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As Writing and the Gutenberg Press Changed the World, Are Apps Creating an App Generation? Howard Gardner & Katie Davis

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Headlined to H2 11/25/13

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H.G.:   Well, let me take initial stab at this and then Katie, you can be thinking of the best answer to this congeries of questions. First of all, I appreciate the fact that you listened both to the talk I gave in London a couple weeks ago, and also read the book.

There's a certain tension between those two platforms and then bringing in this, we would call it immortality research beginning with rats but ending with us, because those are really the  biggest questions that we both started with when we said how is the digital world changing us, and then at the end of the book where we talk about whether this is really going to be a significant new chapter in human nature, in human relations?  And speaking for myself, I don't think I would have spent the time on this unless I really thought that it might be and the big difference between the invention of writing and the invention of printing is it took centuries to work those things out, but we live in the time of Moore's Law where everything happens very very quickly and so what used to happen over decades or even centuries is now happening in a very short period of time.  

On the specific points that you've made, there's a tension between what we now call the End of Big, namely that so much stuff is being done in a much more local, what you're calling Bottom Up kind of way, but at the same time, the tremendous power of a few mega-corporations. And you may know that, but the readers may have not heard about this yet, David Eggers new book called The Circle, in which he basically brings this to the ultimate conclusion where there is one huge company called The Circle which basically controls every aspect of life, and people like it! It's kind of like the super-app has been installed and people like it.  

That's very different ending from 1984 which was definitely put forth as a distopian book, I think the difference here is that The Circle is much more member-friendly, if you will, and people are induced to think that they really want everything done by apps, and that any kind of secrecy or privacy is just a bad kind of thing.  

I actually think it's good to have novels like this, if The Circle is a novel which paints this picture, but my own thought is that we're not nearly there yet and these efforts to record everything or to be immortal are, we might say they're fountain of youth or kind of golden fountain kinds of dreams.  Not one that I can see in a world where we have nuclear weapons and climate change and nine billion people.  That seems to me to be unrealistic and yet I think it's good to have those warning signs.  But Katie, can you take it from there?

K.D.: Sure.  I would add that we're not there yet but it's important to think about where we're headed and we open up our final chapter with a quote form Alfred North Whitehead, the philosopher who observes that civilization advances by extending the number of operations we can perform without thinking about them and Howard was the one who found this quote and related it to our book and at first that sounds like a good thing, the more we can outsource and automate our tasks the better, right?  

That makes life a lot easier.  But if you take that to it's logical conclusion, all of the sudden we've given up a whole lot of our agency and I think there's a danger if we are outsourcing all of our decisions, all of our actions, and experiences to apps, and having them dictate our course of life for us, then we're giving up a lot of agency.  Of course we're not there yet but we see evidence of moving in that direction.

H.G.: Katie, maybe you -

R.K.: Just now you used the word "agency", can you describe what that means?  Because I think it's a really important concept in terms of this book.

K.D.: Sure.  I have been thinking a lot about this lately because, like many people I rely when I'm looking for a restaurant either in my neighborhood or when I'm visiting a new place, I rely on Yelp to give me suggestions, and if I'm trying to find my way I use Google maps, and it's hard to say that that is not a good thing.  It makes my decision-making process a lot easier and I don't really have to think about where I'm going ahead of time, I just sort of allow Google to take me there in the moment.  So it sounds good, but what am I giving up?  

Am I losing part of my decision-making capacity and my agency to chart my own path because of course Yelp is not going to give me all of the restaurants in my area so it's sort of framing my experience in a very specific way, and if I'm not thinking about that, then all of the sudden if I add apps like that, one on top of the other,  my whole experience of my life is being framed in a particular way that I haven't really chosen myself. 

H.G.: Katie, do you want to say something about App Dependence and App Enablement because I think that it may - 

K.D.: Sure!

H.G.:  - convey the difference between Yelp as a friend and Yelp as a dictator. *Chuckles*

K.D.: Yes, yes and a major tension that we've identified in our book, is this distinction that we have identified as one between App Enabling and App Dependence and if we can use technology, and apps in particular, as springboards or entry points into our experiences, and then know when to put them away and chart our own path, that is an example of using apps and more broadly the technology of today in an enabling way, just to get us going.  

But if we become dependent and reliant on apps to make our decisions for us, if we look to them first before we look inside ourselves in terms of showing us where we should be going, what sorts of experiences we should be having, who we should be interacting with, then we say that's using apps and technology in an app dependent way.  So there's that distinction where one is more agential, and the other one you're giving up your agency.  

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Rob Kall is editor-in-chief, publisher and site architect of OpEdNews.com, President of Futurehealth, Inc, and an inventor. He hosts the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show, aired in the Metro Philly area on AM 1360, WNJC. Over 200 podcasts are archived for downloading here, or can be accessed from iTunes. Rob is also published regularly on the Huffingtonpost.com

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 The over abundance of information, and in fa... by Carol Jackson on Monday, Nov 25, 2013 at 11:26:24 AM
Fascinating. I read Gardner's book when I was in c... by Susan Lee Schwartz on Monday, Nov 25, 2013 at 4:21:08 PM