This is no accomplishment for the ages, but since I purchased an iPhone, it has become an increasingly unlikely event. Given the horror stories of international data-roaming fees, I let frugality trump my need for always-connectedness while spending the weekend in Montreal.
It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. On the other hand, I’m not sure what I gained from it. I had one less distraction, but a lot less informational independence.
The contrarian in me wants to say “would you spend a weekend without one of your senses, hearing for example”, because I believe always-connectedness is going to become that important to us. We shouldn’t view it as a crutch, but as a fundamental link to the world. It’s just so new we haven’t figured out all the appropriate social norms to bound it with.
Stop Thinking, Start Knowing: a Glimpse into our Future
I play an interesting and scary game with my friends. When one of us asks “Who was that Actor?”, or wonders about “When did [some event] occur?”, or any kind of question with a factual answer, I call “Full stop, bring out the iPhone!”
This takes the ‘wonder’ out, and that’s the point. We’re living in a world where this information is available, and with the mobile internet, it’s now conveniently available. If you’re interested in understanding where we’re heading, force yourself to play this game, because sometime soon, we won’t need a human advocate to initiate the search, we’ll already know the answer.
Imagine a device that marries speech recognition, natural language processing, Google search, and a permanent connection to the internet (WiFi/3G). Now imagine this device has two interface elements: a microphone, and an LCD readout of around 10 lines. This device will always be on, always listening, and always have the answers.
When a question is asked, you’ll look at the display, and you’ll know, not wonder.
We are not that far from this! (I’d like to prototype one…) Once this exists, how long until we have in-sunglass integration? How about in-eardrum? In-brain?
The answers exists, and the workflow is getting easier. What happens when an entire society is acclimated to this, and leveraging the web reflexively, not consciously? The implications on how we think is mind-boggling, an entire society with a new-found superpower. How will we change?
Simple, fun games that pair random strangers to solve tasks like tagging photos and categorizing music. Players enjoy a game while the data that’s collected is used for other purposes that benefit…
Luis von Ahn is one smart guy. For those of you that caught the “Cognitive Heatsink” video on my blog a few days ago, GWAP should make a lot of sense in that context. Worth pointing out that I feel more & more websites will move to game-like mechanics to engage their audience, while extracting value and sharing it back with the same group.
I propose that we all start using the Metric System for units and Celsius for temperature. Cars already have km/h markings, we drink from 2-litre bottles of soda and measure drugs and the nutritional content of food in grams. Converting to Celsius is as easy as pressing a button on my iPhone. The majority of the world, save a handful of countries, switched decades ago. Fuck the government, let’s just do this from the bottom up.
Who’s with me?
We’ve miles to go, but the common man must foot the burden as we inch towards this. We’ll use our righteous rod to pound our cause, until there is not an ounce of doubt that we’ll prevail!
PR prodigy & digital renaissance girl, Amanda Mooney, points us this morning in the direction of a new book, "The Dumbest Generation". In it, Mark Bauerlein argues that the kids are trading enrichment for entertainment, and the Internet is to blame.
My gut reaction is that this is both true and misleading. (I have yet to read the book, but before you take me to the coals, Amanda and I are cooking up a virtual book club, so if you’re interested in reading this with us, drop me an email)
My thinking is that enrichment and entertainment are individually quite valuable, and indispensable when combined. The ‘problem’ (i.e., opportunity) I see is that a science is developing around entertainment-engagement, while self-enrichment is largely left to the motivation of the individual.
Nailing the ‘entertainment equation’ yields megabucks (last week alone: Iron Man $100 million, GTA4 $500 million. Facebook is valued at over a $15 billion dollars). Where there is money, there is research and experimentation, and investment equals advancement. We’re learning what is engaging, what is frustrating, and what is fun. The better we understand those dynamics, the greater the pull of these products, games and services.
It’s no surprise that kids are drawn in this direction; that’s the idea! These diversions aren’t without cognitive benefit, however. Games teach abstractions, demand practice, encourage puzzle solving, and in some cases teach skills (ask me about my singing!). Multiplayer games foster competition, coordination and cooperation. Social services encourage peer interaction, help us understand social nuance, while granting us a cultural ‘six-sense’.
So why hasn’t enrichment’s pull caught up? Video-game engagement ‘technology’ is equally applicable to education-based products and systems. Is it an economic problem, or an older-generation stigma around video games? Perhaps this is just the natural cycle with entertainment leading education (In Latin, the word ludus means both school and game. The relation between these two concepts may be exceedingly old).
My personal belief is that we’re still transitioning through an enablement phase, and when we’ve emerged, we’ll collectively return to the kind of ideas and discourse Bauerlein worries we’re ignoring. When the dust settles, when game technology and social networks are part of the day-to-day for everyone, and we have an intuitive sense of their value and boundaries, we’ll find new intellectual dimensions to compete on.
Trivially, individuals with an intellectual edge will ‘win’ when all else is equal. So no matter what dips or regressions we suffer, we’ll always creep back in that direction. If you’d prefer to leap in that direction, we have an incredible opportunity to apply entertainment’s new power-of-the-pull science to enrichment.
Maybe, “The Dumbest Generation” is about to birth “The Smartest Generation”.
There’s a lot of hullaballoo around open standards, and portable data in general. The tech elite complain to each other about the walled-garden nature of Facebook, and laude Google’s Open Social as a step in the right direction. They say ‘the data is yours!’, that the problem is it’s locked away by evil companies, and the solution is for everyone to cooperate on open standards.
At the moment, I think this is a lot of techno-political onanism.
Why? Because the pain is not severe & widespread by a long shot. Your average Facebook user isn’t trying every social network that springs up week after week, and isn’t concerned with data portability yet. In fact, they haven’t even come close to noticing the AOL-esque nature of Facebook yet, because Facebook is still providing real value and novelty. As long as Facebook stays ahead of that curve, they may never go the way of that dead internet dynasty.
If a data portability solution is going to evolve sooner rather than later, it will come out of business sense & the pragmatic needs of the internet community.
I’d like to now draw your attention to Brightkite & Twitter. If Twitter is the “what are you doing?” social network, then Brightkite is the “where are you” equivalent. It’s still at the bleeding edge, and at the moment appeals mostly to hardcore social media junkies (like myself). That means their initial user base will be highly likely to feel the pain of migrating their friend-list over. Brightkite knows their audience, and their solution is simple & highly effective: you give them your twitter name, and they auto-discover the intersection of your Twitter friends, and Brightkite users. Awesome! (Note: they may not be the first to do this, certainly not the last either! It happens to be very effective given who they are appealing to at the moment)
That’s very elegant, and ultimately pragmatic. Twitter’s API is necessary to enable this, but that API exists not because of some “standards committee”, but because it serves their business interest.