Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Gratitude Journal- Day 5- Immigrant Workmen

Today I am grateful for the courage displayed by the immigrant workmen who recently completed the renovation of our bathroom.

These guys are impressive.  They left their homes in Central America as teenagers, knowing basically zero English. They came to America legally and were determined to improve their lives. They did this by developing  skills and a commitment to customer satisfaction. 

And it shows.

Their handiwork is evident in a beautifully built bathroom. The work ethic and professionalism they displayed the entire time was inspiring.

But what I loved most-particularly since I am working on this- was the sense of humility. They are grateful for the chance that America has given them and they don't take it for granted.

I am grateful for how they reminded me of what's really important and for giving me confidence that the American Dream is still alive.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Gratitude Journal- Day 4-- Hostesses with the Mostesses

Today I am grateful for all of the hostesses (and the occasional host) who have fed me over the years.

Sadly, until only recently, I didn't really appreciate how much work went into preparing a meal for a guest. I am a bit embarrassed to say that, especially during my college years and while traveling as a young man, I took advantage of the generosity of others who made food for me and allowed me to eat in their homes.

I am particularly reminded of Madame Picard in Strasbourg, France (no relation to Captain Picard) who really went out of her way to make food for me when it wasn't really her responsibility to do it. This was Fall of 1995 timeframe.

Honestly, I probably felt a bit entitled (or more than a bit) and I am feeling somewhat ashamed about that now, upon reflection. I'll see if I can track her down to apologize.

In any event, as my wife, mother, and numerous others in my family are preparing for Thanksgiving, I am going to try and take a few moments to think about all of the effort that goes into a meal and not take these things for granted in the future.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Gratitude Journal: Day 3- Nurit Bar-Yosef

Today I am thankful for Nurit Bar-Yosef, her parents, and all of the musicians (and their families) who play for the National Symphony Orchestra.

Nurit is the concertmaster (a term I had to look up) that refers to the first violin and she plays beautifully.

As I sat in the Kennedy Center, next to Aaron who had the idea that we go, I couldn't help but think about the countless hours that Nurit had spent practicing to get to the level where she is right now.  I imagined her parents driving her to lessons, paying for them, taking her all over the world probably, getting some ridiculously expensive violin to play on, and the sacrifices they made.

Nurit probably made sacrifices as well, practicing violin instead of going out and hanging with her friends.

I was thinking about Malcolm Gladwell's theory of "10,000 hours" to become a master at something and thinking that Nurit had done all of that.

And, in that moment, I realized-and was grateful for the fact- that she had done all of that work so that I could enjoy it and appreciate it and feel uplifted and inspired by the sounds of the violin.

It was powerful.

And when I thought about it in that context, the $44 for the ticket seemed like a bargain.  A lifetime of practice, dedication and sacrifice by her and all of the musicians to get to a level of perfection that moved me.

I felt really grateful to be there in that moment and for all they did to make it special and memorable.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Gratitude Journal: Day 2- Girls on the Run

This morning, I joined Lakkanen in the Girls on the Run event in Montgomery County, MD.  I am grateful that this organization exists to help girls feel empowered to succeed.

The last few weeks of revelations about Harvey Weinstein, Louis CK, Roy Moore, and all the others has really forced many men, I think, to ask themselves how we are part of the problem.  It's not a fun process of introspection, if we are truly being honest with ourselves, and it is uncomfortable.  It is also not easy (at least not for me) to recognize and admit many of my unconscious biases about women that I have picked up over the years and now have to de-program.

So, I am grateful that Girls on the Run is there to help us see this issue through a very positive event and to participate in it with my daughter so my frame of reference is properly aligned.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Gratitude Journal Day 1- the friends in the community

One of the things I am graetful for today are the friends I have in my community.

On a weekly basis, I am inspired by them and challenged by them to think about the world of Bitcoin and blockchain from a huge range of perspectives.

It's invigorating.

For example,

Behnam helps me think about legal issues.

David/Steve help me think about cutting-edge token issues.

Charles helps me think about NSM strategy.

Jacob helps me think about market topography

Tevi helps me think about blockchain and government and politics.

Jon/David help me think about the security considerations.

Dave helps me think about sales and service.

Jonathan helps me think about regulator, tax, and money supply.

Eitan helps me think about value and measurement.

Ari helps me think about the user experience and tools.

There are many more as well like Joe, Aaron, Ed, and Neil.

Each of these people are very accomplished in their own right so the fact that I have an advisory board of such high competence is just amazing.

I am very grateful to have the opportunity to learn from them.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Abraham: Forefather of Bitcoin and the Blockchain

This was the sermon I gave at my synagogue yesterday (Nov. 11).
Some concepts may be unfamiliar to some readers, but either way, I think/hope you'll enjoy it.

Avraham: Forefather of Bitcoin and the Blockchain

Before I begin, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the fact that today is Veterans Day and I’d like to thank all of you in the audience today who have served this great country of ours.  

I also want to thank my wife, Tamar, who, as I like to say, “helps put the ‘Torah’ in my “Dvar Torah.””

If you have had a conversation with me in the past 18 months, you know that I pretty much have a one-track mind.  Yep, all I think about is Bitcoin and the technology that underlies it, the blockchain.

For the 3 people in this room who haven’t heard of it from me, the key thing to understand is that just like email or a browser is an application that uses the Internet, Bitcoin is an application that uses a blockchain. And just like the Internet has spawned millions of applications, blockchains will (and are) spawning an entire new set of applications.

What makes blockchain so powerful is that it mimics the power of the Internet in terms of speed, cost, and ease of transmission of items of information, but does it with assets or items of value, all without the need for any 3rd party intermediary.  

So, any institution such as a bank, a brokerage, the better business bureau, that serves as an intermediary trust agent between two parties is no longer needed.

Now, I realize that the concept of a blockchain is not easy to comprehend as, on the surface, it represents a pretty significant paradigm shift.

But it’s really not.

In fact, this week’s parsha, Chayyei Sarah, shows us that Avraham Avinu laid the philosophical groundwork for blockchain in his purchase of the cave of Machpelah from Ephron the Hittite.

What we see, upon closer examination, is that the concept of the blockchain serves as Avraham’s “original intent” for how assets should be transferred in order to protect property rights and maintain civil society.

The major difference between then and now is the fact that our hi-speed internet and powerful computers and phones allow us to do business in the exact same way that Avraham intended, just at global scale.

Let’s take a look by starting at Chapter 22, verse 10.

“Now Ephron was sitting in the midst of the children of Heth; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the children of Heth, even of all that went in at that the gate of the city”

In Nahum Sarna’s book, “Understanding Genesis,” he explains that “it was the practice to conduct the affairs of the community in the gateway, a popular meeting place for public gatherings.”

The gate as a locus for asset and information exchange is something that is familiar throughout Tanach.

For example,
  • Lot was sitting at the gate when the messengers came to him
  • Boaz goes to the gate to redeem Elimelech’s estate
  • Amos asks of Israel to “establish justice in the gate.”

It turns out that many ancient Near Eastern documents end with a formula “the tablet was written after the proclamation in the entrance of the gate.”

Sarna writes, “the idea was to give the widest possible publicity to the settlement and to obtain the confirmation of the entire community, so that the likelihood of future litigation might be eliminated.”

There is a concept in the study of biblical text called a “Milah Mancha” which basically is a thematic word that repeats itself multiple times in a given section in order to drive home a specific point.

In this story, it is the root “shin--mem---ayin’ which forms the word שמע and of course means “hear.”  

This root word appears 6 times in the story, signifying the importance of multiple confirmations in a transaction.

I would argue that the repetition of the word “hear” is not just for Avraham and Ephron, it’s for everyone listening so that the story can be retold and a collective memory is established

Lastly, the transaction took place directly between Avraham and Ephron. No intermediaries

So, let’s think about the reason why Avraham insisted on a direct transaction with no intermediaries, with multiple confirmations, the need for an established collective memory, and to do it all in an open space that anyone could verify was for one reason.

He needed immutability.

When all was said and done, there could be no doubt at any point down the road that the transaction had occurred. Avraham needed to be recognized as the legal owner of the land.

This was particularly acute because Avraham knew that as a “resident alien” he was at a legal disadvantage, so he needed a large consensus to provide additional security.

Now, let’s get back to my favorite topic, blockchain.

Blockchains work by cryptographically securing a certain number of entries in a global ledger in a box, or a “block” of data. Each block is then cryptographically linked to the block that came before it and the block that comes after it.  A series of blocks linked together and you have a chain. Hence, “blockchain.”

These records are not kept in one place on one computer.

Instead, they are decentralized among many different computers in the network.  In short, blockchain technology offers the same thing that Avraham sought...a tamper-resistant immutable record of transactions.

The reason for this is because you have removed the risks associated with centralization of information.

In order for the Avraham’s deal to be rolled back, Ephron would have to corrupt every single person who was a witness to the transaction or a passerby at the gate.

Similarly, to change a blockchain database requires changing not one computer but the majority of the computers in the network.

In both cases, they are doable, but they are also potentially very expensive and time-consuming tasks.

Blockchain transactions occur on a peer-to-peer basis with no intermediaries.

One person sends an item of value to another person directly. Other computers and people in the network can verify that the transaction happened.  The blockchain is open and its history and transactions can be viewed by anyone. In other words, anyone can stand in the blockchain gate, if they want.

As for direct witnesses, in the Bitcoin world, we call them “miners.” They serve to confirm that a transaction actually went through.

And for those of you who remember that the word “שמע” appears 6 times in this story, you may take comfort in knowing that a Bitcoin transaction isn’t considered final until it has been confirmed by a constant pre-defined number of blocks.  That number?  Six.

Since the release of the Bitcoin blockchain on January 3, 2009 by Satoshi Nakamoto, interest in the past and future of blockchains has grown dramatically.  Many of the earliest pioneers are celebrated for their groundbreaking work...and rightfully so.

To that list, I am proud to add Avraham Avinu.

His thoughtful and conscious parameters for creating a transactional environment that could serve the test of time, protecting citizens and resident aliens alike, is the biblical foundation for the blockchain revolution which we are witnessing.

Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

PSA: Bitcoin

OK, this is not to be construed to be investment advice. Any decision you make is entirely your own. It is volatile and risky. Do not buy any more than you can afford to lost.

If you have been considering buying some Bitcoin, my rough analysis suggests that between now and the end of the year is the time to do it.

From what I can tell and what I have been hearing, there is a huge amount of institutional money that is about to pour into the asset. With fixed supply and increased demand...well, you know what happens then.

There is PLENTY of risk and that's why I don't advocate (for most people) putting anything more than 1% into it.

Still, I know there are some people who have been on the fence and given the ongoing "mainstreamification" of Bitcoin (e.g. the announcement by CME), I have a feeling-and that is all that it is-- that there could be a big price jump come early January.

Again, I could be way wrong, but just my opinion.

Monday, October 30, 2017

What can you buy with Bitcoin or Crypto tokens?

Well, I just bought a Ring wi-fi doorbell on and paid for it with District0x tokens.

Never heard of District0x? No worries.

They take Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ethereum and 30+ others....

Thursday, October 26, 2017

On America's role in the world

In the past few years, I have the fortunate opportunity to travel to many foreign countries including Israel, Switzerland, France, UK, Denmark, Hungary, Estonia, Brazil, and Japan.

When I chat with people (as you know I do), and they ask me about American politics. I express my sadness at the amount of discord we currently have. 

I'm pretty patriotic, believe in the ideals of America, and think that the Constitution is one of the greatest documents of all time.

While Europeans, in particular, like to poke fun at Americans, deep down, I think they admire what America represents.

They may make comments about how much we spend on defense, but in their moments of intellectual honesty, they will admit, "when things get nasty, we're pretty glad you do it."

They also recognize that, if America totally opened its borders, there would be 1 billion people who would try and immigrate the next day.

They understand that, despite all of our flaws, we have a product that is in ridiculously high demand worldwide.

They want us to lead.

We're not doing it.

And I'm not going down the anti-Trump or anti-GOP route. I think the Democrats are just as bad. Trump may be failing us now, but Obama failed us in Iran and N. Korea...and probably China.

I'm not sure where/why we became this way, but I think it's a symptom of a disease internal to the US which I don't fully understand.

I'm not saying the US is better in all respects than every other country and there are plenty of reasons why someone (rationally) would choose to live there.  All I am saying is that, at this stage in world history, I believe America has a unique role to play and we're not playing it.

Republicans and Democrats share the blame and I wish (I know, naively) that they could see what I see when I talk to people.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Now you don't even have to go to the coffee shop

I work from home and I make my own coffee.

Thanks to Coffitivity, I can now drink my own coffee, save the money, avoid the trip to the store AND still get the benefits of feeling like I am sitting in one.

It plays the ambient noises you hear at a coffee shop which, according to some studies, actually help you focus.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Some of My Life Hacks Edition

I saw Warren Buffet on Charlie Rose a few weeks ago where he said something like:

"I'm rich. I can buy anything I want. But you know what I can't buy?  I can't buy time. I have the same amount as everyone else."

Though some would argue that you can "buy time" by getting a Roomba (just got one), it got me thinking about some of the "life hacks" that I employ so I can use the time I have the way I want.

  • get up btw 4-5am each morning to have focus time (per WSJ)
  • schedule conference calls back to back and then take them while walking through the park (work+exercise)
  • on video calls, I do curls (keeps my hands off the keyboard so I stay focused on the conversation and builds muscle)
  • listen to audible books at 1.7 speed and watch youtube at 1.5x speed
  • take cold showers (it has the affect of getting me out of the shower faster), but I do it because of what I learned in The Secrets of People Who Never Get Sick: What They Know, Why It Works, and How It Can Work for You
  • my admin, Mary...huge.  She does all kinds of things for me. Most recently, she dealt with the local water company and power company to resolve some issues. Saved me a lot of time from waiting on hold.
  • batch processing...put similar tasks together which is why Watch Later on YouTube and Pocket are so valuable
  • keep my head shaved. No prep time. No shampoo time.
  • Right I can write emails now and schedule them to be sent later, i.e. when someone says "hey, remind me of this next week."  I just write the email at that moment and schedule it to be sent in a week.

There are some of mine. What about yours?
What are yours?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Sabbath is a Competitive Advantage in the Smartphone Era

There are many reasons to observe the Jewish Sabbath.  Ranging from "I believe God commanded it" to "it's a great time for family and community."

I'm going to add one more.

In the always-on digital, smartphone age, it actually is a competitive advantage.

Far from FOMO, what the voluntary 24 hour break from all forms of technology and media does is not just force you to have in-person conversations, it gives you the time to do deep reading, intense reflection, and rumination (the new 3 R's).

I will often print out some of the most intellectually demanding articles about crypto/blockchain/Bitcoin to read over Shabbat and, since there are no distractions or any kind, I can focus.

Then, I can internalize it without being rushed.

More than 10 years ago when Nicholas Carr first published his ideas in an article and subsequent book, "The Shallows," many people laughed at him.

His thesis was flawed as we all believed that always-on access to information would make us smarter.

Kudos to him, he hasn't given up on his thesis and now, he is back with reams of data after 10 years of study, supporting his case.

And it's convincing (pasted below for those who can't access the link from WSJ).

I use a device called Circle by Disney to manage and limit time for my kids during the week, but I know that the battle against screens is a challenging one.

However, on Shabbat, everyone screens. Not negotiable, not debatable, and not even an issue. Plus, we don't have to go to or pay for a Digital Detox Retreat (over 250k listings) and we have a built-in operating system for how to enjoy the day.

Carr's closing makes the case for me.

When we constrict our capacity for reasoning and recall or transfer those skills to a gadget, we sacrifice our ability to turn information into knowledge. We get the data but lose the meaning. Upgrading our gadgets won’t solve the problem. We need to give our minds more room to think. 

And that means putting some distance between ourselves and our phones.

That is exactly what the Sabbath is designed to do, a physical separation between you and the world of work. 

Turns out, it's even more beneficial that originally thought.

Full Article

So you bought that new iPhone. If you are like the typical owner, you’ll be pulling your phone out and using it some 80 times a day, according to data Apple collects. That means you’ll be consulting the glossy little rectangle nearly 30,000 times over the coming year. Your new phone, like your old one, will become your constant companion and trusty factotum—your teacher, secretary, confessor, guru. The two of you will be inseparable.
The smartphone is unique in the annals of personal technology. We keep the gadget within reach more or less around the clock, and we use it in countless ways, consulting its apps and checking its messages and heeding its alerts scores of times a day. The smartphone has become a repository of the self, recording and dispensing the words, sounds and images that define what we think, what we experience and who we are. In a 2015 Gallup survey, more than half of iPhone owners said that they couldn’t imagine life without the device.
We love our phones for good reasons. It’s hard to imagine another product that has provided so many useful functions in such a handy form. But while our phones offer convenience and diversion, they also breed anxiety. Their extraordinary usefulness gives them an unprecedented hold on our attention and vast influence over our thinking and behavior. So what happens to our minds when we allow a single tool such dominion over our perception and cognition?
Scientists have begun exploring that question—and what they’re discovering is both fascinating and troubling. Not only do our phones shape our thoughts in deep and complicated ways, but the effects persist even when we aren’t using the devices. As the brain grows dependent on the technology, the research suggests, the intellect weakens.
The division of attention impedes reasoning and performance.
Adrian Ward, a cognitive psychologist and marketing professor at the University of Texas at Austin, has been studying the way smartphones and the internet affect our thoughts and judgments for a decade. In his own work, as well as that of others, he has seen mounting evidence that using a smartphone, or even hearing one ring or vibrate, produces a welter of distractions that makes it harder to concentrate on a difficult problem or job. The division of attention impedes reasoning and performance.
A 2015 Journal of Experimental Psychology study, involving 166 subjects, found that when people’s phones beep or buzz while they’re in the middle of a challenging task, their focus wavers, and their work gets sloppier—whether they check the phone or not. Another 2015 study, which involved 41 iPhone users and appeared in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, showed that when people hear their phone ring but are unable to answer it, their blood pressure spikes, their pulse quickens, and their problem-solving skills decline.
The earlier research didn’t explain whether and how smartphones differ from the many other sources of distraction that crowd our lives. Dr. Ward suspected that our attachment to our phones has grown so intense that their mere presence might diminish our intelligence. Two years ago, he and three colleagues— Kristen Duke and Ayelet Gneezy from the University of California, San Diego, and Disney Research behavioral scientist Maarten Bos —began an ingenious experiment to test his hunch.
The researchers recruited 520 undergraduate students at UCSD and gave them two standard tests of intellectual acuity. One test gauged “available cognitive capacity,” a measure of how fully a person’s mind can focus on a particular task. The second assessed “fluid intelligence,” a person’s ability to interpret and solve an unfamiliar problem. The only variable in the experiment was the location of the subjects’ smartphones. Some of the students were asked to place their phones in front of them on their desks; others were told to stow their phones in their pockets or handbags; still others were required to leave their phones in a different room.
As the phone’s proximity increased, brainpower decreased.
The results were striking. In both tests, the subjects whose phones were in view posted the worst scores, while those who left their phones in a different room did the best. The students who kept their phones in their pockets or bags came out in the middle. As the phone’s proximity increased, brainpower decreased.
In subsequent interviews, nearly all the participants said that their phones hadn’t been a distraction—that they hadn’t even thought about the devices during the experiment. They remained oblivious even as the phones disrupted their focus and thinking.
A second experiment conducted by the researchers produced similar results, while also revealing that the more heavily students relied on their phones in their everyday lives, the greater the cognitive penalty they suffered.
In an April article in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, Dr. Ward and his colleagues wrote that the “integration of smartphones into daily life” appears to cause a “brain drain” that can diminish such vital mental skills as “learning, logical reasoning, abstract thought, problem solving, and creativity.” Smartphones have become so entangled with our existence that, even when we’re not peering or pawing at them, they tug at our attention, diverting precious cognitive resources. Just suppressing the desire to check our phone, which we do routinely and subconsciously throughout the day, can debilitate our thinking. The fact that most of us now habitually keep our phones “nearby and in sight,” the researchers noted, only magnifies the mental toll.
Dr. Ward’s findings are consistent with other recently published research. In a similar but smaller 2014 study (involving 47 subjects) in the journal Social Psychology, psychologists at the University of Southern Maine found that people who had their phones in view, albeit turned off, during two demanding tests of attention and cognition made significantly more errors than did a control group whose phones remained out of sight. (The two groups performed about the same on a set of easier tests.)
In another study, published in Applied Cognitive Psychology in April, researchers examined how smartphones affected learning in a lecture class with 160 students at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. They found that students who didn’t bring their phones to the classroom scored a full letter-grade higher on a test of the material presented than those who brought their phones. It didn’t matter whether the students who had their phones used them or not: All of them scored equally poorly. A study of 91 secondary schools in the U.K., published last year in the journal Labour Economics, found that when schools ban smartphones, students’ examination scores go up substantially, with the weakest students benefiting the most.
It isn’t just our reasoning that takes a hit when phones are around. Social skills and relationships seem to suffer as well. Because smartphones serve as constant reminders of all the friends we could be chatting with electronically, they pull at our minds when we’re talking with people in person, leaving our conversations shallower and less satisfying.
In a study conducted at the University of Essex in the U.K., 142 participants were divided into pairs and asked to converse in private for 10 minutes. Half talked with a phone in the room, while half had no phone present. The subjects were then given tests of affinity, trust and empathy. “The mere presence of mobile phones,” the researchers reported in 2013 in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, “inhibited the development of interpersonal closeness and trust” and diminished “the extent to which individuals felt empathy and understanding from their partners.” The downsides were strongest when “a personally meaningful topic” was being discussed. The experiment’s results were validated in a subsequent study by Virginia Tech researchers, published in 2016 in the journal Environment and Behavior.
The evidence that our phones can get inside our heads so forcefully is unsettling. It suggests that our thoughts and feelings, far from being sequestered in our skulls, can be skewed by external forces we’re not even aware of.
Scientists have long known that the brain is a monitoring system as well as a thinking system. Its attention is drawn toward any object that is new, intriguing or otherwise striking—that has, in the psychological jargon, “salience.” Media and communications devices, from telephones to TV sets, have always tapped into this instinct. Whether turned on or switched off, they promise an unending supply of information and experiences. By design, they grab and hold our attention in ways natural objects never could.
But even in the history of captivating media, the smartphone stands out. It is an attention magnet unlike any our minds have had to grapple with before. Because the phone is packed with so many forms of information and so many useful and entertaining functions, it acts as what Dr. Ward calls a “supernormal stimulus,” one that can “hijack” attention whenever it is part of our surroundings—which it always is. Imagine combining a mailbox, a newspaper, a TV, a radio, a photo album, a public library and a boisterous party attended by everyone you know, and then compressing them all into a single, small, radiant object. That is what a smartphone represents to us. No wonder we can’t take our minds off it.
The irony of the smartphone is that the qualities we find most appealing—its constant connection to the net, its multiplicity of apps, its responsiveness, its portability—are the very ones that give it such sway over our minds. Phone makers like Apple and Samsungand app writers like Facebook and Google design their products to consume as much of our attention as possible during every one of our waking hours, and we thank them by buying millions of the gadgets and downloading billions of the apps every year.
A quarter-century ago, when we first started going online, we took it on faith that the web would make us smarter: More information would breed sharper thinking. We now know it isn’t that simple. The way a media device is designed and used exerts at least as much influence over our minds as does the information that the device unlocks.
People’s knowledge may dwindle as gadgets grant them easier access to online data.
As strange as it might seem, people’s knowledge and understanding may actually dwindle as gadgets grant them easier access to online data stores. In a seminal 2011 studypublished in Science, a team of researchers—led by the Columbia University psychologist Betsy Sparrow and including the late Harvard memory expert Daniel Wegner —had a group of volunteers read 40 brief, factual statements (such as “The space shuttle Columbia disintegrated during re-entry over Texas in Feb. 2003”) and then type the statements into a computer. Half the people were told that the machine would save what they typed; half were told that the statements would be immediately erased.
Afterward, the researchers asked the subjects to write down as many of the statements as they could remember. Those who believed that the facts had been recorded in the computer demonstrated much weaker recall than those who assumed the facts wouldn’t be stored. Anticipating that information would be readily available in digital form seemed to reduce the mental effort that people made to remember it. The researchers dubbed this phenomenon the “Google effect” and noted its broad implications: “Because search engines are continually available to us, we may often be in a state of not feeling we need to encode the information internally. When we need it, we will look it up.”
Now that our phones have made it so easy to gather information online, our brains are likely offloading even more of the work of remembering to technology. If the only thing at stake were memories of trivial facts, that might not matter. But, as the pioneering psychologist and philosopher William James said in an 1892 lecture, “the art of remembering is the art of thinking.” Only by encoding information in our biological memory can we weave the rich intellectual associations that form the essence of personal knowledge and give rise to critical and conceptual thinking. No matter how much information swirls around us, the less well-stocked our memory, the less we have to think with.
We aren’t very good at distinguishing the knowledge we keep in our heads from the information we find on our phones.
This story has a twist. It turns out that we aren’t very good at distinguishing the knowledge we keep in our heads from the information we find on our phones or computers. As Dr. Wegner and Dr. Ward explained in a 2013 Scientific American article, when people call up information through their devices, they often end up suffering from delusions of intelligence. They feel as though “their own mental capacities” had generated the information, not their devices. “The advent of the ‘information age’ seems to have created a generation of people who feel they know more than ever before,” the scholars concluded, even though “they may know ever less about the world around them.”
That insight sheds light on our society’s current gullibility crisis, in which people are all too quick to credit lies and half-truths spread through social media by Russian agents and other bad actors. If your phone has sapped your powers of discernment, you’ll believe anything it tells you.
Data, the novelist and critic Cynthia Ozick once wrote, is “memory without history.” Her observation points to the problem with allowing smartphones to commandeer our brains. When we constrict our capacity for reasoning and recall or transfer those skills to a gadget, we sacrifice our ability to turn information into knowledge. We get the data but lose the meaning. Upgrading our gadgets won’t solve the problem. We need to give our minds more room to think. And that means putting some distance between ourselves and our phones.
Mr. Carr is the author of “The Shallows” and “Utopia Is Creepy,” among other books.

Appeared in the October 7, 2017, print edition as 'How Smart- phones Hijack Our Minds.'

Sunday, October 08, 2017

800 Million Rich Jews and the big joke of the Middle East

I was on a plane the other day and engaged in a fascinating conversation with a college-educated, African-American woman who works in real estate.

After a long conversation about Section 8 housing and discrimination, I shared that I felt Jews and African-Americans were natural allies in fighting oppression, since "when it comes to street cred in having been an oppressed or persecuted group, I would argue that Jews are at or near the top of the list."

She agreed and then remarked something along the lines of "but now there are so many of you and you control all the money."

"How many Jews do you think there are exactly?" I asked.

"Maybe 25%."

"Of the world population?"


"So, there are 7 billion people in the world...."

"Ok, maybe 1/8th."

"That's about 800 million people."


"Uh, well, ok. I would say that, on a good day if you are really stretching who you count, we're probably in the 14 million range."


"Yes. Now, as for the money part, I suppose it is probably true that, on average, Jews have more money than many other ethnic groups, but you know why I think that is?"


"I think it's a Darwinian survival response.

If there is one thing we have learned over millennia it's that we really can't count on other people to take care of us. When we do that, we are pretty damn vulnerable. 

So, since we can't go man-to-man in defending ourselves against our enemies, we have to figure out a way way to preserve ourselves.  That comes down to money and technology.

We don't have to earn extra money only because we want to-- sure, we like nice things and experiences like everyone else- we do it because we have to.

If we don't have the money, we can't pay for the things we need to defend ourselves and we can't give the money to the non-Jewish friends who actually do want to help us. There are plenty of those, but there are plenty of the non-Jewish enemies as well. The good guys need financing to help us, so we have to pay them.

And when it comes to technology, it's the same story.

Israel wouldn't be the technological powerhouse it is today were it not for the fact that they are outnumbered 1000 to 1. They have had no choice but to figure out a more effective way to defend themselves. Or they die. Talk about "necessity is the mother of invention."

You see, For Israel, a lost life is really expensive proportionally. For its enemies, it's really cheap.

The ironic thing is as my friend Anat says, 'if the Arabs just left us alone, we would probably just kill each other and do the job for them.'

So, you see, what Jews have learned the hard way is that, in order for us to increase our odds of survival, we have to be as smart as we can so we can effectively earn money to pay for our defense and invest in tools and technologies so we can compete with an disproportionate quantity of enemies. 

At a global level and I wouldn't say that it's something we discuss as a group, rather something that has become intuitively understood. It's why, I think, that Jews care so much about education and work ethic. Those are two pillars of financial success which is critical to our survival.

There is a saying in the Israeli Army "Ein Breirah" which means 'no choice.'  As in, 'we have to defend this territory because we really don't have an alternative.'

You see, we really don't have an alternative. If we can't have some degree of agency over our own defense and future, we're extremely vulnerable, something we know from a long history of being vulnerable and powerless.

The by product of this may be disproportionate wealth, power, and/or influence, but try to remember something. This isn't because we necessarily set out for this goal. It's because we really don't have a choice if we want to go on living as a people with a commitment to a set of values and beliefs."

"I've never heard that explanation before. Thank you for sharing it with me."