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a new frontier

July 1, 2010

I guess I get to put on my “I remember back in the day” goggles for this one. I find myself explaining to students how difficult it used to be to locate and print off references for research projects. There were no online databases with direct access to pdf files of most published research papers . How when I was an undergraduate I opted to use a typewriter because of the confusion induced by WordStar/WordPerfect/EasyWriter interface. Most computers didn’t even have a mouse or any sort of point and click ease (except Greg’s cool little Apple II). How we couldn’t just call a friend without first finding a payphone AND making sure we had the correct change. There was no email or texting or Twitter or Yelp or whatever new app will come out today that makes life so much easier… It was so much more difficult to be productive with our time back in the day – we wasted a lot of time and energy doing things that now are done for us or are ridiculously easy… Of course, there is always the other side of the coin:

“While many people say multitasking makes them more productive, research shows otherwise. Heavy multitaskers actually have more trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information, scientists say, and they experience more stress.”

The quote is form an interesting NYT article (click here or on the picture above) that summarizes some of the research that has been going on for the past decade exploring how our interactions with the various technologies we have access to these days affect our behaviors and thoughts. Forty years ago, cognitive psychologists were interested in human-computer interactions, but from a very different perspective – how can people (as information processors) and computers (as information processing systems) best interact to maximize the experience and productivity of the user? The research across the intervening decades was primarily focused on how effectively people could use various forms of  Some philosophers, and sci-fi writers of course, early on began to speculate what was going to be lost (as well as gained) as we depended more and more on this relationship with technology (also see just about any Star Trek episode).

Anyways, interesting things to consider as we rely more on smartphones to remember names and dates for us, gaming consoles to entertain us, gps systems to navigate for us, computers to spell for us…

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