Or-Tal's Writings

entrepreneur/mother/education revolutionist/high tech addict



Don’t you know you’re talking about a revolution

There’s a kind of sadness in the air nowadays. Some may not feel it creeping on them, but it’s really hanging above all our heads. All these flashes of adrenalin while protesting and demonstrating can mask the sadness. And the fear. But this is no longer a whisper.

People have been gathering in various protests and revolutions. It’s not really fair to compare between Cairo and Tel-Aviv, but there are similarities. It’s the web 2.0 revolution. It was only a matter of time.

Beer Sheba Demonstration, by Rafi Michaeli

In past times it was easier for regimes and governments to keep people oppressed. Sometimes they didn’t realize just how oppressed they were or that life can be better. But the web is bringing this knowledge all over the world. It’s a Wikipedia world: Free knowledge and accessible to all. Well, almost all. The result is that weaker social group have access to enough knowledge to realize just how weak they are and how oppressed or abused. It’s not going to be difficult to put them back in that frame they came out of: it’s going to be impossible.

We’re living at a time of revolution, but it’s really a stage in human evolution. One that has to happen no matter what government you have.

The scary part is that those who rebel and raise their heads have too much knowledge to be ever satisfied, and too little knowledge to know what to demand.

Think Tsunami and volcanoes erupting are scary? The human tsunami wave that’s going to flash the globe is scarier than all. If governments won’t speed up deep reforms processes and come up with reasonable solutions to their people’s distress, nuclear power is going to be the least of this planet’s worries.

In light of recent events, Tracy Chapman really sounds like a prophet. And I love this song.

Oh, and just to be clear, this is just the beginning. Wait until students will break our of school walls. Then we’ll be talking revolution.


Revolution, evolution, shmevolution

They have courage and determination. We look at them and we admire from afar. A little envious I suspect. Things bug them in their day to day lives so they do something about it, they take initiative and march in the streets. Because they want things to be different. They’re just like entrepreneurs.

Why are we envious? Because for some reason we, the Israelis, are not really the types to fill the streets with our voices or presence. We don’t do these marches and demonstrations. There are never real “riots” here. In most cases, when we get angry or frustrated we talk about it, write about it, discuss it, and get a little angrier. Then we promise we will punish the current government in the next elections, only to find out, when the time comes, there aren’t that many alternatives.

But that’s OK. We’re entrepreneurs. We are. We just don’t do it in the streets. We invent our own solutions, first for ourselves, then for our dearest and closest, then for our cities or towns, and sometimes we extend our reach and PR. We just keep inventing stuff. It greatly reduces feelings of frustration and helplessness.

I was just thinking what a great Middle-East this could have been had there been a collaboration between the power and will of our neighbors and the inventing minds here.

For amazing photos from Egypt look here:

ADD – The Human Evolution

Are We All Acquiring ADD?

Last week I ran across a status update by a facebook friend who wrote “I think I won’t be able to complete this blog post without a dose of Ritalin”.
This floated at the same week I read some comments about the rising rates of ADD and ADHD among children and adults and how you can blame the web for everything wrong.
I don’t take Ritalin and it took me a lot longer then I had expected to finish this blog. My facebook friend had already completed and uploaded her great post titled -free translation from Hebrew: Attention Deficit Surprise. (Read it in Hebrew).

ADD is “Attention Deficit Disorder”. Ritalin is one of the more common drugs used to treat people who suffer from ADD. As one explained it to me once “Ritalin is like oiling the brain’s wheels so they won’t make a noise when they spin”. At the same time, if I use the same image, those Ritalin-oiled wheels slow down a lot, and go only straight, no sharp turns.

Which could be a problem.

But going back to the reality and the statistics – I won a “wow! You have serious ADD!” last week, as I was working with my partner on our startup’s verbal branding, while I gave him some advice regarding his wedding arrangements, took care of the kids’ lunch, schedule some doctor’s appointment and well, I don’t remember which other action items jumped in the list that morning.

His remark took me by surprise. I don’t think I have ADD. I think people often find it difficult to concentrate – that does not automatically award them with a disorder. I know I speak for many working mothers when I say we have many, many action items on our daily lists – and that also doesn’t amount to ADD or entitles us with a dose of Ritalin. It’s just a simple overload with no special order or dis.

I’ve been thinking about the ADD – the disorder, the definition and the perception – for a long time now. I have two boys diagnosed with ADD, who do not take Ritalin. And I have a brother and a sister diagnosed with it too. We assume that our parents have it, and science claims it’s hereditary. I still don’t think I have ADD.

But going back to the definition of ADD and recent statistics showing a rise in ADD and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyper Disorder) as a percentage of the general population, especially, but not only, among children:

Some might attack the actual statistics, some might argue that the rise is due to better knowledge and understanding of this phenomena, but often people blame the world we live in, specifically digital communications age. Because, really, think about it: life has gone from being simple 1-2 channel activity to being multi-channel activity all the time!

Consider only the communications channels that we have accumulated over the past 120 years. Started with face to face conversation added letter writing, telegraph, then phones, email, then mobile phones, then instant messaging, SMS, forums, chat rooms, social networks and twitter. Who knows what lies ahead!

This means that we’d better start thinking how to wean the world of Ritalin, because – yes: we are all acquiring ADD and it’s going to be the next generation’s normal.
Or is it?

I feel that sometimes ADD does not present itself as an attention DEFICIT but rather as an attention EXCESS (and let’s leave the disorder for now). Consider how we divided our time only 30 years ago between face to face conversations and phone conversations, each would be a single channel activity. Now think of today’s teenager’s time divided between face to face conversation, phone conversation, SMS, chat, email all together with web browsing and TV, all at the same time. The reality requires the Attention Excess – and the result could become “disorder”, a mess, a chaos.

But is it really a mess or is it a phase in evolution?
I read today that “according to Fortune Magazine people with ADD/ADHD are 300% more likely to start their own company”. I also found this simple explanation: “The ADD/ADHD gene affects the brain’s relationship with dopamine. This difference causes one to crave stimulation just to feel alive…” and “while only about 10% of the general population has this gene, most of self-made rich & famous have the ADD/ADHD gene. This group includes most entrepreneurs, artists, inventors, geniuses, rock stars and billionaires.”

The real problem with ADD is the labeling system that’s attempting to treat this evolution as a disease that needs a cure – drugs, to be specific.

Of course some ADD people, who may use Ritalin successfully might disagree with what I write here. And to be fair I must make it clear: there are various levels of ADD. In most cases ADD people do not see their problem as an attention “Excess” because even though they can split their attention between multiple stimulations, they never get to maximize their attention to any of those channels, leaving them with a feeling of “missed something”. But that’s not the same in all ADD cases. Not even in all ADD days.

In the meantime I’ve been watching this 2 year old who’s playing with her iPad, first encounter. Looks like she’s born into the digital age. She can instantly do stuff with her iPad that her grandparents might take hours to grasp. She’s born into a world where she can work around multi channels of stimulation and once accustomed to it at this early age, her brain is beginning to constantly crave stimulation, just like the brain of an ADD child.

In 4 years she’ll go to school and be asked to sit still in a classroom, listen to a teacher talking for 45 minutes at a time, write with a pencil in her notebook, a paper notebook. Before you know it she’ll be labeled ADD. It’s like sending a kid to the moon then dropping them down from there to earth – to a hundred years ago earth.

Time to make a reality check:
I am sick and tired of all those magazine articles warning humanity against the horrible things technology, especially the Internet – is doing to our brains. Technology is NOT JUST here to stay, it keeps EVOLVING. It’s not going to go away and I suspect the middle ages will never come back. The question is not “how to prevent humanity from changing” but rather how to get humanity to embrace the change, work with it and start to benefit from it.

Play More, More Games, For a Better World!

Back after a relatively long vacation, school vacation. Partly used their vacation as my excuse to take some time off for myself too. Well, not entirely off. I’ve been playing games. Actually, we’ve all been busy playing games, trying new games, exchanging gifts and tips, me and my kids. It’s been a lot of fun. At the end of this vacation, their off to school and I have a lot of catching up to do on my reading, writing and following and I have to admit that my game-crave is bugging me. I am beginning to think I am addicted to games.

Looked into addiction to games and found multiple groups of Farmville addicts, several addiction calculators and self-tests, and similar items relating to other games too. Here is a post Michael Arrington wrote about his addiction to Fishville about 4 months ago. Games, especially good ones, are addicting.

I started to take in the claim that games are designed to be addictive. Actually, I am pretty sure they are. Especially those with micro payments built in them. Because even if for some of us it seems completely idiotic to spend a nickel on a virtual sofa, other people do not perceive it as spending money on virtual goods, they see it as spending money on entertainment. It’s like my first online magazine subscription more than a decade ago: I remember thinking “Why is it OK to subscribe to a printed magazine but not to an online one?”. We spend money on movies, and books, cable TV, music and toys, we buy video games DVDs in a shop – so why is spending money on online games so difficult?

I cannot imagine going through a whole day without any play. I open my day with Sudoku. It’s my morning exercise, a sharpener. I might be playing more games then others, trying to figure out how to create my own game, but even without the work necessity, looking around me, are people playing games. Kids, of course, are much more play oriented. Many adults, however, feel ashamed or embarrassed about playing games… “Oh, no, it’s not me playing Farmville, it’s my little son, who has no Facebook account of his own…”. Yea, right.

It’s OK to play!

In fact – “It’s got to be serious if the New York Times puts a cover story of their February 17 Sunday magazine about play. At the bottom of this it says ‘it’s deeper then gender, seriously but dangerously fun, and a sandbox for new ideas about evolution’. Not bad… except if you look at that cover – what’s missing??? You see any adults??”, says Dr. Stuart Brown, a pioneer in research on play from the National Institute for Play in a TED conference about two years ago, just before Farmville broke records.

Then he goes on demonstrating the importance of play in the animal kingdom. It must be an existential factor if you see animals ignore their predator instinct in order to play, just for fun. His description of the hungry bear and the playful dog can take me to so many school yards…

And then yesterday I watch Jesse Schell’s amazing TED\DICE talk again (watch the full talk, I recommend it, or go for the excerpt) – about the invasion of games into our reality. An excellent talk demonstrating our ability to transform any task into a part of a giant game called our life. His ideas are as inspiring as they are crazy. And talking about it with some high-schoolers I know he is right. So really, you should face it: you are playing, whether you like it or not, the only question is are you having fun in the process.

This page linked me to Jane McGonigal’s TED 2010 talk about her belief that we must play more in order to better our world. My feelings exactly!

“My goal for the next decade is to try to make it as easy to save the world in real life as it is to save the world in online games”, she says. She goes on to present the calculation of how many more global hours should be dedicated to playing games and explains:
“Here’s why. This picture pretty much sums up why I think games are so essential to the future survival of the human species. This is a portrait by a photographer named Phil Toledano. … This is a gamer who is on the verge of something called an epic win. An epic win is an outcome that is so extraordinarily positive you had no idea it was even possible until you achieved it. It was almost beyond the threshold of imagination. And when you get there you are shocked to discover what you are truly capable of. That is an epic win. This is a gamer on the verge of an epic win. And this is the face that we need to see on millions of problem-solvers all over the world as we try to tackle the obstacles of the next century. The face of someone who, against all odds is on the verge of an epic win.”

Going back to Dr. Stuart Brown’s presentation I give another look to his slide of the goat: “If you’re having a bad day – try this. Jump up and down, wiggle around, you’re going to feel better”.

Beware the Social Networks!

About 12 hours ago “The Mail Online” has published an article titled: “Social websites harm children’s brains: Chilling warning to parents from top neuroscientist“.

The top neuroscientist quoted is Lady Susan Greenfield. She is an amazing 59 year old woman and a specialist on the physiology of the brain, a professor at the department of pharmacology at Oxford university in the UK.  A serious, serious academic.

I am dedicating this post to her achievements and to the Ada Lovelace day, and to this pledge.

I had to read the article several times to try and understand what she is saying. After all, she is a top neuroscientist. You can’t simply dismiss what she says. Being a mother of 3 children – I want to know.

I am already poisoning my kids with un-organic food, we live in a polluted city, there are cellular antennas in the neighborhood, not to mention their personal mobile phones. Am I doing some more damage to their brains by letting them have a Facebook account??

Anxiously I was looking for scientific hints in the article. The research conducted… the methods and subjects… anything to learn a little more. But the most scientific reference I found was: she “believes repeated exposure could effectively ‘rewire’ the brain”.


The article quotes her saying “Sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Bebo are said to shorten attention spans, encourage instant gratification and make young people more self-centered” and then adds the quote “My fear is that these technologies are infantilizing the brain into the state of small children who are attracted by buzzing noises and bright lights, who have a small attention span and who live for the moment.”

Last month, the same lady, who is a member of the house of lords said “I often wonder whether real conversation in real time may eventually give way to these sanitized and easier screen dialogues…, in much the same way as killing, skinning and butchering an animal to eat has been replaced by the convenience of packages of meat on the supermarket shelf,” arguing that exposure to computer games, instant messaging, chat rooms and social networking sites “could leave a generation with poor attention spans”.

Well, hello and welcome to E V O L U T I O N.

Indeed not all evolutions do well for the specie. Think Mammoth for instance. Perhaps we are doomed.

But, does this mean we have to exclude all new media and stick with the old ways? Is preserving the current wiring of the brain more important than developing and arriving at new, yet unknown, places?

Here is something to think of. My 9th grader told me about her new History text book. Text books are rarely noted or gaining any sort of comment from a teenager. But she actually pointed out that this is a rather good book to study from. The book’s uniqueness is by adding several different fields of information into each page. Allowing the students to follow the main text while absorbing other types of information, some are minor others are accented.

When I encountered this fantastic presentation by Sarah “Intellagirl” Robbins – things fit. I already wrote about it here.

I am not a scientist. But I believe that Lady Susan Greenfield is right. The young brains do go through some re-wiring. Sarah Robbins is right too. Students today are capable of handling a lot more information then students in the past. Call it “poor attention spans” if you like. I actually think it’s rich attention span.

I know that my Kids find it easier to absorb and process several sensory and information sources at once. They are certainly more successful at it than most adults I know and I believe they are better at it then I was as a student. Excuse me for not crediting social networking or penguin club with these achievements. I give most of the credit to the environment they are growing into and the future they are naturally preparing for.

Some of the many comments made to the article on “The Mail” try to dismiss everything as an oldie attacking the younger generation. Which makes you wonder really, about how society related to various media changes in the past century, or better yet – from print, through phones, to mass and digital media.

Still one question remains: can we really fight it, or should we find a way to use it to society’s advantage?

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