Search term: cyborg

On being a cyborg: Self Control Technology …*

Willpower is an important thing to have…*

Willpower and self control are important skills. In Walter Mischel’s famous marshmallow experiment, he put hundred of 4-year olds in a room alone with a marshmallow, and promised them two marshmallows if they could just wait until he came back.


Children varied on their self-control, and when Mischel’s team followed up with the children through high school, he found that children who delayed gratification or exhibited greater willpower got along better with peers and had higher SAT scores. Those who eat their marshmallow immediately had behavioral problems and did poorly in school.

While the results of this study are controversial (perhaps a post for another week), their are definitive links between wellbeing and willpower. Moreover, it is a skill you can cultivate, and there are a variety of strategies one can use to increase self-control. In the marshmallow study, the most successful participants used ways to remove the temptation such as turning around, covering their eyes, or putting the marshmallow on the far corner of the table, out of reach.

Technology for Self-Control…*

Which brings me to this week’s installment of On being a cyborg. There exist a variety of great technological tools that can help us with self-control. Some of these directly concern our safety such as 1) GPS systems that refuse to let you enter an address when the car is moving, 2) in-car breathalyzers to curb drunk driving, or 3) Apps that utilize GPS and Airplane mode to prevent you from texting while driving (when your phone is moving at greater than 10mph).

Others simply prevent us from making decisions we might regret later. College students might use Don’t Dial! – an iphone app to temporarily block phone numbers from your contacts.  If you are one of those people who just can’t help but go back for seconds (and thirds, and fourths) of a batch of freshly baked cookies, a new technology tool Kitchen Safe can lock various items inside itself for a specified time. It can also be used to lock up phones during dinnertime or video game controllers when you should be getting your homework done.

Perhaps the most relevant apps are ones that can facilitate focus for studying or learning, boosting productivity. SelfControl is an app that blocks distracting websites for a set period of time. If you have a paper to write, block Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for the next 5 hours to prevent yourself from falling down a Facebook rabbit hole for an hour and a half. Other apps such as FocusWriter, Anti-Social, and StayFocused have similar functions – helping eliminate distractions so that you can work productively. For those of us who glue ourselves to a task for hours on end until we lose perspective on the big picture – Time Out allows you to set intervals where to break for 5-10 minutes to relax and take a step back from your work.

THE PROS AND CONs of “willpower tech”…*

While I love the idea of offloading some of the stress of maintaining willpower, I do worry that relying on technology for self-control can backfire if that technology is not readily available. Can the use of these help us to develop habits that will transfer to other contexts? For the example of placing phones in a Kitchen Safe during dinner, I could see the potential to get used to not having a phone at dinner and therefore developing a habit of not looking at one’s phone at the table. I have not yet seen studies on whether or not these types of technology help us to develop long-lasting habits, or if our willpower simply is gone when the tech is removed.

Additionally, to cultivate willpower, we should ensure that we are teaching children to use these apps themselves, rather than enforcing them. A 13 year old self-regulating her study time with the aid of an app is very different from a 13 year old who’s study time is regulated by her parents’ enforcement of an app.

Do you use any sorts of technology to aid you with self-control?


On being a cyborg: Augmented Reality in Education…*

augmented reality technology*

Augmented reality is a live view of the real world where elements are supplemented by computer-generated input.Augmented Reality allows educators and students view layers of digital information superimposed on the physical world, often through an Android or iOS device. Perhaps the most popular recent example of augmented reality technology is Google Glass – a  product that was withdrawn from the market just a few days ago. As can be seen in the video below, Google glass was intended to augment ones reality with a variety of data, including directions, phone numbers, and text messages.

educational potential*

However, there are still a ton of augmented reality applications and tools out there that have been demonstrated to be effective, both for daily life and for education. For example, Google sky map is a FREE educational astronomy app that uses the camera on your smartphone. When you hold it up to the sky, the app identifies stars and constellations.


Science seems like a particularly fruitful content area for AR functionality. Other apps such as Elements 4D and Anatomy 4D by Daqri help students to better understand chemistry and human biology.

Another app with huge educational potential is Aurasma – an open source tool to augment your surroundings in a variety of ways. For example, teachers can provide AR guidance attached to homework pages, or students can assign book review audio recordings to the covers of specific books. Some uses can be seen in the video below.


Rethinking education with AR …*

I like AR tools because the technology affords new ways to interact with the world, but still leaves space for the educator to design and determine how to use it. For example, a history teacher could use Aurasma to develop an interactive world map in the classroom, where students attach “auras” of articles and facts about different locations. A teacher could also use Aurasma on a timeline in similar ways. This allows visuals in a classroom to provide information at a variety of depth levels and mapping information in this way could help students to establish better organized mental models.

Additionally, many uses of AR are student-centered, enabling students as co-creators of knowledge and more active participants in their own learning processes, something I find vital to education (and have blogged about before here and here).

How would you use this technology in your classroom? Have you used AR before?

On being a cyborg: Fitness Trackers & Education…*

activity trackers…*

For my first installation of On Being a Cyborg, I want to talk about a piece of technology that I’ve been using for a year now. Activity trackers are a popular type of wearable technology that can measure steps taken or general movement throughout the day. See this recent NY Times article for a guide to some of the newest ones. Combined with user data, these trackers calculate distance walked, calories burned, floors climbed, and activity duration and intensity. They pair with apps or websites to deliver you lots of data about your daily activity.

I personally use the Fitbit Flex, a bracelet that calculates my steps each day, tells me how many calories I’ve burned, and even my sleep patterns. With the accompanying app, I’ve been able to log workouts, calorie inIMG_5296take, and water intake to assess my own health on a broad-scale basis. I’ve also used the sleep tracker to recognize that I generally get an hour less sleep than time I’ve been sleeping, due to “restlessness” that the tracker picks up.

Fitbit and similar technology use gamification techniques to encourage us to be more aware of our fitness levels and active throughout the day. These technologies allow us to set our own goals and develop self-efficacy around fitness by enabling us to reach them. Constant feedback on progress and rewards push users to move more. I’ve set my goal “steps” to 10,000 each day, and my band has 5 lights that light up as I reach incremental goals throughout the day. Just seeing that I have 4,000 steps left to my goal will give me that extra push to walk home from school instead of taking the subway, and I’ve been known to pace around my apartment at 11:50pm to finish getting all of my steps before midnight.


increased awareness of our bodies and our place in the world…*

So how does this really relate to rethinked..* ? As Kate Hartman explains in The art of wearable communication, wearable devices focus on the ways in which we relate to ourselves. They enable an increased awareness of our bodies and our relationship to the world around us. As Hartman explains:

“…we’re in this era of communications and device proliferation, and it’s really tremendous and exciting and sexy, but I think what’s really important is thinking about how we can simultaneously maintain a sense of wonder and a sense of criticality about the tools that we use and the ways in which we relate to the world.”

Again, this brings the story back to the idea that the best kinds of technology will help us to be more human. Activity trackers can help us better understand ourselves, and in that, they help us to be better versions of ourselves. Do you use any sort of wearable technology? How has it impacted your life?


On being a [ cyborg ] in the modern world…*

Cyborgs, or cybernetic organisms, are theoretical beings that have restored functions or enhanced abilities after the integration of some sort of artificial technology. They are generally thought to be the stuff of fiction – characters like Darth Vader, RoboCop, or the Terminator.

But when one really thinks about this idea of a “being with enhanced abilities due to technology,” you’ll realize that we are all – to varying degrees – becoming cyborgs. Calculators, Google calendars, and cell phones have all become so seamlessly integrated into our lives. How many phone numbers do you remember that you were given since the onset of cell phones?

As Amber Case, a cyborg anthropologist, says, we are all cyborgs now. Up until recently, tools helped us extend our physical selves. Today, technological tools are helping us to extend our mental selves. This manifests in a few different ways. Case talks about the “second/digital self,” or our online presence that people can interact with when we are not physically present. We have to maintain that second self in a particular way. She also talks about the idea of “ambient intimacy” or the ability for us to connect to many different people whenever we want.

There are positives and negatives to the integration of technological tools. On the negative side, just like I spoke about in my recent blog post about standing still, Case is worried about how the constant use of technology  – the constant onslaught of inputs – affects our time for reflection. A new British anthology series called Black Mirror is focused on the darker side of technology. For example, one episode explores the idea of how we are spending out lives reviewing recorded moments and obsessing over them at the expense of experiencing new ones. I’ve been making my way through these episodes, and I can’t recommend it highly enough (available on Netflix streaming for those who have subscriptions).

However, Case is still optimistic about the use of technology, stating that the best kinds of technological tools help us to be more human, get out of the way, and help us to live our best lives. One great example of this is Mystery Skype – an educational platform that I discussed a few weeks ago. Over the course of the next few weeks, I hope to speak to more of the ways in which technology is helping, the ways in which by becoming cyborgs, we are increasing our humanness and bettering our lives…*

{ virtual reality & empathy }: using technology to enhance the human experience

Earlier this year in a series of posts called “On Being A Cyborg“, I wrote about various technologies that enrich and assist us in living our lives. The defining quality of these technologies is that rather than pulling us away from the core human experience, I argued that they actually help make us more human.

Today I’d like to add to this list. After watching Chris Milk’s TED2015 talk – How virtual reality can create the ultimate empathy machine – I believe that virtual reality technology could be a solution to getting us to care, specifically about the people living in realities so far removed from ours that they are hard to imagine.

Milk wondered if there was a way that he could “use modern and developing technologies to tell stories in different ways and tell different kinds of stories that maybe [we] couldn’t tell using the traditional tools of filmmaking that we’ve been using for 100 years?” As he explains, “What I was trying to do was to build the ultimate empathy machine.

One such experiment in empathy machines is the interactive short film entitled Wilderness Downtown, a project with Arcade Fire that has an avatar running down a street, that you quickly realize is the one you grew up on. I actually used this little bit of virtual reality a few years back when he made it, and myself was delighted by the results. You can try this one using the link above.

His next attempt was an art installation – The Treachery of Sanctuary. In this piece, people were given the power to transform themselves into birds and bring them into flight using triptych technology.


Perhaps most impressing is the film Clouds over Sidra. In this United Nations sponsored work, he uses virtual reality to create empathy for those living in a refugee camp in Jordan – placing them in three dimensional spaces while a 12-year-old refugee named Sidra tells the story of her life. As Milk explains

…when you’re sitting there in her room, watching her, you’re not watching it through a television screen, you’re not watching it through a window, you’re sitting there with her. When you look down, you’re sitting on the same ground that she’s sitting on. And because of that, you feel her humanity in a deeper way. You empathize with her in a deeper way.

Milk’s team is now making more of these films – currently shooting one in Liberia. And these films are now being shown to the people at the United Nations who can change the lives of those inside these virtual reality worlds.

The power of this medium to enhance human empathy is incredible. I’ve spoken before about multimedia literacy and about the problem with our society’s primacy of text over other modes of communication. Milk’s work is demonstrative of the power of other mediums beyond text to communicate things such as empathy – something that can be communicated in a written story, but may be communicated better in a virtual reality world.

As Mlik explains,

It’s not a video game peripheral. It connects humans to other humans in a profound way that I’ve never seen before in any other form of media. And it can change people’s perception of each other.And that’s how I think virtual reality has the potential to actually change the world.

So, it’s a machine, but through this machine we become more compassionate, we become more empathetic, and we become more connected.And ultimately, we become more human.

I would love to view one of his virtual reality films. Wouldn’t you?

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