Category Archives: Responses

Social Media Hell

This post is in response to the first half reading of Dave Eggers’ The Circle. Published October of 2013.

Upon starting this book, and being introduced to Mae and The Circle, I found it exciting, fun, and the sort of place I wanted to work. Then the story gets progressively more interesting, and darker.

The parts that I found exciting was the sorts of freedoms and gifts such a company can give to its employees. They aren’t so much as lavish as well thought and well practiced efficiencies meant to extend the employee’s life and improve their health.

What really started hurting this future story for me was the increasing invasiveness of social media. Being social for the sake of being social. It seems almost insane. Perhaps I value substance over breadth.

I think the characters themselves are a reflection of their lifestyle. They act like they are all brainwashed. Giddy and itchy at the smallest of things, but when it gets to the deeper darker levels, there is no care paid. It is interesting how some of the characters come in pairs, but both of their personalities are identical. And don’t get me started on the intense and unreasonable mood swings. These people are so sleep deprived they can’t think straight for themselves.

The lengths that Mae was required to increase her social standing, is mind numbingly audacious. Perhaps this is where I start showing my old man stripes and start drawing lines. I’m sorry, but there is a part where you loose your humanity for the sake of managing it all.

However, I can think this differently and approach it from a different perspective. What if I grew up in this time where Facebook was a memory and this company has replaced them, and phone companies, and stores altogether. The Circle is the single most powerful and influential company on the planet. It is Google plus Tesla plus SpaceX, plus any number of universities. Ultimately you don’t choose to work at The Circle, you choose to live The Circle. The Circle is a Lifestyle. Yes, you work there, but you have to pay for the technology and conveniences that only they can provide. It’s like some huge social experiment in a society where nothing is secret and to demand privacy would be treason.

Their openness towards each other forces truthfulness. It requires awareness of each other’s emotions and desires. It demands a greater attendance to your neighbors and how you can best provide to a society. I see value in this philosophy. I value privacy. In a way it is sacred. In a world where privacy becomes less and less, it can be valued more and more. There will come a time where even our minds can no longer be safe refuge for your most private of thoughts. I accept this to be an inevitable truth in the pursuit towards better mediums of communication.

As the mediums of our communications evolve, so will our society to match it. Perhaps we have yet to reach the very height of social media. I’m not sure I would be able to keep up with such a demand. There has to be a point where a person can only take so many inputs. Perhaps we can handle more, but it has to be trained and developed, and the only way that can happen is if the technology pushes us. Even so, the wider you spread your attention, there is only so much depth one can have. These characters are shallow because of their lifestyle. Well connected, but unable to go any deeper then the barest of facts and the business at hand. It is disturbing how drone like they are.

Next Industrial Revolution

This post is in response to the following video: Chris Anderson: Makers – The New Industrial Revolution

There is a certain sense of liberation when you own a 3D printer for yourself. It is literally a game changing device that has brought me joy, and access to being able to manufacture what is in my mind into reality. Chris’ descriptor of placing bits into atoms is fairly apt.

I had no idea that digital manufacturing has gotten as customizable as it has. If it is as flexible as it says it is, then we are talking some serious technological adaptability. My mind has been resting on the concept that factories were still fixed. While robotics have replaced a large chunk of manufacturing labor forces, I understood them to be as varied as their tasks were. This meant specialized hardware, and very specific demands. Tesla’s automated multi-purpose robots are amazing.

I think far ahead, and imagine how having just one of these would be an amazing concept. A multi-purpose construction system. Built in 3D printer, Built in CNC, Built in Laser cutter, as well as drill, welding, forming, bending, screwing, bolting, and whatever else you need that thing to do. Just one of these would augment human power by factors.

Another aspect that I love about this, is the concept of singularity and this. If the manufacturing equipment is so powerful, and adaptive, then in theory the computer can analyze designs, modify it to enhance the operational design, and built it. Could an Artificial Intelligence improve our technology, and even invent that? Once computing power exceeds that of the human ability, we may find this answer.

I have seen glimpses into this world on websites that offer 3D printing services. Upload your design, they print it, and then mail it to you. Simple, efficient and short lived. However it gives access to that person who never would have been able to.

The Maker Shops that Chris was mentioning sounds like a dream, and is something that I have been considering creating for Bangor. What I did not consider was the addition of a workshop in conjunction to advanced manufacturing systems. Now I must consider having two separate locations. The DownTown storefront, restaurant and micro manufacture, and a more urban workshop where all the tools and equipment are.

I think it is really important to supply these resources and abilities. There are incredible amounts of ideas and possibilities out there that do not get the opportunity to see the light of day. It is almost criminal to keep all that locked up. If you have thought about it, most likely someone else has as well. In the end, it is who can get to the resources first that is the real winner in any race of innovation.

I see value in Chris’ vision, and proof. It is essential, and will expand the possibilities to be able to tackle problems we haven’t even discovered yet.

Mindfulness in Design

This post is in response to the following video: Simon Norris on Experience

Simon is exactly right concerning the subject of user experience. It is extremely important to consider the humans that are using the product. Being aware of how that product is being used in a variety of times and places goes a long way towards understanding how the product should work.

What I found interesting was the concept of making distinctions between physical experiences and digital experiences. Given that our current society is very much inclusive in the internet with many of our tasks. What we would normally do in the real world we can do digitally as well.

Simon brings up the other point in how the same retailer would have completely different experiences between their online and physical stores. Where the store experience is so much better, that the user does not want to use the application or website. However, knowing that the customer may want to use the app while in the store may allow the user an additional tool to navigate and compare the products.

This sort of mindfulness has been part of my own mindset for a long while. When I redesign kitchen at the various stores I work at, I consider very seriously how the space is used, and who will be using it. Knowing the needs of those you are working with is imperative in being able to design an experience that fits their needs and desires. Once those are met, then the worker is more effective and efficient at their job. It reduces stress on their mind, and their body. The customer is better served as we know where things are, and can easily access the product when the need for it arises.

Understand the customer’s needs. Understand the customer’s requirements. Understand the limits of ability. Understand that time moves forward, and we have to consider what could disrupt our future actions. These anticipations are important towards a successful product.


image is a screenshot from the video

Robotic Teachers

This is in response to an article titled “When the Teaching Assistant Is a Robot”. Published in the October 28th, 2016 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Only as an assistant. The human element in education is much too important. Unless we have fully fledged self aware artificial intelligence, I cannot accept technology as a replacement for education.

I fear that this places me at something of a hardliner when it comes to the subject, however. I would be willing to change my mind, so long as the technology is human like in its behavior and thoughts.

At this point in our technological development, robotics are unacceptable for the human experience portion of a child’s education. They need that interaction, and they need that empathy that only a human can provide. Humans must choose to help, and to sympathize. Humans have emotions and capacity to gauge other human’s emotions. This is imperative when it comes to context, or realizing that a different method of explanation is required.

As a teaching assistant, I think it is wonderful. It holds no hours, and has no emotions when it comes to menial questions. It has all the patience in the world to address student needs and questions. In a text based format, the technology is sufficient to address student’s needs while maintaining a facade of humanity. As students learn to learn, the teaching assistant can become more of a tool. A reactive dictionary, or search system. Much like Siri, Cortana, and other such assistants.

Until the technology is capable of addressing the emotional component of a person’s education, I can’t see it being useful at that level. Technology is ever evolving and it will be interesting to see what results from this experiments and others that are similar to it.

image from here

The Internet Of Things

This is in response to an article titled “The ‘Internet of Things’ Faces Practical and Ethical Challenges”. This was published in the October 28th 2016 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education.

This brings up the same questions that I had concerning the subject. While I was aware of the concept of many common items becoming “smart”, I have only recently been aware of the term “Internet of Things”.

I have two minds on this subject. There is the old geezer me that says, Why? My toaster was just fine as a toaster. My fridge keeps my food cold. I know how long it takes me to get to the store, and I know when to shop so that my checkout is fast. Why do I need to have all these things innovated for me? As a particle human being, I can’t say that I agree with the smartening of things. I understand that by allowing our technology to become so invasive into every little thing we touch, we some how ease the human experience. Allow us the opportunities to explore thoughts and creativity rather then waste our lives on mundane actions. This is great and all, but I think those mundane things are what help to create the human experience as well. By removing the human from the action, we remove the empathy, and awareness of how that action came to be, and maybe even why it happens at all. I believe that there needs to be an awareness of one’s environment in order to be able to fully understand life.

My other mind things this is very interesting, and spurs the futurist in me thinking forward. What happens when the internet is included into everything? Where the internet knows you so well from past behavior, that it will be able to predict your actions and needs, and in theory meet them before you realize you will need them. A society that is sufficiently capable of doing this would in theory be so advanced, that menial labors and mundane tasks are all automated. Anything from agriculture, energy production, and manufacturing. The technology would be capable of self modification and research. This would in theory be the point in which technologically we would have passed the singularity of computing power. This type of society would be able to pursue other tasks, such as exploration, scientific discovery, or spreading of religions, or whatever it is that is important that far into the future.

Today however, this is a very precarious point, and leaves us open to invasive cyber tactics that would hurt us significantly. Or it would allow tyrants to oversee the actions of all their citizens to ensure compliance. Stalking, and war would be redefined. This is a very fragile thing we are doing, and I believe we are treating it more as a toy then as a real potential. Most people don’t know what to do with it, or what its impacts are.

My personal fear, is that it will remove the human element from a process. When that process has no human involvement, apathy becomes prevalent. We become dependent on it. There is no longer emotional investment in the object, or service. Then we take it for granted. It becomes part of our lives, and accept it. Then we forget completely how to do that service, or how to make that object. We forget how to make it happen, and become completely reliant on the system. If that system fails, then we fall. When I look forward to that glorious civilization of discovery, I feel sadness. Those people who are asking such massive questions, forget that their are important smaller questions for themselves. And if that technology were to fail? That civilization would be doomed to their ignorance.


image from here

Arab Spring

This post is in response to: NPR Article and New Media and Conflict after The Arab Spring

These two postings would normally be as separate, but since their content matter is on the same subject, I have chosen to combine them into the same lengthy response.

When I first heard about The Arab Spring, I felt that I had not heard anything about it. However, as I read further, I began to draw connections to events that I was hearing about. They drew my attention more strongly as I worked with an Egyptian transplant at work.

With this association, I tried to look at the protests and events from his perspective, but I truly found that I lacked knowledge or understanding to get an idea. This reading helped me gain a bit of a better quantity of perspective, and gave me some insights into how this sort of event could occur, and how some failed.

As I read about the events, I tried not to be biased to thinking of the middle east as an unadvanced society. There are many primitive technologies in use with the more advanced technologies slowly becoming pervasive as time presses forward.

What we had was technological advanced urban areas verses rural primitive areas. As the paper pointed out, most of those that participated were young, educated, urban persons. Traditionalists would be found in rural areas, and generally would also be of an older age. Just as we find this divide in our western culture, it has to exist in the middle eastern regions.

So why were there failures? I think it comes down to this specific divide. The older more traditional peoples would be constrained by their view, and experiences in their regime based environments. In theory they would have more fears, and respect for the authority that their younger more energetic counterparts lacked.

So, we have the young urban against the traditional rural. This sort of polarization does not do well to influence a positive and consistent outcome. When the people are united against the government, is when they succeed as a people.

There is another effect that I want to touch on that I noticed. With the use of social media as a method of communication, we return to the Little Boxes concept. Where there are networked communities that interact with each other. This creates very niche like cells where people of very specific mindsets can come together and interact. This establishes a stronger emotional connection in the participants. However, those who are outside that box of thought and emotion, are left without that emotional zeal. The rebellion deflates without this influx of emotional energy and support.

I would like to call this the Romeo And Juliet effect. When people come together, become strongly energized, and engage in their protest. The protest is hard, intense, and sometimes violent. Then the protest dies out, burnt out from the energies within, or beaten down like a fire by the government.

What I found interesting in the paper, was the fact that they never really gave any hard and concrete conclusions or associations between the protests and social media. What the paper seemed to say more, was that there was a lack of evidence as we have not yet collected that evidence. Therefore, we are still left with the question as to whether social media can influence the government, or its people. We still need more data.

As social media becomes more prevalent and invasive across the world, I think we will see stronger ties to events. For example, American political elections taking place are mired with social media. It is used to promote, defame, and spread news, ideologies, and perspectives.

It is important to be aware of those perspectives, and what they mean to the person that holds it. Often times, we see the reason for their actions or beliefs simply by looking back at events that have influenced them. Then consider, how you would have reacted given those same events.

The Arab Spring, is an interesting phenomenon that took place in a partially developed region of the world, were modern conveniences mix with rural tribal ideologies. As examples have shown, new media is borne from old media, and sometimes requires old media to support it.

So, is it the message or the means by which the message is conveyed? I think this is perhaps the most important question of the lot. Is the medium pertinent here? Again, I can only refer to the paper’s conclusion, We need more data. It will be events such as The Arab Spring that will help us gain a better understanding of how society is influenced by Social media and the new media that will come after.


featured image from here