Canaries in the Coal Mine…with iPhones

Oculus VR headsetIn the NYT this morning, Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook said, “About 40 percent of the time that people spend online is on gaming.  And 40 percent is spent on social communication.”

Let’s see now, 40% plus 40% equals (gimme a sec. I was a philo major).  Okay…80%.   80% of our time is spent doing what is essentially crap???  The question is: How can we boost those numbers?   Well, Mr. Zuckerberg and Brendan Iribe (co-founder of Oculus VR) actually have an answer for you.   Take a look at the image above.  Yes, like peanut butter on my chocolate, ole Mark and Brendan have come up with a video gaming/social device guaranteed to bump that “away-from-parents time” from 80% to…God only knows…95%.  Is that a decent extrapolation?

Let me digress for one second and ask for a favor:  Gaze again at the photo above, the kid with earphones on and a grey plastic box pasted to his forehead (It’s the newest Oculus Rift gaming headset) and imagine him on South Street, Philly, Harlem, New York, anywhere in Chicago or almost anywhere else on the planet and tell me how long this poor guy will last with his wallet intact, headphones intact and the Oculus pasted on his head?…not to mention his life expectancy.  The world is a cruel place and doesn’t suffer those who are wandering around in some other cool universe while the deadly and serious one is right in front of them.

information explosionINFORMATION EXPLOSION:  In 1900, information was increasing at the rate of 150 years to double its volume.

 In 1992 that number was down to 5 years…again, to completely double all the information on the planet.

 Within the next four years, care to guess how long it will take to completely DOUBLE all the information on this planet?  70 DAYS!  The trouble is, you and I and every other poor slob on this planet have two ways we can process information, either by moving our eyes across a screen or page, or listening.  Neither one of those ways is efficient.  No matter how bright you are or how much you try to keep up, you are quietly drowning in a glittery ocean of new stuff to process.  It’s like being stoned, then wandering into a candy store…where everything is free.  We are gorging ourselves, pigging-out on information…and yet our retention of that information stinks.

To paraphrase a line from an old Crosby Stills and Nash song,  “It’s getting to the point where…it’s…no fun anymore.”  The “it’s” being the overwhelming amount of new information available every minute of every day 24-7.  This is stuff that didn’t even exist yesterday.  It shows up in my universe at 4:30 am when I wake up and cherry-pick through the New York Times, then zing over to Flipboard, which has about 50 sub-apps, Zeit,( about the same) CNN, BBC, and You Tube which has literally millions of videos available depending on what interests you.  And…you also have your local paper and that pile of magazines on your coffee table.

The real trouble is:  each one of these hundreds of apps spawns hundreds of other apps, and when you enter these sub-apps there are links to still more apps, each with varying degrees of fascinating, funny, horrific, inspirational topics, designed to make you sit up in bed, nudge your spouse and say, “Hey– didya know that they just created a new non-carbon based life form?”  Or, a couple of days ago, “Hey–  They finally found the precise beginning of the universe, 13.8 billion years ago!  They saw it in the spiraling fabric of space-time!”   These are HUGE breakthroughs spread out over thousands of apps.  Several decades ago, this would have been reason to halt a prime-time TV show just so everyone would know.  Now….it appears in an app within another app within Zeit or Flipboard or…whatever.  It’s daunting, and sometimes a bit depressing realizing you can’t physically get to the end of it all.  By the time you wake up, you’re already behind.

kids on cell phonesIs there, by any chance, some drawback to all this?   Oh, baby…  You’d better believe it.  Some are obvious:  Driving while texting or bluetoothing or cell-phoning.  I guess texting is the most odious (insane) but both hands-free and cell phone calling have been studied and found to be lethally dangerous.  And everyone I know agrees, though it’s generally understood that present company has some special powers of concentration that allow them to safely continue.  Several years ago Pamela and I were broadsided by a gal in a Beemer.  She was on her cell phone.  When I wriggled my way out of our wrecked car and ran over to see if she was all right… guess what:  She was still on her cell phone.  She did hit the electric window button, however, to see what it was I wanted.  Yes, this is a real problem, except, of course, for you and me with our special powers of concentration and hyper-intelligence.

Googling as Weaponry or One-Upsmanship.  No one needs to appear ignorant ever again, not if you have an iPhone or iPad handy. (Notice I said ignorant, not stupid.  There’s a difference.) One can appear to be up on absolutely everything if you can distract the other party for 15 seconds while you Google the answer.  Get up and blow your nose, get a drink of water, gaze out a window in another room for 15 or 20 seconds and come back with das answer.  With Google you can know the answer to anything in the time it takes to type the letters.  Does that make you smart?

ipads in bedroomSleep Disorders and Feelings of Inadequacy:  On a personal level, Pamela and I had found that our sleep schedules were getting weirder and weirder.  We’d go to bed around 10 pm, then zip around on our iPads for half an hour to an hour and then try to doze off.  We had read that there was something in the quality of the light emanating from the screens that might be disrupting our sleep.  Well…maybe, but there sure-as-hell is something emanating from the screen and soaking into our brains that makes it really hard to cool down.  All that stuff, and it seems as if the entire world is pissed with itself.  In The X-Files, the motto was Trust No one.  We are officially there.

Information Addiction:  When I wake up in the morning, the goal, after letting the dogs out to pee and getting some coffee, is to dive into the iPad and find the best of the best of the best articles, those articles that are of momentous importance, funny-as-hell, and life-changing…as well as keep up with the basics…have we started another war with some country or does Justin Bieber have a pimple on his nose?

The trouble is, and I’m admitting it here before God and well…you, that I’m not really looking for information, I’m looking for the most wondrous information.  It’s out there all right, but to find it I have to skim over one helluva lot of pretty important stuff.  The ratio of skimming to deep reading has, unfortunately, gotten pretty steep lately.  It’s just that I really don’t want to miss out on that huge important article that I’m certain is one swipe away on my iPad.  I mean, yesterday I saw little silver globs of what look like mercury or maybe ball bearings and I understand…they may be life forms that we created!  Gotta get another article that big this morning and I know it’s out there.

Oculus VR headset

Huh?  Didn’t I just see this image?  

Well, yes you did…and for the very first time I’m breaking my single-shot-per-article rule.  The reason?   If someone tried to seriously grope your wife or girlfriend you’d probably deck him. Right?  But then…after walking away, you just might come back and deck him again, just on general principles.  In my un-humble opinion what you’re looking at above is such a bad idea on so many planes that I had to return…if only for this kid’s sake.  Look closely.  This young man can’t really hear.  He can’t see anything at all in the real world; he can’t communicate with his buddies, family or girlfriend and he’s chosen to live for what may be a major hunk of time in a world that doesn’t exist.  It gets worse:

If you’re reading a book or even watching a movie, you can squeeze your sweetie, observe if the curtains  have just caught fire, or a fireplace log has rolled out onto the floor.  You can probably tell if someone (friend or foe) is at the door or calling you on your cellphone.  Picture your kid…let’s say your teenage daughter, in the above scenario.  At the very best and safest, it’s a little sad.  At the worst, it could be lethal or life-changing.   Seriously, what do you think the odds are that this device will come out and no one will ever get hurt, abused, mugged, or killed while they are utterly clueless to what is going on?

Has anyone ever gotten hurt because of a second’s inattention, texting or phoning in their car?  Thousands…possibly hundreds of thousands by now.   Sorry if it isn’t a cool stance to take, but we all want our kids to be happy, healthy, and most of all, safe.  Does the kid in the above picture look safe to you?  Or does it look like that horrible penultimate movie frame before the shit hits the fan?

Behind the Curtains:  I grew up in an intensely competitive household.  My father was a freelance writer and Mom was a world-class pianist as well as voracious reader.  Dad had a little game he liked to play, just to keep everyone subjugated.  Remember King Lear? Dad would come in from writing and drop a sucker-punch on us like: Oh, by the way, I’m sure you’ve read The Dancing Wu Li Masters…haven’t you? You haven’t??? Hmmmm…

I think I was flying jets in the Air Force at the time and was busy with other things.  “No, I haven’t read The Dancing Wu Li Masters,” I admitted, and then it would play-out.  I’d get a look of mild disappointment, as if I hadn’t learned my times tables, and then…he would go on to explain highlights of the book he had just finished.  Never once did he ask me if I was actually interested in hearing about the Wu Li Masters.  I wasn’t.  In fact, I’m still not interested, though to be honest, I never did work up any sort of defense against this constant brinkmanship,  Unfortunately it still goes on today, not with my dad…but with others.  I guess I look like someone who needs an emergency extra education. Including the thousands of e-books coming out every hour, there are probably several billion books…that I have somehow missed out on.  Blogs, Facebook entries and e-stories?  Probably several quadrillion.  It’s just hard keeping up and doesn’t look like it’s going to get much easier.


9 Responses to "Canaries in the Coal Mine…with iPhones"

  1. Mike Harvey says:

    I read, and really enjoyed, your “Canaries in the Coal Mine” editorial. It’s right on… and frankly, I’ve consciously scaled down and weeded out info sources — particularly political bullshit. The internet is insidious in picking up email addresses and sending unsolicited junk by the boatload.

    I agree that the country is literally swamped with stuff… and since neither the media, nor the political groups, nor any other groups do screening or fact-checking, the airways are filled with misinformation and downright lies. It still astounds me that the world doesn’t “see through” Fox News for the pile of crap that it really is.
    Mike H.

  2. Karen Dennis says:

    Dear Henry,
    I’m trying to wrap my mind around that fact that you failed to read The Dancing Wu Li Masters. For shame…
    Karen D.

  3. Mr. Harvey:
    You have presented a reasoned exposition of the problem. Do you, by any chance, have some suggestions as to what to do to solve it?
    Marc M.

  4. Henry Harvey says:

    Hi Marc,
    The short answer? Nothing that’s likely to work. Don’t know your age, but way back in 1957 there was a ground-breaking Sci Fi movie called, Forbidden Planet. An excellent movie even by today’s standards, but the point of the movie was fairly cerebral. In the movie, the vast Krell Empire, one million years ahead of Earth in technology, had perished in a single night, partially because of their technology and partially because of the Id, an old Freudian Term, meaning the beast or monster that coexists with the humanity inside our minds. The Krell were destroyed in a single night. Without a serious turn-around it’ll only take us a decade or two longer.

  5. Shari Lesvesque says:

    So…four of us went out to a Moroccan restaurant, great food, atmosphere, and belly dancers for my husband’s 40th birthday. At the next table was another birthday party, for a girl turning 17. She had fifteen girlfriends along, that her folks footed the bill at $50 a head. We loved the food and the entertainment. When we looked over at the adjacent table, all fifteen girls were on their cell phones texting and sending selfies at the same time. Not one girl was even mildy aware of
    1. how rude they were
    2. how the food tasted
    3. how much money the birthday girl’s parents forked over so she could have a groovy party.

    This went on for almost three hours. At some point, the parents should have asked that all cell phones be left in the car…..or each girl should have been asked to pay for her own dinner. These girls just didn’t have a clue. Whose responsibility is it to educate our youth on basic manners? This will certainly come back and bite them on their collective fannies when they have to fit into the workplace.

    Shari L.

  6. M. Gockel says:

    Loved your article and do agree…..but you may have missed something — The he could be a she — check out the fingernails ….not that that is conclusive evidence of gender. Gamers are more often male ….but in this case, I would not be so quick to make that assumption.
    Mary G.

  7. Joee H. says:


    I am delighted to read your personal analysis of this “overload of information thing.” I thought I was really slipping. because I just couldn’t keep up. Some days I watched all of the news channels, checked several home pages on my laptop, read regular newspapers & don’t forget the bi-weekly ones in my area. And then there are days I won’t look at the news and will not discuss any current topics (unless it is really really important) ! I just plain drop out. I hadn’t found a happy median. It’s either too much or too little. The frustration of trying to “be smart” and aware of our world around us is frustrating. I finally found the perfect solution for me. Take a walk (winter or summer) look at the lake, watch the birds, checkout any area of nature and realize that assimilating all of that information may not be that important after all. Maybe it’s an age thing. I am finally at the stage of my life when I can afford to take that walk when I need or choose to. Technology is the culprit – not me, relax.

    Joee H.

    • Henry Harvey says:

      Hi Joee,

      Your comments are going up verbatim, didn’t need any editing or redacting. 100% agreement with the walks outside, plus we have three crazy Boston Terriers who are in reality clowns in dog suits.
      If things get boring, we devise a new game. Strangely they LOVE getting whacked with a feather pillow. One whack and the fight is enjoined…three-on-one, though I outweigh them. …Good thing I don’t mind dog saliva. And bantering with good friends is good, too…though a different sort of game.
      Thanks Joee!

  8. Ann Whalen says:

    Although I don’t agree with all of your articles, I can always appreciate your point of view. With this, kid with the thing pasted on his face, however…he wouldn’t last ten minutes in our city. Somewhere along the line there has to be some common sense.
    Ann W.

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