Thinker Thoughts: Articles That Made Us Think

Thinker Thoughts is evolving! Every Friday, we’re sharing our 3 favorite reads of the week and what they encouraged us to think about. Give them a think and let us know your thinker thoughts!

What We’ve Been Thinking About This Week

1. Why we might need to reconsider how much time we spend on our smartphones…

how smartphones affect our mindsAn article in the Wall Street Journal, “How Smartphones Hijack Our Minds” (10/6), has us thinking twice about our dependency on our smartphones, based on recent research that suggests “people’s knowledge and understanding may actually dwindle as gadgets grant them easier access to online data stores.”

The quote:

“It isn’t just our reasoning that takes a hit when phones are around. Social skills and relationships seem to suffer as well. Because smartphones serve as constant reminders of all the friends we could be chatting with electronically, they pull at our minds when we’re talking with people in person, leaving our conversations shallower and less satisfying…
But even in the history of captivating media, the smartphone stands out. It is an attention magnet unlike any our minds have had to grapple with before. Because the phone is packed with so many forms of information and so many useful and entertaining functions, it acts as what Dr. Ward calls a “supernormal stimulus,” one that can “hijack” attention whenever it is part of our surroundings—which it always is. Imagine combining a mailbox, a newspaper, a TV, a radio, a photo album, a public library and a boisterous party attended by everyone you know, and then compressing them all into a single, small, radiant object. That is what a smartphone represents to us. No wonder we can’t take our minds off it…
When we constrict our capacity for reasoning and recall or transfer those skills to a gadget, we sacrifice our ability to turn information into knowledge. We get the data but lose the meaning. Upgrading our gadgets won’t solve the problem. We need to give our minds more room to think. And that means putting some distance between ourselves and our phones.”

2. Just how much we’re willing to risk when it comes to space exploration…

space travel risksAn article in The Atlantic, “Space Travel’s Existential Question” (10/10), encourages us to weigh the value we place on space exploration against the cost and sacrifices made by individuals who have lost their lives since NASA’s inception in 1958.

The quote:

“Sometimes, you hear the phrase ‘Failure is not an option’ associated with NASA. But it was never a slogan at the agency; no one in mission control, that we know of, ever said it, and no manager passed it down. It was just a line in the movie Apollo 13. Failure is always an option: It has to be.
Of course, no one wants a rocket to blow up or a crew capsule to fall to Earth. But to undertake space travel, the undertakers have to acknowledge those possibilities and mitigate the risks. As NASA administrator William Gerstenmaier said in his paper ‘Staying Hungry: the Interminable Management of Risk in Human Spaceflight,’ ‘We never simply accept it, but NASA, our stakeholders, and the public must acknowledge the risk as we move forward.’The public, to some extent, also knows that’s the equation. But a 1/200 mission-failure rate means that one doesn’t happen very often, which means that every one comes as a shock.Still, astronauts’ deaths don’t always cause communal moral outrage. ‘A particularly risky venture can become socially acceptable in correlation with the value placed on it,’ Langston wrote in her risk paper. If people value a space-exploration program, in other words, they’re okay with others risking their lives to push it forward.”

3. How millennials are continuing to transform popular culture…

home improvement online classes for millennialsAn article in the Wall Street Journal, “America’s Retailers Have a New Target Customer” (10/10), had us chuckling with the fact that “The Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. has started offering gardening lessons for young homeowners that cover basic tips—really, really basic—like making sure sunlight can reach plants.”

The article reports that home goods, appliance and furnishing companies, such as Home Depot, Williams-Sonoma, Sherwin-Williams, etc., are hosting classes and online tutorials to teach millennials basic household maintenance skills they might not have learned growing up, i.e. how to mow the lawn, use a tape measure, mop a floor, hammer a nail and pick a paint color.

The quote:

“This generation, with its over-scheduled childhoods, tech-dependent lifestyles and delayed adulthood, is radically different from previous ones. They’re so different, in fact, that companies are developing new products, overhauling marketing and launching educational programs—all with the goal of luring the archetypal 26-year-old.
‘They grew up playing soccer, having dance recitals and playing an Xbox,’ says Scott’s Mr. King. ‘They probably didn’t spend as much time helping mom and dad out in the yard as their predecessors or their predecessors’ predecessors.’…
Baby boomers changed the consumer-products industry as they grew up, sending diaper sales soaring in the 1960s, buying power suits in the 1980s and luxury cars and handbags in the 2000s. Marketers promised goods and services that would enable boomers’ independent, free spirits.
Millennials are different, though, especially in the rate at which they achieve independence in adulthood. In 2016, just 24% of 25- to 34-year-olds had experienced all four of what the Census Bureau called major life milestones: having lived away from parents, having been married, having lived with a child and being in the labor force.”

Phrase of the week: “Every problem on this planet, including our problem, must be solved with respect and mutually acceptable [solutions].”

The Dalai Lama, the spiritual head of the Tibetan nation, spoke at a conference of Tibet supporters in northern India this past week, sharing concerns about President Trump’s “America first” policy, while also praising the ideals of liberty, freedom, and democracy. Offering wide ranging remarks on everything from the U.S. to China and the European Union, he aptly noted, “Every problem on this planet, including our problem, must be solved with respect and mutually acceptable [solutions].”

See our previous Thinker Thoughts here, here and here, covering everything from Facebook’s domination of the world to how we might already be living inside a computer.

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