from the world's big
Your Blackberry Is Your Brain
William Powers is a journalist and social philosopher. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Atlantic, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times, among other publications. He is a two-time winner of the Arthur Rowse Award for best American media commentary. His first book is "Hamlet's BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age" (HarperCollins, 2010), which challenges the widely held assumption that the more we connect through technology.
Question: Is technology a kind of external brain?
William Powers: I think increasingly we do think of it that way, as a very helpful extension of our brain... really of our brain power, of our memory capacity. We can offload a lot of burdens onto technology now and not have to carry around so much information ourselves, you know. We can carry it in a cloud or whatever happens to be the metaphor of the moment. And really sort of not feel that we have to be kind of our own hard drive. We have a hard drive that works for us but the problem is that potential was there. But I think we're not using it the way we might. There is this sense that you do have to be carrying, literally the hard drive around with you all the time and therefore yourself being accessible to all these distractions and all these tasks that can come at you all through the day.
If it's true that technology is there to relieve some of the burden, why do we all feel so burdened by the technology? That's sort of the disconnect, if you will, of the new connectedness that I think we need to fix. I feel many ways in which... I love it that I can store so much on my hard drive and the notes that I'm taking for my next book, they're already piling up in there and it's so great. I don't have to worry about notebooks or even carrying the thought around with me. But if I'm also walking around all day just at the beck and call of that little screen in my pocket, I'm not following through on this fantastic ability I have to be less burdened by the age of information.
Question: Does technology replace memory?
William Powers: I think less use of memory for tasks that it's not so important to use memory for perhaps, for the more mundane, less creative aspects of memory perhaps. I mean, if you need to store a lot of data just to have it, just in case but it's not data you need to draw on in important ways for your work or for your everyday life that's beautiful. I mean, I think that's what the hard drive's all about. We don't want to reach a point where I think where we feel, "Oh gosh I don't have to remember anything because it's all going to go on my Blackberry or my Blackberry is thinking for me." Because, as we all know, you know, the beauty of the human brain is it's wonderful associative ability.
It can make new associations. This is the essence of creativity. New associations better than any device ever created and probably that ever will be created. You can't replace that with a computer, so you have to have the crucial framework of facts and experiences and learning really permanently stored on your own hard drive in order to make those associations. If they're living somewhere else, you can't make those creative associations that are uniquely human.
But I think for the really, really sort of ordinary or massive amounts of information that you might only need to draw on once in a while, it's sort of equivalent to the way that card catalogs of libraries moves onto hard drives. You know, you wouldn't want to know everything that's in a card catalog but you want to be able to draw on it when you need it and figure out if there's a book on x-y-z given subject. It's the same thing, you know. That kind of stuff, the big time storage of the stuff you don't need everyday, these devices were made for that. But in terms of the things you might need to call on today because it could contribute to some project you're doing, you don't want to get rid of that, obviously.
Recorded September 13, 2010
Interviewed by John Cookson
Technology is replicating and replacing functions long held in the brain. What does offloading your brain to technology mean for such vital human as memory and creativity?
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Health officials in China reported that a man was infected with bubonic plague, the infectious disease that caused the Black Death.
- The case was reported in the city of Bayannur, which has issued a level-three plague prevention warning.
- Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
- Chinese health officials are also monitoring a newly discovered type of swine flu that has the potential to develop into a pandemic virus.
Bacteria under microscope
needpix.com<p>Today, bubonic plague can be treated effectively with antibiotics.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unlike in the 14th century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted," Dr. Shanthi Kappagoda, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, told <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">Healthline</a>. "We know how to prevent it — avoid handling sick or dead animals in areas where there is transmission. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics, and can give antibiotics to people who may have been exposed to the bacteria [and] prevent them [from] getting sick."</p>
This plague patient is displaying a swollen, ruptured inguinal lymph node, or buboe.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p>Still, hundreds of people develop bubonic plague every year. In the U.S., a handful of cases occur annually, particularly in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/plague/faq/index.html" target="_blank">where habitats allow the bacteria to spread more easily among wild rodent populations</a>. But these cases are very rare, mainly because you need to be in close contact with rodents in order to get infected. And though plague can spread from human to human, this <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">only occurs with pneumonic plague</a>, and transmission is also rare.</p>
A new swine flu in China<p>Last week, researchers in China also reported another public health concern: a new virus that has "all the essential hallmarks" of a pandemic virus.<br></p><p>In a paper published in the <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/06/23/1921186117" target="_blank">Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</a>, researchers say the virus was discovered in pigs in China, and it descended from the H1N1 virus, commonly called "swine flu." That virus was able to transmit from human to human, and it killed an estimated 151,700 to 575,400 people worldwide from 2009 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.</p>There's no evidence showing that the new virus can spread from person to person. But the researchers did find that 10 percent of swine workers had been infected by the virus, called G4 reassortant EA H1N1. This level of infectivity raises concerns, because it "greatly enhances the opportunity for virus adaptation in humans and raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses," the researchers wrote.
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- Gregg Behr, founder and co-chair of Remake Learning, believes that this small word shift opens up the possibilities in terms of how and where learning can happen. It also becomes a more inclusive practice, welcoming in a larger, more diverse group of thinkers.
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- Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
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- Times of crisis tend to increase self-centered acts.