Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Carr, N. G. (2014). The glass cage: Automation and us.

In The Glass Cage, best-selling author Nicholas Carr digs behind the headlines about factory robots and self-driving cars, wearable computers and digitized medicine, as he explores the hidden costs of granting software dominion over our work and our leisure and reveals something we already suspect: shifting our attention to computer screens can leave us disengaged and discontented.

Google talk (56 minutes)

RSA Animate – Re-Imagining Work

RSA Animate – The Empathic Civilisation

RSA Animate – The Power of Outrospection

Jeremy Rifkin – The Empathic Civilisation (optional 51 minutes)

A3 Step 4. Write a letter from the future, make a video call from the future, or make a storyboard.

For examples of what a letter from the future or a video call might look like check out these examples.

12 thoughts on “Wednesday, October 29, 2014

  1. Of course, the new way of collaboration is beginning to be so much more digital and more of dropbox and google drive. It made me realize that it’s more “efficient” and effective. I can’t believe that this new approach is the new way of production. I almost wish there was a way of archiving on shelves documenting our production. However, taking a step back, I realize we’re really producing and constantly working. Dropbox and google drive really is an intuitive design to digitalize our work.

    Sometimes I’m afraid of digital hybrid communication such as Skype and slack that allows for virtual communication. Of course, this does bring into the idea of monitoring our work. That is why I’m almost afraid to use or not use these tools. It seems that are forced into these uncomfortable situations to continue the line of production. The problem is that we’re all concerned with speed and production that we begin to lose the some of the production with the time lost due to commute. Technology can make us lose the value of work and personal time. We need to learn to shut of technology at certain days of time and maintain trust with our jobs.

    It’s interesting how working outside of the office isn’t the problem, but employees have a psychological problem amongst other employees. To gain a better social organization we need to have confidence to work even if we are working away from home. The culture of openness can lead us to a better future with trust from not only the employers, but also from the employees.


  2. Oh man, these RSAs. I like them, but it’s like ted talks, a guilty pleasure.

    Work: my main problem is that he treats email as one useless thing, instead of the diverse complicated beast it is. If I’m pitching a project, or discussing hiring, or chatting about my patio, these are all “email”, but some are more useful than others. Yeah, now we do email and we didn’t previously, but what about all the meetings that email has saved? Yeah, we have to be aware of how we use email to do it well, but saying “we email too much” is like saying “we talk too much.”

    Also, yeah, we *can* work from wherever, but does that mean there are no benefits to offices? Aren’t there a ton of studies that show that offices are still a benefit?

    I do agree on his point about trust, and the Bums In Seats memo. Ugh. Trust your employees. Geez.

    OK, empathy:
    OH NO, NEURO BS ALERT. Mirror neurons do a thing, that doesn’t mean we’re “homo empathicus”. It’s overly analogical thinking. It’s like saying “we breathe oxygen, which forms bonds of two atoms, O2, therefore we are destined to form bonds of two people in marriage.” Ugh. So it kind of makes me mistrust the rest of his talk.

    But I still like his point about expanding empathy to the whole world.


  3. Ok, Nicholas Carr is such a champ. Totally agree about everything he’s saying, about how automating something makes us complacent and bad at it. Makes our skills brittle, where we do fine 99% of the time but fail really badly 1% of the time. (like the Inuit hunters; they probably used to get lost maybe 10% of the time, but they weren’t really bad instances of getting lost, as opposed to now when they get lost 1% of the time and die.) I remember reading something about taxi drivers losing gray matter in the hippocampus when they get a GPS. Something we should really keep in mind when designing especially computer things.


  4. The Nicolas Carr Google talk about the impacts of computing automation made me think about data analysis skills and GUI based vs command line based statistical software. On most stats packages, you have GUI tools and ways to write your own programming scripts for analysis. Programs like SPSS ( and JMP ( seem more GUI focused, while programs like STATA ( and especially R ( are more command line based. My own experience, anecdotal accounts from others, and explanations from online courses (e.g., suggest that command line programs have a higher learning curve as you begin to use the tools, but they eventually help you to understand data analysis at a deeper level, know the exact computational commands that a statistical program ran (i.e., what is “under the hood” of a GUI tool), and run analysis that surpasses what more simple GUI tools can accomplish.


  5. I don’t know how much I agree with the video Re-Imaging Work. I am not entirely sure what point he wanted to make with emails. Honestly, I feel like emails have been making collaboration easier in some ways. Global companies can more effectively communicate with offices in other time zones, I can find and reach to alumni of CMU/employers to network, I can quickly consult others in a group project about an idea that we have and have a record of it incase we forget, I can easily ask others for help, and more. I understand that it is unfortunate that it is happening through a computer/screen but I feel like it creates more opportunities to collaborate or to meet in person.
    I thought the workplace comments were interesting. I do agree that you tend to feel vulnerable and there is a lack of privacy. I know in some companies employees don’t have desks, they just have something to carry their things in as the move all over. I personally like having some privacy but I understand the need for an open space. I feel like it would be a good idea to combine the two floor plans. However, I don’t think that having people work outside an office would be a good idea. I think collaboration happens best in person and in an environment where you have all the needed tools and people to reference. I feel like having a space that is dedicated to work/one purpose is important. We do a similar thing at home. The kitchen is a place where we cook and eat but not sleep. We like having spaces for particular activities and the space to store the needed tools for it. Simple things like eating and sleeping can be relocated based on the needed tools. But something more complicated and focused like work should remain in one place.
    I like The Empathic Civilization video however I don’t entirely agree that we are empathic to our country currently. I think that is true in times of conflict but not in every day behavior such as with bullying, cyber bullying, and other crimes.


  6. I follow a majority of Nicholas Carr’s argument. Technology certainly gives us the ability to slack off in more arenas. And often, it succeeds in getting us to do so. One easy example that comes to mind: People can now set over 20 alarms in quick succession to wake them up. It’s fairly common to see someone’s list of alarms read as 9:00, 9:03, 9:06, 9:10 etc. But I wouldn’t say that somehow we’ve evolved in a way to be sleepier. It just means we are being lazy about waking up or neglecting to make sure we get enough sleep in the first place. However, not everyone does this. This is why in the end, I do not agree with Nicholas. Technology gives us the ABILITY to be lazy. But it’s about how you use it. If you stay proactive and alert, smartphone technology allows you to be more productive than ever imagined before. If you start to rely on it, it gives you a lot more ways to mess up. Technology does change the nature of work, but it’s up to us to change the nature of how we DO work.

    I found the second RSA video about empathetic civilization to be rather fluffy. Yes, empathy controls a lot, but it’s clearly not doing enough. And I don’t think it’s due to a lack of empathy. Everyone feels sad when watching ads for St. Jude’s Hospital, but do they ultimately donate money or time to the cause? Probably not. Even the animal cruelty ads set to crooning Sarah McLachlan did not enact major change. You cannot simply keep guilting people until they change, which is what this video seems to imply. I feel an important distinction is that people feel empathy towards others when they see something of themselves in that person. It is a lot easier to get people to help out their friends or situations that are local because they feel a connection. This video spends a lot of time talking about how we will solve problems by feeling empathy with the world. I think that this is an extremely shallow answer. Solving problems is a lot about who has power and what they do with it. Yes, we can solve problems with empathy, but we can also solve a lot by making decisions for the long run. Those decisions can still be selfish, and I expect that they primarily will be, but usually what’s good for you in the long run, is what’s good for everyone in the long run.


  7. The Nicholas Carr Glass Cage video was really interesting. I have often felt that reliance on computers or mnemonic devices deteriorates skills. Since my undergraduate degree was in Cognitive Psychology, I have taken a few steps to counteract the effects of complacency by not letting automation rule my life. So when I read physical books, I don’t use bookmarks. For a long time I did not put my parents’ phone numbers in my cell phone so I could maintain the ability to have their numbers memorized in case I needed to call them during a natural disaster (I finally added their numbers when I realized that law enforcement will often go through your phone to try to find your next of kin).

    I disagree with Sam’s assessment. Yes technology gives us the ability to be lazy but the problem is that more often than not, human nature leads even the most self motivated of us down a path of reliance on technology. How often have I been at a store where the teenager behind the cash register is flustered because the computer is down and they can’t do simple arithmetic to calculate change in their head?! About a month before school started, I had one week where in three separate stores/cafes the person behind the counter either gave me too much or too little change because they couldn’t subtract (twice in my favor and once in favor of the store).

    I agree with Tatiana’s comments about the data analysis tools. Something about having to write your own scripts, which itself requires you to have a certain understanding of the data, changes the task of data analysis. When writing my own ruby web scraper, I was surprised to learn how many times I changed the model of what data I wanted the web scraper to capture. While if the data had been readily available I would have just accepted it in whatever format it was given.

    I also thought Carr’s discussion of miswanting was interesting. Everyone thinks that retirement would be awesome because of the ability to do nothing, but more and more we find that people thrive when they are productive and that retirees who work part-time or volunteer, do much better than people who simply cease working.


  8. I really enjoyed Nicholas Carr’s talk, it was eye-opening, especially the two stories about the Inuit and the doctor-patient example. He highlights very well the paradox between the desire for efficiency as well as an experience; in his argument, it seems like you can’t have both, only one or the other. So one thing I wish he had done was suggest some resolution for this paradox, but I also understand that there may be no “solution.” I think there are instances where technology has done incredible things for humanity – for instance, the internet – there are the drawbacks he’s mentioned, but it’s also provided an entirely new experience for a whole generation. Maybe in the future what we consider “human” or valuable experiences will change – I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing – but ideally I would like technology to evolve into something that doesn’t take away from a fulfilling experience. I think he touches upon this idea when he talks about technology-centered design vs human-centered design, which is interesting because I always thought of human-centered design as something different, primarily something that focuses on creating the most optimal experience for humans, and that often includes efficiency. But that just goes to show how flawed my understanding of what humans truly want is. The talk also made me think about the debate on the difference between AI and humans – the view that a human brain is like a machine and that can be replicated in AI. I think most people will believe that there is a fundamental difference between robots and humans, and still be unable to articulate what exactly it is. But that line is becoming very blurry as technology and AI continue to evolve – with automated cars comes the issue of how the computer is going to make ethical decisions, but the most efficient decision may not be the most “human” one. How do we resolve that? What happens once we resolve that?


  9. The viewings for today seemed overly simplistic. While the RSA animate shorts are an amazing work of art and usage of animation, they seem to belittle the real problem at hand, which is how to ensure that work is evenly distributed and no one feels like they are carrying extra weight. Having been in more than one group where I ended up doing all the work by myself, ensuring that everyone is carrying their weight is key to employee happiness. Employees lose all since of empathy for someone whom they deem as dead weight. How do you deal with these dead weight employees? Why exactly are they not as productive as the rest? Lack of skill, lack of effort. In terms of empathy, I do not believe empathy is the silver bullet to all the problems of the world. At the end of the day, there are a finite number of resources on this earth and some people want a bigger share than others have. As we have learned in this course, the standard of living enjoyed by Americans is not sustainable for the entire world. We gets to have it and who doesn’t. That is the question that empathy can not solve.


  10. While I do think we need to be mindful of how we use technology, as a whole I disagree with Nicholas Carr premise that it can cause a deterioration in your skills. It seems like with each advancement in technology people cry out “this is the end of life as we know it.” But yet our society continues to grow and flourish, and things improve with the use of technology. I think this comic that chronicles this from 1871- 1915 shows how then people were saying the same things, but instead about magazines, quickness of the post, rapid locomotion, etc.: Additionally, there was another article circulating about a man that didn’t use the internet for a year, at first he stated that his behavior did change, but by the end he found that he wasted his time with other things and in the end he felt more disconnected than ever before.

    Re-imagining work was a very interesting concept. I don’t feel like he took into account the power of doing something within a group, a group is always able to come up with a better solution than a single individual. But I do agree that when we aren’t in these group situations we shouldn’t be confined to a desk.

    I greatly enjoyed the Empathic Civilization, I had never thought of nation states as something fictitious and agree that as a society if we are more empathetic towards we will achieve great things.


  11. This was a really interesting video to watch. It’s interesting to see how the narrator looks at the way people work and how it’s different from work life in the past by framing it as a different culture of collaboration. At the beginning of the video, when the narrator mentioned that 71% of Americans are disengaged, I thought that the video was going to be about the negative effects of technology and how that has made people socially isolated. However, it was interesting to see how the narrator explored the effect of office spaces on working culture and the “panopticon effect” has on people’s working styles and how that radically affects people’s lifestyles.


  12. I agree with Aneury’s comment. The RSA videos seem to animate only specific parts of a problem but not the issue as a whole. They fail to consider how work should be distributed and inequality regarding the amount of work each person should be given. This is a problem because the person who has to carry all the load will not be content with what they are doing and feel overwhelmed by the whole process. A successful work setting thrives on the collaboration of the individuals because different people can attribute different points of view, which ultimately helps solve the problem more successfully. The problem is not solved through the work of one individual and narrowed on one perspective. People will have the ability to bounce ideas of off one another contributing new knowledge to the situation. By doing so the problem can be dealt with in a creative way and people will be happy because they are engaged and all of their ideas can actually matter. By having one person carry the weight of all the individuals others become lazy and start to lack the motivation to be successful. In effect they cannot empathize with each other and the person who is doing all the work will not be happy with his/her team. Also it is important to consider that is a team not able to be successful because only one person has a specific skill set key to solving the matter at hand? Are others deprived of this knowledge? Why is this the matter? This needs to be further analyzed.


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