the contextual life

thoughts without borders


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  • cognition (n.): 1. the mental process of knowing, including aspects such as awareness, perception, reasoning, and judgment.  2. that which comes to be known, as through perception, reasoning, or intuition; knowledge.
  • cognitivism [psychology] (n.): 1. basic – a theoretical approach to understanding the mind, which argues that mental function can be understood by quantitative, positivist, and scientific methods, and that such functions can be described as information processing models. 2. little harder – the view that cognition consists in the operations of mental items which are symbols for the real entities. it is usually assumed that these mental symbols are identifiable with neural states. these states, and the neural processes, can be understood by analogy with computers.

best known for his work in economics, tyler cowen of came out with a book in 2009 about technology, which in paperback is called the age of the infovore: succeeding in the information economy.

tyler’s main argument is that autism will show us where our world is headed, and how we can get the most out of it.

Whatever  the tragedies of autism may be, we can learn a great deal from autistics and from their cognitive strengths.

before we get into the cognitive strengths of autistics—a group of people often seen as socially and mentally deficient—let’s look at why we might require some life lessons.  we’ve heard it all before: our society, in the grip of rapid technological change, is simultaneously in the midst of a cultural and intellectual death-spiral. Our gadgets are giving us all ADD by way of rewiring our neurons—or, more colloquially: we’re unknowingly destroying our brains and bringing our species down with it. personally, i’m optimistic about technological advancement; with that bias in mind,  tyler’s book is a welcome read. yes, he thinks our culture is changing, and yes, he’s say it’s happening quickly, as he makes clear in economic terms right here:

Fundamentally the relationship between human minds and human cultures is changing. Today culture is not just about buying and selling straightforward commodities such as books or compact discs. Each day more fun, more enjoyment, more social connection, and indeed more contemplation is produced on Facebook, blogs, You-Tube, iPods, eBay, Flickr, Wikipedia, and—among other services—than had been imagined twenty or even ten years ago.. . .More and more, “production”. . .has become interior to the human mind rather than set on a factory floor.

but he’s not worried; how can you be when your species, in the course of a generation, moved a factory inside its head? but the reason why tyler’s bullish is because he believes humans can harness, organize, and categorize their gadgetry and excel with technology by their sides. for example, self-education increases as information becomes more readily available. think back 20 years when you needed an encyclopedia to look up statistics of  far-flung countries, and even then the information was bound to be outdated. now we have the CIA world factbook along with each country’s official homepage; we have iTunes university, hard-to-find books ready for purchase at the click of a button, and an endless stream of educational videos available on various sites, all found by entering a keyword into a search box. but what do we do with this information? how do keep from being overwhelmed? and probably most importantly, how do we not waste our time?

this last question brings to mind something that clay shirky, a thinker on social and economic effects of internet technologies, said: it’s not information overload. it’s filter failure. what we need to learn is how to filter.

it’s safe to say that cowen agrees.  regarding organization in our time of technological progress, he says:

There is quite literally a new plane for organizing human thoughts and feelings and we are jumping on these opportunities at an unprecedented pace.

and this is where he loops in autism’s cognitive strengths. he goes on to name two:

First, many autistics are very good at perceiving, processing, and ordering information, especially in specialized or preferred areas of interest. . .Second, autistics have a bias toward “local” processing” or “local perception.” For instance an autistic person may be more likely to notice a particular sound of a particular piece of a pattern, or an autistic may have an especially good knowledge of detail or fact. . .

my takeaway from the first part of the age of the infovore, which i must admit is really just a reinforcement of my own leanings, is that our technology can either distract and overwhelm us: stealing our time and productivity, or, it can move us along on the path of progress: becoming a powerful extension of our bodies and minds. there will be people on opposite ends of the spectrum with the majority spanning the places in between—also something common in autism. but unlike autistics, we have a fair amount of control where we end up.

[inspiration] :: the age of the infovore by tyler cowen // christopher dye :: are humans still evolving? (opens with sound) // radio open source: kevin kelly on ‘the technium’ // nicholas carr :: is google making us stupid? // william powers, author of hamlet’s blackberry, on taking control of our technology //

[tools] :: lifehacker // mashable //

[soundtrack] :: daft punk / technologic


Written by Gabrielle

November 4, 2010 at 5:19 am

Posted in books

Tagged with , ,

2 Responses

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  1. Have you ever considered about adding a little bit more than just your articles?
    I mean, what you say is valuable and everything. However imagine if you added some great graphics or videos to give your posts more, “pop”!
    Your content is excellent but with pics and clips, this
    blog could certainly be one of the best in its field.
    Fantastic blog!


    January 29, 2013 at 5:42 pm

  2. Thanks a lot for posting “technologic the contextual life”.
    I reallymay really end up being back for alot more reading and commenting shortly.
    Thanks a lot, Shawn

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