technology posts

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.

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
Comments Off  |   Email This Post    
ChittahChattah Quickies December 6th, 2011

Seer of the mirror world [The Economist] – Embedded in this article, along with Gelernter’s thoughts about designing technology and some future-casting (expect more software agent-bots!), is some good drama about patent wars among the tech-cognoscenti.

“Google is commercially successful and dazzlingly imaginative but I don’t see what I would like to see from them, or Facebook or Twitter,” says Dr Gelernter. “They’re not turning on their imaginations”… As ever, Dr Gelernter’s excitement about the potential of new technology is tempered by frustration that too little attention is paid to aesthetic and social factors. “A lot of convenience and power could be gained, and a lot of unhappiness, irritation and missed opportunities avoided, if the industry thought about design, instead of always making it the last thing on the list,” he says. “We need more people who are at home in the worlds of art and the humanities and who are less diffident in the presence of technology. There are not enough articulate Luddite, anti-technology voices.” It is not the sort of thing you expect to hear from a professor of computer science, let alone the victim of an anti-technology extremist. But as well as having foreseen the future of computing, over his career Dr Gelernter has developed a clear understanding of humans’ conflicted relationship with the technology on which they increasingly rely.

Making Noise About People Who Talk to Their Cellphones [NYT Bits Blog] – Behaviors and sensitivities are explored and exposed as voice-activated software adds to the out-loud interactions people can have with their mobile devices now. The reaction as people feel subjected to these interactions is much more negative than we’d have (culturally) to the old-fashioned practice of overhearing two people talking, or the more desirable and salacious hobby of eavesdropping!

“As I was waiting in a Southwest Airlines cattle queue to fly back east for Thanksgiving, I was subjected to 15 minutes of listening to the man behind me as he dictated all the details of a prostate surgery into his ‘personal’ assistant,” wrote Exiled In MO from St. Louis. “People have simply lost all knowledge of what constitutes personal space and appropriate public behavior. What a noisy, sad world we’ve made.”

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
From Us, To Steve: The techno present December 5th, 2011
Part 19 of 19 in the series the Omni project

For the Omni project we are exploring the impact of technology on people’s everyday lives. This has involved a lot of “looking out” into the world. Of course we are also “looking in” and paying attention to how technology is impacting our own lives, i.e. when it comes to tolerating traffic and making consensual decisions about birthday gifts.

Julie and I had the best of intentions: Head up to the Ferry Plaza building after a meeting in the city to pick up a gift for Steve for his birthday. We knew (more or less) that we wanted to get he and Anne some sort of serving dish from Heath Ceramics to complement the new tableware they purchased last month. Unfortunately traffic was not in our favor that day. As Julie practiced her patience at the wheel we noticed in the sunroof that a helicopter circled above- definitely not a good sign.

By the time we got to the Ferry building, Julie’s patience had run out.

JN: I do not want to deal with parking. Why don’t I just drop you off here and you can run in?

TC: Okay. Wait a minute. I thought we were gonna pick something out together?

JN: It’s fine. We talked about it. I’m sure you can pick something out.

TC: I want us to choose together! Okay, I will text you! Stay tuned!

I got to the shop and met Monica and Michael (whom I had already spoken with on the phone about our mission). They were ready to help and set to showing me exactly what Steve and Anne had purchased. I found myself in a race against time and battery when I saw the dreaded red percentage in the upper right corner of my iPhone. As a gift-giver I was focused on figuring out the present, but I also felt a bit frantic about making sure I had power enough left to find Julie once the shopping was done. The tingling butterflies in my stomach sang a tune of “you are new to this city, never been to this ‘hood before… if you get to 10% better run for the door…”

Julie assuages my fears of never finding her should my battery die before I get back outside to her car.

Monica showed me a bunch of serving platter options that would complement Steve and Anne’s new set. I texted these images to Julie with my suggestion. She agreed and we arrived quickly at a decision. The whole process, including gift wrapping, took less than 15 minutes. I walked out the door directly over to Julie’s car with a perfect present, selected in consensus, and a teeny tiny bit of battery to spare.

The techno-interventions into our gifting ritual did not end there. We planned to meet at Ho Wing’s General Store in the Mission for dinner on Sunday night (which, sadly, is so new it has no website or relevant hyperlinks as of yet). En route to the restaurant¬† the texts started flying among the three of us. *Nota bene: I typically comply with California hands free laws and do not text while driving. I have, however, trained my 8 year-old to masterfully multi-task between giving me directions via Google Maps and reading/replying to text messages.

iMéssage ?† trois illustrating communication of¬† our location, our confusion, our emotions and our search for why.

During our hunt for a birthday gift for Steve, I was reminded of the simple daily interventions of technology. I take for granted that the ways that technology enables me (and my 8¬† year-old) to find and communicate with friends, learn more about friends, stay connected, pass time, navigate, keep anxiety at bay (or not), and share decision making in a way that ensures we both have the same ‘data’. It’s hard to imagine that less than 10 years ago none of this experience would have been possible or, for what it’s worth, noteworthy.

Happy ending! Steve and Anne with their new tray (images courtesy of Steve and Anne…and technology)

 

 

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
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.

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
Comments Off  |   Email This Post    
Stories behind the themes: Transformation November 21st, 2011
Part 10 of 19 in the series the Omni project

Here we offer the third 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 transformational role of technology in our everyday lives, both in terms of what is changing (us) and how, i.e. the process of moving ritualistically through the liminal space that sits between what (and how) we once did things and the activities that will become our daily doings. This theme captures not only the place between the old and the new, but also the processes of learning, relearning, and unlearning how to respond to the new and improved version of our lives that technology suggests possible.

Online Banking Bill Pay Changes Ahead [FastCompany.com] – Remember the last time you had to show up in person at your bank to conduct business? Yeah, me neither. Remember the last time you had a confounding online banking moment trying to transfer funds to or from one account or bank to another (be it yours or someone else’s)? Yep, me, too! We appear to be wading through the growing pains associated with a transition from institutionally-focused financial rituals to customer-driven (and designed) online personal financing that is largely institutionally-agnostic.

While consumers like seeing all their finances in one friendly place, they don’t like the fact that they can’t do anything about it there–namely pay those bills or move money between accounts–using the same site or app. That capability is gradually coming, with the help of new finance technology, business models and willing, often smaller, banks.

Collaborative Learning for the Digital Age [Chronicle.com] – Cathy Davidson puts her teaching (and learning to teach in this era of “This is Your Brain on the Internet”) under the microscope in an exploration of how technology is impacting the collaborative nature of knowledge including how it is consumed, crowdsourced, created, communicated, and (perhaps most fascinating of all) subjected to criticism by various stakeholders. Here we can begin to see that a focus on traditional ways of learning has created attentional blindness to the opportunities for new ways of learning.

Unfortunately, current practices of our educational institutions-and workplaces-are a mismatch between the age we live in and the institutions we have built over the last 100-plus years. The 20th century taught us that completing one task before starting another one was the route to success. Everything about 20th-century education, like the 20th-century workplace, has been designed to reinforce our attention to regular, systematic tasks that we take to completion. Attention to task is at the heart of industrial labor management, from the assembly line to the modern office, and of educational philosophy, from grade school to graduate school.

A Walk to Remember to Remember [Full-Stop.net] – Anyone who has seen the video of the woman walking into the mall fountain because her eyes are glued to her phone (there’s another walk to remember!) has witnessed the physical (and perhaps more experientially concrete) impact of technology on walking. This piece roots around in some of the more metaphorical and abstract ways that technology has transformed rituals and narratives of bipedal locomotion.

“When I walk,” he describes, “my impression is that a digital sensibility overtakes me [-] the places or circumstances that have drawn my attention take the form of Internet links.” Referring to associative memory as being like hypertext is a perfect example of how the significance and description of walking changes in reference to the time and culture in which it is grounded. The metaphors we use to characterize things we don’t understand often change with relation to extant technology. For example the human mind once described as a tablet is now popularly referred to as being like a computer. But this use of figurative language also demonstrates how metaphor shapes the way we perceive and experience the physical world.

In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores [NYT.com] – Technology is obviously changing our institutions and, here again,education seems to be a classic meme. There is a defined dream that computers will fix THIS – every generation of tech, from the first Apple PCs to now iPads, are all hailed as “THIS is the thing that will truly, radically improve it!”; but in our measurement-focused education systems, evidence points to “no”.

To be sure, test scores can go up or down for many reasons. But to many education experts, something is not adding up – here and across the country. In a nutshell: schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning.

The Gen Y Guide to Collaborative Consumption [Shareable.net] - Technology is enabling alternatives to the mainstream economy that are self-created and subvert standard modes of exchange and value. This easy-to-use DIY guide is a road map for leaving behind ancient rituals of consumption in favor of practices that values possibilities of use over possession.

American youth are slowly realizing that the old system is broken, and no longer holds the answer to all their dreams and desires. We’re discovering that stable, satisfying careers can be found outside the offices and factories around which our parents and grandparents built their lives. We’re acknowledging that the pursuit of bigger, better, and faster things have plunged our country into a time of despair and difficulty. We’re convinced that business as usual isn’t an option any longer–but what’s the alternative?

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
Comments Off  |   Email This Post    
Stories behind the themes: Personal Exposure November 9th, 2011
Part 8 of 19 in the series the Omni project


 

We recently shared some of the themes emerging from our secondary research for the Omni project. In lieu of a bibliographic deluge, over the next few days we are offering up a sprinkling of the articles, art, commentaries, presentations and other miscellany that contributed to the pool from which our themes were drawn. You will likely find (as we have) that many of these items are illustrative of more than one theme.

First up is the theme of¬†personal exposure and how technology is impacting our identities and behavior. Our participation involves a sacrifice of personal autonomy and control as various technologies require us to respond, reply, reveal, disclose, like, comment, protect, sign-in, sign up, secure, backup, manage, mitigate, translate and aggregate. We are making new choices about old behaviors and developing new rituals to replace outdated interfaces. The boundaries are blurring between private and public, at the same time we have more options than ever before for qualifying and segregating all of the different “I”s that we wish to be, depending on the context.¬† Within this theme we are seeing the topics of identity, trust, consumption, production, control, privacy, regulation, and the facts and myths that capture (and perpetuate) it all.

Tiger Moms and Digital Media [psychologytoday.com] - A psychotherapist who specializes in Internet and video game addiction offers 9 guidelines for raising children who have “a healthy relationship to digital media.” This starts to point at issues of control and autonomy within families and raises questions about the role of the parent (and technology) in childhood development.

For reasons I cannot explain, I saw the approaching flood, when internet addiction was only a trickle. Now, that flood is upon us. Statistics tell us that between 6 and 13% of the general population meets criteria for Internet Addiction. In the college age population, that number stands between 13 and 19%! That’s a lot of young adults who are addicted to digital technology. In S. Korea and China, the problem is growing so rapidly that those governments have declared Internet Addiction to be their #1 public health threat. Think about it.

Internet Privacy: Is it overrated? [fortune.com] - A book review of “How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live” by Jeff Jarvis that dives into the challenges of defining the messy term ‘privacy’ and the even messier obstacles associated with information sharing, regulation, and ‘publicness’. Starting to unpack the tangled web of identity and privacy, including expectations of control that accompany acts of exposure.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has tried to recast the desire for privacy as a desire for control over our digital identities. He argues that people want to share information, but we want to determine who gets to see and use it. Jarvis says this definition is too tidy. Privacy is much messier. We live in relationship with other people, after all. How do we even define what qualifies as our own information? If I share information that implicates you, who gets to control that? …. His book is not so much a rallying cry for tweeting your breakfast choices and blogging your company financials as it is a field guide for how to navigate this new technology with optimism rather than fear.

Where an Internet Joke Is Not Just a Joke [nytimes.com] – In light of increasing numbers of detained internet artists and government critics in China, a discussion of censorship and egao (“mischeivous mockery”) that is employed by many to subvert the internet patrols. Example of governmental control and how it is responded to (i.e. averted) through subversive collective channels. Challenges assumptions of exposure as a privilege rather than a right and describes some consequences for individual identity in that scuffle.

No government in the world pours more resources into patrolling the Web than China’s, tracking down unwanted content and supposed miscreants among the online population of 500 million with an army of more than 50,000 censors and vast networks of advanced filtering software. Yet despite these restrictions – or precisely because of them – the Internet is flourishing as the wittiest space in China. “Censorship warps us in many ways, but it is also the mother of creativity,” says Hu Yong, an Internet expert and associate professor at Peking University. “It forces people to invent indirect ways to get their meaning across, and humor works as a natural form of encryption.”

Russian ATM can detect when users are lying [springwise.com] – Depictions of technology can create distorted views of the future and the present; the notion is that this technology exists but it’s in the lab and it may never make it to the market in a reliable consumable form. The mere suggestion of its potential existence raises a number of questions about current practices involving consumer data. How does disclosure of possible futures impact individual understandings of who we are and how our information is managed, regulated and protected from fraudulent misappropriation?

Though the new ATM design is still in the prototype stages, Sberbank plans to install such machines in malls and bank branches around the country, the NYT reports. Financial institutions elsewhere in the world: time to think about introducing something similar?

My Emergency Contact Information [mcsweeneys.net] – Delicious little piece on how to contact someone in the event of an emergency. It’s fantatsically and unnecessarily complex with hints on how to guess neighbor’s wifi passwords. Unravels the many ways we have learned to be protected,¬†(dis)connected and affected (by easily consumable disasters around the globe).

First, if possible, try me on my cell phone. You should all have the number. I’d really prefer an emergency text message instead of a phone call, especially if the incidenct occurs before 8:00 p.m. on a weekday. Also, I don’t have a data plan, so please do not text images, regardless of the scale of devastation. Instead, Tweet or post pictures to your Flickr or Instagram photostreams and I will download or view them later, when I pass through a hotspot. Don’t forget to geo-tag them so I can determine your location.

 

 

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
Mamas, don’t let your babies… October 27th, 2011

With Occupy Oakland confrontations behind us (I hope), Halloween ahead of us, and technology all around us it seems increasingly challenging to navigate the complexities of parenting. Here’s a little taste of what some moms and dads are grappling with today:

For Children’s Sake, Taking to the Streets [nytimes.com] – Children continue to be a familiar presence in civic unrest in this piece that takes a look at the intersection between protesting for economic justice and parenting. Some supporters believe exposing children to such controversies helps to teach them critical thinking skills and introduces them to fundamentals of civic engagement. Others express concern for children’s safety and fear potential trauma.

And so it goes in the second month of Occupy Wall Street, where children are becoming an increasing presence as parents try to seize a “teachable moment” to enlighten them on matters ranging from income inequality to the right to protest- A group called Parents for Occupy Wall Street, headed by Kirby Desmarais, a Brooklyn mother and record label owner, even organized a sleepover at the park for more than 80 parents and children on a recent weekend night. (The families had to be moved at dawn to make way for new police lines and barricades.) Spin-off parent groups have sprung up in other cities like Denver and Seattle.

‘We’re a culture, not a costume’ this Halloween [cnn.com] – The Ohio University organization, Students Teaching About Racism in Society, have launched a campaign to get people to think twice before donning a costume that reduces an entire culture to a stereotypical caricature. Proponents contend that confronting stereotypes helps combat racism, while opposition in editorial forums has touted that fun and lighthearted nature of the holiday, indicated it’s nothing to be taken too seriously.

It’s a seasonal point of controversy, but even after widely publicized controversies such as the “Ghetto Fab” wig at Kohl’s and Target’s illegal alien jumpsuit, costumes of stereotypes abound. On Google’s shopping section, several pages of “Mexican costume ideas” are available, from “Mexican donkey costumes” to sexy serapes and tequila shooter girls.

Tiger Moms and Digital Media [psychologytoday.com] – A psychotherapist specializing in internet and video game addiction offers 9 guidelines to parents who wish to help their children develop normally, with a healthy relationship to digital media. I find myself particularly challenged by number 8, Model what you preach. “Ouch of awareness” from this parent of an 8 year-old who has more apps on my iPhone than I do and yes, he installed the entire entertainment system when we recently relocated.

I’ve been specializing in this problem for many years. For reasons I cannot explain, I saw the approaching flood, when internet addiction was only a trickle. Now, that flood is upon us. Statistics tell us that between 6 and 13% of the general population meets criteria for Internet Addiction. In the college age population, that number stands between 13 and 19%! That’s a lot of young adults who are addicted to digital technology. In S. Korea and China, the problem is growing so rapidly that those governments have declared Internet Addiction to be their #1 public health threat.

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
Comments Off  |   Email This Post    
And then there were themes: Secondary research results October 26th, 2011
Part 6 of 19 in the series the Omni project

We read quite a bit on a daily basis here. Once we embarked on the Omni project, everything crossing our screens seemed to relate to the topic at hand. We created a secondary research database to document and collect various articles, blogs, video, blurbs and stories about the role of technology in our lives. We commented on them. We tagged them with keywords. We talked about them. We thought about what we’ve learned from years of doing fieldwork and being curious, and attending conferences and meetings. As they will, patterns and themes began to emerge, which are helping us to ground and organize our thinking as we move forward into our first phase of primary fieldwork.

We’re excited to share some of what’s occupying our thoughts based on that work. Disclaimers and caveats: we are deliberately not including links to all the articles that informed us, to avoid being overwhelming. We’ll post that detailed bibliography next week. We have, however, added a link or two here and there to give you a glimpse into from whence our ideas came.

We noticed a powerful, overarching effect: the discourse about how technology is experienced has been characterized by a remarkably strong polarity. We are either becoming dumber or smarter. Being threatened or enabled to greatness. Dehumanized or globalized. Diseased or cured. If we were to think of this as a personal relationship, we’re at a crossroads. What is gained and lost by this alliance? We are making a list of pros and cons as a culture. Some entries in this ledger are tangible and physical, others are emotional and spiritual. We project our fears and our dreams onto our technology-based interactions and experiences. We are inspired and terrified. Some of us want to break up with technology, others are ready to commit.

Example: Bill Davidow in the Atlantic: Life in the Age of Extremes

We hear a lot of chatter, and have a lot of questions about…

…the notion of our own personal exposure. We put our identity (or identities) out there, and our behavior gathers around it in a massive snowball effect, which defines us in this context. So, that’s done then, to a greater or lesser extent. How do we protect ourselves? From who/what? Is it possible to be safe, or have we ceded control of our personal choices and activities in return for participation? The consequences of participation are unclear. We no longer have a clear mental model about the trajectory of our roles. It’s difficult to preview the positive or consider an exit strategy. The fate of our digital lives after our physical death is an example of this uncertainty. How will more exposure resulting from more access, inter-connectivity and integration of our technologies add to the hullabaloo?

See: CNN Money/Fortune’s Review of Jeff Jarvis’ Book Public Parts Internet Privacy: Is it Overrated?

…the broader relational aspects of our technology-enabled interactions. One:one, one:many, one:technology, tech:tech. The oft-pondered question: are we now closer or more isolated from other people for all this? Are we more or less human as a result of these interactions? Who is serving who, or what? The data we generate can be seen as more interesting than the content (even to our own “friends”). We are forced to analyze and qualify relationships in new ways. How many friends do you have? As magical as the tools and tech we interact with are, our relationships with each other even is more complex than it can support. We don’t have the inner social tools to deal with technologically fueled communication. New tech-driven awkward situations arise, or olde-tyme situations, such as break-ups, take on another layer to navigate. What are strategies help deal with all our connections and interconnections, both with human and non-human actors? When do they fail?

Check out: Jonnie Hughes on Salon The Tribesman who Facebook Friended Me

…the constant state of transformation we’re in, fueled by the rapid and endless development cycle for both experiences and hardware solutions that utilize new tech. We have to first unlearn, then learn and relearn ways to do both common and exceptional tasks on a daily basis. The way I note something on my calendar, for instance, has become orders of magnitude more complex than it used to be. Reinforced behaviors and habits are in a constant state of flux, and complicated by the fact that we are interconnected and affected by what we are doing, relationally, with other people and objects. People, of course, have different levels of comfort and patience with these transformations, thus early adopters vs. laggards. Behavioral change is a notoriously difficult charge for innovators, so how do we address the fact that we are thrusting people into such challenging zones on a regular basis?

For instance: Cathy Davidson in the Chronicle of Higher Education Collaborative Learning for the Digital Age

…the physical effects and experiences with technology. Sure, it’s virtual, but it’s also tangible, and is becoming biological. Consumer technologies that intersect with our bodies and minds are increasingly available, allowing us to quantify ourselves. Different poses and postures are being impacted and invented through devices and interactions. Handwriting is on the decline, finger-typing is passé, thumb-typing is prime, gesture and NUI are on the rise. What are the implications as we think increasingly of technology as part of our brains, biology and environment? How are our bodies and environments evolving to keep up?

As in: Pagan Kennedy in the New York Times Magazine The Cyborg in All of Us

…the onslaught of information/data/content/feeds/streams/news/media which we are thinking of as a wonderland, in the manner of Alice’s rabbit-hole. The Faustian bargain is on – do we revel in the delight of access or cringe under the burden of the onslaught? Apps (Siri, Evernote) and strategies (in-box zero, digital holidays, gamification) abound to manage.

No link here… you’re soaking in it!

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
ChittahChattah Quickies October 14th, 2011

Take Care of Your Little Notebook [nybooks.com] – This piece reflects on (and gently romanticizes) the instant, tangible, temporal act of jotting down a note. Jotting does validate a thought, document the moment and capture it for future reflection by self or others. The writer suggests that ink on paper is somehow more permanent, or at least more accessible, than similarly documented digital thoughts. The piece relies on the conceit that analogue note-jotting is perilously endangered; this seems exaggerated to me.

Writing with a pen or pencil on a piece of paper is becoming an infrequent activity, even for those who were once taught the rigorous rules of penmanship in grade school and hardly saw a day go by without jotting down a telephone number or a list of food items to buy at the market on the way home, and for that purpose carried with them something to write with and something to write on…No question, one can use a smart phone as an aid to memory, and I do use one myself for that purpose. But I don’t find them a congenial repository for anything more complicated than reminding myself to pick up a pair of pants from the cleaners or make an appointment with the cat doctor. If one has the urge to write down a complete thought, a handsome notebook gives it more class. Even a scrap of paper and a stub of a pencil are more preferable for philosophizing than typing the same words down, since writing a word out, letter by letter, is a more self-conscious process and one more likely to inspire further revisions and elaborations of that thought…Just think, if you preserve them, your grandchildren will be able to read your jewels of wisdom fifty years from now, which may prove exceedingly difficult, should you decide to confine them solely to a smart phone you purchased yesterday.

Revolution in a Can [foreignpolicy.com] – Has Western graffiti standardized itself into a visual language that is easily exportable, a global commodity? I disagree with some of his assertions – that Western graffiti is merely aesthetic, that graffiti expressions are cliched and “tired” – but the idea that graffiti has been appropriated by Middle Eastern and other very different cultures around the world as a visual form to communicate back to us on recognizable cultural terms is provocative.

…it does seem clear that the stylistic clichés of graffiti in the West — the huge loopy letters, the exaggerated shadows dropped behind a word — have become an international language that can be read almost transparently, for the content those clichés transmit. Look at New York-style graffiti letters spelling “Free Libya” on a wall in Benghazi or proclaiming “revolution” in Tahrir Square: Rather than aiming at a new aesthetic effect, they take advantage of an old one that’s so well-known it barely registers. That thing called “art” in the West is essentially an insider’s game, thrilling to play but without much purchase on the larger reality outside. We have to look at societies that are truly in crisis to be reminded that images — even images we have sometimes counted as art — can be used for much more than game-playing.

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
Adrian Hon: Illustrate a better future October 14th, 2011
Part 5 of 19 in the series the Omni project

This interview has been edited, condensed, etc.

Adrian Hon is co-founder and CEO at Six to Start, specializing in game-like stories and story-like games. Clients have included Disney Imagineering, the BBC, Channel 4, and Penguin, and Six to Start has won multiple awards including Best of Show at SXSW.

He also writes about technology for The Telegraph, is writing a Kickstarter-funded book A History of the Future in 100 Objects, and is the co-founder of Transmedia London. Adrian studied neuroscience at Cambridge, Oxford, and UCSD, and has spoken at TED in California about Mars exploration.

the Omni project: What was the impetus for A History of the Future in 100 Objects?

Adrian Hon: The direct impetus was the British Museum and Radio 4’s brilliant series, A History of the World in 100 Objects. While listening to the series, I almost immediately started thinking that this could be a great way to think about the future in a way that would more concrete and accessible to the public.

However, my broader drive is to illustrate a better future for humanity. Not a dystopia or an unthinking utopia, but a world in which we slowly, gradually become happier, healthier, and more kind to each other – and of course technology has a role in that, as it has over the past millennia, but so do changing social norms and greater tolerance.

You only need to open a (western) newspaper to see both the right wing and left wing talking about the imminent collapse of society, financial ruin, global ruin, the notion that our children will have a worse life than us, to see that a very strong and current vision of the future is very negative. Ditto for popular culture. Those are absolutely things we should think about, but it’s not all going to be bad.

tOp: What’s the connection between exploring the future, especially the future of technology, and storytelling?

AH: I am especially interested in the impact that technology has on people and their experiences and relationships. Stories are one of the best ways of imagining different viewpoints, whether that’s putting yourself in the shoes of someone with a very different upbringing, or someone in a different time. They have their limitations, to be sure – they can offer a seductively simplistic picture and they often imply that life has beginnings, middles, and ends – but they are far more effective than simply rattling off a list of how fast planes will be able to travel in the future.

That’s why Apple has been so successful, because both its products and its marketing have focused on what you can do with new technology, rather than the specifications of the technology itself.

From an engineering standpoint it is certainly interesting to know that a phone might have a dual core processor and 1GB of RAM or whatever, but this isn’t what really matters. It could have a quantum computer inside and if it couldn’t check mail quickly, most people couldn’t care less.

It’s harder to extrapolate those experiences. You can’t take Moore’s Law and say that in 18 months, people will start falling in love with the Siri ‘personal assistant’ on the iPhone 4S, and than 18 months after that, the number of people will double. People use technology in unusual ways.

I saw a guy at TEDxSheffield say that we should make humanities degrees cost ¬£90k and engineering degrees cost nothing. What a ridiculous thing to say! Technology without a purpose is just an expensive box. That’s not to say that engineers don’t have ideas, but rather to say that the humanities help us understand what we want to do and why.

tOp: Does your work influence product developers and technologists in making real technology?

AH: We’ll have to see – the book isn’t out yet! I hope it does, and I know that I’ve been greatly influenced by authors such as Vernor Vinge and Neal Stephenson when it comes to designing games and technology. Ideas don’t just appear out of thin air, they’re formed out of what we read and see and interact with, and stories help give ideas a more substantial form.

tOp: Conversely, does the work of real technologists impact the way you conceive of technology in order to tell stories?

AH: To an extent, yes. I want my book to be grounded in real science rather than some of the completely ridiculous “design fiction” out there (Electrolux is particularly bad at getting designers to make concepts that are totally impractical, not to mention often physically impossible). So I do have to keep current with what real technologists and scientists are doing. But it’s possible to be too current and I have to stop myself from just jumping onto whatever the big idea of the day is.

tOp: Ridiculous “design fiction?”

AH: I don’t think they’re trying to make impractical and impossible concepts on purpose. I think they’re just doing it by accident because they don’t care either way. You could say that that’s an admirable thing, an unfettering of the imagination, and in other circumstances I would agree. The issue is that their concepts (like a fridge made of cold green plastic ‘nano goo’ that you can just squish apples into and other food into) regularly get plastered on newspapers as some plausible vision of the future, on par with driverless cars, when in fact they are actually far more difficult to make. That’s marketing, I guess.

tOp: How do you think technology is changing the everyday lives of mainstream consumers?

AH: It’s changing people’s lives dramatically. A lot of people seem to think that a) We’ve always had mobile phones and b) They’re not that big a deal. The truth is that most people only got mobile phones 20 years ago, the internet 15 years ago, the iPod 10 years ago, and smartphones 5 years ago. I use the word “only” because if you went back to the year 1000 and looked for the technological changes from 980, I suspect you wouldn’t find a huge number. Yet the difference between 2011 and 1991 is, I think, pretty enormous. I can now talk to a billion people around the world for almost nothing.

I suppose you could say that none of these things really matters compared to stuff like the car and the washing machine, particularly if you look at economic impact, but that would frankly be bullshit. You only need to walk into a university or a school and take away everyone’s phones and laptops to realise how important these things are.

And I honestly think it’s only just starting. As we see more and more jobs require fewer and fewer humans – from call centres to cars to supermarkets – we’ll see massive strides forward in the standard of living accompanied by massive and sustained unemployment. That’s a big change.

tOp: When you look at your personal life, what kind of impact is technology having?

AH: I find that I’m able to do much more than I could before. Like everyone else, I roll my eyes when I hear the words “social media” but I’m able to make a blog post or a tweet that can go around the world in seconds; and I can now publish a printed newspaper, write a book, or even design a game (with a team!) that can go in front of millions, without being held up by gatekeepers. That’s doesn’t make it easy, but it makes it easier than before. You still need to write a good book.

The other big change is that I am starting to own less stuff. Perhaps this is because:

a) I have had to move three times in the last three years
b) I don’t have any kids

but I find myself very taken with the idea of owning just a few, very high quality, physical possessions. It used to be a real sacrifice to do that but now I can get all of my entertainment and reading digitally, I don’t feel like I’m giving up much in exchange for the ability to move quickly and worry less about getting stuff stolen. I wouldn’t go so far as to extrapolate my experiences to anyone else, but I definitely feel like I’m at Peak Stuff. From here on out, I only own less.

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
Nicolas Nova: Scanning for signals October 5th, 2011
Part 16 of 19 in the series the Omni project

We’ll be interviewing experts and thought-leaders to uncover a range of perspectives on technology and its impact on society. If you or someone you know would be a good interview, let us know!

This interview has been edited, condensed, etc.

Nicolas Nova is a consultant and researcher who undertakes field studies to inform and evaluate the creation of innovative products and services. His work is about exploring and understanding people’s needs, motivations and contexts to map new design opportunities and help designers and engineers. In addition to design ethnography, he is interested in foresight about scanning/analysis of signals about the future of various technologies. He applies his methodologies in the domains of urban informatics, mobile and location-based media as well as video games and networked objects/robots.

He also teaches interaction design and ethnography in design schools (HEAD-Geneva, ENSCI Les Ateliers in Paris) and is curator at the Lift conferences.

the Omni project: How do you define “technology?”

Nicolas Nova: It seems that technology nowadays refers to the design and usage of specific devices (tool, instrument, machine, etc.) to perform a specific function. Given my interest in a people-centered perspective, I use this definition. I don’t make any specific distinction between the digital and the non-digital. I see a vacuum cleaner or a dishwasher as a piece of technology. Perhaps this is because I work in fields related to ubiquitous computing, in which any artifact can be augmented by information and communication technology..

Finally, a technology is not inert like a stone or a meteorite falling from the sky. As Howard Becker stated “It makes more sense to see those artifacts as the frozen remains of collective action, brought to life whenever someone uses them.” This is important as it means that a technology has been designed and made by people, and thus embeds certain preconceptions that have implications when “users” employ those technologies.

tOp: Thinking about the many things I’ve seen you curate/aggregate/ observe such as technology failures embodied as dreams (jet packs, smart fridges, smart kitchens, discarded PCs, video phones), what do these stories (and they way they are told) reflect about our culture and our relationship with technology? Are there positives or negatives? Anxieties? Hopes or expectations? Is there humor?

NN: This is related to the Becker quote. As any piece of technology is the result of a process carried out by humans, some cultural traits are embedded into it, such as: preconceptions about how the technology should be used, the context in which the technology can be deployed, etc. The example of the smart fridge is pretty interesting if you think about all the assumptions designers and engineers made about people’s relationship to food, such as the idea that we don’t want to go shopping and that consumption is just a matter of ordering stuff automatically.

So, if you take any piece of technology, you can uncover (decipher!?) these sorts of assumptions. They generally reveal the kinds of cultural inclination the people in charge of innovation bring to the table: values about what is important and what is not, hopes about a potential future, the need to go faster, the illusion of being more efficient, etc. It’s hard to say if they are “positive” or “negative” because these are very relative. Even if I dislike the very notion of a smart fridge, I can certainly understand that a bunch of guys with lab coats in an aseptic R&D center really though that their project would be super positive and would change the world. What I mean here is simply that technologies embed some values and that these values are shaped by society at a given point in time and by the companies. It’s clear that the Zeitgeist influences the design of products and services. If you consider that the 50-60s were all about the space race, speed and nuclear stuff or that the early 90s were all about cyber-whatever then you can see that this is necessarily reflected in the way technologies are created.

The technological failures that I am especially interested in are the one that are repeated over time such as the videophone or the smart fridge. They clearly reflect this recurring tension between technological possibilities (e.g. automation) and a flawed vision of human aspirations.

It’s interesting you mention the notion of humor, as generally all these projects definitely suffer from a clear lack of this dimension!

tOp: Are dreams of possible technologies ever realized?

NN: Yes, but they are never really used as we expected. Something is realized and over time the ideas find their way by being hybridized with others because of contextual or behavioral adjustments by users.

There’s a perpetual gap between the intents of designers/engineers/marketers and the real use of the product. This is the beauty of human life: we always repurpose artifacts into something different. Fortunately, this is what I am passionate about! Understanding how products are repurposed is a good way to find more user-centered avenues and iterate to create new versions.

I am really curious to see what the smart fridge will become and how upcoming versions will necessarily include other notion of “smartness” based on more human needs and aspirations. Sadly, I don’t think many companies in this business understood they should adopt this humble stance.

tOp: When you think about mainstream consumers, how do you think digital technology is changing their everyday lives?

NN: The biggest change is possibly the use a digital media for a growing set of activities: listening to music, communicating, controlling the heating system of your house, etc. This does not simply mean that any artifact at home gets digital capabilities, but that everything becomes mediated through different channels (generally your computer and your cell phone).

What technology also does is reveal things that are implicit or invisible. It makes things apparent because there are digital traces: SMS stored in your phone, an email message in your email program, your presence on Facebook, etc. And more and more people are being held accountable for this content.

Among all the changes brought by technologies, the most conspicuous is what I call the decision trade-off. Technologies are supposed to help people, or at least to be convenient, and possibly prevent you from doing things you did not want to do any more. Interestingly, most of the time, technologies lead to new decisions that we never really had to take. For instance, choosing a TV channel among 350 possibilities is generally painful and somewhat new (it’s curious to think that other industries found solutions for this, e.g. shuffle mode on MP3 players). More and more micro-decisions like this have to be made everyday, and it can be tiresome.

tOp:
When you look at your personal life, what kind of impact is technology having? What specific changes are you experiencing?

NN:
I don’t have a car (I rent one when I need one), I have no dishwasher, I use a collective laundry (in Switzerland we have one in each building) and I don’t subscribe to any network TV system (mostly because I find them useless and overlapping with what I find on the Interwebs). I have to admit I am very cautious in the way I use digital technologies. That said, I use digital technologies a lot and it forces me to be extra careful about:

  • Work/life balance: I try to shy away from the computer/smartphone in the evening, during weekends and vacations. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I won’t use one of these at those times, but I try to avoid spending a long time browsing the web/reading email/documents, etc. and prefer going for a walk, reading a book, hiking or visiting friends. The more I use digital technologies, the more I need to find moments during which I escape from them.
  • Attention: more and more multitasking, which is bad (for me and the task at hand).
  • Privacy: as I mentioned, digital technologies reveal things that used to be implicit or invisible. This means that I sometimes need to be careful about the traces I leave.


tOp:
With the changes that technology brings, what do you believe society is gaining, or losing?

NN:The population is not equal. People who grew up with these technologies will be less stressed out by the vague micro-decisions we have to consider, simply because they have lived with this new norm. This is a big difference compared to our grandparents, for instance. Also see Steven Johnson’s book Everything Bad is Good for You. Overall, I see a set of tradeoffs:

  • A huge and diverse quantity of material that can be useful or interesting for anyone curious. I grew up in the countryside and it was a pain in the ass to get access to “long-tail” music/books/fanzines/etc. The web is a formidable source of difference for people intrigued by others’ cultures and who want to learn.
  • However, this huge quantity of material makes us run like headless chickens, taking a quick bite from lots of sources of information but we may lose our ability to sit still and think deeply about a certain topic.
  • At the psychological level, the capacity to cope with large amount of information, integrate multiple factors and make decisions. Yet we also suffer from decision fatigue (e.g., bombarded by requests, information and data).
  • Privacy is shifting and we are more and more obliged to share personal information with others.
  • An urge to be reachable (and aware of current trends) 24/7 which is tiresome too.

tOp: Anything else to share with us?

NN: “One of the diseases of this age is the multiplicity of books; they doth so overcharge the world that it is not able to digest the abundance of idle matter that is every day hatched and brought forth into the world.” Barnaby Rich (1580-1617) wrote that in 1613. This quote inspires me to ask questions about the situation back then and now: if our ancestors felt this overload, how did they cope with it? What happened then? Did this feeling vanish? Was it a continuous feeling or recurring? What about now? Can we draw some inspiration from what happen in the past? Or should we find new ways to move forward?

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
Tech relationship similes September 30th, 2011
Part 4 of 19 in the series the Omni project

Over the past week or so, I’ve noticed some of the ways folks in the media frame and express our relationship to entities we interact with on the web. There’s something odd about the murkiness of roles and power dynamics. One thing is for sure – it’s gone far beyond the consumer-producer relationship.

To Daniel Soar of the London Review of Books, with Google, users are like teachers. By interacting with Google we are unwittingly instructing the machine, giving it lessons on human behavior. I like to think Google, the distributed Google-monster, finds us fascinating, an enormous virtual Andy Warhol.

We teach [Google] while we think it’s teaching us. Levy tells the story of a new recruit with a long managerial background who asked Google’s senior vice-president of engineering, Alan Eustace, what systems Google had in place to improve its products. ‘He expected to hear about quality assurance teams and focus groups’ – the sort of set-up he was used to. ‘Instead Eustace explained that Google’s brain was like a baby’s, an omnivorous sponge that was always getting smarter from the information it soaked up.’ Like a baby, Google uses what it hears to learn about the workings of human language. The large number of people who search for ‘pictures of dogs’ and also ‘pictures of puppies’ tells Google that ‘puppy’ and ‘dog’ mean similar things, yet it also knows that people searching for ‘hot dogs’ get cross if they’re given instructions for ‘boiling puppies.’

To Matthew Creamer of Ad Age, with Facebook, we are like disgruntled, unpaid employees. A more pointless, powerless role may not exist!

Some things are lost with each one of these Facebook changes, but they are not only matters of usability, navigation, privacy and other factors in our part-time but ever-more-involving jobs working as ad impressions for a rich company in Palo Alto, Calif. The stuff that inconveniences you in the short-term may make you rage with a hotness that, if spotted by an alien scout, would either send the visitor whimpering back to Zebulon or alarm him onto war footing, but it’s only so important. You will adapt. Or you will leave.

So, have they got it right? Are we teachers? Employees? Something else? Have you noticed other examples? How would you describe your relationship to Google or Facebook?

See Steve’s recent related post on Facebook changes, in which the above Matthew Creamer quote is cited as a comment.

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
Comments Off  |   Email This Post    
How did we do X before Y? September 19th, 2011
Part 3 of 19 in the series the Omni project

As I posted previously, we’re looking for examples of how technology has changed an ordinary task so fundamentally that you can’t believe you once did it differently. As I wrote “Even though I was there and did it, it is beyond my power to comprehend now.” Thanks to everyone who contributed:

Laura Borns: How did I ever figure out how to get places with a folded paper map rather than GPS?

Cyd Harrell: How did I ever maintain relationships without voicemail and text? Remember when you actually had to get somebody on the phone?

Chris Gielow: How did I ever get things done (like the bank and the office) when I had to physically go places to do them?

Grady Karp: How did I ever pick people up at the airport before cell phones?

Lora Oehlberg: How did we meet someone for lunch at a specific time and place? (cellphones have taken care of a lot of last-minute details of “I’m running late” or “I’m on my way” or “I’m on the other side of the street”)?

Lora Oehlberg: How did we find out about music we’d like before friends sending YouTube links, or Pandora (I suppose at a music store, at the radio, or mix tapes)?

Lora Oehlberg (who rocks, if you can’t tell): How did we figure out who was talking to us on the phone before Caller ID? I remember there used to be a polite way of inquiring who was talking, or informing the person on the other end who you were (I’ve forgotten how this exchange goes now). Now we either a) avoid unknown numbers or b) listen to a semi-familiar voice immediately start talking, assuming that we’ll eventually figure out who it is based on what they’re talking about.

Peter Stahl: How did we ever create a flyer or newsletter without word processing or presentation software; when all we had was scissors?

Peter Stahl: How did we ever create a photograph or movie without a phone (like I would have believed “phone” 15 years ago!); we had to use film: purchase, load, expose, unload, take to developers, wait, pick up from developers, pay!

Peter Stahl (who also joins the club of rock stars): How did we make copies before personal printers and scanners? We had to use carbon paper!

@Kimwolf notes that she never has to wait to get home to check her calendar, because it’s always in her pocket.

The smartphone makes a prominent appearance here, of course, but really it’s a nice list from information-related tasks, to social norms, to interacting and collaborating with others, to pure production. This is helpful to put together with our other work streams trying to get at the different thematic areas to explore.

We’ll be running our next crowdsourcing request soon. Meanwhile, feel free to add to this list wherever you are seeing it!

Updated!
Cat Macaulay: How did we distract ourselves from important tasks before social media? Guess that what was the executive toys were for, do they still exist or has the pendulum thingie been replaced by Twitter and Facebook?

Lora again: How did we get into buildings? Or control access to physical spaces over time? I’m at a university where RFIDs in cardkeys are THE way to let people in/out of rooms. Just set students’ cardkey access to the computer lab expire at the end of the semester, no problem.

Jeff McKown: How did they ever change the channel before the remote control? (Wait, I remember now…my dad would make me get up and do it.)

Nicolas Nova: How did I locate text in a document before Apple/Ctrl-F?

Scott Thorpe: I can’t even remember how I sent text-based messages before email. Did I print it out and mail it? Did I fax it? Did I just spend a long time on the phone waving my hands in the air explaining complex ideas?

Linda: How did we plan vacations without the internet? We relied on travel agents? And how did they know what places were worth visiting and what hotels were attractive and convenient?

Ryan DeGorter: How did I ever check the time while mobile? I no longer need to have an annoyance on my wrist 16 hours of the day.

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
Things that are obsolete September 13th, 2011

The modem sound has gone the way of the brabble.

Robert Fulford: When words die [nationalpost.com] The Oxford Concise Dictionary has been forced to abandon words. Never fear, they will remain in the OED, which is not restrained by promises of concision!

The Concise has also set aside “threequel,” meaning the third book in a series; it never caught on, perhaps because trilogies are out of fashion. The Concise has likewise abandoned “brabble,” which means a paltry but noisy quarrel, and “growlery,” meaning the private den of a man. I knew none of these words in their prime and now must recognize that they are on their way out. It leaves an odd feeling, a cousin to the nebulous melancholy that accompanies the reading of an obituary of someone you would like to have known…Shouldn’t we have a category for endangered words? Perhaps we need a system of adopting words to keep them safe and well, the way people adopt favourite stretches of highway. We would sign up, promise to use our chosen words as often as possible and of course object when they are misused or threatened with abandonment.

Bleeoo! #RIPdialup [bleeoo.com] That strange modem sound hasn’t been heard for awhile in most parts, and is not missed, at least by this former dialer-upper. Yet, another strange nostalgia breeds, even for this horrible sound. The bleeoo-crackle meant that you were just sitting there waiting, pointlessly, anticipating the blissful connection. We endured it only because we had to. I guess it’s today’s equivalent of having to walk to school through the snow uphill both ways. Kids today!

Remember the glory of dialing up? Kids today won’t know the shrill cry of a 9600 baud, or the magical “doodleeedoo” of a 28.8 modem. Help preserve our digital history. Join us in recording your best impression of a “modem handshake” sound.

(Thanks Steve, for the pointer to Bleeoo!)

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
Give us your examples: How did we do X before Y? September 12th, 2011
Part 2 of 19 in the series the Omni project

As we begin trying to define the focus and scope of our exploration, we’re in our own lives with our eyes and ears open, immersing ourselves in the space. We’re capturing sources for secondary research, speaking to each other about what we’re reading, and as we always do in in a project, bringing mindfulness and reflection to the topic as we experience it ourselves.

Last week we found ourselves reminiscing with wonder about our work environments from the 90s, where we were expected to perform as we do now, but without (among many tools) a way to schedule meetings with each other. If I recall, I never had a calendar (before a shared calendar across an office network appeared) of any kind. Other than an informal “Hey, let’s meet tomorrow at 10 about this…” we just didn’t formalize our schedules with the granularity that is common now. “How did we collaborate without a calendar program?” was my head-scratching takeway. Even though I was there and did it, it is beyond my power to comprehend now.

A few hours later (hooray for serial noticing) I see this post on Alissa Walker‘s Facebook page:

Aha. This is a thing. How did we do X before Y?

So what’s yours? (Yes, we’re crowdsourcing!) For you, what’s the thing you marvel at, where you savor the value of Y to help you do X and can’t imagine (even if you’ve experienced it) how it was possible?

Note that we’re looking for real examples from your own life. We’ll collect ‘em and put together another post with the results.

If you’re seeing this post on our you can comment here. If you’re seeing it on Facebook, you can comment there as well. Or tweet it, using hashtag #XbeforeY. Or drop us an email with your thoughts!

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn