Archive for the ‘Health & Science’ Category

Living in Limbic Limbo

Did you know that just being aware that you have an unread e-mail  message can reduce your IQ by up to 10 points?  That texting can be addictive?  That we store information in a different, less permanent part of our brains when we divide our attention?  A thought-provoking article in The Guardian sheds new light on the allure of multitasking: The part of our brain we need to stay on task is itself easily distracted, and actually rewards us for getting sidetracked.  But there is a price to pay for trading “the big rewards that come from sustained, focused effort” for such frequent empty rewards: not only are we not getting as much done, we are compromising our own well-being with metabolic costs, anxiety, and diminished decision skills.  I’d tell you more, but I just got a text…

The Silver lining to your golden years

Two recent articles in Atlantic and WSJ provide different perspectives on the same topic: Getting older = Getting better. Both articles quote Stanford’s Laura Carstensen, whose research at the Center on Longevity is challenging long-held assumptions about aging and decline.  The Journal article provides evidence that seniors are happier, smarter, and more creative and productive, while the Atlantic article focuses on the midlife crisis. Labor and development economists are discovering a U-shaped pattern of content as we age that spans cultures, economic conditions, and even species: evidence suggests that an ape’s sense of well-being also bottoms out at what is their equivalent to age 45-50. The good news is it does get better and stays better, well into your seventies. The takeaway?  Recognize that the U-curve is to blame — not your life choices — and ride through the mid-life storm to better days ahead.

Your Brain on the Internet

When’s the last time you sat down to immerse yourself a nice long novel?  If you are regular internet user, it may have been a while.  Cognitive studies show that what many have long suspected is true: the way we surf the net is rewiring our brains.  This was reported in the Washington Post last April, and I was reminded again yesterday in this article in the San Jose Mercury News.  Reports on the shortening of the national attention span are nothing new; we’ve all read about how children of the computer age have brains that have been wired differently from the get go.  These two articles, however, focus on the changes in adults that used to enjoy a good long read but no longer do.  Even when we do force ourselves to sit down to read, we don’t read the same way: our brains are skimming, processing, and retaining information in a different way.  Food for thought — if you have time for that.

High Media Multitaskers

Those of us familiar with Stanford professor Cliff Nass‘s groundbreaking 2009 study on media multitasking will be interested to read this article from today’s Wall Street Journal detailing the results of a new study conducted by and about teens at an Oregon High School.  Nass, who died almost one year ago, was actually consulting with Sarayu Caulfield and Alexandra Ullmer, the two students who conducted the study, at the time of his death.  To consider his interest in how it turned out is to feel his loss all over again.  Nass’ 2009 study indicated that college students were not good at multitasking, even when they were certain they were.  Caufield and Ullmer’s study found the same to be mostly true of their peers, with the exception of a subset they label “high media multitaskers.”  These students (60 of the 403 participants) proved to excel at multitasking, performing better at the assigned tasks while also listening to music and using smart phones.  Why the difference?  Ullmer posits the research suggests that digital natives, who’ve never known anything but media multitasking, are better adapted and thus better at it.  Time and further research will tell.


Have a Happy (& Safe) 4th of July!

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, fireworks are a leading cause of injury in the US over this holiday weekend.. so be safe!

If you do find yourself in the ER, fear not — BIG DATA  has your back. Thanks to recent patient-tracking databases, big data has cut ER follow-ups by 10%. For more info, check out the Bloomberg Businessweek article.

FYI: The GSB Library will be closed on Friday, July 4th. Have a happy & most importantly, SAFE, holiday weekend!

The Roaring Twenties

Have you ever thought that it doesn’t matter what you do in your early adult years, as you still have plenty of time to change course and take another path later? Clinical psychologist Meg Jay argues that the choices you make in your twenties have more of an effect on the rest of your life then any you make in the decades after that, and provides true life examples to illustrate it. In The Defining Decade: Why your twenties matter and how to make the most of them now, Dr. Jay discusses: 

  • the concept of “identity capital” (which might be described as the qualities that make your resume stand out) and how to build yours;
  • the value of mining “weak ties” to open unexpected doors;
  • the effects of “sliding, not deciding” in relationships; and
  • making your own certainty

The Defining Decade is in our Popular Books section, and circulates for two weeks.  Check it out!

For another take on life lessons geared toward your third decade, take a look at Tina Seelig’s What I wish I knew when I was 20: A crash course on making your way in the world. This lively and readable account of life lessons and cogent observations is food for thought at any age.  Seelig, MSE professor and Executive Director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, uses anecdotes from many luminaries and her own life to illustrate principles such as:

  • the influence of direct and indirect messages
  • the advantage of challenging assumptions
  • the value of viewing problems as opportunites, and turning failure into success
  • what a successful career really looks like (hint: not a straight line)
  • the importance of doing the right thing instead of the smart thing

What I wish I knew when I was 20 is in our main stacks on the lower level, call # LC 1037.5 S44 2009.  Check it out!

Big Data, continued

“In 15 years, if you don’t have a solid quant background, you might have a permanent pink slip”. Sobering words, from the Wall Street Journal article Big Data, Big Paycheck. Author Nikki Waller warns that Big Data is here to stay, and that if you are not a quantitative expert, you’d better brush up. According to Linda Burtch of Burtch Works, MBAs in midcareer have returned to school to up their quant skills, while young people today will be honing in on quantitative programs as undergrads and grad students. “Someone who’s 40, they should be concerned,” opines Burtch. “Hopefully their organization will help, recognizing them as a leader and sending them back for training.” So where do you see yourself in relation to Big Data today?


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