Howard Rheingold's Net Smart: living mindfully in cyberculture

Howard Rheingold sez, "Technology criticism is important and I believe we all should critically examine the costs and consequences of our use of any technology. With regard to our use of social media, dangers of distraction, click-trance, social isolation, toxic credulity are real. But criticism, while necessary, isn't sufficient -- knowing that something is broken or costly isn't the same as knowing what to do about it. So I've written a book (Net Smart: How to Thrive Online) about what individuals need to know to use social media mindfully. Specifically, I provide evidence, advice, and suggested practices for mastering today's digital literacies of attention, participation, collaboration, crap-detection, and network know-how. The Table of Contents and introductory chapter are downloadable as free PDFs. Here are the opening paragraphs:"

Net Smart: How to Thrive Online

The future of digital culture -- yours, mine, and ours -- depends on how well we learn to use the media that have infiltrated, amplified, distracted, enriched, and complicated our lives. How you employ a search engine, stream video from your phonecam, or update your Facebook status matters to you and to everyone because the ways people use new media in the first years of an emerging communication regime can influence the way those media end up being used and misused for decades to come. Instead of confining my attention to whether or not Google is making us stupid, Facebook is commoditizing our privacy, or Twitter is chopping our attention into microslices (all good questions), I've been asking myself and others how to use social media intelligently, humanely, and above all, mindfully.

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Thought-provoking essay on cause and correlation in modern science

Science is the best method we have for understanding the world. That doesn't mean that everything scientists ever think they've figured out is correct. And it doesn't mean that we're doing science in the best way possible right now.

For a great illustration of this, I recommend reading Jonah Lehrer's new piece in WIRED, about the problems we run into as we learn more about individual parts of complex systems and then assume that we understand the big picture of how those parts work together. A lot of scientific research, particularly in medicine, operates off assumptions like this and it can lead to big mistakes. Case in point: Back pain. In this excerpt, Lehrer explains how MRI technology that allowed doctors to get a better look at the spines of people with back pain led them to make inaccurate conclusions about what was causing the back pain.

The lower back is an exquisitely complicated area of the body, full of small bones, ligaments, spinal discs, and minor muscles. Then there’s the spinal cord itself, a thick cable of nerves that can be easily disturbed. There are so many moving parts in the back that doctors had difficulty figuring out what, exactly, was causing a person’s pain. As a result, patients were typically sent home with a prescription for bed rest.

This treatment plan, though simple, was still extremely effective. Even when nothing was done to the lower back, about 90 percent of people with back pain got better within six weeks.

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