The Gadgets Among Us
The downside to the digital revolution, our readers remind us, can be funny. Or fearsome.
The editorial on computer gadgetry by John Mecklin ("The Gadget in the Gray Flannel Suit," November-December 2010) was particularly precious. I LOL'd at the comment from The Onion: "New Social Networking Site Changing the Way Oh Christ, Forget It/Let Someone Else Report on This Bullshit." Computer illiteracy isn't so shameful!
Albert J. Kubany, Ph.D.
The appalling inevitability of virtual addiction
I do find myself happier after a good dinner party or a night spent in bed with my girlfriend or talking with my mom on the phone than I do sitting in front of a computer terminal or futzing with my iPhone. I do also know that I have significant gadget-attention disorder, in that I feel if I don't get constant information feeding my mind, it feels uncomfortable.
It's easy to attribute that to the fact that while technology helps us, it's no replacement for real interactions. But then, as a technologist and not a humanist, I thought no, that's not the answer. The answer is that technology isn't good enough at replacing those things yet. Technology is like the junk food of the mind — a human's distilled view of what makes information appealing. People on Twitter don't want to tweet, they want to engage in a global conversation about their interests; people using the iPad don't want to play with a touch screen, they want an extension of their mind connected to a portal to cyberspace. If we could one day make a pill that felt like eating a healthy delicious meal, most people would probably use the pill rather than eat the food. Perhaps it's the same with technology. If people couldn't tell the difference between Twitter and being in some global agora — then we could be in trouble.
That leads to, of course, the next obvious thought: What if technology becomes good enough to replace those? We already see things like people dying from playing too much World of Warcraft because it's so addictive. People are finding more satisfaction being a heroic warrior in some fantasy world than in real life, and that fantasy world is rich enough for them. They'd rather die in it than live in ours.
Maybe we're living in an age where things like love, sex, communication and friendship can be distilled to enough richness by technologists that it'll replace our desire to have those things in the "real" world. Then the battle will truly be between technologists and Luddites for the minds of humanity. I have no doubt who will win, though; our ability to stave off addiction has never really impressed me.
The bacteria within
Fascinating article ("Bacteria 'R' Us," November-December 2010). Considering that not only Crohn's and colitis but also irritable bowel syndrome pain and symptoms are thought to have no known cause or cure, possibly bacterial disruption is the missing link. In 1996, Dr. Albert Schatz, who discovered Streptomycin, suggested that balancing microbial populations to deal with disease conditions would be far more effective than trying to kill them off. Perhaps we are now moving to that approach?
On the weight of germs
"Strictly by the numbers, the vast majority — estimated by many scientists at 90 percent — of the cells in what you think of as your body is actually bacteria, not human cells." But by the kilogram, we are overwhelmingly human. Human (eukaryotic) cells are typically 100 times or 1,000 times the size of bacteria (prokaryotic) cells. Don't panic! We are not mostly bacteria.
But how meek is the plague bacillus, really?
Verily, the meek shall inherit the Earth — unicellular organisms, unfortunately for us.
Aphorism for a new millennium
Bacteria evolved humans to spread them to other worlds. …
Probably the best article on carbon capture and sequestration that I've seen ("The World's Best Bad Idea," November-December 2010). Personally, I think all CCS projects are a waste of time and money. That time and money should be solely diverted to bringing down the cost of clean energy. I actually did a cost analysis on investing in CCS projects or using that money for clean energy to replace the CO2-emitting power plants that the CCS project would go on. Guess what came out the winner? http://blog.mapawatt.com/2009/03/13/carbon-capture-and-storage/
Has there ever been a 2,000 percent tax on the cost of anything?
"Do humans have the collective willpower to wean themselves from fossil fuels?" In a world driven by capital, the answer to this question depends on the price of oil and coal. Make it high enough, and the answer should be yes! The problem is that the "humans" don't make decisions. The decisions are made by politicians who are powerfully influenced by (or, put another way, they work for) the industries that directly or indirectly depend on fossil fuels. If a pack of cigarettes can get to $8, then why not impose a 2,000 percent tax on oil and coal? Which is more dangerous in the long run?
Sleepy students aren't new
We've known for decades that it would be better to schedule later school start times for teenagers ("A Day in the Life of a Sleepy Student," November-December 2010). However, school systems have resisted change, in this as so many areas, primarily for the convenience of administrators and also, in some cases, because of bus schedules and related safety concerns. In the latter instance, it would require rearranging bus schedules to pick up younger students earlier and older students on the later run, which, in many places, would mean elementary school students would be waiting for the bus before dawn. In administrators' view, it would be too expensive to add more buses and drivers so that every student could be picked up at a decent time, so they sacrifice the health and educational well-being of teenagers instead.
Of course, they could require more high school students to walk longer distances to school, but that probably would inspire a rebellion on the part of parents.