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Smartphone SlavesWhen I went to visit my grandkids last year, I decided to buy them each an iPod-touch (smartphone without the phone and monthly bills). I've gotta tell you - I've never ever seen such ecstasy - they kept singing, "I love grandpa!" with several different refrains. Just as soon as we got back from the store, they had their gadgets running.
The 10-year-old (already a budding teenager) had an email address, and showed his 7-year-old sister how to sign up for a free one too. They could now send text-messages via WiFi whenever they were home, or at friends' homes, or at a Hotspot. Within minutes we were video-connected with FaceTime, which comes free, standard. By the weekend they were downloading apps, making and editing videos - and showing their grandpa how to do that.
My daughter's one-year-old stays occupied with a shiny smartphone that keeps him entertained and actually teaches him something. Just letting him play teaches him - the touch interface doesn't need any demos; he's learning from the first moment. Now I'm wondering what kind of gadget to get him for his second birthday.
Today's teenagers and pre-teens have smartphones and tablets, with a big choice of social networks and apps. They have texting, search engines and intelligent agents like as Google-Now (which tells them how to dress before they get out of bed). Any information they want is right at their finger-tips. But, are they more advanced?
Smartphones are everywhere in most developed countries. They've become ingrained in our lives. Most children are exposed from their birth. They'll grow up learning how to use this technology to make their lives better. These are the children of the future and they are here today.
But now the flip-side: The TIME magazine cover story (May 20, 2013) called today's teens the "Me Me Me Generation" - lazy, self-entitled, shallow, narcissistic and self-obsessed, the worst of any generation ever. They are far too reliant on mobile technology - most have no idea what to do with themselves if they didn't have it. Have you noticed what happens when there is no Internet connectivity? It's like drug withdrawal.
For many people the servant has become the master. Now everybody is on call all the time. Work invades the home far more than domestic chores invade the office. Otherwise-normal people check their smartphones all the time, obsessively.
Hyperconnectivity exaggerates some of the most destabilizing trends in today's workplace: the habit of flexibility (it's easy to change your mind at the last moment); the merging of work and personal time; keeping up with the barrage of e-mails and messages. It's not good for mental health.
According to U.S. News, leaving a smart phone behind may cause anxiety and panic, resulting in "nomophobia" - the fear of being without your cellphone. Not surprisingly, people between the ages of 18-24 are the most nomophobic.
Ultimately, to control the addiction it may be best to turn off your smartphone from time to time.
Twilight of the Scientific AgeScience is in decline. After centuries of great achievements, fatigue has developed in our culture and many others. Our society is saturated with knowledge, with very little improvement in real happiness levels. Ideals are lost in the search.
In 1996 Scientific American columnist John Horgan published a book, "The End of Science". The thesis: The pursuit of science was ending because the basic theories of the natural world are now mostly understood. The big bang theory, the structure of DNA, evolution by natural selection, the periodic table of elements are not going to change. We are close to reality in so many fields that the chances of seeing revolutionary new thinking is much less.
John Horgan interviewed an impressive array of scientists and philosophers who were sharply divided over the prospects and possibilities of science. The pessimists suggest that as science reaches the limits of knowledge, it is reaching a point of diminishing returns; they object to pretensions of certainty and the potential to stamp out the diversity of human thought. The discussion left much room for optimism.
In every scientific arena there is always the search for more and better. What new principles, laws, processes or qualities need to be discovered? What new theory will supersede and subsume general relativity? Which new complex feature of DNA structure will produce something really new? Spectacular new theories are rare events; progress will be minimal.
Perhaps the problem is because of the way in which modern science is organized. It takes a lot of courage to challenge accepted views and needs a lot of stamina to battle the status quo. Mavericks do not do well in large organizations, which is what most science has become. So, are we in the twilight of Science?
But technological progress will not stop. Technology developments are funded because the search for smaller, better, cheaper will continue. For ever!
Progress TrapA progress trap is the condition human societies experience when the progress they achieve introduces unforeseen problems: conditions change, ideas are carried to excess and turn sour, sometimes even dangerous. There are no resources to solve the problems, which prevents further progress and sometimes leads to collapse.
Many people now feel that humans are inventing and developing their way to disaster. "Surviving Progress" is a new film with a grim view about where human civilization is headed. It includes interviews with several experts who agree that humanity is in trouble. We are now reaching a point at which technological progress threatens our very existence.
This film features the opinions of people we all respect:Chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall; astrophysicist Stephen Hawking; and someone I've met and particularly admire: J. Craig Venter, the scientist and researcher who made history by sequencing the human genome and producing a living cell with a computer-generated genome.
This 80-minute film, which I found on Netflix, melds together the environmental crises, the 2008 financial crash, poverty in developing countries, and the decline and fall of ancient Rome and Babylonia. The ancient empires examples are appropriate because they collapsed due to problems that afflict societies today: over-concentration of wealth at the top, and reckless and wasteful consumption of natural resources. These things remain unchecked and are worsening.
Perhaps time and human nature will evens the odds. People who are rich tend to become unmotivated and lazy, which is a natural leveling mechanism over a couple of generations. This applies to any culture anywhere in the world, and the process is even faster today.
Time and human nature have other ways to change the game too. The populations in rich countries tend to decline at faster rates through education and birth-control while poorer countries multiply faster.
Today, Japan, Russia and much of Europe have fast-declining populations, leaving a growing ratio of elders (with big entitlements) to be supported by the shrinking younger generation. In America, immigration keeps the population on an upward trend, with demographics shifting fairly quickly to the less-wealthy, hence faster-growing minority segments.
So, how will our present societies survive progress?
Pursuit of HappinessThe American Declaration of Independence proclaims that "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" are unalienable rights.
Happiness is a mental or emotional state of well-being characterized by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. Many biological, psychological, religious, and philosophical approaches try to define happiness and identify its sources. Research groups analyze questions about what "happiness" is and how it might be attained.
Happiness is a fuzzy concept and can mean many different things to many people. Philosophers and religious thinkers often define happiness in terms of living a good life, rather than simply as an emotion. Happiness economics suggests that measures of public happiness should be used to supplement more traditional economic measures.
Clearly, happiness is not something that's related to wealth. Indeed we all have met unhappy rich people. Many people have remarked about how they have seen happy poor people. I have, many times.
An an engineer, I like this formula:
Here's a control concept: We all have a happiness set point, partly encoded in our genes. If something good happens, our sense of happiness rises; if something bad happens, it falls. But either way, our mood creeps back to the set point because of a powerful phenomenon referred to as "hedonic adaptation" - getting used to it.
Happiness involves four things: The first one is mostly a matter of luck. You must be sufficiently free of suffering - physical and mental - for happiness to be even possible. Suffering can be noble and edifying, but it can also reduce us to a state where there's nothing that can make it meaningful. There's a level of sustained misery that wipes out happiness.
It's true that money can't buy happiness, but it can buy many necessary conditions of happiness: food, shelter, medicine, security. Our modern age has achieved a level of material resources that should allow almost everyone to meet these conditions.
Gross National Happiness (GNH) is a term coined by the country of Bhutan in the 1970s. The concept implies that sustainable development should take a holistic approach and give equal importance to non-economic aspects of wellbeing.
America, home to the smiley face and the "Happy Meal" faces the paradox that money cannot buy happiness: US wealth per capita has soared in recent decades, but Gallup and other surveys suggest that Americans are not any happier; the US is No. 11 on a list of the world's happiest countries.
Several US cities and states are looking into citizen well-being and happiness initiatives. A federally funded panel is studying whether there's a better way to tally prosperity, and which measures of happiness (and misery) should be tracked.
Hey, are YOU happy?
Charity - where does it begin? And end?What exactly is Charity? Is it an obligation, or does it stem from guilt? How much should we give and to who? And, who dictates the parameters: Religion? Society? Family? Relatives? Country club? Should we heed the pleas, or simply keep up with the Joneses?
Before you donate to any specific Charity organization you should know exactly how much of your donation is actually distributed to the needy after the CEO and owners have taken their cut, the employee salaries have been paid, and the expenses for advertising and sales brochures have been deducted. Ask your favorite charity for that percentage. You'll be surprised.
The Center for Investigative Reporting recently partnered with Tampa Bay Times to conduct a year-long investigation, using state and federal records to identify America's worst charities. They have published a list the 50 worst charities (web link below). Some give only 4% of donations to direct aid; some give even less.
Many of the 50 worst charities lied to donors about where their money goes. The organizers took multiple salaries, secretly paid themselves consulting fees or arranged fund-raising contracts with friends. To disguise the paltry amounts that reach those in need, accounting tricks were used to inflate the value of disbursements.
Most charities take care to remind you that your gift is tax deductible. So, does that encourage you to give more, or does it discount the value of your giving?
Lots of charitable dollars - especially from the wealthy, who have the most to donate - are going to operas, art museums, symphonies, and theaters where they spend much of their leisure time. These aren't really charitable contributions; they're more like investments in the lifestyles the wealthy already enjoy. They're also investments in prestige - especially if they result in the family name engraved on the new wing of the art museum or symphony hall. Anyone who has their name advertised as a benefactor already receives the benefit of recognition. Let's not call it charity and make it tax deductible in the bargain.
Charity is something that comes from within. I have come to the conclusion that charity is only charity when you give goods, services or money without personal gain, benefit or recognition of any kind. True charity is anonymous. It begins and ends within your self.
eFeedbackGary Mintchell, [gary@TheManufacturingConnection.com] has a few thoughts on the decline of Corporate IT:
"The Cloud will change that. It enables information anywhere in ways not possible before. Mobile devices along with analytics, business intelligence and visualization improvements are enabling faster, better decision making at the appropriate level of the organization.
"IT organizations still must lead and enable the proliferation of new technologies. Their crucial roles are probably in the realm of cyber security.
"Martin Ford foresaw in his book, 'Lights in the Tunnel,' that automation will cause the elimination of many IT jobs. The shift to the cloud moves some of these jobs from client companies to service provider companies. But other jobs will also be eliminated in the shift.
"Interesting about Manufacturing IT. They brought in MES-level applications, and then upper management figured they had done their job and laid them all off. Just like advanced process control, these systems don't run themselves in perpetuity. Many are now realizing that a certain staffing level is required to fully exploit the benefits of the technology.
"Departments come and go, but essential functions survive."
"Solving the problem is not helped by inflammatory statements from the Left or Right. It's solved by listening to the other side, getting the facts, and building a consensus based on mutual respect.
"Let's start by turning off Fox News and MSNBC and talking to each other".
"At that point, we return to a government 'of the people, by the people and for the people' accompanied by honest and civilized discourse that will move our country forward again."
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