Moore’s law states that the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit doubles approximately every 18 months. Gordon Moore, a co-founder of Intel Corporation, described this in a paper he gave in 1965. It has been a remarkably good prediction, the number rising from approximately one thousand at the time to approximately two and a half billion in 2010. This increase in device count has been central to the amazing increase in the performance of all digital equipment and the internet in this time period.
In the same period, it is safe to say that the ability of the human brain, at least as measured in number of neurons, has not increased at all. This leaves us in new territory, in which we are experimenting with everything from human interaction, to our ability to utilize vast quantities of data, to strains in our traditional employment patterns. Suffice it to say, that our brains are being tested as never before. Yet this seems to not be taken into consideration in the design of many of our industrial products.
I use computers fairly heavily, but to do rather ordinary things. But even though I try not to, I seem often to be upgrading software and hardware. New software often demands upgrading of old, and hardware fails, leading to both new hardware and software. As I write this, I am having problems with a magnificently high bandwidth internet connection that Google recently installed. How could I pass it up, since we are a beta site for a network that delivers data at a gigabyte per second, which even impresses my grandchildren, and it is free for a year. But I have had a failure because of a new piece of hardware, one because of a server in the system, and now because of a faulty router. Google has rapidly responded to these, and after all it is a Beta site, but I have spent considerable time on figuring out the system and switching wires around in the house (fortunately we have kept our old service). In fact, I am about to keep track of the time I spend learning about new software and hardware, as opposed to the time I spend using it. I still have vivid memories of the time we switched from analog to digital TV, along with the rest of the country. Digital is better. But I spent a great deal of time talking to a recording of Shaq Oneal, which I guess was supposed to entertain me until I could get to the tree that switched me to a long wait until I could talk to a person, who often then arranged for a service person to visit me after a day or two.
I feel I am cognitively overloaded now, and I am not even social networking. My old passwords and user names are found faulty, so I have to concoct new ones and figure out how to keep track of them. My e-mail traffic is heavy, I have a blog and a web page to keep up. Stanford just adopted a new web page format (Drupal), and I am learning it, and have just realized the incredible number of modules available, and that it is also a Beta site with sometimes marginal documentation. Going beyond the internet and my computer, our house continues to fill with digital equipment, and our cars have increasingly complex and different electrical systems, and I both by nature and for economic reasons feel I have to be able to maintain such things. And there is rapidly increasing access to interesting information and entertainment. People are constantly sending me amusing written and visual material, websites, and you tube videos. But as the internet becomes crowded with more and more information, I am finding that instead of becoming more useful, it becomes more difficult and takes more time to sort through.
My wife and I are hooked on the simulcasts of the New York Metropolitan Operat, the last one we saw being the six hour final sequence of Wagner’s Ring series (yes I saw the other three). The good news is that to do this we have to drive only a mile, park 50 feet from the theatre for free, and pay $20 for a very comfortable seat with lots of leg room and lots of choice and watch a simply amazing performance with great sound and fantastic camera work, all the while nattily dressed in our levis and sweatshirts and equipped with a large bag of food and drink, in case we wanted to avoid the popcorn-to-Starbucks coffee menu in the lobby. It is absolutely wonderful. I didn’t even know I was an opera fan.
Of course I could avoid all of these distractions newly brought to me by advanced products of industry, but give me a break. I don’t have the discipline to do that. Neither do you!
Is multi tasking the answer? Unfortunately not. Not surprisingly to me, there is more and more evidence that multi-tasking is somewhat of a myth. We can think about more than one problem at a time if the solving of them is rote. If not, the mind simply does a lousy job on both. We are trapped into one conventional human brain. Designers of products traditionally overestimate the ability of customers to use them, because designers, after all, understand the product very well (remember the Three Mile Island Reactor accident? The designers understood the reactor, but the operators did not understand it well enough). But generally, we are able to understand the individual components of the world in which we live. Our trouble is with the sum of these components. My wife and I can easily set the time on a clock, especially if we have instructions.. It is just when we have a lot of clocks (which we do), some of them have “creative” controls (which some of them do) and it is time to switch between standard and daylight saving time, that we feel the limits of our mind.
And I already talked about remotes. I am not looking forward to our “smart” house.