Real money for virtual Smurfberries

It’s a classic parental scenario:  the kid gets the parents’ credit card and buys stuff with it.  But today, the “stuff” exists only in virtual world.  Parents are up in arms about kiddy game iPhone apps that cost them real money:

Over the winter break from school, 8-year-old Madison worked to dress up her simple mushroom home on the iPhone game Smurfs’ Village. In doing so, she also amassed a $1,400 bill from Apple.

The Rockville second-grader didn’t realize the Smurfberries she was buying on the popular game by Capcom Interactive were real purchases, much like buying a pair of shoes from Zappos or movie tickets from Fandango. After all, lots of children’s games require virtual payments of pretend coins, treasure chests and gold to advance to levels.

But like a growing number of parents, Madison’s mom, Stephanie Kay, was shocked to find very real charges from iTunes show up in her e-mail box days later.

“I thought the app preyed on children,” she said. “Note that the Smurf app states it is for ages 4-plus.”

The games are part of a category of applications on Apple’s iTunes store that are free to download but let companies charge users for products and services when the application is launched. Following Apple, Google this week introduced these so-called “in-app purchases” for Android mobile phones and tablets, which experts say could create a new economy for newspapers, record labels and movie studios that have been struggling with ways to thrive online.

The in-app purchases have also catapulted children’s games such as Smurfs’ Village and Tap Zoo, by San Francisco-based Pocket Gems, into the ranks of the highest-grossing apps on iPods, iPhones and iPads.

But the practice is troubling parents and public interest groups, who say $99 for a wagon of Smurfberries or $19 for a bucket of snowflakes doesn’t have any business in a children’s game. Though a password is needed to make a purchase, critics say that the safeguards aren’t strong enough and that there are loopholes.

via In-app purchases in iPad, iPhone, iPod kids’ games touch off parental firestorm.

The article gives more horror stories.  But it raises in my mind a host of questions.

First of all, an eight-year-old has an iPhone?  And the apps are designed for children as young as four, and they have iPhones?

And a wagon of Smurfberries costs $99 and a bucket of snowflakes costs $19?  Where do those show up on the consumer price index?  Is the demand for those commodities so high that it is bidding up the cost?  Is there any way we could give parents relief by working on the supply side, say,  by manufacturing more of them?  Are Smurfberries generated by a program in China?

Is there an economics model that accounts for the pricing of commodities that do not actually exist?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • SKPeterson

    Two things – there are now experiments going on in the economics world, as well as archaeology, sociology and anthropology, that are looking at games and programs like Second Life and even World of Warcraft, to see how “things” develop without any blueprints. The initial results seem to indicate that the free market holds up pretty well, and that we’re terrible creatures of habit in many respects.

    I think part of the problem with Smurfberries is that there is a monopoly on Smurfberry production. I would think that some enterprising young app developers could be working on developing lower cost Smurfberries for sale via other apps that either import your Smurfberry setup or add stuff to it, for a much lower price in order to capture these very high economic profits. Right now, though, we are in the price discovery phase of the monopoly – and that’s where 8-year-olds are a big cash cow, but also muddying the waters of supply and demand.

  • SKPeterson

    Two things – there are now experiments going on in the economics world, as well as archaeology, sociology and anthropology, that are looking at games and programs like Second Life and even World of Warcraft, to see how “things” develop without any blueprints. The initial results seem to indicate that the free market holds up pretty well, and that we’re terrible creatures of habit in many respects.

    I think part of the problem with Smurfberries is that there is a monopoly on Smurfberry production. I would think that some enterprising young app developers could be working on developing lower cost Smurfberries for sale via other apps that either import your Smurfberry setup or add stuff to it, for a much lower price in order to capture these very high economic profits. Right now, though, we are in the price discovery phase of the monopoly – and that’s where 8-year-olds are a big cash cow, but also muddying the waters of supply and demand.

  • http://www.pastorsstudy.net Matt

    It mentions the app as the “iPhone game Smurfs’ Village,” but this could have been played on either an iPod Touch or an iPad, for all we know. All three use the same App store with in-App purchases. In fact, generally the same apps are used across all three platforms.

    I let my three-year old play on my iPod Touch during a lot of times when a welcome distraction is needed (i.e., waiting in a doctor’s office, long car trip). She moves through that iPod like a pro. She knows which ones are the games she can play and the touch-screen interface is so easy for her. I can easily see how this might be a problem and its one that I personally hadn’t thought of. Come to think of it, she loves playing “Angry Birds”…I hope she’s not out there buying dozens and dozens of Mighty Eagles when I don’t know about it!

    iPod Touches are now in the hands of lots of children–they’re around the same price as things like a Nintendo DS and PSP. They have the flexibility to download things like music and movies. Children today are so “teched-out” it’s startling. All three of my kids come home after school/preschool and are calling for dibs on Mom and Dad’s computers!

    Great article, Dr. Veith…it’s interesting to see that Apple and other developers are finding a market in children…and that we as parents need to be cautious.

  • http://www.pastorsstudy.net Matt

    It mentions the app as the “iPhone game Smurfs’ Village,” but this could have been played on either an iPod Touch or an iPad, for all we know. All three use the same App store with in-App purchases. In fact, generally the same apps are used across all three platforms.

    I let my three-year old play on my iPod Touch during a lot of times when a welcome distraction is needed (i.e., waiting in a doctor’s office, long car trip). She moves through that iPod like a pro. She knows which ones are the games she can play and the touch-screen interface is so easy for her. I can easily see how this might be a problem and its one that I personally hadn’t thought of. Come to think of it, she loves playing “Angry Birds”…I hope she’s not out there buying dozens and dozens of Mighty Eagles when I don’t know about it!

    iPod Touches are now in the hands of lots of children–they’re around the same price as things like a Nintendo DS and PSP. They have the flexibility to download things like music and movies. Children today are so “teched-out” it’s startling. All three of my kids come home after school/preschool and are calling for dibs on Mom and Dad’s computers!

    Great article, Dr. Veith…it’s interesting to see that Apple and other developers are finding a market in children…and that we as parents need to be cautious.

  • Cincinnatus

    To say that these commodities do not exist is false, unless one is also willing to acknowledge that subscriber-only websites, IPod apps, and other digital “goods” do not exist. After all, these things are nothing more than collections of electronic data.

  • Cincinnatus

    To say that these commodities do not exist is false, unless one is also willing to acknowledge that subscriber-only websites, IPod apps, and other digital “goods” do not exist. After all, these things are nothing more than collections of electronic data.

  • http://thefragrantharbor.blogspot.com Catherine

    I let my 4 year old nephew play with the lightsaber app (free) on my iPod Touch sometimes… I’m sure in a year or so he’d figure out how to buy an app (not that he knows my password and I’m not telling him). And my 8 year old nephew has bought apps on my sister’s iPhone without realizing what he’s doing before, too. It’s not that they have their own iPhones, usually, it’s that the parents let them play because it’s fun and portable.

    I do think that charging for things in-game is pretty rotten. Young kids don’t really have a lot of concept of money, or at least not in the sense that adults do.

  • http://thefragrantharbor.blogspot.com Catherine

    I let my 4 year old nephew play with the lightsaber app (free) on my iPod Touch sometimes… I’m sure in a year or so he’d figure out how to buy an app (not that he knows my password and I’m not telling him). And my 8 year old nephew has bought apps on my sister’s iPhone without realizing what he’s doing before, too. It’s not that they have their own iPhones, usually, it’s that the parents let them play because it’s fun and portable.

    I do think that charging for things in-game is pretty rotten. Young kids don’t really have a lot of concept of money, or at least not in the sense that adults do.

  • Jonathan

    We just got our new Verizon I-Phones today. Our three boys (11-8-7) were immediately drawn to the phones like magnets, trying to get to the games.

    It’s time for me to do a lockout on I-Tunes apps on their computers (yes, they each have PC) and our new phones! Thanks for the headsup!

  • Jonathan

    We just got our new Verizon I-Phones today. Our three boys (11-8-7) were immediately drawn to the phones like magnets, trying to get to the games.

    It’s time for me to do a lockout on I-Tunes apps on their computers (yes, they each have PC) and our new phones! Thanks for the headsup!

  • WebMonk

    Jonathan, I’m just picking up a few clues that your kids are light-years ahead of you on the tech curve. I would suggest either working in overdrive to research and learn to catch up, or completely lock things down for the kids and only let things happen by direct approval after you see what is happening.

    I suspect I’ll be in the same boat if I get involved with my (future) grandkids on their computers, whatever form they may take. (implants? micro-personal displays? holograms?)

    Cin, Matt, and SK – right on. (More derivative commenting, I know. Sheldon would so be sneering at me.)

  • WebMonk

    Jonathan, I’m just picking up a few clues that your kids are light-years ahead of you on the tech curve. I would suggest either working in overdrive to research and learn to catch up, or completely lock things down for the kids and only let things happen by direct approval after you see what is happening.

    I suspect I’ll be in the same boat if I get involved with my (future) grandkids on their computers, whatever form they may take. (implants? micro-personal displays? holograms?)

    Cin, Matt, and SK – right on. (More derivative commenting, I know. Sheldon would so be sneering at me.)

  • Joe

    I think it is kind of sketchy but the parents are at fault says this father of 4. You can’t just download the app and not take the time to see what it actually is. Ratings are useless unless the people doing the rating have the same standards and definitions that you do. You have to play the game yourself to see what it is all about.

  • Joe

    I think it is kind of sketchy but the parents are at fault says this father of 4. You can’t just download the app and not take the time to see what it actually is. Ratings are useless unless the people doing the rating have the same standards and definitions that you do. You have to play the game yourself to see what it is all about.

  • http:theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    The commodity here is “pleasure”, as dervied from playing a game, but of a very transient kind. Plus, the amount of pleasure derived, compared to the price to be paid, is very small. As such, the potential problem with indulging in these “pleasures” to such an enourmous extent so young, is to dull the sense to the multiple pleasures that do exist for us in this world, and creates a disconnect with reality. Such a disconnect would be developmentaly disconcerting.

    Not that I’m against electronic games, not at all. But I do think that we are reaching levels and involvement and commitment (time as well as financial) which are unrealistic, and not good for us, as sensual beings, and as a species.

  • http:theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    The commodity here is “pleasure”, as dervied from playing a game, but of a very transient kind. Plus, the amount of pleasure derived, compared to the price to be paid, is very small. As such, the potential problem with indulging in these “pleasures” to such an enourmous extent so young, is to dull the sense to the multiple pleasures that do exist for us in this world, and creates a disconnect with reality. Such a disconnect would be developmentaly disconcerting.

    Not that I’m against electronic games, not at all. But I do think that we are reaching levels and involvement and commitment (time as well as financial) which are unrealistic, and not good for us, as sensual beings, and as a species.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    $99 for a wagon that doesn’t really exist and costs nothing to produce, in a game that only young kids would play?
    Sheesh. Some companies are just begging for government interference in the marketplace.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    $99 for a wagon that doesn’t really exist and costs nothing to produce, in a game that only young kids would play?
    Sheesh. Some companies are just begging for government interference in the marketplace.

  • http://www.biteinteractive.com/ Brant

    Hello all – I used to be a regular here, but as it happens my Cranach reading/commenting dropped off while I was a little too busy building an agency that designs and develops apps. So perhaps its only fitting I should jump back in on this thread :) I’ll try and check back in, so if you have any iOS questions I’ll be happy to answer.

    First off, a little technical explanation: You can’t buy anything on iOS (iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad) without typing in your iTunes password. So unless you give a 3 year old your password and they know how to type, they can’t just buy things on their own.

    Where this seriously breaks down is that the OS will remember your password for you for 15 minutes after you’ve entered it – even for a free app. So a likely scenario is that a parent downloads a free app – which requires their password just like a paid one – and 2 minutes later hands the device over to their kid to play. Now, when the child starts playing and needs more smurfberries or whatever, they hit the get more button and magically they get more. So they keep doing that…..well, thats where you get these horror stories.

    To answer another of Dr. Veith’s questions – we have done some research for a client of ours and it does seem pretty common that parents will let their kids play with their iphone/ipod. Or some parents will simply give the kids the old iphone when they upgrade to the new one.

  • http://www.biteinteractive.com/ Brant

    Hello all – I used to be a regular here, but as it happens my Cranach reading/commenting dropped off while I was a little too busy building an agency that designs and develops apps. So perhaps its only fitting I should jump back in on this thread :) I’ll try and check back in, so if you have any iOS questions I’ll be happy to answer.

    First off, a little technical explanation: You can’t buy anything on iOS (iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad) without typing in your iTunes password. So unless you give a 3 year old your password and they know how to type, they can’t just buy things on their own.

    Where this seriously breaks down is that the OS will remember your password for you for 15 minutes after you’ve entered it – even for a free app. So a likely scenario is that a parent downloads a free app – which requires their password just like a paid one – and 2 minutes later hands the device over to their kid to play. Now, when the child starts playing and needs more smurfberries or whatever, they hit the get more button and magically they get more. So they keep doing that…..well, thats where you get these horror stories.

    To answer another of Dr. Veith’s questions – we have done some research for a client of ours and it does seem pretty common that parents will let their kids play with their iphone/ipod. Or some parents will simply give the kids the old iphone when they upgrade to the new one.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    One wonders why Apple would allow these kind of abusive apps in its App Store. But I guess Apple doesn’t really fear a backlash and losing customers because people are addicted to their iCrack. People will gripe, but they won’t quit doing business with Apple.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    One wonders why Apple would allow these kind of abusive apps in its App Store. But I guess Apple doesn’t really fear a backlash and losing customers because people are addicted to their iCrack. People will gripe, but they won’t quit doing business with Apple.

  • WebMonk

    Mike, oh yes people will, have, and continue to quit doing business with Apple.

    It’s a thing called “Android” and it’s kicking the iPhone’s butt in raw numbers and in growth.

  • WebMonk

    Mike, oh yes people will, have, and continue to quit doing business with Apple.

    It’s a thing called “Android” and it’s kicking the iPhone’s butt in raw numbers and in growth.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “iCrack”

    LOL !

    It is so true!

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “iCrack”

    LOL !

    It is so true!

  • utahrainbow

    What’s weird is that most of the time, the money used to purchase the app doesn’t “exist” any more than the smurf wagon. Just electronic data.

  • utahrainbow

    What’s weird is that most of the time, the money used to purchase the app doesn’t “exist” any more than the smurf wagon. Just electronic data.

  • trotk

    I am terrified of the people we will create if our little kids grow up on iPhones, Goodle, and Facebook. I am amazed at how calmly we pass them these devices, and I am amazed that we give computers to them when they are so young.
    There is certainly dispute over the long term effects of computer usage on the young mind, but if there is the chance that it will make it more difficult for them to learn through books (ie – sustained concentration) and make them less able to relate to others face to face, we should not take the chance.

    It is only anecdotal, but still worth reading:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/18/books/review/Shteyngart-t.html

  • trotk

    I am terrified of the people we will create if our little kids grow up on iPhones, Goodle, and Facebook. I am amazed at how calmly we pass them these devices, and I am amazed that we give computers to them when they are so young.
    There is certainly dispute over the long term effects of computer usage on the young mind, but if there is the chance that it will make it more difficult for them to learn through books (ie – sustained concentration) and make them less able to relate to others face to face, we should not take the chance.

    It is only anecdotal, but still worth reading:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/18/books/review/Shteyngart-t.html

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Simple solution: parents, pay attention to what your kids are doing, and don’t blame the company for your lack of oversight.

    As a teacher I see this way too much. Parents will throw a fit about what’s on TV, but will turn around and leave them unmonitored for hours at a time. It’s pure hypocrisy.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Simple solution: parents, pay attention to what your kids are doing, and don’t blame the company for your lack of oversight.

    As a teacher I see this way too much. Parents will throw a fit about what’s on TV, but will turn around and leave them unmonitored for hours at a time. It’s pure hypocrisy.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    The real problem here is that Smurfberry production remains in the hands of the bourgeois few. Smurf Village players need to rise up, throw off the digital shackles of their Capcomitalist oppressors, and obtain for themselves the means of Smurfberry production!

    Er, sorry, that’s just what some people here would expect me to write.

    Anyhow, I find it more than a little odd to find such uber-capitalism employed in the guise of the otherwise perfectly Marxist Smurfs (surely I don’t have to point out the parallels to you again; a village where there’s only one person filling any role, so no competition; no person has a name, merely a role title; run by the only guy wearing red and a big white Marxist beard named “Papa”; every time the “brainy” Trotsky character annoys everyone, he’s run out of the commu… er, Smurf Village; their enemy is a man who seeks to convert the happy workers into gold; etc.)

    Anyhow, as others have noted, this is more of a call for parents to learn to use their devices, isn’t it? I mean, in-app purchases can be turned off on any iOS device, for one thing.

    And yes, my not-quite-2-year-old son knows how to use an iPhone, to some degree. Mainly he enjoys scrolling through all the photos and videos of Mama and Papa, though we have to watch him to make sure he doesn’t delete anything. We even got him his own app when we were traveling this past Christmas — it just shows him letters, numbers, etc., says their names, and lets him move them around. You can judge me if you want, but first you’d have to relive a 4+-hour plane ride with a cranky child who just wants off the plane.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    The real problem here is that Smurfberry production remains in the hands of the bourgeois few. Smurf Village players need to rise up, throw off the digital shackles of their Capcomitalist oppressors, and obtain for themselves the means of Smurfberry production!

    Er, sorry, that’s just what some people here would expect me to write.

    Anyhow, I find it more than a little odd to find such uber-capitalism employed in the guise of the otherwise perfectly Marxist Smurfs (surely I don’t have to point out the parallels to you again; a village where there’s only one person filling any role, so no competition; no person has a name, merely a role title; run by the only guy wearing red and a big white Marxist beard named “Papa”; every time the “brainy” Trotsky character annoys everyone, he’s run out of the commu… er, Smurf Village; their enemy is a man who seeks to convert the happy workers into gold; etc.)

    Anyhow, as others have noted, this is more of a call for parents to learn to use their devices, isn’t it? I mean, in-app purchases can be turned off on any iOS device, for one thing.

    And yes, my not-quite-2-year-old son knows how to use an iPhone, to some degree. Mainly he enjoys scrolling through all the photos and videos of Mama and Papa, though we have to watch him to make sure he doesn’t delete anything. We even got him his own app when we were traveling this past Christmas — it just shows him letters, numbers, etc., says their names, and lets him move them around. You can judge me if you want, but first you’d have to relive a 4+-hour plane ride with a cranky child who just wants off the plane.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Cincinnatus (@3), sorry, but your parallel doesn’t exactly work:

    To say that these commodities do not exist is false, unless one is also willing to acknowledge that subscriber-only websites, IPod apps, and other digital “goods” do not exist. After all, these things are nothing more than collections of electronic data.

    I’ll grant that, on a strictly technical level, all these things are equally downloadable data.

    But the costs of apps and fee-based Web sites reflect very real costs. Web sites require programmers, servers, and quite often editors and content producers. All these things are reflected in the subscriber fees. Likewise, the cost of an app reflects the money to pay programmers, buy licensing rights, and so on.

    Now, what is the cost of a (digital) bushel of Smurfberries? I’ll grant you, again, that it isn’t actually zero. Some artist had to work up how they would look on screen, and some programmer had to include their functionality in the app. Of course, none of those things are covered by the cost of the app itself, since it’s free, so clearly this is the loss-leader model. Get hooked playing the game, figure out the game is pretty boring or moves too slowly without spending some money, and eventually the programmers and artists get paid because you’re impatient and stubborn. Or an 8-year-old whose parent’s password is still cached.

    Still, the cost of the various items in Smurf Village in no way reflects their production costs. I don’t think it took the artists and programmers 20 times more man-hours to produce the “wagon” than it did the “bushel of Smurfberries”. But I would bet, based on the cost difference, that buying the wagon does a lot more for your ability to do stuff within the game than does the small amount of Smurfberries. So the costs are entirely demand-based.

    Of course, it’s all a monopoly, and the only way to win against that is not to play. I seriously doubt Capcom is going to be allowing for discount Smurfberry knock-offs in their universe. But you could always play a different game.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Cincinnatus (@3), sorry, but your parallel doesn’t exactly work:

    To say that these commodities do not exist is false, unless one is also willing to acknowledge that subscriber-only websites, IPod apps, and other digital “goods” do not exist. After all, these things are nothing more than collections of electronic data.

    I’ll grant that, on a strictly technical level, all these things are equally downloadable data.

    But the costs of apps and fee-based Web sites reflect very real costs. Web sites require programmers, servers, and quite often editors and content producers. All these things are reflected in the subscriber fees. Likewise, the cost of an app reflects the money to pay programmers, buy licensing rights, and so on.

    Now, what is the cost of a (digital) bushel of Smurfberries? I’ll grant you, again, that it isn’t actually zero. Some artist had to work up how they would look on screen, and some programmer had to include their functionality in the app. Of course, none of those things are covered by the cost of the app itself, since it’s free, so clearly this is the loss-leader model. Get hooked playing the game, figure out the game is pretty boring or moves too slowly without spending some money, and eventually the programmers and artists get paid because you’re impatient and stubborn. Or an 8-year-old whose parent’s password is still cached.

    Still, the cost of the various items in Smurf Village in no way reflects their production costs. I don’t think it took the artists and programmers 20 times more man-hours to produce the “wagon” than it did the “bushel of Smurfberries”. But I would bet, based on the cost difference, that buying the wagon does a lot more for your ability to do stuff within the game than does the small amount of Smurfberries. So the costs are entirely demand-based.

    Of course, it’s all a monopoly, and the only way to win against that is not to play. I seriously doubt Capcom is going to be allowing for discount Smurfberry knock-offs in their universe. But you could always play a different game.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Trotk (@15), let’s see how this sounds:

    I am terrified of the people we will create if our little kids grow up on tablets, scrolls, and books. I am amazed at how calmly we pass them these devices, and I am amazed that we give books to them when they are so young. There is certainly dispute over the long term effects of book usage on the young mind, but if there is the chance that it will make it more difficult for them to learn through memorizing epic poems around the campfire (ie – sustained concentration) and make them less able to relate to others face to face, we should not take the chance.

    So … is that also a fear you share, about how books change the way we think?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Trotk (@15), let’s see how this sounds:

    I am terrified of the people we will create if our little kids grow up on tablets, scrolls, and books. I am amazed at how calmly we pass them these devices, and I am amazed that we give books to them when they are so young. There is certainly dispute over the long term effects of book usage on the young mind, but if there is the chance that it will make it more difficult for them to learn through memorizing epic poems around the campfire (ie – sustained concentration) and make them less able to relate to others face to face, we should not take the chance.

    So … is that also a fear you share, about how books change the way we think?

  • Joe

    “Parents will throw a fit about what’s on TV, but will turn around and leave them unmonitored for hours at a time. It’s pure hypocrisy.”

    Its not hypocrisy. It is actually consistency. The reason they are upset with what’s on the TV is because they want to and intend to leave them unattended for hours at a time.

  • Joe

    “Parents will throw a fit about what’s on TV, but will turn around and leave them unmonitored for hours at a time. It’s pure hypocrisy.”

    Its not hypocrisy. It is actually consistency. The reason they are upset with what’s on the TV is because they want to and intend to leave them unattended for hours at a time.

  • http:theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    Todd @ 19 – yeah yeah, very clever….

    But you do make a valid point. I don’t think a Luddite response is called for. But I still think we ought to continually ask ourselves how our tools shape us. Books were the preservation of speech. What is the telos of all these other devices and software? Is it augmentation and presevration in the face of absence and forgetfullness? Or is it substitutionary in character?

    Granted, some did substitute reality with books and scrolls – some still do. But the question worth asking is if the very nature of these items do not encourage substitution above augmentation. Secondary evidence as to the interaction of students at colleges and universities seems to point towards substitution. And that could be a problem.

  • http:theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    Todd @ 19 – yeah yeah, very clever….

    But you do make a valid point. I don’t think a Luddite response is called for. But I still think we ought to continually ask ourselves how our tools shape us. Books were the preservation of speech. What is the telos of all these other devices and software? Is it augmentation and presevration in the face of absence and forgetfullness? Or is it substitutionary in character?

    Granted, some did substitute reality with books and scrolls – some still do. But the question worth asking is if the very nature of these items do not encourage substitution above augmentation. Secondary evidence as to the interaction of students at colleges and universities seems to point towards substitution. And that could be a problem.

  • forty-two

    tODD @19:

    It’s my understanding that many Greeks were in fact worried about the effects of literacy on the ability to memorize. And no doubt the ability to write down one’s history and other important info *did* lead to less overall memorization, which probably lessened the general memorizing ability of succeeding generations. Nowadays we consider it a complete plus (and looking at history, I’d say it was certainly a fair trade) – in fact the greater availability of information has led to disdaining memorization completely in many circles – but after 2500 years or so of literacy, I’m not sure we’ve any idea of what we’ve lost, honestly. There’s something to be said for being watchful for potential negative effects before choosing to completely embracing the new .

    And I think the transforming potential of books is rather prized, rather than feared, by trotk ;).

  • forty-two

    tODD @19:

    It’s my understanding that many Greeks were in fact worried about the effects of literacy on the ability to memorize. And no doubt the ability to write down one’s history and other important info *did* lead to less overall memorization, which probably lessened the general memorizing ability of succeeding generations. Nowadays we consider it a complete plus (and looking at history, I’d say it was certainly a fair trade) – in fact the greater availability of information has led to disdaining memorization completely in many circles – but after 2500 years or so of literacy, I’m not sure we’ve any idea of what we’ve lost, honestly. There’s something to be said for being watchful for potential negative effects before choosing to completely embracing the new .

    And I think the transforming potential of books is rather prized, rather than feared, by trotk ;).

  • trotk

    tODD, there is an ancient proverb to that effect.

    The issues are twofold:

    How do things tend to be used? (not how could it be used)
    Does the media change us?

    In both of these instances, the question then to ask is whether the benefits outweigh the costs.

    The example with books fails because of how books and literacy tends to be used. It tends to be used in ways that makes us creative and thoughtful. Supposedly we would have better memories if we weren’t literate, but the benefits vastly outweigh the consequences.

    With electronic media, the benefit is notable: swift access to stuff (data, people, etc). However, it tends to be used (almost always is!) extremely superficially and the costs (profiles rather than personalities type arguments, short attention spans, porn, etc) seem to outweigh the benefits.

    I see changes in myself when I spend too much time playing on my computer. I desire books less, it sucks time from better pursuits and the people right in front of me – these consequences are scary to me, and I don’t want them for my kids. Books, although they might have decreased my memory, don’t tend to cause these relational and intellectual affects.

    The argument should never be about how something could be used or what it could do; rather, it should be about what something actually does. Based on that, we would be better off without TVs, iphones, ipods, and countless other electronic media. If a person is committed to using them properly, I have got no problem with them (and I actually own most of them), but the person better know what properly is and have the will to follow through. Kids don’t know what properly is and aren’t born with the will-power to say no. At least mine weren’t and so they aren’t getting computers, cellphones, or TVs until I trust their judgment and will.

    On a side note, I got rid on my cellphone three years ago and feel totally liberated.

  • trotk

    tODD, there is an ancient proverb to that effect.

    The issues are twofold:

    How do things tend to be used? (not how could it be used)
    Does the media change us?

    In both of these instances, the question then to ask is whether the benefits outweigh the costs.

    The example with books fails because of how books and literacy tends to be used. It tends to be used in ways that makes us creative and thoughtful. Supposedly we would have better memories if we weren’t literate, but the benefits vastly outweigh the consequences.

    With electronic media, the benefit is notable: swift access to stuff (data, people, etc). However, it tends to be used (almost always is!) extremely superficially and the costs (profiles rather than personalities type arguments, short attention spans, porn, etc) seem to outweigh the benefits.

    I see changes in myself when I spend too much time playing on my computer. I desire books less, it sucks time from better pursuits and the people right in front of me – these consequences are scary to me, and I don’t want them for my kids. Books, although they might have decreased my memory, don’t tend to cause these relational and intellectual affects.

    The argument should never be about how something could be used or what it could do; rather, it should be about what something actually does. Based on that, we would be better off without TVs, iphones, ipods, and countless other electronic media. If a person is committed to using them properly, I have got no problem with them (and I actually own most of them), but the person better know what properly is and have the will to follow through. Kids don’t know what properly is and aren’t born with the will-power to say no. At least mine weren’t and so they aren’t getting computers, cellphones, or TVs until I trust their judgment and will.

    On a side note, I got rid on my cellphone three years ago and feel totally liberated.

  • trotk

    Louis and forty-two, yes – exactly. Augment rather than substitute and good transformation.

    Additionally, pardon my grammar in post 23. I find that computers make my grammar and spelling sloppy, whereas writing by hand doesn’t. I must lack the will to think before I type.

  • trotk

    Louis and forty-two, yes – exactly. Augment rather than substitute and good transformation.

    Additionally, pardon my grammar in post 23. I find that computers make my grammar and spelling sloppy, whereas writing by hand doesn’t. I must lack the will to think before I type.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    tODD, @17, yup, @18, that’s right, and @19, you betcha!

    You are on fire today, man!

    Bravo!

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    tODD, @17, yup, @18, that’s right, and @19, you betcha!

    You are on fire today, man!

    Bravo!

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    forty-two, very interesting ideas about memorizing. Truth be told, probably a lot of mental energy was actually wasted because it takes a fair amount of time and exposure to memorize. Now, some things are worth the investment, of course, but others, well, consider how much trivia your kids know about fictional characters, or maybe baseball stats. Consider how much time that took. Sure we all have to memorize science formulas and after enough practice, it just happens. But maybe because we don’t absolutely have to memorize all the stuff, we can actually utilize far more info than we would have time to memorize.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    forty-two, very interesting ideas about memorizing. Truth be told, probably a lot of mental energy was actually wasted because it takes a fair amount of time and exposure to memorize. Now, some things are worth the investment, of course, but others, well, consider how much trivia your kids know about fictional characters, or maybe baseball stats. Consider how much time that took. Sure we all have to memorize science formulas and after enough practice, it just happens. But maybe because we don’t absolutely have to memorize all the stuff, we can actually utilize far more info than we would have time to memorize.

  • WebMonk

    trotke @23, you are looking at an extremely narrow slice of what electronic media is doing if you can seriously say

    However, [electronic media] tends to be used (almost always is!) extremely superficially and the costs (profiles rather than personalities type arguments, short attention spans, porn, etc) seem to outweigh the benefits.

    Yes, if you just look at Facebook and Twitter, sure you can get all worried about the effects. But, in spite of their prominence in the news and popular discussions, they are a tiny fraction of what electronic information access does.

    It is the billions of easily accessed and searched reports at the office. It is the instant data collation from a thousand sources used by millions every day. It is the ability to rapidly find even the most obscure information when needed.

    That is the majority picture of computer information.

    Sure, you have Facebook, Twitter, and pr0n on the Internet, just like books have kids reading “See Jane run” instead of listening to history and myth passed down verbally via grand sagas, but books are immeasurably more than “See Jane run,” and electronic media is immeasurably more than Facebook and Twitter.

    Obviously we can never know what we might have given up by adopting books over verbal stories, just like we can never know what we are giving up by utilizing electronic information rather than sticking to paper all the time, but just like we look back now and universally (well 99.9999%) agree that books were the good way to go, in future centuries our great-grandchildren will look back and say that electronic info was the good way to go.

  • WebMonk

    trotke @23, you are looking at an extremely narrow slice of what electronic media is doing if you can seriously say

    However, [electronic media] tends to be used (almost always is!) extremely superficially and the costs (profiles rather than personalities type arguments, short attention spans, porn, etc) seem to outweigh the benefits.

    Yes, if you just look at Facebook and Twitter, sure you can get all worried about the effects. But, in spite of their prominence in the news and popular discussions, they are a tiny fraction of what electronic information access does.

    It is the billions of easily accessed and searched reports at the office. It is the instant data collation from a thousand sources used by millions every day. It is the ability to rapidly find even the most obscure information when needed.

    That is the majority picture of computer information.

    Sure, you have Facebook, Twitter, and pr0n on the Internet, just like books have kids reading “See Jane run” instead of listening to history and myth passed down verbally via grand sagas, but books are immeasurably more than “See Jane run,” and electronic media is immeasurably more than Facebook and Twitter.

    Obviously we can never know what we might have given up by adopting books over verbal stories, just like we can never know what we are giving up by utilizing electronic information rather than sticking to paper all the time, but just like we look back now and universally (well 99.9999%) agree that books were the good way to go, in future centuries our great-grandchildren will look back and say that electronic info was the good way to go.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    It may be true that putting information down in books has caused us to lose the skill of memorizing stuff we need to know. But look at much more stuff we can look up, since it has been “memorized” onto paper! Of course, in some cases historical revisionism has crept in to corrupt our on-paper memory, and the older books are sometimes harder to consult to compare what what written down then to how it’s written down now. Sometimes it’s the other way around, and what was written down originally wasn’t really accurate because of various biases by the writer-downers…

    And now, we don’t even need paper anymore. Information is “memorized” into cyberspace, and we have nearly instant access to more information than ever before. But it’s also very easy to change what’s in cyberspace fairly quickly. In many cases, we won’t have older versions of the information to compare against the newer.

    I fear that someday we’ll find that what we’ve memorized is that “We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.” And we won’t be able to prove otherwise.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    It may be true that putting information down in books has caused us to lose the skill of memorizing stuff we need to know. But look at much more stuff we can look up, since it has been “memorized” onto paper! Of course, in some cases historical revisionism has crept in to corrupt our on-paper memory, and the older books are sometimes harder to consult to compare what what written down then to how it’s written down now. Sometimes it’s the other way around, and what was written down originally wasn’t really accurate because of various biases by the writer-downers…

    And now, we don’t even need paper anymore. Information is “memorized” into cyberspace, and we have nearly instant access to more information than ever before. But it’s also very easy to change what’s in cyberspace fairly quickly. In many cases, we won’t have older versions of the information to compare against the newer.

    I fear that someday we’ll find that what we’ve memorized is that “We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.” And we won’t be able to prove otherwise.

  • trotk

    WebMonk, your final paragraph is a total cop-out.

    We can know through decent analysis and make decisions now that we make us better or worse people.

    First, I know that Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, Google etc are small slices – but they are the ones that most people are using.

    Second, the access to data isn’t making us do better things with the data. We are doing with our industries what Facebook does to our personalities. It confuses appearance with substance. This is the natural and logical result.

    We produce more data than any generation in the history of the world, and have, in the midst of all of our data, confused data (and speed of data) with intelligence and wisdom.

  • trotk

    WebMonk, your final paragraph is a total cop-out.

    We can know through decent analysis and make decisions now that we make us better or worse people.

    First, I know that Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, Google etc are small slices – but they are the ones that most people are using.

    Second, the access to data isn’t making us do better things with the data. We are doing with our industries what Facebook does to our personalities. It confuses appearance with substance. This is the natural and logical result.

    We produce more data than any generation in the history of the world, and have, in the midst of all of our data, confused data (and speed of data) with intelligence and wisdom.

  • trotk

    sg, you are a utilitarian, at least in your view of learning. Truth is to be learned, which necessitates memorization. You cannot analyze what you do not know, and knowledge is not just “I saw it on the page and forgot it,” or else the analysis will disappear as fast as the memory does.

    It does matter that we spend the time necessary to memorize truth (I am not talking about baseball stats here, but those who are interested in something find it actually takes very little effort to memorize the data inherent to the subject). Without learning it (which demands knowing it, which demands memorizing it), you cannot be conformed to it, and truth is not just about utility – it is about reality.

  • trotk

    sg, you are a utilitarian, at least in your view of learning. Truth is to be learned, which necessitates memorization. You cannot analyze what you do not know, and knowledge is not just “I saw it on the page and forgot it,” or else the analysis will disappear as fast as the memory does.

    It does matter that we spend the time necessary to memorize truth (I am not talking about baseball stats here, but those who are interested in something find it actually takes very little effort to memorize the data inherent to the subject). Without learning it (which demands knowing it, which demands memorizing it), you cannot be conformed to it, and truth is not just about utility – it is about reality.

  • http:theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    This is a very interesting argument. On the one hand, I really appreciate what technology can do – without it, my job would be impossible. But I also understand Trotk’s worries. Again, the pervasiveness of SOME appilications, their telos, and more important, the praxis surrounding them, leads one to question if augmentation has been replaced by substitution, and the specific phenomena is/could be problematic.

    One should be careful of babies and bathwater here.

  • http:theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    This is a very interesting argument. On the one hand, I really appreciate what technology can do – without it, my job would be impossible. But I also understand Trotk’s worries. Again, the pervasiveness of SOME appilications, their telos, and more important, the praxis surrounding them, leads one to question if augmentation has been replaced by substitution, and the specific phenomena is/could be problematic.

    One should be careful of babies and bathwater here.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “sg, you are a utilitarian,”

    It’s not about me. Really. I mean it. It’s not. :-)

    Anyway, if a guy isn’t literate, he can’t even tell his kid a bedtime story without memorizing. Now, my five year old has a three floor-to-ceiling bookcases of kid books, that I read to him. There is no way I would invest in memorizing that much stuff that I don’t really need. However, we are able to access and enjoy all those stories because of the technology of printing and because I am literate and can just read the stories without memorizing them.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “sg, you are a utilitarian,”

    It’s not about me. Really. I mean it. It’s not. :-)

    Anyway, if a guy isn’t literate, he can’t even tell his kid a bedtime story without memorizing. Now, my five year old has a three floor-to-ceiling bookcases of kid books, that I read to him. There is no way I would invest in memorizing that much stuff that I don’t really need. However, we are able to access and enjoy all those stories because of the technology of printing and because I am literate and can just read the stories without memorizing them.

  • WebMonk

    We can know through decent analysis and make decisions now that we make us better or worse people.

    Aha! Proof that electronic data makes us horrible communicators!! :-)

    Cop out? No, just reality.

    We can never know for 100% certain what future results will be, nor look back and know for certain what the alternatives might have been. But, just like we can look back and be very sure (though not 100%) that a particular path was the right/wrong way to go, we can look forward and make the same sorts of judgments.

    We can look back and be pretty darned sure that books were the good way to go. We can look forward and be pretty darned sure that electronic data is the way to go.

    First, I know that Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, Google etc are small slices – but they are the ones that most people are using.

    That is total and utter nonsense. Not even vaguely accurate. Nowhere near. Those are the things on the Internet that people are most using, and those things are only a small fraction of how computer information is used.

    If you want to make good prognostications of the future, you need to have at least some accurate facts from which to start.

  • WebMonk

    We can know through decent analysis and make decisions now that we make us better or worse people.

    Aha! Proof that electronic data makes us horrible communicators!! :-)

    Cop out? No, just reality.

    We can never know for 100% certain what future results will be, nor look back and know for certain what the alternatives might have been. But, just like we can look back and be very sure (though not 100%) that a particular path was the right/wrong way to go, we can look forward and make the same sorts of judgments.

    We can look back and be pretty darned sure that books were the good way to go. We can look forward and be pretty darned sure that electronic data is the way to go.

    First, I know that Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, Google etc are small slices – but they are the ones that most people are using.

    That is total and utter nonsense. Not even vaguely accurate. Nowhere near. Those are the things on the Internet that people are most using, and those things are only a small fraction of how computer information is used.

    If you want to make good prognostications of the future, you need to have at least some accurate facts from which to start.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “We produce more data than any generation in the history of the world, and have, in the midst of all of our data, confused data (and speed of data) with intelligence and wisdom.”

    This is an excellent point. The data generated is often of use in very narrow ways. Consider how much seismic data is generated looking for oil, or how much accounting data is generated by credit card purchases and points for special promotions, etc. The fact that we generate tons of data doesn’t make it generally useful. It is very specific and not part of knowledge in general.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “We produce more data than any generation in the history of the world, and have, in the midst of all of our data, confused data (and speed of data) with intelligence and wisdom.”

    This is an excellent point. The data generated is often of use in very narrow ways. Consider how much seismic data is generated looking for oil, or how much accounting data is generated by credit card purchases and points for special promotions, etc. The fact that we generate tons of data doesn’t make it generally useful. It is very specific and not part of knowledge in general.

  • WebMonk

    sg, I think totke’s point is a bit different – that we are giving up intelligence and wisdom in exchange for data and speed.

    trotke can correct me if I’m wrong on that.

    I’m going to be out of pocket for the rest of the day (maybe tomorrow too) and won’t be able to continue the conversation.

  • WebMonk

    sg, I think totke’s point is a bit different – that we are giving up intelligence and wisdom in exchange for data and speed.

    trotke can correct me if I’m wrong on that.

    I’m going to be out of pocket for the rest of the day (maybe tomorrow too) and won’t be able to continue the conversation.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “sg, I think totke’s point is a bit different – that we are giving up intelligence and wisdom in exchange for data and speed.”

    I don’t see how the two compete with each other. They seem separate. No matter how fast or how much seismic data ExxonMobil collects, it doesn’t affect me. Same with facebook pages, Mastercard transactions etc.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “sg, I think totke’s point is a bit different – that we are giving up intelligence and wisdom in exchange for data and speed.”

    I don’t see how the two compete with each other. They seem separate. No matter how fast or how much seismic data ExxonMobil collects, it doesn’t affect me. Same with facebook pages, Mastercard transactions etc.

  • trotk

    sg, I agree that I don’t really see how the two points conflict with one another, although I would tweak (if you will let me) what you said at 34. You are exactly correct at 34, but that view reveals part of our problem. We have substituted quantity of data for understanding and wisdom, but we have also substituted utility of data for wisdom and understanding.

    I would argue that what we should be seeking is wisdom (which depends on knowing and understanding truth) and virtue (which is about correctly conforming ourselves to truth) as ends, rather than quantity of data or utility.

    WebMonk, this is my argument with what you are saying at 27. It doesn’t matter if it is facebook, twitter, google, or some other non-internet network or medium – in all the ordinary instances, we are utilitarians and more obsessed with quantity of data than understanding.

    We first need to stop being utilitarians, and start recognizing that it is more important to acquire wisdom and virtue in our dealings with other humans and nature than it is to increase our power through the utility of facts, and then we need to recognize that having information at our fingertips or moving information swiftly has no (positive) relationship with understanding.

  • trotk

    sg, I agree that I don’t really see how the two points conflict with one another, although I would tweak (if you will let me) what you said at 34. You are exactly correct at 34, but that view reveals part of our problem. We have substituted quantity of data for understanding and wisdom, but we have also substituted utility of data for wisdom and understanding.

    I would argue that what we should be seeking is wisdom (which depends on knowing and understanding truth) and virtue (which is about correctly conforming ourselves to truth) as ends, rather than quantity of data or utility.

    WebMonk, this is my argument with what you are saying at 27. It doesn’t matter if it is facebook, twitter, google, or some other non-internet network or medium – in all the ordinary instances, we are utilitarians and more obsessed with quantity of data than understanding.

    We first need to stop being utilitarians, and start recognizing that it is more important to acquire wisdom and virtue in our dealings with other humans and nature than it is to increase our power through the utility of facts, and then we need to recognize that having information at our fingertips or moving information swiftly has no (positive) relationship with understanding.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “We have substituted quantity of data for understanding and wisdom, but we have also substituted utility of data for wisdom and understanding.”

    Not sure about that. We have sequenced the human genome, which may help understand some diseases. ExxonMobil can waste less resources and do less damage because it has better info and greater ability to analyze it. Sure there is no substitute for wisdom, but the data sure help with understanding.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “We have substituted quantity of data for understanding and wisdom, but we have also substituted utility of data for wisdom and understanding.”

    Not sure about that. We have sequenced the human genome, which may help understand some diseases. ExxonMobil can waste less resources and do less damage because it has better info and greater ability to analyze it. Sure there is no substitute for wisdom, but the data sure help with understanding.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Back to the point of memorizing. Do you remember the Chemical Rubber company that published this huge book of facts and formulas for science, etc. Anyway, no one could memorize all that stuff, but lots of folks bought that book because they would use some of the info from time to time for specific purposes. Publishing such a tome is based on the notion that folks can actually utilize (uh-oh) way more stuff than they commit to memory.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Back to the point of memorizing. Do you remember the Chemical Rubber company that published this huge book of facts and formulas for science, etc. Anyway, no one could memorize all that stuff, but lots of folks bought that book because they would use some of the info from time to time for specific purposes. Publishing such a tome is based on the notion that folks can actually utilize (uh-oh) way more stuff than they commit to memory.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Louis (@21), I wasn’t so much trying to be “clever” as drawing the best parallel I could. To the degree it comes off as humorous to worry about the effects books have on people, I believe that might inform us as to how our present debate will ultimately end up being received. But, you know, you could always argue the parallel doesn’t work.

    “I still think we ought to continually ask ourselves how our tools shape us.” Sure, but I think a more interesting question is: does it matter? That is, will the end result of this continual introspection actually be a change in how we use various tools? Color me cynical, but I think it will not. I mean, there must have been plenty of paleo-Luddites who turned up their noses at books and said, “I prefer the old epic tales told ’round the campfire.” Thing is, we don’t know about any of them … because they didn’t write any books.

    Point being, are you merely hoping to affect your own use of such tools, or are you hoping to affect how others use these tools? And how do you stop people from plunging headlong into the online world?

    What’s more, to what degree is the current debate informed by our generation being on the cusp of change? Good or bad, books have been the reality for many centuries now, and they don’t incite much anguish. But my earlier point was that the anguish was likely felt back when books were new. The internet is still, relatively speaking, new. Will it still be seen as potentially bad 100 years from now? (Will it even matter, if it’s adopted as the de facto means of communicating, at least for certain communications?) Will my son’s generation, growing up with the Internet, make the same mistakes in (ab)using it that my generation has? Or are they likely to learn from us, which is supposed to be how things work?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Louis (@21), I wasn’t so much trying to be “clever” as drawing the best parallel I could. To the degree it comes off as humorous to worry about the effects books have on people, I believe that might inform us as to how our present debate will ultimately end up being received. But, you know, you could always argue the parallel doesn’t work.

    “I still think we ought to continually ask ourselves how our tools shape us.” Sure, but I think a more interesting question is: does it matter? That is, will the end result of this continual introspection actually be a change in how we use various tools? Color me cynical, but I think it will not. I mean, there must have been plenty of paleo-Luddites who turned up their noses at books and said, “I prefer the old epic tales told ’round the campfire.” Thing is, we don’t know about any of them … because they didn’t write any books.

    Point being, are you merely hoping to affect your own use of such tools, or are you hoping to affect how others use these tools? And how do you stop people from plunging headlong into the online world?

    What’s more, to what degree is the current debate informed by our generation being on the cusp of change? Good or bad, books have been the reality for many centuries now, and they don’t incite much anguish. But my earlier point was that the anguish was likely felt back when books were new. The internet is still, relatively speaking, new. Will it still be seen as potentially bad 100 years from now? (Will it even matter, if it’s adopted as the de facto means of communicating, at least for certain communications?) Will my son’s generation, growing up with the Internet, make the same mistakes in (ab)using it that my generation has? Or are they likely to learn from us, which is supposed to be how things work?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Trotk (@23), I’m not questioning whether different media affect us (change us) in different ways. Of course they do.

    I am still questioning the assertion that the wholesale adoption of communication media is something we can affect through the careful reasoning of a few. Sorry if that’s too cynical. But there’s the Internet, and there isn’t. You can unplug from it — there will always be some who reject a medium and its message — but then you have largely opted out from communicating with the bulk of people on their terms. And then you can gather around the campfire and recite epic poems about how people used to be more noble, but now they’re all stupid and stuff. This message will be well-received by those around the campfire, and largely ignored online, unless someone films it and posts it on YouTube.

    Which is surely cynical, but my point being: there’s understanding how media affect us, yes, but then there’s hoping that such understanding will affect how we communicate. The people have already voted on that, and they said no.

    You said,

    The example with books fails because of how books and literacy tends to be used. It tends to be used in ways that makes us creative and thoughtful.

    I’m not sure I’ve understood. Are you saying books made us more creative and thoughtful than did the recitation of epic poems? Or that books make us more creative and thoughtful than does the Internet? Maybe both?

    I’m not sure that I know whether the first is true. How would you back that up? By reading about the issue in some old book about how the debate on “These New Books: Good or Bad” went? Might be some bias in those sources. Maybe there’s some data on modern primitive cultures going literate, but I guess I’d have to see what you meant.

    If it was the latter, I’m not all that convinced that book bestseller lists are any more inspirational than are lists of the top Web sites. I also can’t agree that Internet content is devoid of thought and creativity.

    “With electronic media, … it tends to be used (almost always is!) extremely superficially.”

    What, not even a smiley to denote the obvious irony? Yes, criminy, every debate I’ve ever had online was completely superficial! You wouldn’t believe the vacuous conversations I’ve had online!

    And pardon me, but isn’t the vast majority of every medium’s output superficial and lousy? Shall I compare Shakespeare to a YouTube video? He is more clever and more polysyllabic. But that’s because we’ve largely ignored the garbage from his era. As will future generations remain happily ignorant of most Internet memes.

    “Books, although they might have decreased my memory, don’t tend to cause these relational and intellectual affects.” Sure, but you were raised with books, by parents who were raised with books. Of course they don’t change the way you think — they’re not new to you!

    “Kids don’t know what properly is and aren’t born with the will-power to say no.” Well, of course. It has always been so. Nothing about that changes with the Internet.

    “On a side note, I got rid on my cellphone three years ago and feel totally liberated.” And some people need gastric bypass surgery in order to solve their eating problems. Others just eat less.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Trotk (@23), I’m not questioning whether different media affect us (change us) in different ways. Of course they do.

    I am still questioning the assertion that the wholesale adoption of communication media is something we can affect through the careful reasoning of a few. Sorry if that’s too cynical. But there’s the Internet, and there isn’t. You can unplug from it — there will always be some who reject a medium and its message — but then you have largely opted out from communicating with the bulk of people on their terms. And then you can gather around the campfire and recite epic poems about how people used to be more noble, but now they’re all stupid and stuff. This message will be well-received by those around the campfire, and largely ignored online, unless someone films it and posts it on YouTube.

    Which is surely cynical, but my point being: there’s understanding how media affect us, yes, but then there’s hoping that such understanding will affect how we communicate. The people have already voted on that, and they said no.

    You said,

    The example with books fails because of how books and literacy tends to be used. It tends to be used in ways that makes us creative and thoughtful.

    I’m not sure I’ve understood. Are you saying books made us more creative and thoughtful than did the recitation of epic poems? Or that books make us more creative and thoughtful than does the Internet? Maybe both?

    I’m not sure that I know whether the first is true. How would you back that up? By reading about the issue in some old book about how the debate on “These New Books: Good or Bad” went? Might be some bias in those sources. Maybe there’s some data on modern primitive cultures going literate, but I guess I’d have to see what you meant.

    If it was the latter, I’m not all that convinced that book bestseller lists are any more inspirational than are lists of the top Web sites. I also can’t agree that Internet content is devoid of thought and creativity.

    “With electronic media, … it tends to be used (almost always is!) extremely superficially.”

    What, not even a smiley to denote the obvious irony? Yes, criminy, every debate I’ve ever had online was completely superficial! You wouldn’t believe the vacuous conversations I’ve had online!

    And pardon me, but isn’t the vast majority of every medium’s output superficial and lousy? Shall I compare Shakespeare to a YouTube video? He is more clever and more polysyllabic. But that’s because we’ve largely ignored the garbage from his era. As will future generations remain happily ignorant of most Internet memes.

    “Books, although they might have decreased my memory, don’t tend to cause these relational and intellectual affects.” Sure, but you were raised with books, by parents who were raised with books. Of course they don’t change the way you think — they’re not new to you!

    “Kids don’t know what properly is and aren’t born with the will-power to say no.” Well, of course. It has always been so. Nothing about that changes with the Internet.

    “On a side note, I got rid on my cellphone three years ago and feel totally liberated.” And some people need gastric bypass surgery in order to solve their eating problems. Others just eat less.

  • http:theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    sg – the company is Merck.

    Todd – yes, I enjoyed your argument – a lot. But my point is not so much a Luddite reaction, but more to the point – are we happy with how our tools shape us? The answer could be positive. But I’m somewhat worried that for a sizeable portion of humanity, the virtual is replacing, not augmenting, the real, and that has some serious problems, on many levels. Again, it is not the tool per se, but how it is commonly used.

  • http:theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    sg – the company is Merck.

    Todd – yes, I enjoyed your argument – a lot. But my point is not so much a Luddite reaction, but more to the point – are we happy with how our tools shape us? The answer could be positive. But I’m somewhat worried that for a sizeable portion of humanity, the virtual is replacing, not augmenting, the real, and that has some serious problems, on many levels. Again, it is not the tool per se, but how it is commonly used.

  • http://simdan.com SimDan

    Whoa, slow down here! The article posted is a bit sensationalist.

    First of all, purchasing virtual goods is nothing new. In-app purchase (those described in the article) on iPhones have been around for a couple years now.

    There is also a major thing that separates buying virtual items with virtual goods (eg I’ll buy Park Place for $400 from you in Monopoly) and purchases that cost real money. In the former, it fits nicely into the flow of the game.

    In the latter, a dialog box pops up asking for the password to the account that is connected with to the credit card. After the password is entered a second dialog box pops up asking if you wish to spend X dollars to get Y product via in app purchase. It’s pretty obvious and hard to miss as it is rather jarring and the same method is used when purchasing apps. You have to be rather intentional about it to let the purchase go through.

    If the child cannot discern that a purchase is being made or show restraint in purchases, then perhaps they should not be given the credit card credentials required to make purchases?

  • http://simdan.com SimDan

    Whoa, slow down here! The article posted is a bit sensationalist.

    First of all, purchasing virtual goods is nothing new. In-app purchase (those described in the article) on iPhones have been around for a couple years now.

    There is also a major thing that separates buying virtual items with virtual goods (eg I’ll buy Park Place for $400 from you in Monopoly) and purchases that cost real money. In the former, it fits nicely into the flow of the game.

    In the latter, a dialog box pops up asking for the password to the account that is connected with to the credit card. After the password is entered a second dialog box pops up asking if you wish to spend X dollars to get Y product via in app purchase. It’s pretty obvious and hard to miss as it is rather jarring and the same method is used when purchasing apps. You have to be rather intentional about it to let the purchase go through.

    If the child cannot discern that a purchase is being made or show restraint in purchases, then perhaps they should not be given the credit card credentials required to make purchases?

  • trotk

    tODD at 41:

    I actually agree with you wholeheartedly in your cynicism (if we should call it that). I don’t think the careful reasoning of a few will effect much change, and so I generally try to act as prophet. I spoke out today because I was a little shocked at how readily people are giving kids iPhones.

    All I can control is myself and my household (and I can’t even control that!), and I would rather have board games and books as a family than TV (together), and I would certainly rather have books alone than internet alone.

    In general, it is a message that only the choir wants to hear – I get that. I have had great debates with a few friends over this issue, and I love engaging it at that level, because we can all change our personal choices at the end because of our discussion, but I have no expectation that the plug will be pulled on the internet.

    As to the following:

    ” ‘The example with books fails because of how books and literacy tends to be used. It tends to be used in ways that makes us creative and thoughtful.’

    I’m not sure I’ve understood. Are you saying books made us more creative and thoughtful than did the recitation of epic poems? Or that books make us more creative and thoughtful than does the Internet? Maybe both?”

    You are reading a “more” in that I purposefully didn’t state. Books make me think. They make kids think. They make us imagine. I could never fashion an argument about whether they make us more this way than the ages of epic recitation.

    As for the comparison to the internet, I know that the vast majority of every medium is vacuous. Most books are a waste of time, as is most internet content. You can trade back and forth examples to no avail. But you can observe what people are like who don’t read, and then you can observe that most reading is in book (or electronic book, an issue that I am not prepared to argue about) format. The difference between books and average internet content is the sustained attention to a singular issue. That affects the reader.

    I know that there are great exceptions, and the debates here are examples. But I would argue that even these debates don’t compare to a sustained face to face debate with people, because this is in a vacuum without the personal contact. Similarly, an author spend a year writing and editing a book to explain a concept is qualitatively different than a blog conceived and written in an afternoon. We are affected by the work of the author.

    As to the smiley face, I don’t know how to create them. I realize the irony of discussing this online, which is why I printed out the article I linked to above when I first read it.

  • trotk

    tODD at 41:

    I actually agree with you wholeheartedly in your cynicism (if we should call it that). I don’t think the careful reasoning of a few will effect much change, and so I generally try to act as prophet. I spoke out today because I was a little shocked at how readily people are giving kids iPhones.

    All I can control is myself and my household (and I can’t even control that!), and I would rather have board games and books as a family than TV (together), and I would certainly rather have books alone than internet alone.

    In general, it is a message that only the choir wants to hear – I get that. I have had great debates with a few friends over this issue, and I love engaging it at that level, because we can all change our personal choices at the end because of our discussion, but I have no expectation that the plug will be pulled on the internet.

    As to the following:

    ” ‘The example with books fails because of how books and literacy tends to be used. It tends to be used in ways that makes us creative and thoughtful.’

    I’m not sure I’ve understood. Are you saying books made us more creative and thoughtful than did the recitation of epic poems? Or that books make us more creative and thoughtful than does the Internet? Maybe both?”

    You are reading a “more” in that I purposefully didn’t state. Books make me think. They make kids think. They make us imagine. I could never fashion an argument about whether they make us more this way than the ages of epic recitation.

    As for the comparison to the internet, I know that the vast majority of every medium is vacuous. Most books are a waste of time, as is most internet content. You can trade back and forth examples to no avail. But you can observe what people are like who don’t read, and then you can observe that most reading is in book (or electronic book, an issue that I am not prepared to argue about) format. The difference between books and average internet content is the sustained attention to a singular issue. That affects the reader.

    I know that there are great exceptions, and the debates here are examples. But I would argue that even these debates don’t compare to a sustained face to face debate with people, because this is in a vacuum without the personal contact. Similarly, an author spend a year writing and editing a book to explain a concept is qualitatively different than a blog conceived and written in an afternoon. We are affected by the work of the author.

    As to the smiley face, I don’t know how to create them. I realize the irony of discussing this online, which is why I printed out the article I linked to above when I first read it.

  • http://simdan.com SimDan

    More pressing is another address, IP Adresses, that all computers on the Internet must use (the domain name system is just a user friendly mapping to IP addresses).

    This year we are going to run out of IP addresses as speced by the IPv4 protocol (the basic low-level syntax and ordering that all computers use to exchange information on the Internet). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPv4_address_exhaustion

    The solution is upgrading the Internet to IPv6 which will supply an effectively infinite number of IP addresses. There will be bumps on the road to upgrading the Internet though. World IPv6 day ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_IPv6_Day ) will be a day that major organization test it out to see how it goes. Some Internet providers already provide IPv6 support. Most computers in the last few years do too.

  • http://simdan.com SimDan

    More pressing is another address, IP Adresses, that all computers on the Internet must use (the domain name system is just a user friendly mapping to IP addresses).

    This year we are going to run out of IP addresses as speced by the IPv4 protocol (the basic low-level syntax and ordering that all computers use to exchange information on the Internet). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPv4_address_exhaustion

    The solution is upgrading the Internet to IPv6 which will supply an effectively infinite number of IP addresses. There will be bumps on the road to upgrading the Internet though. World IPv6 day ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_IPv6_Day ) will be a day that major organization test it out to see how it goes. Some Internet providers already provide IPv6 support. Most computers in the last few years do too.

  • trotk

    in 44 above, I meant to say that I don’t generally try to act as prophet

  • trotk

    in 44 above, I meant to say that I don’t generally try to act as prophet

  • http://simdan.com SimDan

    Whoops, meant to post 45 in the domain name thread.

  • http://simdan.com SimDan

    Whoops, meant to post 45 in the domain name thread.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Louis @ 42,

    “sg – the company is Merck.”

    I am not sure what you are referring to.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Louis @ 42,

    “sg – the company is Merck.”

    I am not sure what you are referring to.

  • http://Www.Toddstadler.com tODD

    Trotk said,

    I would argue that even these debates [on this blog] don’t compare to a sustained face to face debate with people, because this is in a vacuum without the personal contact.

    I strongly disagree, though I suppose it depends on what you value.

    What the discussions here potentially lack in warmth (though I’ve come to think quite fondly of many of you, based solely on words you type, and would gladly meet you in real life for a beer), they make up for with the ability to pause, think, maybe calm down, reevaluate your position, do some research, even sleep on it. 

    Compared to that, face-to-face conversations have the potential to be more instant (you can’t wait 30 minutes to think up a response in real life!), more superficial (I’m far less likely to disagree in real life, as it seems less polite than when done online). In online conversations, people can refer to older comments to get a detailed conversation back on track. They can more easily back down with grace (not that they necessarily will). Real-life debates give you a lot more reasons to remain entrenched.

    I’d think this out more thoroughly, but, well, I’m writing this on the bus, from my phone. :) Really.

  • http://Www.Toddstadler.com tODD

    Trotk said,

    I would argue that even these debates [on this blog] don’t compare to a sustained face to face debate with people, because this is in a vacuum without the personal contact.

    I strongly disagree, though I suppose it depends on what you value.

    What the discussions here potentially lack in warmth (though I’ve come to think quite fondly of many of you, based solely on words you type, and would gladly meet you in real life for a beer), they make up for with the ability to pause, think, maybe calm down, reevaluate your position, do some research, even sleep on it. 

    Compared to that, face-to-face conversations have the potential to be more instant (you can’t wait 30 minutes to think up a response in real life!), more superficial (I’m far less likely to disagree in real life, as it seems less polite than when done online). In online conversations, people can refer to older comments to get a detailed conversation back on track. They can more easily back down with grace (not that they necessarily will). Real-life debates give you a lot more reasons to remain entrenched.

    I’d think this out more thoroughly, but, well, I’m writing this on the bus, from my phone. :) Really.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “they make up for with the ability to pause, think, maybe calm down, reevaluate your position, do some research, even sleep on it. ”

    Yeah, some writers who have blogs have noted that writers do better blogging and responding to comments than say in an interview because of the nature of the forum.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “they make up for with the ability to pause, think, maybe calm down, reevaluate your position, do some research, even sleep on it. ”

    Yeah, some writers who have blogs have noted that writers do better blogging and responding to comments than say in an interview because of the nature of the forum.

  • trotk

    Hopefully it is on an iPhone. And if you are ever in Western North Carolina, we can talk about it over a beer.

  • trotk

    Hopefully it is on an iPhone. And if you are ever in Western North Carolina, we can talk about it over a beer.

  • http:theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    sg, your post at 39: The chemical company…?

  • http:theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    sg, your post at 39: The chemical company…?

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “sg, your post at 39: The chemical company…?”

    Chemical Rubber Company

    Yeah, evidently I am just showing my age. They changed their name to CRC in 1973!

    Anyway, I always thought of Merck as drugs and medical, but yeah, looks like they publish something similar.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “sg, your post at 39: The chemical company…?”

    Chemical Rubber Company

    Yeah, evidently I am just showing my age. They changed their name to CRC in 1973!

    Anyway, I always thought of Merck as drugs and medical, but yeah, looks like they publish something similar.

  • kerner

    tODD @40:

    Books came on the scene about the same time as Martin Luther did. It is often argued that Martin Luther would not have had much impact on the world, had not the medium of printed books and pamphlets been around. So, I think you are onto something when you suggest that books caused a lot of anxiety when they were new.

    The value of things is often not related to their usefulness, and people often put a lot of time and effort into producing things that are worthless by utilitarian standards. Gold, for example, is not a particularly useful metal. We only value it because it is shiny and yellow and pretty and comparitively rare. Music, on a pure utilitarian level, is only sound. But we will pay a lot to people who can produce sounds that we like.

    On a side note, two of my grandchildren learned how to play simple video games before they learned to talk. I don’t know what that means, or whether those particular tools will actually “shape” them.

  • kerner

    tODD @40:

    Books came on the scene about the same time as Martin Luther did. It is often argued that Martin Luther would not have had much impact on the world, had not the medium of printed books and pamphlets been around. So, I think you are onto something when you suggest that books caused a lot of anxiety when they were new.

    The value of things is often not related to their usefulness, and people often put a lot of time and effort into producing things that are worthless by utilitarian standards. Gold, for example, is not a particularly useful metal. We only value it because it is shiny and yellow and pretty and comparitively rare. Music, on a pure utilitarian level, is only sound. But we will pay a lot to people who can produce sounds that we like.

    On a side note, two of my grandchildren learned how to play simple video games before they learned to talk. I don’t know what that means, or whether those particular tools will actually “shape” them.

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  • Andy Pollin

    For everyone who doesn’t know, in you iDevice Settings you CAN turn off in-app purchases. So when you try to buy something, it tells you that in-app purchases are off, and they need to be turned back on in order to continue. But to turn it back on, you need to enter a passcode that is setup when you disable in-app purchases. This passcode can be different then your lock screen passcode.

  • Andy Pollin

    For everyone who doesn’t know, in you iDevice Settings you CAN turn off in-app purchases. So when you try to buy something, it tells you that in-app purchases are off, and they need to be turned back on in order to continue. But to turn it back on, you need to enter a passcode that is setup when you disable in-app purchases. This passcode can be different then your lock screen passcode.


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