What is driving today's innovation explosion?

David Pogue: What makes you think there’s an innovation explosion? I think the innovation is going at the same rate it always has and there are pockets of moving forward in certain industries, certain areas and pockets where it’s stagnating.

When is the last time anything interesting happened with computers, PCs? I mean oh, is that a new version of Windows? Okay. It’s the same stuff, no innovation whatsoever, maybe Apple’s super-flat laptop maybe.

Right now, the innovation is in cell phones. And I think what’s driving innovation there is the iPhone, not the phone itself, although there’s a lot of innovation there, but the way it came about which was Steve Jobs went to all the cell phone carriers, Verizon and AT&T, and said, “Here’s the deal. I’m gonna make a cell phone, you’re gonna be the exclusive carrier, but you’re never gonna see it until we’re done with it.”

And that would never happen before. Verizon, Cingular, T-Mobile, they used to be the gatekeepers for innovation. They used to be the veto holders over any new phone, new advance, and it killed a lot of innovation.

People would go around and say, “What if we did things this way?” and Verizon would go, “Mm, how about not?” And, you know, “We want our menus to look like this.”

So when the iPhone became a hit and Cingular had taken Jobs up on the offer and said, “Okay, we’ll close our eyes and you’ll develop this phone,” then everybody started saying, “Well, holy cow. Maybe phone designers actually know something.”

And so first Google announced their phone operating system, Android, by the end of this year [2008], that’ll be 35 phone companies and phone carriers are going to be involved.

And then Verizon, the most calcified of all of the carriers, said, “We’re going to open our network to any phone, even ones you don’t buy from us.”

The Wired headline was, “Pigs fly, hell freezes over, and Verizon opens up its network.” So that’s how astonishing that was.

So the cell phone is about to take enormous leaps in innovation and this is going to be the year of the cell phone. They’re going to be much more like a computer in that you can install you own programs, you can make it look like and feel like and work like whatever you want. And it’s all because the iPhone cracked that old ritual of the cell phone carriers decide what’s in a phone.

Recorded on: May 15, 2008.

Innovation is going on at the same rate it always has, says Pogue.

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Great ideas in philosophy often come in dense packages. Then there is where the work of Marcus Aurelius.

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Personal Growth
  • Meditations is a collection of the philosophical ideas of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
  • Written as a series of notes to himself, the book is much more readable than the dry philosophy most people are used to.
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An organism found in dirt may lead to an anxiety vaccine, say scientists

Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.

University of Colorado Boulder
Surprising Science
  • New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
  • Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
  • The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.

Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.