Friday, 19 October 2007

Attention Outsourcing

Lockergnome reports that they find using a GPS is turning them into a zombie, driving mindlessly following the "turn left in 400 metres" voice in their cab. The writer theorises that such devices are making us dumb. But hang on - are they?

I've used "attention outsourcing" devices for as long as they've been around. My main focus in getting into computers has been to make the computer do my routine brainwork for me. My first atention outsourcing device that made a huge difference to me was a word processing typewriter. It allowed me to set up pages of text without having to worry about sheets of paper and white ink, and make multiple copies without having to toddle to the chemist to use the photocopy machine.

Well, okay I'd had home computers before that but they were used as learning and game machines, because back then if you needed some of your attention material looked after by something else, you had to write the software and build the hardware first, so the nett gain was pretty much negative...

That changed once PCs came along and the rich vein of open source and freeware software came along. Now I could run a calendar and have my appointments notified. One less thing to worry about. Things got better when Outlook came along, despite everything being such a bloated piece of beyatchware, because not only could I now have appointments notified, I could sync that with a PDA and take it with me!

Life only got better when Google Calendar came along, now I could get stuff direct to my mobile by SMS, and also I could stop worrying about where to keep my documents and store them on Google Docs. And Google Reader took over where my Abilon RSS reader left off, so now I didn't have to comb websites any more. Even better, Particls came along and now manages just about anything with a feed URL for me.

So now my time is not occupied with hunting down weather and news daily, I have my appointments remembered for me and brought to my attention wherever I am, my GPS unit and Google Maps with White Pages find me my way around, and I have free time for writing posts like this...

Each time we allow a piece of technology to take over one of our mundane tasks, be it "attention" or "lawnmowing" or "carpet cleaning" we are becoming a different creature than our ancestors.

But we've been doing it all of human history. We made our first huge leap forward when we outsourced "killing things" from our nails and teeth to rocks used as bludgeons. We refined that particular technology from random rocks and tree limbs to high-tech (for the time and the use they were put to) axes and spears and arrows, and our species increased and thrived.

We outsourced "not freezing to death" to accidental fires, then deliberate fires, then to animla skins, and nowadays we have outsourced "not freezing to death" to the point where we can move about the freezing blackness of space.

So I think this is a natural progression. The current children generation will dimly remember Mum or Dad using a thing called a "vacuum cleaner" but in their self-cleaning apartments with Roombas it will not make much sense to them that we once did all that by hand and lost so much precious time doing it...

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