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Stories behind the themes: Wonderland December 22nd, 2011
Part 12 of 19 in the series the Omni project

2011 is coming to a close and so are the installments of secondary research for the Omni Project themes. The fifth theme, Wonderland, comes as no surprise. In fact, the ancient Greek playwright Sophocles alluded to it over two thousand years ago when he wrote “And through the future, near and far, as through the past, shall this law hold good: Nothing that is vast enters into the life of mortals without a curse.” Welcome to the future, where the vastness of technology delivers both the promise of possibility and the curse of consequence. Here we share a few examples of how people are consuming, managing, producing, processing and even inadvertently participating in the unstoppable proliferation of technology.

So You’ve Shared a Link? This is How Long it Will Stay Relevant [The Atlantic] – Here bit.ly discuss a metric they developed called ‘half life’ to measure how long a shared link remains relevant. They analyzed links (shortened through their site) from YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and directly through email and instant messages. The results are not surprising so much as deflating (a feeling which is, after all, only relevant for a few hours).

Bit.ly analyzed click data for a thousand popular links shortened through their website and found remarkable consistency in how long bitly stay relevant on various sites. The company’s blog summarizes the results in the chart below. The half life of a Twitter link is the shortest, at two hours and 48 minutes, yet Twitter links tend to garner the most traffic. Links shared on Facebook have on average a half life 24 minutes longer. Similarly, “direct links–those shared through email or instant messaging–have an only slightly longer half life of three hours and 24 minutes. The three types of links share the same basic distribution, reaching their peak number of clicks shortly after being posted and gradually tapering off in clicks from there.

How to stop e-mail overload? Think before you hit send. [Washington Post] – This piece discusses the deluge of information we confront in our email inboxes and the ensuing internal and external battles to stay afloat, which resulted in this Email Charter.

But the unintended consequence is that communication volume is expanding to the point where it threatens to take over our lives. An e-mail inbox has been described as a to-do list that anyone in the world can add to. If you’re not careful, it can gobble up most of your week. Then you’ve become a reactive robot responding to other people’s requests, instead of a proactive agent addressing your own priorities.

Spin, Spin, Die Less Quickly [The Wirecutter] – Here’s a techno-topic that many of us can relate to. Following the death of a hard drive belonging to a friend-of-a-friend, the author reflects upon the frailty of the infrastructure that supports data and content exchange and storage. Hence emerge the challenges of managing and maintaining the onslaught of information so that we may reliably refer back to it in the future.

Data should last forever but individual data storage devices tend to be frail. Just ask the people who run Google’s data centers- In the end, it pays to have your stuff stored the way Google would-in many places at once, in as many copies as you can. Right now, that means having multiple drives for backup, or, having a local drive and an online back up drive like Backblaze or Crashplan. That is the final truth about hard drives.

What Does It Mean To Be Connected in the¬† 21st Century?¬† [TEDxMarin] -¬† Tiffany Shlain explores the “connective tissues” that now bond us (email, texting, etc.) and some of the biological reasons why we are nearly powerless to resist the gravitational pull of technology.

I half expected the statue of liberty to have torch in one hand and be texting with the other- I read that every time you click or check your email or your cell phone, you get a squirt of dopamine. Now dopamine, most people think it’s like a pleasure… but they have actually found out this it is about seeking, and finding, and searching, Dopamine is really associated with searching for information.

David Carr: The News Diet Of A Media Omnivore [NPR] – Interview with a media columnist for The New York Times about his own media consumption habits. Focused primarily on Carr’s entanglement with Twitter including the lovely quote “My persistent concern is that I’ll become so busy producing media that I won’t consume enough of it.” Carr probably isn’t the only one who faces the consequences of being a media prosumer, any of this sound familiar?

This is the first year that I think my productivity has dropped because [of my media consumption]. I’m looking at the coming year and thinking, what am I going to give up? Am I going to give up following the NFL? Am I going to give up listening to music and going out and seeing it? Am I going to give up riding my bike? Or am I going to cut back on some of these digital habits I have that are eating me alive and some of these … endless panels about the future of journalism? The future of journalism is wearing badges and talking on panels, as far as I can tell.

(for more on the future of journalism, check out the IxD12 Student Design Challenge)

The Curse of Cow Clicker: How a Cheeky Satire Became a Videogame Hit [Wired] РCan a cow sitting in pasture, making cud of clicks, reflect the insidious nature of gamification?  It most certainly can, especially when developer of said cow created said pasture and clicks as a tongue-in-cheek satire of deceptively banal games. Even more so when said developer finds himself hungrily grazing in a Pavlovian pasture of compulsive production, trying to keep the hungry cows ruminating.

Bogost kept his players hooked by introducing new cows for them to purchase using virtual mooney or real money. They ranged from the crowd-pleasingly topical (a cow covered in oil and sporting a BP-esque logo on its rump) to the aggressively cynical (the Stargrazer Cow, which was just the original cow facing the opposite direction and for which Bogost charged 2,500 mooney). They may have looked simple, but they were time-consuming to conceive and draw. By the end of the year, Bogost was devoting as much as 10 hours a week to Cow Clicker. Drawings of cows cluttered his house and office. “I was spending more time on it than I was comfortable with,” Bogost says. “But I was compelled to do it. I couldn’t stop.”

‘Tis the Season… If bit.ly is remotely accurate with their estimates, this post will cease being relevant long before the festivities are done so we better act fast and wish you Happy Holidays! And in case there is any kernel of doubt left in your mind that we are snowed in by a blizzard of techno-possibilities, allow us to regift- er, repost- a little tongue-in-cheek holiday house music to soundtrack this winter wonderland.

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Stories behind the themes: Biological November 28th, 2011
Part 11 of 19 in the series the Omni project

Welcome to the fourth installment of an unfolding bibliography of secondary research that fueled our generation of themes for the Omni project. This time around we are focusing on the blurring biological boundaries between technology and our everyday lives (and bodies). We have seen a number of articles and other tidbits that hint at how far technology has advanced towards human behavior, brain function, and biomechanics. We also see quite a bit that suggests how far humans are leaning towards (and on) technology as inspiration, mediation, medication, and meme.

Is It Time To Welcome Our New Computer Overlords? [TheAtlantic.com] – The human codes of nuance and meaning in language are not yet cracked – they cannot yet be simulated.

Elsewhere, Ferrucci has been more circumspect about Watson’s level of “understanding.” In an interview with IBM’s own magazine ForwardView, he said, “For a computer, there is no connection from words to human experience and human cognition. The words are just symbols to the computer. How does it know what they really mean?” In other words, for all of the impressive NLP programming that has gone into Watson, the computer is unable to penetrate the semantics of language, or comprehend how meanings of words are shot through with allusions to human culture and the experience of daily life.

How much is a life worth in pixels? [SocialMediaCollective] – An effort to quantify the value of a human life (or in this case death) as measured by screen space allocated to reporting it on the webpages of various news sites. Not the most rigorous metric, but certainly a clever approach to valuing human presence in the virtual world.

Frustrated by this, I decided to get a more objective assessment of the coverage by counting the number of pixels different news websites were assigning to the story of the massacre. I know web designers put a lot of work into every single pixel on the screen, especially of high-traffic websites. Visitor’s attention is scarce and every pixel counts. So I took screenshots of¬† the front pages of some of the major news websites and calculated the amount of screen real state assigned to the story of the massacre.

The Cyborg in Us All [NYT.com] – Tracing the steps we are taking towards a totally hands-free interaction with technology where brains will send messages directly to devices. One less interaction to sit between man and machine.

Now it was my turn. Mukerjee removed the headset and moistened the tips of its electrodes with contact-lens fluid, then arranged the EEG device on top of my hair. The electrodes poked into my scalp like wet fingers. I held the iPhone in front of me and beamed a blast of willpower at it. “Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs,” I shouted inside my mind. The phone picked George Bush.

PUMPED UP KICKS|DUBSTEP [YouTube] – Here we see technology influencing body – this guy dances like what you are watching is a video effect; in the way that the audio IS an audio effect – loops, run backwards, etc. very digital. But the video is real – this is his way of moving his body, but the aesthetic is entirely defined by something created elsewhere as technology. Yes, we had The Robot in the 70s, but this is different – that was a human dancing like a machine, this is a human dancing like an effect – something that doesn’t exist except as the manipulation of data.

You are a robot [TheTechnium] РKK deconstructs dancing like a robot and highlights the myriad ways the human body can be molded to perform like a techno-being.  

Everywhere we look in pop culture today, some of the coolest expressions are created by humans imitating machines. Exhibit A would be the surging popularity of popping, tutting, and dub step dancing. You’ve seen these dancers on YouTube: the best of them look exactly like robots dancing, with the mechanical stutter of today’s crude robots trying to move like humans. Except the imitators robotically dance better than any robot could — so far.

A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design [worrydream.com] – Bret Victor has his finger (pun certainly intended) on the pulse of our future interactions with technology. The rant focuses on our bodies, namely our hands and fingers, and their place of privilege between humans and technology (I feel a Michelangelo Sistine Chapel reference coming on). If, as they say, all things are created twice (first in the mind and then in reality) then Victor has me wondering if technology has already infiltrated our minds and influenced the pursuit of Pictures Under Glass as opposed to, say, envisioning an experience rich with tactility and manual manipulation.

There’s a reason that our fingertips have some of the densest areas of nerve endings on the body. This is how we experience the world close-up. This is how our tools talk to us. The sense of touch is essential to everything that humans have called “work” for millions of years.

Biomimicry’s Greatest Hits [FastCompany.com] – We continue to see blurring of the boundaries between humans and technology in this presentation which offers examples of how nature has inspired and informed some memorable technological advances.

The idea of taking inspiration from nature may be gaining traction in many industries today, but the natural world has always been a powerful inspiration for designers and inventors. Here are some of the most important objects that take their cue from the world around us.

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