Sunday, October 31, 2010

Classrooms in America

If you’ve ever seen American movies, you must have noticed that American classrooms are quite different from Indian classrooms. Of course, movies being movies, nothing much could be said about it, without seeing an actual classroom. This Saturday, I had the chance to, because the meditation session I was attending was held in a kids’ classroom.

The first thing I noticed was how much stuff it had. I always remember my own school classrooms to be rather sterile – desks and chairs and blackboard and chalk and that’s it. Sure there was a notice board where we could put things up but it was generally bare.

Here, the walls were covered with pictures and paintings often drawn by the kids themselves. Books were stored in one corner in the class room. And there was tons of other stuff, paint, crafts material and toys, games, posters and what not.

(As an aside, the American tendency to accumulate stuff is really fascinating. Whenever I’ve had a chance to see an American’s office or living room, it has always appeared to me to be so full of stuff. Indian living or working spaces always seem to sparse in comparison.)

The second thing was how personal the space was for kids. The stuff that was around wasn’t stuff just bought from the store. It was stuff that they used or drew with or with their own pictures and names on it.

The third thing was a notice outside the classroom -- not adults except teachers etc. are allowed in the corridor when the classes are in progress. The omnipresent American fear of child abusers is rather unusual for my Indian sensibilities.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Churches in America

This Saturday, I took an early morning bus ride uptown. It was a 5 mile ride, straight on one road. The sheer number of churches that I saw surprised me. The number of churches I saw much have been more than the number of stops the bus stopped at. Even though I come from a country where every tree and every stone bigger than your fist is a temple, it surprised me to see so many places of worship in this country. Perhaps that was because every church was a full fledged building, often with a garden etc. Big temples in India aren’t many. Usually we just have a ton of little ones.

There are other differences between churches and temples. Temples are often of ritual importance. It is enough for you to just have visited the temple and sighted the idol. Sure, participating in the arti or getting the prasad are bonuses but aren’t done all the time. Usually you’re just in and out of a temple. Second, particular temples are important. Visiting your neighborhood shrine isn’t the same as visiting Jagannath Puri.

Churches on the other hand are not only places of worship but also community centers. They are places to meet people, eat, sing, dance, have fun – themed around religion of course. One usually finds a church that’s nearby and has views that fit with one’s personal morality. And goes goes there to make friends. This community aspect of churches is what fascinates me most. Hindus may find such community at a satsang or during ganpati, but not really at temples. No wonder churches bind this nation the way they do.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Feminism and Last Names

Names are important to feminism. In many cultures when a man and a woman get married, the woman changes her last (family) name to that of her husband. This is problematic for feminists because it is indicative of the subservience of the woman to the man and an affirmation of the patriarchal structure of the family.

Thus, a whole lot of present day women have take the alternative of keeping a hyphenated last name. Some of them go as far as to not change their names at all. Till here, all is well and good.

The problem begins when it comes to kids. What last names do the kids get? They can get a hyphenated last name which sounds fair to both the mother and the father. However, it doesn’t seem very practical in the long run. Because what happens when these kids with hyphenated last names grow up and get married to others with hyphenated last names? The second generation would have to have a last name with four parts, the third with eight and so on. Very soon, it will be completely impossible to keep track of any names at all!

Given all of this, I’m really surprised that I haven’t yet come across people challenging the fundamental assumption that there need to be last names at all. The whole concept of a family and hence a family name is tied to patriarchy. Aren’t feminists who choose to keep any last name at all unknowingly giving in to patriarchy? Why aren’t we seeing people with just their first name and no last name?

Here’s a funny thing to amuse you. A while ago I was reading a lot of atheist blogs. One of the many topics discussed was what to do with last names after a marriage and/or what last names should kids get. It was really funny that people discussed it on an atheist blog. I always thought it was a feminist issue! Second, I really wonder why people didn’t come up with ‘just the first name’ solution! Here’s one such post.

PS: I’m aware that there are legal issues with having just the first name. But that’s the point. Laws are made with the tacit assumption of a patriarchal family. It’s like the gay marriage issue in the US.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mindfulness is like Athletics

I find mindfulness like athletics in many ways

Just as athletics strengthens the body, mindfulness strengthens the mind. Athletics is practicing body motion, mindfulness is practicing thinking patterns.

Just like athletics, regular practice is important to develop sustained mindfulness. Despite all the stories they tell about the ‘awakening’ on the Buddha, you will only become mindful slowly and gradually over time. Just like even a child can at least run and even an Olympic champion must keep up their practice, there will never be a moment when you don’t get it at all and there will never be a moment where there is nothing else to perfect.

Just like athletics, there is nothing mystical about mindfulness. Many other meditation techniques often become mystical or at least ritualistic. While there definitely is ritual involved if you follow any one of the Buddhist traditions, there is nothing mystical about mindfulness itself. All you’re being asked to do is be aware of your thoughts.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

When You Meditate, Light a Candle

I always light a candle when I meditate.

Light a candle when you meditate. Observe how the flame flickers and sways in the currents of air that you did not even know existed. Watch how the wax melts and drips over the edge, only to pool around the base o f the candle. Notice how the wick only burns after the wax has burnt. Mesmerize yourself with the play of light and shadow.

Be reminded that time passes. And that each moment is different and special. That change is the only permanence and that the wax that has burnt will never come back. That every beginning has an end and that every end is a new beginning.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Use Software Tools to Lessen Distraction

Most distraction in modern urban life comes from being connected. There is the old fashioned phone and email, and the new fangled Facebook and Twitter.

These distractions can become addictive and prevent you from focusing on what’s important and doing your best work. I’m currently experimenting with using software itself to lessen this distraction.

I use a program called mail-notification on Ubuntu to notify me of incoming email. Since I habitually install OSes several times a year, I install and configure mail-notification as many times. And since this has almost become a habit, I set the check email interval automatically to 1 minute. I want to be informed of the new email as soon as possible. Today I changed this interval to 2 hours. The idea is to be distracted by email only every two hours, not immediately. Two hours is a good interval to start with. Nothing that’s more urgent is communicated via email. I’m planning to increase this interval to 4 to 6 hours in the future.

I also use the Gwibber client to connect to Twitter. I’ve set that interval to 2 hours too. I’m planning to get rid of Gwibber altogether in the future. But I’m not sure about that. Perhaps a 4 to 6 hour check interval for Twitter will be adequate.

Do you also use software tools to lessen distractions? If so which ones? And how? Leave your comments.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Gaping Hole in Indian Higher Education

There is a gaping hole in Indian higher education. I’m probably speaking from the perspective of engineering/science education but I’m sure the situation in other fields is the same.

In engineering, we have the IITs at the top. Some NIT’s and BITS are probably at par. They offer quality education and training. But they are few and the student intake is barely a few thousand combined.

The next best institutes are state level colleges and universities and barring a few possible exceptions, are largely pathetic. The education they provide is worse than no education.

This is the gaping hole. In the US, there is continuous gradation in the quality of universities from top to the bottom. There is not quantum leap between the best universities and the next best ones. Given this system, the chances of a student landing at an institution best suited to his abilities or means are high. In India, you either get very good education (at an IIT) or you get a pathetic one. If you aren’t lucky enough to make it into the top tier, you’re left with nothing.

We need to saturate out this gap in the Indian higher education – bring up the level of state level colleges and universities. This might be even more important that setting up new IITs or IIMs. When the competition around them rises, IITs and IIMs will automatically be forced to up their game to remain on top. Right now they have no competition. They are probably stagnating or worse, deteriorating.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

30 Rock and the Reset Button

I really love 30 Rock. It’s a mature and really funny comedy. It is also a very good example of the reset button in episodic retelling.

The reset button in storytelling refers to a trope where at the end of each episode (or set of episodes) the situations of various characters more or less goes back to where they began. Thus, as the story progresses, nothing essentially changes in the life of these characters. Apparently the trope began when television producers demanded that they be able to telecast the episodes in any order they wanted. The reset button makes it easy for viewers to ‘jump in to’ to the show at any point. It also makes possible for the viewers to be able to enjoy the same character over and over again.

30 Rock is a classic example of the reset button. Let’s take a few examples.

  • Leading character Liz Lemon is forever looking for the guy. She dates many men one after the other but each one of them turn out to be not for her.
  • Jack Daunaghy does the same. He also tries to get promoted to the CEO of the company ever so often but every time something happens that sends him back to his old office.
  • It often looks like that Kenneth will finally be able to achieve something despite his heartland-America innocence but he always ends up being the page.
  • Similar things happy to Tracy and Jenna. They often go off on side projects which might lead them away from TGS. But they too always end up back at the TGS as actors.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Involvement at the Library

Continuing on the theme of civic sense in America – sometimes last year, the Columbus Metropolitan Library was facing budget cuts due to the recession. One day I received an email from the library explaining the whole situation and asking me to contact the governor’s office if I felt the budget cuts were detrimental to the library system and the community it served.

Even at that time I was quite impressed by this. Such a campaign would be unthinkable back in India. Switching libraries with another public service that Indian people actually value – public transportation – it is still unthinkable that a) the public would actually come to know about the budget cuts b) that some of them would be organized enough to stage a protest c) that they will not be ‘punished’ for joining the protest.

‘Punishment’ is a huge deterrent in India. Given that we all got emails from the library and the protest was on the front page of the website, I’m assuming that at least some library officials were involved with the protest. In India, I can’t image office holders to get involved at all. Because as soon as they do, they’d be punished – transfers, suspensions or verbal admonition from their bosses.

So what makes protests of this sort possibly in the US? Does America have a cleaner system where such punishment isn’t meted out? Or does it have more courageous people who don’t really care about what happens to them? Or is it that corruption still happens, only that this fa├žade of fairness is maintained to appease the general population?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Involvement at the Zoo

Had the chance to visit the Columbus Zoo this weekend. I must say I was impressed. The zoo is huge, with several rare and endangered animals on display. The information provided is exhaustive and for a nature lover the whole experience is quite a treat.

Once again, I’m struck by how much public institutions in the US involve the community around them. For example, there were numerous exhibits were the Ohio State University had collaborated with the Zoo in some way. Local businesses were sponsors (although whether that’s really beneficial is debatable). There were several opportunities for the local public to volunteer for the zoo and get involved.

This is quite different from the way things are run back in India. The zoo at Indore, for example, is a closed institution with no way for the public to get involved. All we can do is buy a ticket and see the show.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Living in the Present

Mindfulness is a simple idea – pay attention to what’s going on, right now. It is surprising that such a simple idea is not more ingrained in our society.

The human mind has a tendency to brood or to worry. We brood about the time that has passed, the mistakes we have made or the paths we could have chosen. We worry about the future, what might happen to us, the dire consequences for our actions that we might have to face.

However, the simple truth is, all that we have control over are our actions in the present. Being in the present helps us feel in control because present is the only thing we can control. Also, by taking action in the present, we make sure that the past and the future don’t trouble us quite that much.

The human mind also has the tendency to go on autopilot. As soon as a thought occurs, the mind goes down a spiral of previously rehearsed though process which leads to anxiety or depression. Being in the present, especially paying attention to what our body is feeling in the moment, helps us break out of this rut. It helps us connect to our feelings and thought patters and changes it for the better.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Private Property and Laws

AKA – Do Corporates have Social Responsibility?

Private enterprises are able to do what they do because they are allowed to own things. If no private ownership was allowed we’d have (some form of) socialism. But not private enterprise.

So why is it that you can’t just walk into, say Walmart, and pick up what you want and walk away. It is because there are laws against stealing. And who makes these laws? Who enforces them? In most modern democracies, such laws would be made by an elected body and enforced by an administration deriving it’s power from this elected body. Thus private enterprise is able to own things only because laws allow it to own things. Going by the principle that democracy is people’s rule (true in theory but not in practice) one could say that people are allowing private enterprise to make profit by allowing it to own things. Could one then not say that private enterprise has social responsibility in return for this allowance that people are making for it?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Men and Perfumes

Assuming that men and women wear perfumes to attract the opposite sex, it stands to reason that men like women’s perfumes and women like men’s perfumes. Isn’t it ironical that it will be considered improper or at least weird if a man wore a woman’s perfume or vice versa?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Who Fixes Open Source Software?

One of the biggest concern for software users, especially businesses, is who fixes it when something breaks down. Proprietary software often comes with support. If MS Office breaks down, you can call up tech support and get help. But when you’re using open source software, who comes to your help?

This is a valid question and a genuine concern. However, it is a problem that has been artificially created by proprietary software companies.

When you buy a non-branded product, say a house, who fixes it when something breaks down. Say the plumbing in your house starts leaking. Who fixes it? Of course, a plumber. Why is a plumber able to fix it? He is able to fix it because plumbing is “free”. That is, a plumber is able to open the access panels to your plumbing. He is able to change and modify your plumbing as he sees fit. The way plumbing works is open knowledge and can be taught in vocational schools or even just by an experienced plumber to a novice. Plumbing equipment adheres to an industry wide standard meaning that you can buy spare parts at any hardware shops. All this has led to the development of an open, competitive market of plumbers where you can get someone to fix your problem for you.

Compare this to the closed source model of software. The source code is not available. Most companies do not adhere to industry standards. Users are legally not allowed to change or modify the software in any way. The very knowledge of the internal workings of the software is kept secret, protected by patents and copyrights. If all this did not exist, there would be a thriving market of software hackers ready to fix your software for you. Software giants go to great lengths to prevent the development of such a free and competitive market because it will bite into their monopoly and their profits.

Coming back to the original question – who fixes it if open source software breaks down. In the present world, the options are limited. Companies like Red Hat provide Linux support. Canonical and Ubuntu and upcoming in the same field and provide a different kind of support. So if you’re a business executive making a decision on what system to use at your office, you’re probably stuck with Microsoft or Apple. However, know that this is not because open source is inherently shabby, this is because these software giants have gone to great lengths to make sure this is the case.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Mindfulness of Desktop User Interfaces

I use linux. And like all linux users, I’m constantly tweaking around, tinkering with code and settings. However, I often get weary of that. At some point it stops being fun and becomes another thing that obsesses you. It becomes like insomnia. You want to go to sleep but can’t. It’s irritating.

Exercise the mindfulness of Desktop User Interfaces. Let the interface be. Let it adapt organically around your usage patterns. Let go of the desire to make it perfect. Both the desktop and your habits will gradually adapt around what you do on your computer.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Parallel Storylines

Why is it that in a novel which has multiple parallel story lines, only one is ever interesting. Is this a known device used by authors to camouflage uninteresting parts within interesting ones? Is it a compare and contrast thing where the interesting story appears interesting only in comparison to the boring ones? Or is it the inherent nature of the human mind which when presented with multiple options must automatically compare and rank them according to some unfathomable criterion?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Is Minfulness about Reconciling the Mind/Body Divide?

Mindfulness is an elusive concept. Much is made of it in the Zen Buddhist tradition. The practice starts with paying attention to the present time, often body sensations or your breath. The idea is to be aware of what’s going on. Yet, it is not thinking that you’re expected to do. It is being. Awareness is being. As soon as you starting thinking, you’re not aware.

But, if you have to think, it’s best to be aware of what you’re thinking. Awareness has to come at all levels, body and mind.

Makes me wonder if mindfulness is all about purging the mind/body divide. It is not as easy as it sounds though. The human brain has this remarkable power for meta thinking. That is, thinking that you’re thinking. As soon as you start meta thinking, the awareness is gone. But then, meta thinking can be being too.

The second thing we must fight is the autopilot. The human brain also has a remarkable ability to go on an autopilot. To think without being aware of it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Why Search is a Better Interface

With the advent of google, search as an interface is on the rise. Already, many desktop based systems are adopting search as an interface. In fact, many are now talking about search as the only interface. When I say search as an interface, what I means is this. In the traditional, navigational interfaces, you were required to know the location of a particular bit of information and then navigate to that location. For example, you had to know where you saved that files containing your tax information and navigate through the folders on your hard disk to get to it. With search, you just enter a search term, say “tax” and the files pops up in the search results. Windows 7 already has an excellent search based interface in the start menu. Gnome is building something like it with their Zeitgeist daemon.

So why is search a better interface. For one, it isn’t always. But when it is, this is why.

  • Everything in one place: search gives you everything in one place. When you search for something in the windows start menu, you get all your emails, your documents, your websites, your software applications all in one place. It is easier to correlate stuff and compare them.
  • Less effort: you have to remember less. All you need to know is what you’re looking for. The computer remembers where it’s located.
  • Easier to stumble upon: this is perhaps the advantage that a whole lot of people don’t realize exists. With search, it’s easier to stumble upon stuff. Maybe you searched for pics containing sunset and stumbled upon that song called sunset that you’d never known existed on your hard disk.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Case for an Old Fashioned Office

I was watching a rather long video online today. The video was thoughtful, having to do with a minimalist, focused lifestyle. Naturally, I was having thoughts of my own while watching the video. I like to take notes of such thoughts. Sometimes they result in good blog posts. At other times they develop into more fully formed ideas which positively change my life in the long run.

I used to use the default note taking application on Ubuntu – Tomboy – for taking notes. However, lately I've switched back to taking notes on paper. Here's is why.

If I had to take notes with Tomboy, I would have to minimise the video (which I was playing in full screen) switch to the Tomboy window (which may or may not obscure parts or whole of my video) and write my note. Meanwhile I notice that I have a new email or that a friend has messaged me. The net effect being that I'm completely distracted from the video. Compare this to a paper based note taking. I open my notebook and write in it. The video still keeps running in full screen and I'm still able to hold it within my attention.

This isn't a case of bad user interface design. It is simply a limitation of current hardware. Current computing hardware is two dimensional. Since screen space is limited, different contexts must be separated in time or in space. You can view two things one after the other, one at a time, or you can view two things at the same time, but on half the screen space.

The 3D world is a lot less restrictive. I can spread out all my books and notebooks on my table and keep them all within my attention. I can context switch between them a lot more easily.

Another good example is reading a lengthy text. People are often able to remember where a certain section of a book was in terms of the page location and even the location of the section on that page. You're able to flip through the book and find what you were looking for. You can't do the same with a PDF. A PDF doesn't have a thickness. All pages, all content occupies the same limited 2D space.

We are often so enamoured of technology that we don't realise how much this decreases our productivity. I'm rather surprised by how much my productivity has gone up ever since I started using paper again.

With the current technology the solutions to this problem are

  • Use the old fashioned way. Use paper, notebooks, files, planners. They aren't as cool as your latest smart phone but they make you more productive.
  • Use dedicated devices. E-book readers are a good example. A dedicated device does only one task and does it well. With different devices you can physically separate different tasks in the 3D world.

This is not to say that digital devices don't have advantages. If information needs to be shared or searched it is probably best to have it in a digital format. But evaluate – do you really need to take personal notes on a computer? Does your to do list really need to sit in your email inbox?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Computers as Appliances

There has been much debate on whether computers are appliances. The debate is fueled by the flooding of the market with devices such as the iPad, the iPhone and eReader devices which are designed and marketed very much as appliances geared towards consumption.

Therefore, I'd like to come up with a definition of what an appliance is. An appliance is something that

  • Has been simplified to the extent possible
  • Has a small set of unchanging functionality
  • Can be used without expert training
Examples of appliances: a fridge, a TV, a washer-dryer.
Examples of non-appliances: a CNC lathe machine, a server farm, a general purpose computer (?)


Saturday, October 09, 2010

My Gripes with Ubuntu 10.10

Although I say Ubuntu in the post title, this gripe is really with the state of the art of the Linux desktop. Actually, it's a gripe with the Gnome desktop as I've not used KDE in quite a while but from what I hear, it's gone way beyond what Gnome can do. Anyhow, let me continue.

I have an HP Touchsmart TX2 laptop with a 12.1" touchscreen display. It has an AMD Turion X2 processor with 4GB of RAM, ATI Mobility Radeon HD3200 graphics and a 320 GB SATA harddisk. In all, a very nice system which performs extremely well with Windows 7. Here are the problems I face with a (more of less) default install of Ubuntu 10.10.

  1. The Banshee audio player (which is the only GTK based player that fulfills my needs) is extremely slow and crashes often.
  2. The CD/DVD autoplay dialog is displayed every time the computer wakes up. This could be waking up from suspend/hibernate or plain rebooting. It is extremely annoying when I'm running on battery and suspend often.
  3. The Gnome taskbar is extremely dated. In a world where the Windows 7 taskbar and the OS X dock can do a lot more than a simple taskbar, the Gnome taskbar seems 10 years out of date.
  4. The battery life on Ubuntu is a lot lower than what I get on Windows 7.
  5. There really is no support for touch/pen. I can register clicks and mouse drags but there is no visual feedback to show what's going on. The on screen keyboard sucks. There is no application which matches what OneNote can do on Windows. There are no configuration options for touch/pen.
  6. The ATI graphics doesn't work properly. I seems very sluggish. There is tearing in video playback and in playing flash videos.
  7. Firefox is excruciatingly slow. Somehow the Ubuntu build of firefox is slow by default. Using compiz and smooth scrolling slows it down further. Add to that the problems with flash videos. The internet experience is absolutely terrible.
  8. The fingerprint sensor probably doesn't work. Couldn't find any app to check it out anyway so it's just a useless piece of hardware on my machine.
  9. The sound quality of Banshee is definitely worse than iTunes. Maybe that has to do with iTunes's sound enhancer.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Science Fiction Drama

I’m not entirely sure I like this new trend of making “science fiction dramas”. I think they are a lame attempt to lure in audience that sneers at the very mention of science fiction. In doing so, the producers of these shows are doing disservice to people who really understand science fiction and appreciate it for what it is.

“Science Fiction Drama” itself is a word that’s hard to define. What am I thinking of when I say science fiction drama? I’m probably thinking of shows like Eureka and Chuck. Both of them have comic elements with some action adventure thrown in with a science fiction-ey background. But all then end up doing is using science as a source of plot points. There is no real speculation about the human condition involved. Eureka could very well have been set at any normal research towns. Chuck could have been just a normal spy comedy. The science fiction aspect is just not essential to these stories.

The one show that seems to be getting it right is ‘Caprica’. A spin off of the legendary Battlestar Galactica, Caprica further explores the religious and political themes so inherent to BSG. Additionally the angle that I really like and wish they’d explore further is the virtual world that the teenagers of Caprica are so enamoured of. I can see it as a clear allegory of the digital divide that separates today’s youngsters from their parents.

Science fiction drama is also a good way for producers to make a show they can call science fiction and still keep costs low. Shows of this soft don’t need to have sophisticated special effects or sets. They can be shot in more or less ‘realistic’ settings.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Mindful Eating and Perfumes

I'm trying to eat at least one meal mindfully these days. I sit down at a table, NOT in front of the computer, set out my plates like a civilized man and then just enjoy my meal. And I have to say, it is a very relaxing experience.

And I have been taking note of what the food really tastes like. Taste is complex. There is the initial taste when you first put the food into your mouth. Then, as you chew it, the taste changes because of the way food interacts with your saliva. The texture of food as you chew it is pretty interesting too. And then, as you swallow your food it leaves an after taste.

It is the after taste that I find most interesting. It is often the after taste that we always miss out on because we are too busy taking in the next bite or absorbed in that show we're watching.

I find it much like notes in perfumery. Which makes sense given the close connection between our taste buds and our nose.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

A Case for an Old Fashioned Office

I was watching a rather long video online today. The video was thoughtful, having to do with a minimalist, focused lifestyle. Naturally, I was having thoughts of my own while watching the video. I like to take notes of such thoughts. Sometimes they result in good blog posts. At other times they develop into more fully formed ideas which positively change my life in the long run.

I used to use the default note taking application on Ubuntu – Tomboy – for taking notes. However, lately I've switched back to taking notes on paper. Here's is why.

If I had to take notes with Tomboy, I would have to minimise the video (which I was playing in full screen) switch to the Tomboy window (which may or may not obscure parts or whole of my video) and write my note. Meanwhile I notice that I have a new email or that a friend has messaged me. The net effect being that I'm completely distracted from the video. Compare this to a paper based note taking. I open my notebook and write in it. The video still keeps running in full screen and I'm still able to hold it within my attention.

This isn't a case of bad user interface design. It is simply a limitation of current hardware. Current computing hardware is two dimensional. Since screen space is limited, different contexts must be separated in time or in space. You can view two things one after the other, one at a time, or you can view two things at the same time, but on half the screen space.

The 3D world is a lot less restrictive. I can spread out all my books and notebooks on my table and keep them all within my attention. I can context switch between them a lot more easily.

Another good example is reading a lengthy text. People are often able to remember where a certain section of a book was in terms of the page location and even the location of the section on that page. You're able to flip through the book and find what you were looking for. You can't do the same with a PDF. A PDF doesn't have a thickness. All pages, all content occupies the same limited 2D space.

We are often so enamoured of technology that we don't realise how much this decreases our productivity. I'm rather surprised by how much my productivity has gone up ever since I started using paper again.

With the current technology the solutions to this problem are

  • Use the old fashioned way. Use paper, notebooks, files, planners. They aren't as cool as your latest smart phone but they make you more productive.
  • Use dedicated devices. E-book readers are a good example. A dedicated device does only one task and does it well. With different devices you can physically separate different tasks in the 3D world.

This is not to say that digital devices don't have advantages. If information needs to be shared or searched it is probably best to have it in a digital format. But evaluate – do you really need to take personal notes on a computer? Does your to do list really need to sit in your email inbox?