s3e19: The usual: nouns, adverbs, adjective here and there 

by danhon

0.0 Station Ident

Friday, 29th April, 2016. It’s a grey, overcast day in Portland today, but the weekend promises sun and unseasonable temperatures, so, in the words of some internet meme “we’ve got that going for us”. Thursdays and Fridays are weird days for me: I have group DBT (dialectical behaviour therapy, it’s, like, one better than CBT I guess) on Thursday nights, so that’s two hours of brain examination and talking and thinking. Then Fridays are regular appointments with individual therapy and my psychiatrist who helpfully told me that “some degree of ADHD/ADD is common in people who work in the technology industry” which I guess yay I belong?

For someone who’s spent a lot of his life doing relatively well at figuring what other people want me to do and then doing that thing, one of the big things I’m working on right now is figuring out what’s important to me. Which is unsurprisingly difficult. Listening to the thing inside and trying to work out: what’s the thing that’s going to intrinsically motivate me, rather than just get me external validation? What are the things that feel *good* that will sustain myself and not just leave me with a dopamine hit with needing someone else to tell me that I’m OK?


PS. Also, I’m still continuing my streak of Contact references.

1.0 Programmable Exoself

Side note: I came up with this thought while driving and asked Siri to take a note. I said “The need for a cognitive exoself in today’s society” and Siri heard “The need for a codependent text herself into days hunting.” Siri is clearly not ready to take dictation from me.

Thinking the other day about a number of different things. People have said for a while now[citation needed] that we’ve been externalising various functions. Calendars and diaries mean we don’t have to remember dates. Phones mean we don’t have to remember phone numbers of our friends. Facebook means we don’t have to remember birthdays. Twitter means we don’t have to remember how mean people can be. A lot of outsourcing that led, amongst other things, to the idea of a cognitive surplus[0, 1] where as a species we can concentrate on the important stuff like being really, really meticulous about documenting the sprawling Pokemon universe.

This thought: that we’re cyborgs and have been outsourcing/offshoring various mental functions to a variety of devices ever since we invented the technology of writing isn’t new at all. My thought was about how much of today’s society *relies* upon you being able to outsource a bunch of mental effort. In other words, how much of an easy, fulfilling life can you live *without* access to technological devices. For the sake of argument, let’s say that you want to be an average thirtysomething in an American metropolis earning slightly above the median income at around $65k a year. How much would your life be impacted by *not* keeping all those numbers in your phone, by *not* having access to apps and websites to pay bills or to remember appointments or to get reminders or to schedule things or to buy things.

Sure some of this sounds like the very definition of a First World Problem, but that *is* a First World Problem: what are the problems that you need to repeatedly solve to live as stresslessly as possible in a first-world environment? If we’re so gung-ho on productivity improvements due to technology, what time do they save, and how critical are they? A little bit of this is a kind of “I tried to live my life without the internet for a month and look where it got me” but thoughts like that lead me past universal basic income and more to the kind of universal service obligation that we used to impose on the postal network and the POTS analogue telecommunications network. At what point do we throw up our hands and say, you know what: everyone just “needs” basic mobile net access in order to effectively function in the world that we’ve built. For all that I might rail against the existing digital services we have being shit and sometimes not even worth the effort, they’re still immeasurably better than actually having to physically go to places and stand in line. I suppose this is the digital divide that’s only getting wider: as services push further down the stack and analog access gets phased out (not that it *should*, right?) what’s the other cost to society?

At that point, I start thinking about the fact that if i did want to have a cognitive exoself, a sort of *really well designed armor of tools and information that really help me to live my life and save me time* what might that look like? I might do things like:

– automatically schedule bill payments (there is a philosophical difference here: I want to automatically schedule bill payments and deduct them from my checking account so I don’t have to worry about forgetting to pay for something. My wife *doesn’t* want to because she wants to check that the amount to be paid is the correct amount. But: there’s nothing in the middle! There’s no: hey, here’s your bill, if it looks OK we’re going to automatically deduct from your checking account but if not CLICK HERE and we can do something about it)
– have things like *all manuals ever* be indexed, searchable documents in a sort of home environment server.  I have a stack of manuals at home associated with everything from the wet-vac that we got when our basement started filling up with water, the window AC unit, the *kettle*, the baby monitor, the window bars, all of that stuff. If I had my shit together, all of that stuff would be in a family-accessible, searchable Dropbox folder. THAT, not necessarily being able to check if I locked the front door (more on that later) is a big part of what makes a house Smart. A Smart House Knows Itself And Isn’t Just Extra Long Fingers For Switches.
– I want to remember everything. I want my Amazon purchase list to be easily searchable. I want to *be able to remember* what Kitchenaid mixer we bought so that when I’m out and about, I know what replacement part to get without having to be at home to figure it out.
– I want to know what fucking size replacement lightbulbs to get.
– I want to easily find out how much I’m paying for my utilities.
– I want all my mail scanned instead of on paper.
– I want *one* place where I can see the contact details for all of our family doctors.
– I want *one* place where I can see the medication list for the house.
– I want *one* place where I can see what future obligations I have and a family calendar that actually works reasonably well.
– I always want to see when I’m in my car how far I can drive before I run out of gas so I can remember to get gas.
– When I call someone up about something, I want actually-good CRM so they know who I am and what I’m calling about before I have to tell them.
– most of my voicemails these days are from people working in doctors offices calling me to remind me about appointments. I want my calendar to actually be a single source of truth.

[interrupted, continued on Monday 2 May 2016]

The thing about doctors, though. We’ve been going through a personal medical – thing – over the last few weeks and it’s the kind of medical situation where there’s one group of doctors at one provider and another group of doctors at another provider. This is fairly usual for serious or chronic conditions: what can usually happen is that when things go wrong, they go wrong systemically[citation needed] and they go wrong in a way where you see multiple specialists. What I’ve seen happen a number of times now – personally, and with friends – is that the burden of coordinating all of that care and understanding what’s happening and making decisions falls (if you’re unlucky) to the patient, and if you’re lucky, to a family member, or if you’re even luckier, someone who’s qualified.

In other words: who has to check that one department has called the other department to make sure the test results have been sent? The patient or the patient’s advocate. Who has to make sure that everyone knows about the drugs or medicines that are being administered? The patient or the patient’s advocate. Who has to make checklists and keep double-checking them and keep records of appointments? Same. It’s almost as if (given that it appears to be the patient or her advocate’s job) a user-centered Medical Grade Evernote would be useful: something to record meeting notes with, something to record appointment dates with, test results and so on. Something to record questions that you want answers to, something to refer back to in those stressful moments because hey, you’ve only got about ten to fifteen minutes with your doctor and they’ve got a bunch of stuff to tell you, so make sure that you’ve got *your* questions to hand otherwise… well, things just keep moving and maybe you just lost the chance to ask that question. And, the place for these things is phones, not in laptops or computers anymore. It’s something that can sit in a bog-standard Android phone but is perfectly capable of being the place that anyone in a family or group of friends can refer to when the statistic becomes something that happens to you; when someone you know gets cancer or another serious, chronic condition requiring coordination of treatment.

But, you know. We get expense tracking apps instead.

And lastly, an aside, thinking about cars and the self-driving ones. I have a sneaky suspicion that the car that we bought a couple years ago (an interestingly financed Subaru Outback where we couldn’t necessarily work out why we were getting what appeared to be a good deal) with the built-in smart cruise control and so on, is probably the end of the line for bundled smart driving features. In other words: sure, you can buy a car, but the smart stuff – the lane changing, the smart cruise control, the collision avoidance, the self-parking, the summon feature – all of that stuff is a subscription package that you end up paying for as car manufacturers go even further down the financial engineering route. The car is a low-cost base thing, but it’s the software and services that they make recurring money on. Sure, you might be able to buy the smart-stuff in a lifetime (non-transferrable!) payment like with Tivo service, but most people might just end up with a (slightly) cheaper car and an extra $50-75 monthly charge that covers “network access” for the car and, I dunno, really shitty cloud services. As well as aforementioned smart driving stuff.

[0] Cognitive Surplus – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
[1] Amazon USA | Amazon UK

Anyway, that’s it for today. Kind of split today’s episode across two days. It’s a fine sunny day here in Portland and I biked in to the Outpost (woo), and I hope it’s been a nice day where you are, too.