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Keurig: A tale of excellent service

November 15, 2011

 

This is a bit of a departure from what I normally blog about.  Almost a year ago, I purchased a Keurig machine for a variety of purposes.

  • Quick coffee for guests
  • Guest choice for coffee
  • After breaking approximately 20 carafes in my lifetime thus far, I had settled into what I call ghetto coffee maker mode.  This involves boiling water in a teapot, using the drip container from one of the many defunct coffee makers of my past, and a large mason jar.
  • Easy water for brewing tea bags traditionally (steep method).

And here are some of the reasons why we had avoided the Keurig (or other single cup brew options):

  • Waste/plastic/environment  (still an issue, eco-confessionals are a regular thing now ;))
  • Expense (the coffee costs more as compared to traditional brewing.   I do drink less now, though, so perhaps that offsets in health expenses the actual per-cup cost.)

But we took the plunge, and for 8 months, all was beautiful.  Then, it would stop in the middle of heating water, requiring an unplug and a 10+ minute timeout before it could heat the water again.  Tried cleaning it, to no avail.  And then, about 2 months ago, it just stopped turning on.

Not usually a details man, this one kind of waited until Veterans day for me to contend with.  Calling up the company, and seeing what they could do for me.

The rest of the story is quite simple:

November 11th, 2011:

Called Keurig, told them my woes, gave them my serial number, and was told that they would be sending a replacement (awesome.)  Given the following pieces of information on the phone:

  • Took up to 2 business days to process the replacement
  • Would take up to 7 additional business days to arrive.

Hey… considering that the receipt was gone, and that they were doing basically the right thing — who could complain, right?

November 12th, 2011:

Doorbell rings a little before noon.  FedEx home delivery hands me a box.  Inside box is my new Keurig machine.

 

This was just simply awesome.  I think often times we share the ugly, and forget to share the great experiences that we have with a company or organization.  I am very pleased, and very caffeinated, yet again.

 

Occam’s Plastic Spork

November 2, 2011

Introduction, written after the fact:

Please excuse this ramble.  Sometimes ideas just bounce around in my head, and right now, I have no more room left for this one to go un-expressed…but please don’t go assuming this is well thought out…even if it has been long thought out…  and it is only as serious as you wish to take it 😉

=======================================

I remember many things from my first year of college quite vividly (which is actually quite amazing, given the years that have rolled passed since.)  Amazing things, amazing people.   But what is most relevant to what follows in this post: it is quite awesome to think about some of the creative ways of writing “papers” I tried and actually got away with.

No- I’m not talking about the starting a 9 page paper at 2am and getting it printed and in the professor’s hands at the start of class at 9am across campus..  although that certainly did happen, and quite more frequently than I am proud of 😉

Some of the first papers that I wrote were assignments for political science and philosophy classes, and I chose a method of expression usually not used for college papers: dialogue.  Although, more like “polylogue” crossed with playwright and a minimum set of stage direction.   I say this, because, it was both a really straightforward way of presenting thoughts and counter-thoughts on academic subjects, and yet so far out of the actual parameters of the assignments in question, it’s a wonder I got A’s and not F’s :).  Hey, take a chance: win big!

So what follows is NOT something I thought of or handed  in during my college years, though my wit remains un-dulled these many years hence…  Nor is it a good example of advancing thought.  But it is a shortcut for exposition.

That being said, I have a scientific (cough!) precept that has been gaining traction in the deep parts of my brain — the parts that often stay busy churning out weird thoughts and subtly re-written Monty Python sketches, memories of the past and the future, mystic musings, and the occasional catch-phrase.  Lacking the motivation to actually reason it out fully, realize that it is a scientic precept the way that “fried eggs” is a recipe.

———————————————————————————————————

Occam’s Plastic Spork

The part of Thoughtful and Patient Listener can be played by many people, as I work this out in my head.  I have a list of people who I have “play-ran” such conversations in my head with, just to see how this all argues out.  What follows is a completely un-edited subtext of thought regarding what could be a philosophical breakthrough.

Thoughtful and Patient Listener: So, Dave.  I understand you have this new precept you wanted to run by me.

Dave: yup.  You’re familiar with the Scientific precept known as “Occam’s Razor”?

TaPL: You mean the one you first heard about in  the movie “Contact”?

Dave: Yeah..that’s it.  You see, my theory is that Occam had to eat, right?  He couldn’t just survive by cutting to the chase… he had to actually (I assume it’s a ‘he’– {shouts to someone offstage: “Anyone know if Occam was a dude?” ..muffled response from offstage: ‘who the F*** is Occam?!’} — ok, let’s assume Occam’s a dude — eat, right? 

TaPL {patience slipping}: YES

Dave: Okay.  Well, I propose that in addition to cutting to the chase (we assume occam’s razor –{or was he british, and did he spell razor with an ‘s’?} —  was metaphoric, right? ) .. and getting a smooth shave .. scientifically speaking, of course…  Occam would have great use for a plastic spork.  Or a wooden one {shouts back to offstage: “Any chance there was plastic around when Occam developed the razor?” ..muffled response, louder this time, “OK.. Wiki says Ockham/Occam was from the middle ages… must’ve been a primitive razor!”} … Well.. that settles it, Occam would really have had a use for a plastic spork, but coming from the middle ages, he needed to settle for things as mundane as normal forks, and razors.  That explains it…

TaPL: not sure I am following …

Dave: It’s quite simple really.  Occam’s Razor, at least these days, boils down to the idea that “All things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be the best one” ..  or, stated a little differently, “If  one removes certain variables from the equation, and accept a specific set of ‘givens’, the simplest explanation tends to be the correct one, and the simplest solution the best”

TaPL: yup..”Contact”..I saw it too

Dave: Well, you see.  Occam saw it a little differently.  It was more along the lines of “Do not over-complicate”, not “Try to reduce to the most simple”…there is a subtle difference… and for that difference,  I suggest that we apply the precept “Occam’s Plastic Spork” to sort the whole mess out.  Life rarely is simply a beard needing shaving … or a precise problem needing razor-like precision.  Many of the problems facing us today do not have simple solutions that can fit the space of a Tweet or a 5-second buzz-clip.

TaPL: o….k…  and “plastic spork”?

Dave: Well–it sounded good in my head.  Occam’s Plastic Spork is a tangent to the scientific precept Occam’s Razor, especially as paraphrased by modern would-be scientists, and states mainly the following:

   Even though most problems can be reduced and simplified to simpler arguments, especially depending on who frames the debate, it doesn’t mean that they should be; a loss of details is a loss of data, and any decision made that way is a shot in the dark at a solution.  Removing all variables, even the ones we don’t understand {or especially so}, does not make a fair debate, or a simpler decision–it makes no debate, and  it muddies the waters–it makes for poor problem solving. 

TaPL: ok.. and “plastic spork”?

Dave: Ok..its a freaking pithy soundbyte–are you happy?  “When life hands you an issue as complex as a thick 5-bean, potato and vegetable stew, attack it with Occam’s Plastic Spork”

———————————————————————————————————————————–

Or even more plainly stated:

Don’t oversimplify.  Don’t simplify away unknowns or variables.   Don’t reach for a razor, it makes for messy stew eating.

RE: “If your TV told you to rebel, would you do it?” blog

October 25, 2011

A friend of mine wrote a piece in email, and we decided that the “fur” should fly on his own blog.

Here it is:  http://catboy.refactorings.net .

His first post discusses the various “Occupy” movements, and asks questions relating to the “who is the puppet and where are the strings” principles…

Enjoy.

 

Selling is about healthy relationships! (RE: Harvard Business Review blog on “Selling is not about relationships”)

September 30, 2011

 

This blog post was inspired by reading a blog post on Harvard Business Review.

Go there and read it if you’d like, first.  I’ll wait 😉

For starters… I want to frame this post with the following items of understanding:

  • Little editing was done to this before draft-to-publish.  I hope it stands up to my regular concept of a quality blog post 😉
  • I was in sales for the early part of my adult life.  Much of it was “retail”, and a lot of the measurements and thoughts in the referenced blog are for “b2b”.  That these are different selling environments is accepted as true, although, I posit that in both cases, people can be selling to other people, if they are doing it right.  In both cases (retail and b2b) it is p2p that matters, or so I have always thought.
  • I don’t regularly read Harvard Business Review.  The link I followed was courtesy of LinkedIn.
  • I have always felt that there is a sales component to every job that people do.  Many people do not like salespeople.  I argue that they haven’t met the right salespeople.  In the best of worlds, salespeople are highly trained professionals, adept at understanding what you need, and matching those things, of the products and services that they provide, which match your need.  A true sales professional, in my opinion, is one who is categorized by a quote I share from one of my sales directors (when I was managing as cellular retail phone store back in the days of analog cellular.  Her name is Wendy, and as I am quoting from memory, I have paraphrased a bit, most likely.)

I define a great sales person as:  ‘One who is capable of turning shoppers into buyers with sales that wear well’

In the article, the authors categorize all b2b sales people as one of 5 types (the descriptions are in the HBR blog post.)

  • Relationship Builders
  • Hard Workers
  • Lone Wolves
  • Reactive Problem Solvers
  • Challengers

Typically, it is thought that the first group would outperform all others, and sales as relationship building has gotten a great deal of effort, training, recruiting, etc… associated with it.  The authors posit that it is not relationship builders, but rather, the last group, Challengers that truly perform the best (There is a study to back it up.  The study also suggests that those in the Relationship Builders class perform the lowest.)   I will paste the descriptions of the two below, for making the rest of my blog post clear:

  • Relationship Builders focus on developing strong personal and professional relationships and advocates across the customer organization. They are generous with their time, strive to meet customers’ every need, and work hard to resolve tensions in the commercial relationship.
  • Challengers use their deep understanding of their customers’ business to push their thinking and take control of the sales conversation. They’re not afraid to share even potentially controversial views and are assertive — with both their customers and bosses.

I think this is a very positive thing for both types if, indeed, customers respond better to the Challengers.  It is good for the people who keep trained, keep knowledgeable about all approaches, and understand their customer deeply enough to know where proposed solutions might not match desired outcomes.   This involves identifying with the problems that their customers are facing, listening both to what they are saying, and what they are not saying, and suggesting alternatives that should provide better solutions.  As these people are strong of mind and will, they stand up to organizational pressures from both sides of the “aisle”.

So, maybe you are asking the question: Why is it good for Relationship Builders as well?

My theory is simple:

  • Challengers are not actually a distinct type of sales person.  Challengers are a special type of the “Relationship Builders” category.  The in-common skills and behaviors they possess are that they (are trying to) form relationships with their customers.
  • Challengers are a special non-“co-dependant” subset of the Relationship Builders type.  Simply put, they are  not “yesmen”.  They help the customer buy what they need, even if it is not precisely what they came to the table wanting.
  • It is highly possible that the original models for the “relationship based selling” hubbub were actually Challengers.  Not only did they understand the environment.  Not only were they responsive and available to their customers, but they had such a healthy relationship with the people at these organizations, that they could effectively say “no, I don’t think we should do it that way–and I’ll tell you why.”  They had a healthy enough relationship with their co-workers that they could say “I think we can do this better.”
  • In the rush to hire relationship based sales people, or to refactor their existing sales organizations into being relationship based, sales organizations may have wound up with a significant number of pseudo-relationship based practices and salespeople.

Not sure if I am right, but I think I am.

And I can’t help but think that this type of pseudo-personality based selling is what has brought us to the “customer loyalty card” fiasco at local shopping stores.  (How many do you have in your wallet/on your keychain?)   The various keyword based ads we see online.   The impersonal attempts of a computer system to sound personal while harvesting your data and delivering your eyeballs to the highest bidding purveyor of crap.   Every business now wants you to “Like” them on Facebook.

There is a project that I have been aware of for awhile called Project VRM.   It looks to address the issues that the world of “Client Relationship Management” (CRM) has exacerbated.    Doc Searls is involved (an understatement) — It looks like its where he focuses most of his effort these days.   If these things aren’t related, I’m sure Doc would tell me why 😉  I am pretty sure that they are.

If I have to “be sold”, you probably haven’t done your job right.  If you suggest something, and I want to buy it, because I get the distinct feeling that you’ve paid attention to the information I’ve shared, and done some thinking on top of it,  chances are you did your job right.

I posit that you can’t just talk to people.  It is about the conversation.  Every time you encounter a potential customer, it is about relating.   It is about understanding.  It is about creating a healthy relationship with other people, where something you are selling may indeed be what they are buying.

Check your assumptions :: Science is comprised of theories that have yet to be disproved (aka “Roll your own express elevators”)

September 19, 2011
tags:

Mainly, I am a bystander in the global warming discussion.  In many circles, catastrophic signals of global warming seem to be incontrovertible fact.  Many pseudo-scientists weigh in on the discussion, and of course, brow-beating and other impolite forms of debate ensue.  In the wake, real scientists on either side of the issue (namely: Are humans irrevocably changing the environment of this earth in ways that will make it unsuitable for human life in the relatively not-to-distant-future?) get caught in a perilous cross-fire of politics, religious fanaticism, and debate trolls.

My gut feeling is that the environment is changing, and to the detriment of humans living on the earth.  This was my gut feeling before Al Gore began his crusade.  It was my feeling before Al Gore invented the internet ;).

I was thinking recently of how sometimes data acts to reinforce myths as fact.  Information that could be analyzed in a positive light toward the theory at hand are used to bolster said theory.

Take for example, a theory that I held regarding elevators in tall buildings, specifically ones that stop, it seems, on every floor imaginable on the way to the floor you are trying to get to.  These elevators lack an “express” button.  The theory was simply this:  if I held down simultaneously the “door close” button and the button for the floor that I was trying to get to, it would keep the elevator from stopping.  (Let us disregard whether this is a polite thing to do in a building where many people need to change floors frequently, that is a different debate.  Also,  let us debate whether or not taking the stairs instead of the elevator might function as a low-tech “stairmaster” and improve my overall health.  Again, a different debate.)

Armed with this theory of the “roll your own” express elevator, I could put it to the test.  Every time I needed to get to Floor 12 from the Lobby, I performed this action.  Going down?  The same.   For a solid week.  And you know what?  Evidence suggested that I was correct.  Wow!  I figured it out!  No more waiting for various passengers, I was the master of the building’s vertical transportation!  Mwu ha ha ha…

Except: the theory was wrong.  One day, assuming I could express my way downstairs and head to the parking lot, it stopped on floor 10.  And then 9.  And then 2.  What went wrong?

I had gathered evidence for my theory, but theories are never proven.  They remain theories until disproven (disproved?).  Science works like this.  What went wrong is that, when dealing with scientific theory, it is the data that disproves that is sought, and constantly re-sought.  Theories are proposed.  The model environment for experimentation is one where data is cast in the role of skeptic.  Theories that stand the test of time (rigorous experimentation  and data gathering) are stronger theories, but they are still theories.

Climate science (and the “Climate Science” debate) lacks this perspective, by and by.

I am not saying that there are not serious scientists trying to figure out if we have irrevocably horked up our “operating environment”.   The (not-actually-in-the) background chatter is noise.  And I think that the issue needs serious scientific discussion to be of use.

An aside…  I have not given up the idea that there is a “roll your own” express elevator — just came to realize that the “floor+close” method does not work 😉

PS: Many times, when I author a post like this, I spend a great deal of time fashioning and re-fashioning my thought.  This post kind of got drafted and written in a 5 minute window, so I hope it holds up to my normal “post-blogged review” standards.  I don’t intend to edit it.
PPS: Also, when writing a blog, I generally try to incorporate links to what I read that inspired me at that time to write something about a topic.  Today I tried something different.  I deliberately sought out some topic to blog about today, as I have been remiss in updates to this blog.  As such, these places are not my usual blog hangouts.  Still, referencing (linking) is the glue that holds the internet together.  So, for this blog post, they are here:

  • This is a blog I saw featured on the wordpress dashboard, as a popular wordpress blog.  It is a little more “the end is nigh”-ey than I normally would find myself reading.
  • This is a blog post that mentions some scientists that have taken abuse and/or have chosen to dis-associate themselves with “reputable” science organizations due to the lack of science in  Climate Science (it asks if Climate Science can be considered a science)  (also from scouring the wordpress blog links on the dashboard)

Google, Motorola, Patent Shields and the Double-Edged Sword

August 16, 2011

The Official Google blog starts by discussing Motorola’s history in the wireless market, from early cell phones (remember the analog ‘Brick’ phone?  The ‘Flip’?) to the early introduction of the tiny StarTAC; they also remind their readers that Motorola bet their smart phone strategy on the Android operating platform.  It says  “That is why I am so excited today to announce that we have agreed to acquire Motorola.”  (Link to press announcement)

I’ve read some commentary, and some background…  Eric Raymond has added an almost permanent fixture on his blog, a series of posts that begin with “The Smartphone Wars:” …  so as a regular observer of his work, I have been primed.  His thoughts on the acquisition, and his immediate predictions, can be found here.  It is clear to Eric that this is about the patents.  Most commentary on the blog also acknowledges this, and much commentary goes back and forth about whether this is all about the patents, or mostly about the patents.  When today’s announcement is a somewhat distant past, the truth will be clear.  Until then, people can feel free to discuss.

I might have a few readers who have not given much thought to patents.  There was a reason why patents exist, and in the constitution, it is said (essentially, and heavily paraphrased) that it provides inventors the incentive to take the risks inherent in bringing new inventions and discoveries to public light.  They exist to encourage people to invent, and to share, by protecting the patent-holder’s right (for a limited time) to decide who can use their inventions, and at what cost.  In many cases, this is (or was at least) true.  While I suppose this discussion could broaden to other patentable fields, the one that is most relevant here is that of Software Patents.  Regardless of what their initial intent was,  it seems that software patents act with a chilling effect to stifle true invention.  For years, big software companies have been amassing what are called “Patent Portfolios”.  These portfolios can act as swords (weapons to use against competitors), and they can act as shields (deterrents).  They really do not mother invention.

Part of the issue is that the people issuing patents really lack the technical savvy to determine actually patentable software.  Maybe some people are familiar with this 1975 patent issued for the “Method of concealing partial baldness”.  (I wonder how many aging men had to pay their dues to the patent holder of the comb-over, that is, before it was no longer enforceable.)    What most people don’t know, is that there are many patents like this in the software industry, that are a horrible abuse of the system.  You can defend yourself (perhaps a small software development shop) against patent litigation with one of these specious patents by proving the existence of “prior art.”  So:  no harm, no foul.  Right?  Well, yes and no.  You can prove prior art, when you get your day in court.  In today’s system, however, the amount of money you need to spend to defend yourself against patent litigation by companies with endless zombie armies of litigious patent warriors is astronomical.  It is often just easier, and cheaper, to fold up your tent.

Back to The Sword and The Shield.  If you are a big company, and you don’t like competition, you can get your hands on some good legal ammunition by buying up companies that have interesting patents.  They don’t really have to be valid, they just have to be issued.  Many battles over intellectual property have been fought with patents as the weapon, but mostly it is used as extortion (various forms… “Don’t do it, or we’ll sue” .. or “Do it, and pay us $$$, or we’ll sue.”)  But like any go0d arms race, get enough big players in the game, and instead of wars of attrition, you get cold wars, and delicate truces.  There is a likelihood that two players in the same sub-section of the software field will technically infringe on one another’s crazy patents.  So, something like “You could sue me for XYZ .. but I’ll countersue for ABC … ” is the detente.

Here is where we get back to the subject that precipitated the discussion.  A (the?) primary reason for Google wanting to buy Motorola, is, as Eric Raymond said:

This is Google telling Apple and Microsoft and Oracle “You want to play silly-buggers with junk patents? Bring it on; we’ll countersue you into oblivion.”

It makes perfect sense.  The android market is threatened by people who want a bigger piece of the smartphone money, and this move would be a brilliant counter-stroke on behalf of Google’s partners, and to protect Google’s interest in the platform.  Motorola’s patents are good for the portfolio.  Google steps into the arena, and wields the double-edged sword, and screams “I am Spartacus!”

The deafening cheers of the crowds that look on shakes the very skies with its intensity.   The hero has arrived.

.. still reading?

The patent sword is double-edged, with a flaming hilt as well.  One expects repeat offender patent trolls to use the tactic.  Bad guys do bad things.  The peril for Google is the mind share that it has:  this sword cuts the wielder as well as the opponent.     Google began with the near-perfecting of the delicate art of web search.  Making it bigger, better, quicker and relevant.  True innovation.  When Google went public, many feared that it would shed its nice-guy role, and descend into the depths of  hell, to be crowned “that big evil corporation”.   Google has spread its innovation across various aspects of the web.  Say what you want.  Fear what you must.  But, they certainly innovate.

So, certainly, going nuclear at this stage is unbecoming…

..let my mind wander briefly back to the broader issue of patents, before I wander back to Google and Motorola again:

It is a damned shame that software has come to this state.   Google has interests in the Android platform.  It is open.  Google has partners.  It is a shame that it has to muck through this filth to protect what it has built.  But here is where I, with 81.34% certainty (a number most certainly pulled straight out of my ass), can state that there is no better way.  Spend the money to buy the flaming shit-shield of a smart-phone patent arsenal, or spend the money fighting the trolls with rocks and sticks.   I have resigned myself to this, in the current state of patents in the USA, as being a necessary act of legal war.

I guess the other fear is that Google now will own the hardware that its software runs on.  The “vertical”.  Many posit that it will shed itself of the actual hardware business, and keep the patents.  This may be.  As I said earlier:

When today’s announcement is a somewhat distant past, the truth will be clear.

Google has made some mistakes.  And much of the way that they are ever-present in the internet of today frightens me.  If only because, in time, those who run Google now might not be those who run  Google in the future when.  But Google has innovated.  Its possible that they will tinker with the hardware, and try to combine their drive to build the biggest rat-trap with Motorola’s (if sometimes spotty and perhaps roller-coastery) history of cell phone leadership, and come up with something extraordinary.

I guess I’ve come all this way to say, I just don’t know.  I want to believe, but real heroes are few and far between.

And to Doc , who inspired me to weigh in on my blog, I quote and paraphrase some my scattered, initial thoughts on the matter, as a close.  In essence, I want to believe that Google will be true to their origins, but this was my gut reaction:

I am currently reviewing the googarola thing … It is obviously
potentially fraught with danger… and a great deal of it comes down
to trusting that Google’s “Do No Evil” philosophy can survive Wall
Streets “Cover your ass-ets” mindset–especially in light of patent
portfolios.

The real question is how strong is the existing community of “Open”
developers for the Android market — can they absorb the Patent +
Closed Source influx and change minds?  One could say that it marks a
sort of test — if the “open way” is better–it should win.  But that
person would also be missing the fact that Patents miss the mark they
were intended to make — they often stifle the type of innovative
thought, the “free marketplace of ideas” … in the name of promoting
innovation.

The biggest danger, is, that Google seems to get a pass from the
otherwise “big corp” leery(sp) techies.  “It’s google–their heart is
in the right place” .. except they’re not a garage band anymore,
they’re playing the big arenas…and big money means compromise where
“the art” is concerned.  Almost always.    And they might amass their
flocks of t-shirt wearing fans with hard-hitting provocative thought
— but its all teenie-bopper when the real world of economics settles
in.

This, children, is something that we used to call “a book”

July 9, 2011

The Grandson(Fred Savage): A book?
Grandpa(Peter Falk): That’s right. When I was your age, television was called books. And this is a special book. It was the book my father used to read to me when I was sick, and I used to read it to your father. And today I’m gonna read it to you.
The Grandson: Has it got any sports in it?
Grandpa: Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…
The Grandson: Doesn’t sound too bad. I’ll try to stay awake.
Grandpa: Oh, well, thank you very much, very nice of you. Your vote of confidence is overwhelming.

The Princess Bride (Movie) 1987  (Director: Rob Reiner)

So.  I have been reading “The Shallows : What the Internet is doing to our brains” {by Nicholas Carr} .  For anybody who has not read it, this is a book well worth reading.   I am not done with it yet, but can safely say that it will be one of my favorites of its genre, if only for putting to words something that has been nagging my gut for a while already.

This book seemed to me to be a natural next step following  “Code: And Other Laws of Cyberspace” and “Free Culture : The Nature and Future of Creativity” (both by Lawrence Lessig) .. and “The Big Switch: Rewiring the World from Edison to Google” (also by Carr).  Even though these authors cover different aspects of internet and culture, there are parallels and intersections that fascinate me in most literature, regardless of how close or far apart they are in realm or scope.

The generations that follow mine have become enamored with the “World Wide Computer”.  Social networking sites.  Blogs.  Twitter.  Web pages.  Online multi-player games.  Wiki for homework… Email.  Forums.   …we find freaks who are just like us; distance (which in the physical world assists in marginalizing outcasts) is negligible between any two points on the internet (The Giant Zero).  The internet society is omnipresent, and its allure undeniable– one could get lost in a place like this: many people do.

Before this starts sounding like some sort of old man rant (“When I was your age, we didn’t have no namby pamby Facebook.  We had BBSes, Commodore 64s, and BASIC… and we liked it that way!“)… my generation has become enamored also…. and much of my parents’ generation — and even some of their parents as well.  It has developed as an all-purpose tool and toy:  it has fascinated people from all walks of life.

The point that Nicholas Carr makes {so far, still reading ;), almost done :)} throughout the book (The Shallows, which, incidentally, is developed and laid out in a similar style to The Big Switch) is that as humanity shapes and forges tools, those tools shape and forge humanity.  And not (only) in an abstract way.  The actual wiring of the brain is altered through repetition.  Tools (such as the typewriter, the word processor, the word processing computer applications, the weblog tools, etc..) affect the actual way that the thoughts are forged and presented.  In so doing, they manipulate the author, just as the author manipulates them.

He traces the history of this dual influencer<->influencee relationship that we have with tools back as far as the changes that the phonetic alphabet brought to thought, and the changes that “spaces” between words brought as well.   The section regarding the transformation that the written word brought to the concepts of thought and imagination was one of those moments for me where I understood it instantly, and it made perfect sense, despite the fact that I had never thought of it quite that way before.  What was actually created with the tools of the written language differed substantially from the works of oral tradition that preceded it.  The technology of books encouraged linear thought; reading involved a deeper set of thought processes than the traditions which preceded it.

Not intending to summarize each and every part of the book, I will say, it lays out a history of these changes, one that it seems modern neuroscience is beginning to understand:  an evolution, where time and again, the tinkerer finds that the new invention tinkers with his or her mind.   And it is no case more true than with the Internet (the World Wide Web, Web 2.0/3.0, etc…)  And in fact, the book makes a compelling argument that the Web has the potential to make the mind-altering neurological changes at rapid speed (many of the stimuli required to form such changes in the brain happen multiple times a second when using a computer to browse the World Wide Database.)

It is the second argument of the book, though, that concerned me enough to start writing this post before finishing the reading of the book.  (Or perhaps, it is some of these re-wired neurons, driving me to write this post online,  rather than have the patience to wait for the finishing of the reading of the book…)   Even if (while) you accept the premise that the tools we use for expressing thought can actually alter the content (and not just the delivery) of the thought, you still might not find cause for alarm.   It has been happening with disruptive technologies for all of history.   Here is where Nicholas Carr brings in what may indeed be a cause for alarm.  Studies done show that the the internet stimulates several senses, at a much greater and unrelenting pace than previous technologies,  and does not allow for the relaxed mind that can engage in deeper thought.  It is the argument that the Age of the Web (as opposed to the Age of Books) encourages superficial learning, and perhaps over time, more superficial thought.  Some accept this as certain, and state that it is OK.  Perhaps the small period of the democratization of deep thought (brought about by the ubiquitous availability of books) was an aberration from a natural state where elite thinkers thought deep thoughts, and the rest of society labored.  And if that is so, the internet (web) can entertain the masses superficially, and allow a dedicated set of thinkers to worry about deeper meaning.  I hope not.

The question I ask (and I invite others to read this book and participate in this conversation):  Is it true?  And if so, is this step of wading in “The Shallows” part of a larger process relating to the internet that has yet to take hold?  Is the current state of the internet, and the tools, akin to the alphabet and scriptura continua stage that preceded the Age of Books?  Or does this technology inevitably rewire our brain in a way destined to short circuit our brain’s function, ultimately, from deeper cognition?  Do we wade in the shallows of thought, waiting for the tide of knowledge to come crashing back in with a new opportunity to delve deeper, or do we fumble about in the low tides for the foreseeable future?