Tag Archives: technology addiction

The Site I don’t Promote

This article makes me a hypocrite. I’m telling you about a site of mine — promoting it, basically — and at the same time telling you that it’s a site I don’t talk about.

Hopefully this will make sense to you by the end of my story.

I have a lot of sites and apps. I think somewhere around 30 or so. Most I am very happy to pump, like my funny picture site, my site for talking about paychecks, or my site for my e-book series on practically applying Agile in your team. But this site is a special case.

A couple of years ago, I wrote about what many are now calling “technology addiction” The problem is that many web sites are using psychological, social, and gaming tricks to pull readers into more engagement than they would naturally give. Facebook is a great example — it uses your own friends to suck you into the site. But there are others. Instead of a place for textual information that links to other textual information, the web is becoming a few addictive sites doing anything they can to get you to stay and/or click on ads. That’s not where we wanted to go, and it occurred to me my problem can be restated like this:

There is a finite amount of text I want to consume from the web each day. Perhaps I scan 30-40 editorials. Instead of chasing down these editorials on various aggregation sites, then clicking through and using something like readability to remove the graphics, it’s in my best interests to have a computer assemble all of these in one place in plain text format. No ads, no graphics, no commenting, no nothing. Just the text, please. That way I can consume much faster. Over time, perhaps I can train the system to order this list. Also it would be nice if it all was client-side so I could continue to consume without an internet connection, say on an airplane. Using AI to reduce the article size to a paragraph or two would also be nice

And so newspaper23 was born.

Newspaper23 isn’t much to look at. It’s really kind of a dull app with all that plain text and all. That’s kind of the point. But I’ve been using it daily for over a year now, and each time I upgrade I make a little tweak to it. Right now it only provides opinions: sports, religion, politics, world, science and miscellaneous. And it doesn’t count voting (although the only graphic I allowed myself was a neat voting animation) or reduce the article size. But I could expand. Add voting. Do some Bayesian ranking. But I remain conflicted about the app.

Why? It should be pretty obvious to most startup readers. Alarm bells should be going off. Web content providers do not want to provide me with content like that. They do not want me using first-click, or readability, or any other kind of tool to get just the text of the article. They want to build a walled garden and have me come and play in it. Perhaps stay there and poke around. Play a game or two. Exactly the opposite goal that I have. I don’t blame them. After all, creating these sites requires a lot of work. And I have no desire to hurt anybody or upset the apple cart. To me, the only thing I’ve done is automate a bunch of clicking I was already doing.

Yet the problem remains: this is a useful app which many people will not like.

I remain very conflicted. On one hand this is not something I want to promote to a mass audience. On the other hand this is something that I have found very useful and I am sure many more people would as well. But they’ll never get the benefit unless I say something about it. It’s an app many will like and many will be uncomfortable with — and these could be the same people!

My current solution is to make this into a club for people who, like me, have attention-span problems on the net. I’m not sure if this is satisfactory. But it’s the only thing that makes sense right now.

I hate both to talk about this site and to not talk about this site. Hence it’s the site I don’t promote.

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Towards Ethical Hacking

Over the past few years, Paul Graham, Eliezer Yudkowsky, a few other writers and myself have pushed the idea that while technology is a great and wondrous thing, it also has some severe side-effects that we are not considering. Many millions of people spend their time everyday with technology and later on regret it. Yes they were doing things they found pleasing at the time, but looking back it’s not something they would have chosen to spend so much time on.

If you think about it, the video game in some ways has become the 2-martini lunch of the 2010s. It used to be, 70 or 80 years ago, that drinking during lunch wasn’t as unacceptable as it is today. Watch a few old movies, and somebody has a liquor bottle around somewhere in an office. Of course, that still happens today, and there’s nothing wrong with it — but nowadays we realize that drinking during work might not be the greatest thing in the world to do. Afterwards, perhaps, but not in the middle of the day.

Back then, however, folks felt like they “deserved it”.

I got an email from a video game player who told me basically “so what if I spend 6 hours every evening playing video games? I work hard all day. I deserve it.”

As the French say, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose — the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Instead of getting into particular people or situations, is there a way to come up with some general system of ethics for hackers? Is there some rulebook we can use to determine whether or not we’re actually providing real value in the world with what we do?

As it turns out, although no system of morality has dealt with this question directly — after all, we’re the first bunch of schmucks to make it this far — there were some really smart guys in history that may help us out here.

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Digital Drugs: Meet the Users

“It’s too much. It’s hard to just stop using the net or something. Like right now I’m filling out this form when I should be concentrating on a different task.”

“I am so used to brevity now as a product of twitter, article summaries, etc that it is a huge chore to sit down and read something longer – a long blog post, or a book. I find myself wishing all information were condensed into a paragraph or two at most. I don’t like this trend in myself and wish my ability to concentrate/focus on longer written material would return.”

“I would like to be more in control.”

“I would like it if other people, such as yourselves, would stop demonizing this perfectly normal behavior in a reactionary fashion.”

And so we begin our journey into the mind of the average techie internet user.

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Talking Digital Drugs Part 1

I sat down with a bunch of my friends yesterday and had a detailed conversation about digital drugs. I was wondering — am I the only person who views this as a problem? Instead of chatting, I decided to use an online survey tool so that I could slice and dice the data. And here’s what I found:

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If you've read this far and you're interested in Agile, you should take my No-frills Agile Tune-up Email Course, and follow me on Twitter.