Posts tagged “usage”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] Taking Web Humor Seriously, Sort Of [] – [Another great Rob Walker piece deftly unpacks Internet culture] The more traditional pundits and gurus who talk about the Internet often seem to want to draw strict boundaries between old mass-media culture and the more egalitarian forms taking shape online ­ and between Internet life and life in the physical world. Sometimes the pointless-seeming jokes that spring from the Web seem to be calling a bluff and showing a truth: This is what egalitarian cultural production really looks like, this is what having unbounded spaces really entails, this is what anybody-can-be-famous means, this is what’s burbling in the hive mind’s id. But the real point is that to pretend otherwise isn’t denying the Internet ­ it’s denying reality. Trickster expression, intentional or otherwise, doesn’t propose a solution but jolts you to confront some question that you might prefer to have avoided. Like what, exactly, am I laughing at?
  • [from steve_portigal] Microsoft’s proprietary BlueTrack™ Technology works on more surfaces than both optical and laser mice – [Technology solves problems we didn't know we had, like, mousing on carpet! Thanks, Microsoft!] Now track more accurately on: Granite, Carpet, Wood.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Designing the future of publishing – Or the screen might be smaller, on the assumption that even the most serious readers don’t just sit on a couch for hours and read Tolstoy. They also read shorter works, in all sorts of places, and at least some of them would likely value a highly portable device over one with a big screen. And if our designer’s boss insists that most people don’t want to carry multiple portable devices, she’ll also build in a phone and camera, and make sure her processor can run not only an e-reading application, but plenty of other software too…What does this mean for the future of the e-reader space? Will we see a bifurcated market, with our first group buying gussied-up descendants of the Kindle, and the second preferring tablet-style computers? It’s hard to imagine that this won’t happen.
    (Thanks @nquizon for the pointer to @litnow)
  • Skiff E-Reading Service to Launch in 2010 – Skiff (incubated by Hearst) oday announced plans to launch a new consumer e-reading service platform in 2010 that will deliver enhanced content experiences to dedicated e-readers, as well as to multipurpose devices such as smartphones and netbooks. The Skiff™ service and digital store will feature a comprehensive selection of newspapers, magazines, books and other content from multiple publishers, uniquely optimized for wireless delivery to devices and delivery via the Web.
  • Empire of the Word – …a compelling look inside the act of reading and traces its impact on more than five thousand years of human history. The series traces reading's origins; examines how we learn to read; exposes censors' attempts to prevent our reading; and finally, proposes what the future might hold for this most human of creative acts.

    (Thanks, Mom!)

Looking for growth and finding the right meaning

A new commercial for Trojan condoms depicts

women in a bar are surrounded by anthropomorphized, cellphone-toting pigs. One shuffles to the men’s room, where, after procuring a condom from a vending machine, he is transformed into a head-turner in his 20s. When he returns to the bar, a fetching blond who had been indifferent now smiles at him invitingly.

CBS and Fox rejected the ad.

A 2001 report about condom advertising by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that, “Some networks draw a strong line between messages about disease prevention – which may be allowed – and those about pregnancy prevention, which may be considered controversial for religious and moral reasons.”

Good example of cultural construction. A product provides a basic set of functionality, but the meaning associated with that functionality rests outside the product itself. The users, and to a large part, society in general, construct that meaning. And so the stories we are allowed to tell about the product are determined along those lines.

I also liked this part of the story:

“With a 75 percent share of the market, we can prioritize growing the category and increasing overall condom usage,” Mr. Daniels said. “Right now in the U.S. only one in four sex acts involves using a condom. That’s dramatically below usage rates in other developed countries. Our goal is to dramatically increase use.”

We know what stomach share is, but what do the marketers at Trojan call their version?

Technology evolves with use

I love blog convergence. The discussion on this post fits well with this article in the the New Yorker that I read yesterday. It’s ostensibly a book review, but also a stimulating essay on adoption, evolution, and social construction of technology/innovation. I’ve pulled my favorite pieces out here (it’s not a long article, but the extracts make for a long blog post).

It’s common to think of technology as encompassing only very new, science-intensive things-ones with electronic or digital bits, for instance. But it’s also possible to view it just as things (or, indeed, processes) that enable us to perform tasks more effectively than we could without them. The technologies that we have available substantially define who we are. The nineteenth-century Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle didn’t much like the new industrial order, but he did understand the substantive relationship between human beings and their technologies: “Man is a Tool-using Animal. . . . Nowhere do you find him without Tools; without Tools he is nothing, with Tools he is all.”

The way we think about technology tends to elide the older things, even though the texture of our lives would be unrecognizable without them. And when we do consider technology in historical terms we customarily see it as a driving force of progress: every so often, it seems, an innovation-the steam engine, electricity, computers-brings a new age into being. In “The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History Since 1900” (Oxford; $26), David Edgerton, a well-known British historian of modern military and industrial technology, offers a vigorous assault on this narrative. He thinks that traditional ways of understanding technology, technological change, and the role of technology in our lives, have been severely distorted by what he calls “the innovation-centric account” of technology. The book is a provocative, concise, and elegant exercise in intellectual Protestantism, enthusiastically nailing its iconoclastic theses on the door of the Church of Technological Hype: no one is very good at predicting technological futures; new and old technologies coexist; and technological significance and technological novelty are rarely the same-indeed, a given technology’s grip on our awareness is often in inverse relationship to its significance in our lives. Above all, Edgerton says that we are wrong to associate technology solely with invention, and that we should think of it, rather, as evolving through use. A “history of technology-in-use,” he writes, yields “a radically different picture of technology, and indeed of invention and innovation.”

Learning how to make new technologies is one thing; learning how, as a society, to use them is another. Carolyn Marvin’s illuminating book “When Old Technologies Were New: Thinking About Electric Communication in the Late Nineteenth Century” (1988) notes that, during the early years of the telephone, there was confusion about what codes should regulate faceless and socially clueless speech. The telephone operator, typically female, often had the responsibility of waking up the master of the house, and so joined the wife as a woman who could talk to the man in bed; Marvin writes that “sweet-voiced” telephone girls at the turn of the century “were often objects of fantasy.” It was also thought that, if just anyone could use the new device, its utility would be completely undermined. Marvin notes the firm opinion of the British postmaster general in 1895 that “the telephone could not, and never would be an advantage which could be enjoyed by the large mass of the people.” He was wrong, but understandably so. The story of how we came to terms with the new technology-how we adjusted to it, adapted to it, domesticated it, altered it to suit our purposes-didn’t come with the technical spec sheet. It never does. No instruction manual can explain how a technology will evolve, in use, together with the rhythm of our lives.

The tendency to exaggerate the impact of technological innovation follows from an artifact of historical consciousness. When we cannot conceive what life would be like without e-mail, say, we correctly note the pervasiveness of the new technology, but we may incorrectly assume that the things we now do through e-mail could not have been done in other ways. Of course, we must know that many things now done through e-mail were once done, and to some extent are still done, by telephone, fax, snail mail, or actually stopping by to see someone. But we can never know how the technologies that existed before electronic communication would have developed had e-mail not become dominant, or what other technologies might have come along whose development was forestalled by e-mail.

In many African, South Asian, and Latin-American countries, used vehicles imported from North America, Western Europe, and Japan live on almost eternally, in constant contact with numerous repair shops. Maintenance doesn’t simply mean keeping those vehicles as they were; it may mean changing them in all sorts of ways-new gaskets made from old rubber, new fuses made from scrap copper wire. “In the innovation-centric account, most places have no history of technology,” Edgerton writes. “In use-centered accounts, nearly everywhere does.” John Powell’s marvellous [sic] study of vast vehicle-repair shops in Ghana, “The Survival of the Fitter: Lives of Some African Engineers” (1995), describes a modern world in which vehicles imported from the developed world initially decay, and then something changes: “As time goes by and the vehicle is reworked in the local system, it reaches a state of apparent equilibrium in which it seems to be maintained indefinitely. . . . It is a condition of maintenance by constant repair.” Much of the world’s mechanical ingenuity is devoted to creating robust, reliable, and highly adapted “creole” technologies, an ingenuity that is largely invisible to us only because we happen to live in a low-maintenance, high-throwaway regime.

Maintenance has implications for the identity of technological artifacts. There’s a traditional conundrum about “my grandfather’s axe“: over its lifetime, it has had three new heads and four new handles, but-its owner insists-it remains his grandfather’s axe. Philosophers have their proprietary version of the axe problem: “Locke’s socks” developed a hole, which he had darned, and then darned again. The socks kept the philosopher’s feet warm, but they troubled his head. Many people make their living repairing things; a very few make their living pondering whether repaired things are the same.

The astronomer Carl Sagan once said, “We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.” If he meant that we are unfamiliar with the principles on which the technology around us works, he was right-there’s an enormous gap between the knowledge of makers and the knowledge of users-but this is exactly as it should be. As users, we typically want our technology to be a black box; we don’t want to be bothered with adjusting it, monitoring it, repairing it, or knowing about its inner workings. A sure sign of the success of a technology is that we scarcely think of it as technology at all.

A mobile tale of three cities

The International Herald Tribune reports on a cultural study of mobile phone use in Europe.

“Europe is looked at as a broadly similar market,” Lasén said. “But in studying mobile phones you can see details in each country can change enormously.”

For her research, Lasén combined individual interviews with street-level observations in each city in both 2002 and 2004. Interview questions ranged from mobile phone habits to people’s relationship with the device. Her observation centers were a major train station, a commercial area and a business district in each city.

I thought everyone did a study like this in 1999 – 2000, but I guess they are continuing (not that there’s not more to be learned; just that these sort of things are sometimes fashionable, if you will). I was involved in a fascinating comparison of French and Japanese mobile phone usage and attitude.

Via Future Now


About Steve