se. You will target what caused depression. And then as a result, If you succeed, gaming will diminish."

In some instances, a person might legitimately be addicted to gaming or technology, and require the corresponding treatment — but that treatment might be the wrong answer for another person.

"None of this is to discount that for some people, technology is a factor in a mental health problem," says Feifer.

"I am also not discounting that individual people can use technology such as smartphones or social media to a degree where it has a genuine negative impact on their lives. But the point here to understand is that people are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm."

Behavioral addiction is a notoriously complex thing for professionals to diagnose — even more so since the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the book professionals use to classify mental disorders, introduced a new idea about addiction in 2013.

"The DSM-5 grouped substance addiction with gambling addiction — this is the first time that substance addiction was directly categorized with any kind of behavioral addiction," Feifer says.

"And then, the DSM-5 went a tiny bit further — and proposed that other potentially addictive behaviors require further study."

This might not sound like that big of a deal to laypeople, but its effect was massive in medicine.

"Researchers started launching studies — not to see if a behavior like social media use can be addictive, but rather, to start with the assumption that social media use is addictive, and then to see how many people have the addiction," says Feifer.

Learned helplessness

The assumption that a lot of us are addicted to technology may itself be harming us by undermining our autonomy and belief that we have agency to create change in our own lives. That's what Nir Eyal, author of the books Hooked and Indistractable, calls 'learned helplessness.'

"The price of living in a world with so many good things in it is that sometimes we have to learn these new skills, these new behaviors to moderate our use," Eyal says. "One surefire way to not do anything is to believe you are powerless. That's what learned helplessness is all about."

So if it's not an addiction that most of us are experiencing when we check our phones 90 times a day or are wondering about what our followers are saying on Twitter — then what is it?

"A choice, a willful choice, and perhaps some people would not agree or would criticize your choices. But I think we cannot consider that as something that is pathological in the clinical sense," says Billieux.

Of course, for some people technology can be addictive.

"If something is genuinely interfering with your social or occupational life, and you have no ability to control it, then please seek help," says Feifer.

But for the vast majority of people, thinking about our use of technology as a choice — albeit not always a healthy one — can be the first step to overcoming unwanted habits.

For more, be sure to check out the Build for Tomorrow episode here.

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