Internet perspective

I have been thinking a lot lately about how one’s perspective and frame of reference informs worldview. Many of us in the geekosphere lose sight of the “real world” sometimes as it pertains to the latest tools, software and other gadgets we love to play with and talk about. I am constantly reminded that the vast majority of the population has never heard of Twitter, doesn’t understand how easy RSS and a feed reader can make your life, doesn’t realize the significance and power of messaging through embeddable online video, etc etc etc. When you talk over people’s heads, you run the risk of alienating people, perhaps permanently.

I recently returned from a European vacation that terminated in Barcelona. I went with my friend who, like me, loves to eat. He spent a lot of time before we left the US researching places to try, using resources like Chowhound and others. It led us to a somewhat difficult to find tapas place on that was better known only to locals. We struck up a nice conversation at the bar with a mid-30s couple who lived around the corner. They were surprised that we had found the place at all since it’s far from the main drag. The woman made a point of saying she lived in Barcelona and it had taken HER a long time to find out about it.

Somehow the conversation turned to the internet and I asked them about their online habits, especially from home after they put their little ones to bed. The husband asked me, “What’s on the internet? I mean, I know there’s tons of information there, but why would I spend my time hanging around online?”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him how we had found the restaurant in the first place…

Make sure you wash your hands after reading that e-mail


So from our “always on” world comes this little tidbit:

AOL Mail’s survey of 4000 users aged 13 and above revealed that 50% of users check their e-mail while driving. Two-thirds check from bed, and 15% even tap away while in church. (Don’t they realize that God is the ultimate cloud computer?)

And 59% say they check e-mail while in the bathroom. Unless they have waterproof PDAs, that can only mean one thing. And that one thing does not make for a pretty picture.

TED Talks

TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is an annual convention that began back in 1984. It is
an exclusive gathering and it sells out a year in advance. They realize that most of us will not be attending anytime soon, so they graciously make the content available on their website or in iTunes. “Free knowledge and inspiration,” as they call it.

I have featured a couple of TED Talks here on the blog, and I encourage you to poke around. The topics are wide ranging, they do not exceed 18 minutes and just about any topic you can imagine is covered. I urge you to subscribe.

To get you started, here are a couple of my favorites. Have a nice weekend.

Sir Ken Robinson on how schools kill creativity.

Arthur Benjamin does “Mathemagic.”

Benjamin Zander and our untapped love for new possibilities.

Is change the only constant?

I heard a quote from author John Naisbitt the other day that keeps echoing in my head. Naisbitt is the author of the 1982 bestseller “Megatrends.” The observation that stuck with me was, “We are drowning in information, but starved for knowledge.”

In the past few days I have also come across several blog posts deriding, sometimes quite humorously, the way the internet might be changing the way we read and learn. There is even a cover article in The Atlantic entitled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” The basic premise of the article is that because there is so much information out there and since text is so prevalent on the internet, we now “power surf” instead of read in depth. (Are you doing it right now? No skipping to the end!)

Undoubtedly, the shift to online everything has changed the way we do lots and lots of things, including read. With e-mail, texting and personal web apps, a case could be made that we actually read MORE than ever before. More, but less. With any change, there is sometimes a natural tendency to demonize that change and long for the good old days. Nonsense. The basics in life do not change and haven’t for centuries.

I can’t help but go back to a post I made almost a year ago from one of my favorite authors, Chuck Klosterman. Check it out.

Do kids still read books?

At the January 2008 MacWorld Expo, Apple CEO Steve Jobs offered up one the dumber observations I think I have ever heard him make. When talking about the Amazon Kindle digital book reader, he predicted its demise because “it doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is people don’t read anymore.”

While that is demonstrably false, the real worry that so many parents have, and I include myself, is that kids don’t read anymore and the internet has hastened the decline and fall of the reading empire. A new study by Scholastic of 5-17 year-olds offers up some encouraging news. 75% of kids in that age range agree with the statement, “No matter what I can do online, I’ll always want to read books printed on paper.”

This gets to the heart of another matter that we have talked about on this blog before and that is the either/or nature of the conversation about the influence of the internet. Either you watch TV or you get your entertainment from the web. Either you read books or you download audiobooks. Either you go to the movies or you download entertainment. Attention needs to be paid to the fact that the internet is more often than not an additive experience. (Or subtractive, I guess, if you are a major media conglomerate.) As this same reading study goes on to say, they found that kids who go online tend to extend the reading experience by going to an author’s website or community of like minded readers.

Everything in life does not have to be winner take all.

How to take advantage of Big Brother

In the US, we worry about our civil liberties under siege from our increasingly secretive government. FISA laws being violated, phones being tapped, e-mail surveillance and the like. What we don’t have (yet) is a national network of video cameras. If we did, I wonder if we would have come up with a clever idea like the band the Get Out Clause. (Not a great website, guys. They should have been more ready for the onslaught this might produce.)

Unable to afford a video crew, they set up their gear in 80 different locations (drum kit and all) around Manchester, taking advantage of Britain’s 13 million closed circuit cameras. And they just played and played and played. My personal favorite is the footage from the back of the taxi. Under a Freedom of Information request, they asked for the footage from all of those cameras. Some companies complied, others didn’t. But they got enough to make a pretty cool video. Snide aside: apparently FOIA requests work slightly differently on the other side of the pond than here. But perhaps that helps explain why it took nearly 9 months for the video to be released. Note that the time stamps (when legible) read March or April 2007 and the video was first posted to YouTube in December 2007. The article in the Guardian, however, did not appear until May 8, 2008. Whoever coined the phrase "news travels fast today" had no idea what they were talking about. Of course, FOIA requests in this country can take years so any bands in the US considering this tack, you’ll most likely be on your 30th anniversary reunion tour before your first video sees the light of day.

ANYway…the point is, this is a pretty clever use of someone else’s bandwidth, don’t you think?

Mariah Carey and 802.11n…HUH????????

OK, I am not going to pretend to understand this video. My goal is just to make people aware of it. Why? I’m not even sure about that, either. It just struck me as so freaking WEIRD that I had to let you all know about it.

So here’s the set up: Geek Squad dude (played by the hysterically funny Jack McBrayer from NBCs 30 Rock) shows up at Mariah Carey’s house. Sexy hilarity ensues. OK, not really but there are references in the lyrics to YouTube, they play Guitar Hero and laser tag and at the end, someone told Mimi to say something about 802.11n. (It should be pointed out that if anyone can actually DECIPHER the lyrics, you ought to win some kind of a prize.)

When we post on Fridays only, we try to leave you with something light hearted or just plain bizarre for the upcoming weekend. This is definitely in the second category.

P.S. Sorry we could not embed the video but Universal Music is trying to protect their ass(ets). Here’s a screenshot:


A visit to my analog past

Faithful readers of this blog will know that we try to keep things digital around here. But sometimes it becomes necessary to give a nod to our nearly forgotten analog past.

Last week I unpacked several boxes of record albums that had not been touched since we moved into our house 4 years ago. Listening to them again brought back a flood of memories that were tactile and emotional. Looking over the cover art (Apple’s cover flow will never be a match for actually HOLDING an album in your hands), reading along with the lyrics, revisiting the liner notes and just the action of placing the album on the turntable and dropping the needle was a strangely special, and nearly forgotten, experience.

Albums will never return and it’s been a long time since there was a generation of young people who even know what an album is. But the best moment for me was when my wife (no audiophile she) exclaimed, “Is it me or do records SOUND better than CDs?”

We’ve said it here before: it’s all about the experience.