Howard’s work has explored and defined key aspects of digital culture, including the use of computers as tools for mind augmentation, virtual communities, and social media literacy. He’s the author of seminal books, including Tools for Thought, The Virtual Community, and Net Smart.1
In this conversation, we discussed computers as extensions for our minds, Douglas Engelbart’s unfinished revolution, basic literacies for interacting in information environments, and the resurgence of Tools for Thought.
I was curious to hear Howard’s thoughts about the current state of mind-augmentation technologies. He pointed out that the web changed the trajectory of how we use tech to expand our minds:
People often talk about Engelbart’s unfinished revolution. You know, when I think what really blew up this disparity that exists today between know-how and the capabilities of the tools was the web. And I’ll use a simple example. People today can ask any question, any time, anywhere, and get a million answers in a second. But, there’s no longer an authority of the text. It’s up to the searcher to determine which of those replies are good information, which are bad information, disinformation, or deliberate misinformation, of which there is a great deal today.
He also called out several techniques for interacting in our current information environments, where misinformation can be rampant. They include:
- Becoming more aware of how attention works and the forces that might manipulate our attention
- Developing our “crap detection” abilities — for example, by examining sources
- Participating in the development of the web
- Collaborating in a variety of ways, “from open source to GoFundMe to what we’re doing right now, using video conferencing”
- Becoming aware of networks and what it means to live in a networked world
Howard’s books and articles have influenced the scenius that generated much of today’s tech culture. His work also had an important influence on my career. Tools for Thought, in particular, reframed how I think about my work. So it was a real treat to have the opportunity to discuss these subjects with him. I hope you get as much value from our conversation as I did!
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