WHEN DEAD PAPER IS BETTER THAN LIVE SCREENS

David Sax wrote a book called Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter. He addresses the occasional human tendency to become fed up with the inherent challenges of living in a digital world that prods us away from analog. It is a subject that I think we must always be assessing because it constantly affects everyone.

Steve Wieberg in his review of the book does an excellent job summarizing Sax’s fundamental concern (“Analog Strikes Back: In a Digital World, We Cling to Vinyl and Paper, Author Says” The Kansas City Star, 12/18/16, pp. 1D, 8D.):

People, he says, are craving real, tangible things and experiences and not always something stored in a cloud. Many prefer turning the pages of a book to reading on a backlit screen, or shopping in stores over purchases with a click. They want to hold objects in their hands. They want human interaction. Sometimes, they just need an escape from screens and keyboards.”  (p. 8D)

I agree with Sax’s fundamental concern. Simultaneously I love what I can do with technology and I love what technology can do for me. I would not want to be without it. The key to this dichotomy is balance.

It is only when we simultaneously maintain our appreciation of analog and our appreciation of technology that we are then prepared to filter selectively in the moment. How that works for you might be very different from how that works for me.

In a world that increasingly is technology, we need to keep surfing the wave, but we also need to remember how to get back to the beach.

THE TIMING TEST FOR BRANDS

If we reflect over decades, we can always identify certain brand names that are indelibly imprinted into our memory. Even as a child, I can remember certain brands that simply captured my imagination and admiration. Many of those brands hold that same position on my metaphorical mantle today. Why does this happen? It boils down to positive experiences, ideas, images, and associations with that brand.

Tim Ferriss is the author of Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers. Ferris has come up with certain sacred rules of branding, all of which are worth your reading. Below are a couple snippets that stood out to me as clearly universally true to my experiences and very likely your experiences too:

  • If everyone is your market, no one is your market. . . . In a social-sharing-driven world, cultivate the intense few instead of the lukewarm many.
  • Branding is a side effect of consistent association. . . . Put good business first, and good “brand” will follow.

As I reflect upon the best brands that have stuck with me throughout my life, I do believe that it has been that “consistent association” that did the trick. Consistency implicitly sticks.

PREDICTING THE PREDICTORS

We use predictive mathematical models constantly for all kinds of systems, behaviors, processes, and devices. We use them to try to predict future events. In some of these situations the models work well. In other situations, the models are lacking. And in some models, we simply haven’t had enough of the future yet to validate them.

That might be the case with something called the Social Cost of Carbon (SCC). From the Environmental Protection Agency’s Web site :

[the social cost of carbon] is meant to be a comprehensive estimate of climate change damages and includes changes in net agricultural productivity, human health, property damages from increased flood risk, and changes in energy system costs, such as reduced costs for heating and increased costs for air conditioning. However, given current modeling and data limitations, it does not include all important damages.

Although the SCC many believe arises from noble concerns for our future on the planet, perhaps the model behind it is a bit of a stretch. David Kreutzer, a senior research fellow in energy and climate change expresses some skepticism at a recent energy summit (Matthew Phillips, Mark Drajem, and Jennifer A. Dlouhy. “How Climate Rules Might Fade Away” Bloomberg Businessweek. 12/19/16–12/25/16, pp. 6–7):

Believe it or not, these models look out to the year 2300. That’s like effectively asking, ‘If you turn your light switch on today, how much damage will that do in 2300?’ That’s way beyond when any macroeconomic model can be trusted.” (p. 7)

Predictive models can be great tools, but every tool is useless beyond its limits.

THINKING WEARS OUT YOUR BRAIN

I was perusing the table of contents in my February issue of Scientific American when something rather frightening caught my eye. It was a blurb about an article related to the dangers of space travel. In framing the blurb however, it tangentially reveals a little known unsettling truth about our brains. As a public service, I now share it with you. Within the blurb, we find this clear statement:

Cosmic radiation could be more damaging to astronauts’ brains than thought.

So not only do we have the somewhat unsurprising observation that cosmic radiation might be damaging to our brains, but we are also reinforced on that little known truth that thinking itself is damaging to our brains! When I think about (ouch!) the billions of thoughts (ouch!) that have transpired within my tiny little pea brain, I am horrified at how much damage I may have already done. Because I have so many things to keep on my mind and so little mind to keep them on, this is a very disturbing truth.

I don’t know about you, but as for me, I am going to stop thinking immediately. I don’t want my precious pea brain to sustain any more damage than it has already. Besides, we’ve still got that cosmic radiation thing to worry about too!

WHEN WORDS CAN KILL

The National Traffic Safety Administration closed its investigation into the 2016 fatal crash of a Tesla Model S. In that crash, 40-year-old Joshua D. Brown was killed when the car’s cameras did not distinguish the white side of a turning tractor-trailer from the surrounding sunlit sky. Although the NTSA found no evidence of any safety defect, its ensuing commentary was quite interesting.

The agency’s criticism revolves around Tesla’s use of the term “Autopilot.” Words have meaning. Psychologically and experientially, I would guess that almost everyone thinks of the traditional experiences associated with that word. We mentally see the commercial pilot resting easy in the cockpit as he occasionally glances at the gauges and empty sky. The NTSA followed similar thinking.

Self-driving cars navigate within their environment via a constellation of digital cameras, lasers, and radar sensors. They normally do this extremely well. In principle, I think that is a wonderful and marvelous technological benefit. However, what we choose to call that technological system is important. Most people hear “autopilot” and instantly think “I can relax.”

Perhaps it is time to create a different term for these developing driver enhancements. Perhaps we need to think a lot more like public relations people than overly optimistic techno-geeks. Let’s not call it autopilot until it genuinely is.