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Dave Eggers

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Dave Eggers, the acclaimed author behind A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and A Hologram for the King, will release his latest novel, The Circle, this fall. The book will revolve around a fictional, but eerily familiar entity, "the Circle," which is described as "the world's most powerful internet company."

The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency.

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“The world needs you, badly,” begins celebrated biologist E.O. Wilson in his letter to a young scientist. Previewing his upcoming book, he gives advice collected from a lifetime of experience -- reminding us that wonder and creativity are the center of the scientific life. (Filmed at TEDMED.)

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Fred Stutzman, a post-doctoral fellow at Carnegie Mellon University, has written two programs that allow users to block their own online activities. At first blush, they seem like the answer to a question nobody's asking. But that has turned out not to be the case.

Stutzman, who researches social media at the university's Heinz College, has released two apps, Freedom and Anti-Social. Freedom, which banishes a user from his or her Internet connection for up to eight hours, has been downloaded 350,000 times. Anti-Social, which blocks access to social networks like Facebook, has been downloaded by 125,000 users.

More surprising is that Freedom costs $10 and Anti-Social $15 (there are trial versions available with a limited number of uses). To a slightly higher degree than most apps, arguably, you have to really want what they offer. That is, the elimination of distraction.

"Freedom enforces freedom," the app's site 1984ishly proclaims. "You'll need to reboot if you want to get back online while Freedom's running. The hassle of rebooting means you're less likely to cheat, and you'll enjoy enhanced productivity." The app has been praised by writers from Dave Eggers to Nick Hornby to Zadie Smith.

But Freedom might be too much for those who need online access for their work. "Anti-Social solves this problem," Stutzman says, by "allowing you to do your online work, while preventing you from accessing top social sites."

These apps, marketed by his company Eighty Percent Solution, may be indicators of a larger trend. Stutzman seems to think so.

"I think people are starting to pull back and realize how the time we spend online impacts their work, the quality of their work, and their ability to hit goals," he told Ars. 

"Freedom, and Anti-Social, are ways to get this time back—to turn off the constant social obligation of social networks, to better compartmentalize work time and play time. As a technology researcher, I am very positive on the impact of technology, particularly social technologies, on our lives The net effect of a lot of these technologies are positive. However, just because technology can be seamlessly integrated into our lives, does not mean that we need to engage with these technologies at all times. It is important to find space for solitude, concentration, and reflection. I believe a lot of technologies don't consider this."

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