Killed by the Internet

The internet wields its power to revive and destroy, but the destruction that it brings is not always negative. A recent article in the Telegraph looks at 50 things that are being killed by the internet. The humorous ones:

#4 Sarah Palin (I can only hope)

#22 Enforceable copyright

#34 Mainstream media

#44 Trust in Nigerian businessmen and princes

The sad ones:

#13 Memory

#14 Dead time

#50 Your lunchbreak

Picnic Day Three

Picture 8

As Picnic came to a close, I finally was able to sit down with three speakers to have a conversation about their work with technology: Katrin Verclas from MobileActive, Jeremy Ettinghausen from Penguin Books Digital Publishing, and Greg Skibiski from Sense Networks. Video of the interviews will be featured on the Picnic website in the near future.

Mobility for Change

MoMo The first day of my week kicked off with a Mobile Monday afternoon around the great topic of utilizing mobile technology in emerging markets to create social change. Last fall, I worked on a research project related to mobile banking that focused primarily on the way the developing world is taking this up full force. I spotted this trailer for the recent documentary Hello Africa on the website of Mariéme Jamme, one of the speakers at Monday's MoMo.


Trust in Numbers

we feel fine A recent NYT article about the rising field of sentiment analysis - translating human emotion into hard data -  underscores the importance of sophisticated algorithms to analyze and understand the growing amount of information created by individuals online. Whether these new services and applications are tracking emotions or quantifying behavior, the consumer is taking center stage. I thought I'd list some that have captured my attention:

Sense Networks, recognizes patterns in behavior by tracking the path of mobile phone users and analyzes what those behaviors reveal about the user.

Wakoopa, a downloadable service that tracks the programs and applications running on a user's computer, and other pertinent information such as the frequency and duration of use. From this, Wakoopa distills user habits about when and how they use certain programs and web services.

We Feel Fine, pictured above, explores human emotions by scouring blogs for the phrases 'I feel' or 'I am feeling' and presents these feelings as an online collaborative art project. While it's not really quantifying its findings, it's so beautiful.

Jodange, a service that filters traditional and social media to gauge the influences on consumer thought and opinion.

Newssift, a project by the Financial Times Group, that incorporates meaning, relationships, and sentiment into news with a business slant.

To Take the Stage

01 02


Personas, a Metropath(ologies) exhibit by the MIT Media Lab, creates a portrait of online identities according to algorithms that scour the web. A great concept, created by Aaron Zinman, and I was eager to see how it painted me. After entering my name, a quick check aggregated relevant online data and created a somewhat vague description of a person that is associated with books, news, online, and legal. Me, supposedly. Or, at least, the online version. The beautiful 'problem' is that my name brings up many references to 'Carly Simon' or 'Cameron Diaz', but the influence of mischaracterizations is part of the whole concept. Interestingly, this depends on the analysis, for every time I entered my name, I received a different assessment. A nice reflection of the liveness of the online world.

"It is meant for the viewer to reflect on our current and future world where digital histories are as important - if not more important - than oral histories, and computational methods of condensing our digital traces are opaque and socially ignorant - for now. Fortunes are sought through data-mining vast information repositories, and this kind of data is indispensable but far from infallible."

In Latin, the word persōna carries with it a connotation of the theatre, which is often carried over into the English use of the word. The persona is the mask or character that the actor assumes before taking the stage, or our public face. As individuals living out our lives (often simultaneously) in local and online spheres, this concept enters a new dimension where the multitude of scenes requires us to approach in full character at the blink of an eye. On LinkedIn, I am a professional. On my blog, I am a curious writer. On my bike, I am a local. At work, I am focused. At home, I am everything and nothing. This fascinating and sometimes exhausting fact of life isn't anything new. Anyone who has ever read a Jane Austen book sees the extent to which social expectations dictate the intricacies of our interactions. Propriety and sensibility become attuned to the expectations and norms of society and the responses they demand. We adorn ourselves in the proper persona in order to join the dance, to take the stage, which has been set before and the lines have been memorized. As T.S. Eliot said, 'Humankind cannot bear very much reality.' So, we assume our positions, even online.

An Offline Gathering

offline "We're fighting against this whole idea that everything people do has to be constantly chronicled. People think that every thought they have, every experience — if it is not captured, it is lost...When it's off the record, you actually listen to the conversation, not just wait for your turn to speak."

— Michael Maline in a New York Times article about the rise of offline parties, where guests are not allowed to blog, Tweet, or take pictures of the event. It seems that talking about it is even discouraged. Perhaps 'offline' really can exist.

It's Supposed to Feel Small

This week, I sat in a room with a very smart technologist. As I heard him describe the shiny new, the new new…For a moment, the other ideas we’d brought in our little deck felt small. But I reminded myself: they’re supposed to be small. They’re supposed to be real. They’re supposed to build a relation(I won’t even say it because it’s become such an overused word that’s a little tasteless at the moment because we’re sick of saying it and hearing it). Yes, technology empowers. Technology is incredible these days. But don’t lose sight. At the end of the day, small, often, real, honest, respectful of real needs, of real yearning little desires that only you and your nice little set up can provide… that matters. That surprises. That means something. Use technology. Love new technology. But don’t lose sight.

(via wearethedigitalkids)

The World Atlas of Innovation

WAINOVA Innovation is a word that gets tossed around with such frequency these days that it sometimes carries less impact than it should. In comes the WAINOVA visualization of the hubs of innovation around the world to breathe fresh air into the word. This project from the data visualizers Bestario (via infosthetics) illustrates the many centers that comprise the World Alliance for Innovation, a collection of science parks and business incubators around the world. The visualization brings to life the numerous players that create a network of knowledge focused on change and progress.

Tangible Media and Digital Technology

New Yorker cover I recently enjoyed a Vanity Fair article by James Wolcott on the demise of public displays of cultural snobbery as "Kindles, iPods, and flash drives swallow up the visible markers of superior tastes and intelligence." Wolcott described the process of observation, analysis, and judgment we make (often mistakenly) on others and the media they consume in public spaces.

"A tall, straw-thin model glides into seated position and extracts a copy of concentration-camp survivor Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning from her bag, instantly making an onlooker (me) feel rebuked for assuming she was vacuous and self-centered based on her baby-ostrich stare."

This reminded me of a New Yorker cover by Adrian Tomine, a beautiful example of the connection strangers feel when they discover a shared sensibility, literature in this case. The awareness of a missed connection is eclipsed by the warmth of a momentary intellectual affinity.

Some may value the reclaimed storage space over the mounds of books or old records, while others resist the push to digitize their media sources entirely or partially. For my part, the convenience and accessibility of digitized information is without dispute. But when it comes to books, part of my appreciation for reading stems from the sensory experience that the materiality of the hard copy brings. Yet, electronic paper and eInk are fascinating technologies in themselves, and it's impossible to separate even a hard copy from a technological process entirely, something N. Katherine Hayles discusses in her book My Mother was a Computer. Her article on Electronic Literature emphasizes that instead of a debate over print or digital, this emerging genre deserves a discussion of its own while acknowledging its historical relationship with the print world. And we can happily keep our shelves lined with books while still recognizing a new manifestation in the field of writing.

These were some of my thoughts as I read through the article, so I was quite pleased when Simon told me about a book-sensitive reading lamp.  The lamp is illuminated when uncovered, but turns off when a book is placed over it. It's a nice example that the relationship between tangible media and technology can sometimes be reversed, with the former dictating the use of the latter.

Lamp OnLamp Off

The Book Seer

Book Seer The London-based consultancy Apt created a lovely web app called The Book Seer, which recommends further reading based on a recently-completed book. It's simple really, pulling content from Amazon and LibraryThing to make recommendations. But it has that cozy feeling, like good old-fashioned word of mouth recommendations from a friend. In a time when targeted advertising makes consumers cringe and even personalized services are now greeted skeptically, these no-strings attached services are really attractive.

The Seer himself welcomes visitors with a few greetings, including 'Hail fellow', ' O Great Magician', 'Internets!' and 'Ambassador'. When I typed in 'The Elegance of the Hedgehog' (which I have not actually finished reading), it recommended the books listed in the above image. Interesting to see what they have in common (or not). For instance, both lists recommend books by Stieg Larsson, but none of the same titles. And only LibraryThing recommends another book by Barbery. Perhaps, without an accessible algorithm that has determined my behavior, preferences, and known languages, Amazon is hesitant to recommend a book in French. Ce n'est pas une surprise.

The Real Rock Stars

[youtube=] This new Intel ad, from their recently-launched 'Sponsors of Tomorrow' campaign, is spot on. Today's real rock stars should be the brains behind all the technology that has changed our lives and prompted the world in new directions. And, in many ways, they are. I wonder how many people would opt for a free computer over free concert tickets. I know I would.

Right now, I'm knee-deep in a research project about future technology and I must say it's really inspiring. Intel's Exploratory Research Projects, NTT DoCoMo's (the Japanese rock stars of all that is mobile) Mobile Society Research Institute, and Singularity University (to-be-opened in June, sponsored in part by Google, of course), to name a few examples, are all scheming away for the next big breakthrough. Rock stars to be.