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In 2006, Merriam Webster named ‘truthiness‘ the Word of the Year. Truthiness is defined as:
1 : “truth that comes from the gut, not books” (Stephen Colbert, Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” October 2005)
2 : “the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true” (American Dialect Society, January 2006)
It seems to me that the mainstream news media is adopting a policy of truthiness over objective fact. In Dan Gillmor’s Mediactive, I learned about critical analysis of news intake. Gillmor suggests readers seek sources that challenge their current assumptions. I think that the internet is the tool which will allow people to obtain objective information, but at this time there are too many things in the way. The biggest thing I see as threatening objective news is the idolatry of news pundits, who offer their opinions and facts supporting their opinions over opposing viewpoints. A recent example of this is the collective neglect to cover Ron Paul in the Iowa Straw Poll. It seems bizarre for a leading candidate to be absent from the headlines, but it seems the media wishes Ron Paul’s poll success was not true.
Rheingold’s chapter “Machines to Think With” covers Dr. J.C.R. Licklider’s contributions to computer interactivity theory. Licklider initially set out to create “mechanical models of living organisms to help create theoretical models of the way those organisms function,” but quickly realized the vast computing power that would be necessary to accomplish this sort of feat was unavailable. In those days computers weighed hundreds of pounds, while a few decades later a pocket-sized device can accomplish more complex functions. I think it will be interesting to see how digital predictions in fields like meteorology will advance as computers are able to process greater amounts of data nearly instantly.
When Licklider worked on creating models of organisms, he analyzed his own “thinking” time; 85% was spent “getting into a position to think, to make a decision, to learn something I needed to know. Much more time went into finding or obtaining information than into digesting it.” Over 50 years later, I still feel the same frustration in attempting to ascertain information. The most difficult part of a Google search is discerning which Boolean will bring up the most relevant results. Websites like Ask Jeeves begin to address this issue by letting internet users write full questions instead of simply using search terms. Cleverbot, a website that mimics human writing patterns and adapts based on how it is responded to is another advancement in computer adaptation to human communication.
In Licklider’s essays “Man-computer Symbiosis” and “The Computer as a Communication Device.” Two concepts particularly stood out the first is that:
First, life will be happier for the on-line individual because the people
with whom one interacts most strongly will be selected more by commonality
of interests and goals than by accidents of proximity.
This stood out to me because of personal experience. Through our appearance, media preferences, and academic tracks we are encouraged to stand out. It seems like an understood goal to be yourself completely in order to find a niche that is right for you. Web communities of writers, cancer patients, artists, scientists, and gossipers offer people ways to express their experiences and find others with similar interests. How this translates for many in my generation is that we spend our time text messaging a friend in another state while ignoring the stranger sitting next to us on the bus. I think that it is unfortunate to close ourselves off to the people around us, but it’s comforting to know that whatever your interests, there’s a community that would love to talk about it with you.
Will “to be on line” be a privilege or a right?
Recently, Finland became the first country to make internet access a right of every citizen. It seems that this will be a realistic trend in developed nations as internet access increases. However, I feel that Licklider failed to consider the difference between receiving messages online and transmitting them. Corporations clamor for the internet users’ attention, and the small group deciding on the corporate messages retains a much higher influence over internet content than individual users. This trend is shifting with the rapid influx of user-generated media and ad blocking browsers, but today’s internet often herds users to purchase more often than discover. But more on that later…
As the use of technology becomes a greater part of our lives, many more people are wondering: where is this going? and why? As We May Think by Vannevar Bush and The Loneliness of a Long-Distance Thinker by Howard Rheingold detail projections from the days long before the internet, many of which have yet to come to fruition. Bush described the future of information of organization saying, “Thus he builds a trail of his interest through the maze of materials available to him.” Programs like Storify, which build a personalized narrative using multimedia sources interwoven into personal thoughts are offering new ways to archive research interests.
Bush posed the question: “All our steps in creating or absorbing material of the record proceed through one of the senses—the tactile when we touch keys, the oral when we speak or listen, the visual when we read. Is it not possible that some day the path may be established more directly?” While this technology is in its infancy, automated prosthetics which move in response to brain activity are being developed, and the toy company Matel has developed the Mindflex game in which a ball is directed around an obstacle course by mental activity. I look forward to a time when thoughts can be recorded in real time by computers.
One of the concepts brought up by both authors is technology as a means to better ourselves, one way this manifests is through conflict resolution, which has proven more successful when mediated by the text messaging medium. Through Facebook and other social media sites, people have the opportunity to discover, stay in touch with, and find commonalities with a larger, more conveniently accessed group of people.
The trouble with being human is that we are not perfect, we forget, hold biases, and avoid change. The technology we create often supplements our shortcomings, helping us to more objectively experience our world. Bush named these technological supplements bootstraps, and they are emerging as a necessity to compete in a global economy. Through all of our advances we are seeking omnipotence. A way to know anything we feel curious about without sifting through useless or repetitive information, and we’re making headway at an exponential rate.