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Matt Mullenweg: I’m Worried That Silicon Valley Might Be Destroying the World (pandodaily.com)
61 points by diego on May 29, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 49 comments

Yeah sure, there's this impending Euro zone collapse, millions of death due to famine in Africa, rampant obesity throughout the world, decades of war in the middle east. What really is destroying the world is an internet software feature 99% of the planet never heard of.

Should I use dental floss tonight or not? Because you know, I like to ponder about the important things in the world.

I don't really think that tone is needed here on HN. Matt does bring up a valid point. Ability to concentrate will be a differentiating factor in an information age defined by the ability to create efficiently.

I think the tone is just a reaction (and an appropriate one, at that) to the hyperbole in the title. Just saying "the title is a bit of a hyperbole" would actually make for a worse comment.

Its not appropriate here. Snarky/sarcastic comments just encourage more of the same, which degrades the conversation. Also, its not really a comment on the subject of the article (which has something useful to say), but on the headline (which is poor).

Appropriate for Reddit/Slashdot, not HN.

Sarcasm is one of the most sophisticated modes of communication. Sanctimony is not.

Matt does not bring up a valid point, there has always been ways for people to distract themselves. The ability to concentrate has always been important. If you can't concentrate it will be very hard if not impossible to learn. Discipline is the key here, the discipline to turn off distractions. Turn off distractions wether it be notifications, games, reddit, HN, etc. Notifications are not ground breaking or required. Wordpress notification cannot destroyed the world. You can turn them off.

I'm glad that he's actually thinking about this stuff versus pure profit.

I agree- we need more thought leaders with integrity. The scoreboard in the valley these days is skewing towards MAUs / DAUs & valuation.

"Impact" is getting polluted with vanity metrics and wealth.

I know the valley loves the idea of "changing the world" and some companies really are - but I agree that a lot of startups are focusing on the easy bandwagon trends rather than focusing on solving truly difficult problems.

sometimes I wonder why people post comment like this. I mean does every articles or point of view posted here has to be 100% politically correct, addressed all the little semantic issues and cover all possible counter-arguments?

it's called opinion for a reason. people do think out loud. discuss or dissect it. don't belittle it with snark.

Well, even though distractions are not direct cause of suffering, they are taking our attention away from coming up with creative solutions to those problems.

I am fairly sure he he did not literally mean what he said. He was merely employing hyperbole.

It also looks like it was a jokey throw-away comment in the middle of an interview which was then turned in to a headline by the journalist that wrote the piece.

Technology journalism these days is embarrassingly bad.

So if your not saving the world, your problems/ solutions aren't worth posting here?

If you are not saving the world, don't pretend you are. You might be saving the internet, or the american youth, or New York's elderly. You might be worried for smartphone ecosystem or smartphone users and all of these are very valid things to do. These are interesting things to do and to read about and I fully support that.

But when I see an article about "the destruction of the world", and really, it's about push notifications reducing the ability to concentrate for some workers (too many, by the article/speaker argument) well I feel that the author either wants self gratification (I do have an impact on the world after all!) or that it is a misleading/linkbaiting operation.

Yeah your right, your comment makes sense in terms of the linkbait title.


The title is obviously hyperbole, but I think it's a fair point - I believe there was actually a discussion last week or so here about how the key differential in the workforce will be able to focus for distinct periods of time.

I'm actually still resisting a smart phone (much to my friends' chagrin), because while I'm at the computer 10 hours a day, the rest of the time, I actually enjoy not "having" to check my email, twitter, facebook constantly because of push notifications.

>I'm actually still resisting a smart phone

I would say the same thing, except that resistance implies that there's a significant chance that I'll give in.

No matter how it's spun, I'm not putting a GPS spying device in my pocket.

I have a smart phone, but rarely SMS, don't use twitter, barely ever check FB on it, and don't even have my email notifications turned on (can check it if I'm expecting something, but am not bothered by it).

It's nice to have, but maybe not worth the extra cost TBH...

He's completely right in his reasoning, but just like a lot of pessimistic predictions made about people, this one doesn't take into account the human ability to realize and fix something like this if it becomes a real problem.

I quit using a cell phone once I realized it was killing my concentration (and a Palm Pre is a hard thing to give up). I haven't used Twitter in months, Facebook sees me like once a week, and my email is quickly sorted (with the help of Webos 3.0's amazing mail client) once in the morning or whenever I feel like it.

I have a feeling a lot more people will try this in the next few years (and they'll love it).

I think that you're partly right, and it ties in with one of the points in pg's essay about addictive technology[1], that societies eventually develop antibodies to addictive new things. The problem (also noted in the essay, which grows more frightening the longer I think about it) is that most of the people who succumb to the addictive thing will not change their lifestyle to overcome it. Meanwhile, many companies in Silicon Valley are working to make their products as addictive as possible, soaking the most vulnerable users for the most money. The poster boy for this behavior is Zynga, but you see it everywhere.

What's the solution? Maybe we need to try harder to add addictive properties to activities we value. Or maybe we need a cultural movement away from things that are low-value and addictive to things that are high-value but not very addictive. It's difficult, because almost anything that's fun is potentially addictive. Reading, coding, and exercise are all valuable and can all be addictive. Not all addictions are equal. Running for two hours a day is probably better than playing Farmville for two hours a day.

I think that Matt's comments hit home because we're often in a position now of building things that lock people into harmful addictive behaviors. We all have to ask ourselves whether the work we do is valuable, or just lucrative.

[1] http://www.paulgraham.com/addiction.html

I like your idea for solutions a lot and think there's some great room for ideas to brew from there.

After reading GTD for Hackers[1], I kept thinking about ways to keep the momentum going after the initial excitement wore off… perhaps gamifying email and/or tasks (I hate that word, but it works).

[1]: http://gtdfh.branchable.com/

It's wonderful how people make money from distractions which in turn enable others to exploit the increasingly unaware.

But truly it is scary.

I lose days just reading HN, Paul Graham, Rodgers and that's after closing 20 tabs of webcomics, hardware and software news etc.

I think the only way out is as PG said it, actively fighting it - shutdown your computer, close them tabs, work on a good old console only linux, destroy skynet ?

My take is that in the end, we're all animals, but our self-awareness enables us to manipulate ourselves into doing what we want ( a bit like some article about pavlovian start your computer, fire up git and all that - don't remember who or when) - i.e. by consciously addicting ourselves to what we want to be doing.

I should get into that a bit more though -- seeing how I still read HN etc.

He's completely wrong. If everybody on earth decides by their own volition to waste their entire life consuming blog updates and Twitter feeds, what basis exactly do you have to say they aren't to live their life the way they see fit?

You have absolutely no real basis at all. And if you're going to open up that can of worms, there are roughly a zillion other issues that have to then be judged harshly and treated with equal disdain.

That slut you slept with last night, the one you picked up for a one night stand from the bar. How dare you waste your time in such a shallow and frivolous fashion. Sluts are destroying the world!

What you're talking about are lifestyle choices on how people choose to spend their time. You might as well start taking up positions against homosexuality and judging people for their lifestyle choices more broadly, because it's exactly the same thing.

Joe Kraus did a in depth analysis of tthis phenomenon in his We’re creating a culture of distraction[1]

[1] http://joekraus.com/were-creating-a-culture-of-distraction

It is amazing how people develop antibodies when exposed to a treat. When I traveled around the world one of the worst thing you could think is: look, this water source is safe to drink, all locals do and they are fine. I did learn the painful way.

As an early adopter of mail, facebook and tweeter(back from the early days, "hey, HN could you test my idea?") I had to develop antibodies for distractions and I don't use tweeter, for facebook anymore(mail only at the end of the day). Reading only HN briefly. It works like a charm.

"to the detriment of creativity and productivity."

I don't think those are necessarily the only or most important things losing out to all this "panem et circenses", which is really what a lot of these things are. Distraction has been used for a long time!

Maybe Matt hasn't heard about turning something off. Matt is worried that engaging technologies interrupt peoples lives and disrupt productivity and creativity. He is probably right, until you realise you can disconnect yourself from these notifications.

Its like Twitter. It can be horribly distracting and engaging. It can interrupt your work and even conversations you may be having. At the same time you can turn off whatever app you have and it will disappear completely from your life until you turn it back on.

The majority of people know their limits and can decide how much they want a specific app/technology/whatever to impact their day-to-day lives.

>The majority of people know their limits and can decide how much they want a specific app/technology/whatever to impact their day-to-day lives.

I would say some people know their limits, but if you look at the number of people who walk around with their eyes glued to their iphone, I'd really question that the majority do.

Ten minutes at a busy intersection in downtown San Francisco will yield frightening results.

I do that too, I stay out of traffic, and I don't see the problem. Of everyday experiences I'd just as soon miss out on, staring at another DONT WALK sign is near the top of the list. When I want to spend time being creative, I wander around a park aimlessly and ignore my phone; navigating busy streets is just enough hassle that it doesn't work for me.

A colleague of mine has turned this into a game: "Count the Zombies"

We all likely personally know a person that SMSs all day, especially if you have a teenager.

However, seeing somebody on their phone briefly doesn't tell you anything. How sure can you be that that passing glance at a person while they were on their phone wasn't the first and only time of the day?

What percent of people fit this criteria? I'd wager that a good portion of them only moderately use their devices. It just seems when you are seen by others doing something you rarely do, they assume you do it all day every day and are obsessed.

tldr; People watching isn't an indicator of how often individual people do things, just how many people are doing something at any given time.

I think that was the point of the basic argument.

Matt was saying that lots of people as a whole have a hard time focusing. Sure, there are people that can focus here and there but so many people are tied to their devices that it can be demonstrated as a trend. While every trend has anomalies, those anomalies don't mean that the trend is nonexistent.

Devices have off switches. People's social expectations don't. For instance, there aren't too many salaried people with enough autonomy to decide that they don't want their bosses e-mailing them after hours, over the weekend, or on vacations and that they're not going to indulge them with prompt replies, regardless of the impact.

Separately, what's with the sarcasm? Do you think that tone makes you more persuasive?

Mullenweg should be more concerned about how his software causes users to do more work than is necessary.

People prefer posts with photos that scroll, not a slideshow (WordPress Gallery). Many posts I do (mainly the ones about Occupy Wall Street) can have over one hundred photos. These photos have to be placed one-by-one manually. There is no "Place All" button that just plops them all into a post (we have bulk upload now, but not bulk Place).

If he is so concerned about making the world a better place, he can start there. That is something he can actually do.

WordPress is open source, you know. You could write a plugin or patch the core code to add any features you'd like.

Why wait for Matt and his team to do it for you?

I'm using the free WordPress service, not the free self-hosted version.

The gallery shortcode supports this, just add these attributes wherever you use [gallery]: columns="1" size="full". That tells it to make it one-column instead of the default three, and for the images to be the width of the post. (They'll resize automatically if you switch themes.) Hope that helps!

Would they still be clickable to enlarge? My template is 550px wide. I upload photos at VGA (640x480) and a few times much larger. There's no desktop blogging software that will allow me to upload images wider than the template to make them clickable. If I had an iPad, Blogsy could do it, though.

Edited after testing: OK, I tried what you suggested. That's better than nothing but not what I mean. Gallery doesn't let me put text in between the photos. That's why Place All is still necessary.

This is the reason I keep my phone on silent. Not even vibrate anymore, but silent. Keeping distractions under control has greatly improved my mental well-being.

Technology and elements of our modern lifestyle such as multitasking really do make our brains less tolerant to stillness and slowing down. So he has a great point.

Plus it wouldn't hurt if people though about the WHY of what they are dOing

That headline isn't hyperbolic at all.

I think you mean: There has never been less hyperbole in a headline, in all the history of the world.

The premise paints a terrible picture of people, such that they aren't the ones making a completely volitional decision about how they want to spend their time. If people want to spend their time reading blogs and Twitter, who are you to say otherwise? It's not your choice, it's not your life, it's none of your business.

Might as well question whether soap opera's, tabloids, espn, disney, movies, television in general, music, and just about every other form of entertainment and media stimulation are destroying the world. After all, isn't modern music crap? Was FRIENDS really worth spending all that time watching? Who really needs to watch 50 NFL games per year? Could there be a greater waste of time than NASCAR? Most movies are an extreme waste of time because they're so terrible, so why make them?

It's a completely absurd premise, and it applies just as well to all media as it does to Twitter or Facebook or Wordpress.

I don't think the premise is absurd at all, and it need not paint a terrible picture of people.

There are often two camps when it comes to topics like this - the free-will proponents who posit that people's behaviors and choices are based on their own conscious, controllable volition. Then there are the contextualists, who would have us believe that people behave as the system dictates and can be held blameless for their failings.

The truth is, naturally, somewhere in between. We can suggest that people are negatively influenced by certain things without denying them free will and personal responsibility.

> "It's not your choice, it's not your life, it's none of your business."

Note that Mr. Mullenweg didn't suggest that systems be designed to actively curb this behavior. There are no Big Brother nor Nanny State overtones to this at all.

> "If people want to spend their time reading blogs and Twitter, who are you to say otherwise?"

Again, nobody has tabled that we should disallow people from reading blogs all day. Mr. Mullenweg seems to be feeling guilt that he's helped create something that may have a negative overall impact on many of its users.

Imagine if you've created the world's most addictive cigarette and completely cornered the market. People all around the world are lighting these things up by the packloads. You wouldn't feel any concern, or even guilt? Surely this is not as simple as "these people are adults, if they smoke like a chimney it's their own damn fault". That logic applies just as easily to crack cocaine or war, and represents the most extreme end of the "free will" argument.

> "and it applies just as well to all media as it does to Twitter or Facebook or Wordpress."

And it does. This is the nation that, after all, invented the TV dinner and the couch potato. In fact, TV's influence on society is a big can o' worms. If Mr. Mullenweg wants to feel better about his role in the creation of new media, he may want to take note that the Internet is the first thing in 50 years to get people off the damn couch and onto a far more interactive, more informative medium. The Internet has some serious information addiction problems that we're just scratching the surface of - but IMO it beats the pants off what it replaced.

Information addiction in general does not have me overly concerned about the future of society and the Internet. What does worry me is the growth of the personalized web - we are very, very rapidly sailing into a future where a person would never have to hear a single word of dissent to their own beliefs. This troubles me more than any other issue that faces the Internet today.

>"... we are very, very rapidly sailing into a future where a person would never have to hear a single word of dissent to their own beliefs. This troubles me more than any other issue that faces the Internet today"

I concur. I don't think this is limited to online interactions either. There were stories a few years ago of how people in the real world were increasingly moving to be near like-minded people (and the negative effects this had on reinforcing their world-views). Wish I could find the story but no luck.

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