A day of sorrow
Marilee Jones resigns

Random Thoughts

Some random thoughts for today...

(1) I was wondering whether in a couple of years we'll see an increase in the diagnosis of adult-onset attention deficit disorder among the tech-savvy youngsters and college students. In other words, will instant messaging end up being a boon for Ritalin? It just seems that students have shorter and shorter attention span and my guess is that they will have a harder and harder time adjusting to highly structured work environments. Just think about how fast you and I end up on NYTimes.com when we want to procrastinate... Companies can block the access to some websites from their computers, but it is difficult to see how they will block people from using their own cell phones. At some point we may have "IM-free buildings", where the IM-addicts will huddle together in front of the door to text-message during their break next to the smokers lighting up a cigarette. More seriously, it might well turn out that the students who are best prepared for life after graduation are the varsity athletes and the musicians who spend several hours training every day, and therefore have developed an above-average ability to concentrate. In a decade the varsity athletes will complain about the lower admission standards for the rest of the student population... Alright, maybe fifteen years.

(2) I am looking forward to the day where Internet searches no longer return heaps of junk and a nugget or two of usable information. While the semantic web advocated by Tim Berners-Lee offers much promise, it just seems that it shouldn't be that difficult to let users rate the pages they find most interesting and select "trusted sources" as primary providers of information - how come people can't do their own rankings on Google? I feel you should be able to identify the general content of a website with reasonably little work, rather than telling the computer that $19 is a price. Another of my pet peeves regarding the Internet is the sheer outdatedness of some webpages, and the fact that there is no "peremption date" after which a webpage loses visibility in the rankings (first progressively, before being dropped altogether). I can still find information about my role in the Graduate Women Group in Course 6 (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) at MIT 5 1/2 years ago, and I often stumble on scientific pages that were last updated in the 1990s. (No kidding. Here is an example for a scholarly publication.) While Google does leave the user some choice on the matter - "only return webpages updated in the last 3 months", for instance - a lot has yet to be done. Because the Internet was so new in the 1990s nobody gave much thought to cleaning the junk but now that very junk has proliferated on the servers and has a lifetime of up to 40 years (if a professor posts something when he just starts his career and remains employed by the same university until he retires, so that his online account is not deleted). This reminds me of space, where tons of trash (bits of destroyed satellites, etc) orbit aimlessly and threaten state-of-the-art equipment. That trash can never get removed - the deed is done. Let's make sure cyber-trash doesn't drift around on the Internet forever. 


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