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5 Things We Learned About How Tech Affects Us On The Final Episode Of NPR’s “Invisibilia”


Is the internet making us bigger jerks? Find out what you missed from the grand finale of Invisibilia’s riveting first season.

For their six-part podcast, Invisibilia hosts Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller examine the invisible stuff that shapes us.

Is the looming presence of computers in our lives good, or just plain creepy? If you’ve ever been unsure about our robotic sidekicks and how they affect our behavior, you’re in smart company.

Here are some of the striking stories from the last episode of the first season, “Our Computers, Ourselves.”

Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed

1. Meet Thad Starner, cyborg.

Stanford / Via

While he’s not physically fused with a computer, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) graduate and Georgia Tech professor has worn one for roughly 20 years. And his electronic sidekick is Lizzy, adopted from the first production car’s nickname, the Tin Lizzy.

If his eyewear looks reminiscent of Google Glass, you’re totally right: He was one of its technical leads. Thad firmly believes his extra appendage has deepened his human relationships: It reinforces his memories and holds onto thoughts that would have otherwise slipped away had they not been recorded.

Plus, you feel like a superhuman.

Like the Terminator, Thad’s eyewear is constantly populated with things he can say.

Orion Pictures / Via

OK, it’s a little less crass. But after Lizzy went through some makeovers, Thad and another MIT student designed a program for her called the Remembrance Agent.

So as you have a conversation with someone, you take notes. Then Lizzy zips through those archives and brings up relevant stuff at the bottom of your eye screen, like a self-googling catalog of your memories.

  1. What do you think: Would you want to be a cyborg?

    1. Yes! We need to embrace the future
    2. Maybe, if it helped me remember people’s names and stuff
    3. No, I like humans the way we are
    4. I’m not sure, it looks a little dorky

5 Things We Learned About How Tech Affects Us On The Final Episode Of NPR’s “Invisibilia”


2. But not everyone is convinced that being intimately linked with computers is a good idea.

NBC / Via

Some in the tech industry liken electronics to eyeglasses: They’re a simple tool.

But others are wringing their hands about our smartypants metal slabs, which isn’t that unusual in the course of history. Believe it or not, Plato had some beef against writing because it would mean less face-to-face interaction.

So what could go wrong with computers?

3. Well, they can make us meaner.

watch out astoria. you have no idea whats about to hit you!

— N_train_gossip (@N Train Gossip)

Pro: You’ll get all the room you want for your bags. Con: A $500 fine AND…. you’re an asshole.

— N_train_gossip (@N Train Gossip)

Something tells me he isn’t nearly as active as his socks suggest if he rides the train like this for 20 minutes.

— N_train_gossip (@N Train Gossip)

Consider the story of this Twitter account, N Train Gossip. When a man named Peter first started it, it was because of the lack of morality police on New York City’s N train, which runs from Astoria, Queens, through Manhattan.

People splay out on seats and don’t get up for pregnant women, to name a few courtesy offenses. It made Peter mad. So he set up the account and whenever his blood would start to boil, he’d tweet and feel the steam dissipate. Chemically, validation is actually pretty therapeutic.

Then his tweets got a bit darker. But why? Wasn’t his whole thing being nice?

4. Social scientists are steadily categorizing how online interactions are different from those offline.

Kasia Galazka / BuzzFeed

There’s a lack of social cues like inflection. There’s deindividuation, which is losing self-awareness in a group setting, says Arthur Santana, a professor at the University of Houston who is studying online behavior. Things on-screen can also feel more like a game than real life.

And anonymity, he’s found, can make you nearly twice as likely to be uncivil. (Other research has found that anonymous commenting is not all bad: It can foster ideas in a group setting and isn’t likely to influence opinions on an ethical issue, to name a few pros.) Scientists call that discrepancy between online and offline behavior the online disinhibition effect.

5. Because whether we realize it or not, our pixelated behavior shapes our offline selves.

Orion Pictures

We’re more likely to share things that make us angry, researchers found after analyzing 70 million tweets. But venting online can make us more likely to be aggressive later, says Ryan Martin, who specializes in how computers mess with our emotions.

When Peter started seeking things that made him angry, he took step back to cool his brain jets. The N Train Gossip account is still alive, but it’s barely updated. Peter’s Instagram is currently a collage of inanimate objects.

And now, he feels less angry.

If you missed the episode, listen to it over at NPR or subscribe here.

Catch up with our recaps below or our interview with the hosts.

Episode 5, “The Power of Categories”
Episode 4, “Entanglement”
Episode 3, “How to Become Batman”
Episode 2, “Fearless”
Episode 1, “The Secret History of Thoughts”

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