Reality interfacing 2.0

The Cellphone, Navigating Our Lives –

Indeed, a new generation of smartphones like the G1, with Android software developed by Google, and a range of Japanese phones now “augment” reality by painting a map over a phone-screen image of the user’s surroundings produced by the phone’s camera.

With this sort of map it is possible to see a three-dimensional view of one’s surroundings, including the annotated distance to objects that may be obscured by buildings in the foreground. For starters, map-based cellphones simply translate paper maps into a digital medium, but future systems will probably begin to blur the boundaries between the display and the real world.

I always said the next interface would be Quake,” said Steve Capps, one of the designers of the original Macintosh interface, referring to the popular video game. “How long will it be before you come out of the subway and you hold up your screen to get a better view of what you’re looking at in the physical world?”

And will mobile mapping handicap brain development?

“Humans evolved with amazing navigational abilities in our brains from an evolutionary perspective,” said Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive. He argues that the correlation between the map on the phone and the internal map in your head is a natural way to navigate all kinds of information.

For example, neuroscientists have discovered that people who have occupations that require them to maintain complex mental maps of the world, like London taxi drivers, have an enlarged hippocampus. What happens when our hand-held computers become extensions of the way we think?

“I have wondered about the fact that we might as a culture lose the skill of mapping our environment, relying on the Web to tell us how to navigate,” said Hugo Spiers, a neurobiologist at University College London. “Thus, it might reduce the growth of cells in the hippocampus, which we think stores our internal maps.”

Life on screen


The New York Times – Video Library – Magazine Playlist

Click the above link to see what I consider to be one of the coolest presentations ever using simple desktop tools (the content doesn’t much interest me). The potential for this kind of vlogging is incredibly appealing because it allows for addressing the audience via webcame while showing videos and documents. Brilliant!

This video is from the same feature story, the New York Times Magazine’s special issue on screens. It’s a video of kids gaming, which reminds me of Godfrey Reggio’s “Evidence (shown below), but with slightly different results. How would you compare the two?

Google being evil

I suggest you go and read the full post from Palms Out who are claiming that Google is removing posts from Blogger (which it owns) that contain copyright violations in the form of song files. Scary.

Palms Out Sounds:

For all of you who are wondering what has happened with Remix Sunday, let me offer a brief explanation:

Google, the IFPI & the RIAA have begun a campaign against all the music blogs hosted on – especially high profile blogs, like Palms Out.

This first started a couple of months ago, but only hit Palms Out about a month ago.

Without warning, Google removed three old posts from the blog, and offered no explanation. They then followed by removing Remix Sunday 131, and 132- and offered a brief explanation. Keep in mind, there is no actual copyrighted content uploaded by Palms Out that is hosted on any of Google’s servers, only hyperlinks.

(Thanks Peter!)

The “stupid” argument, again

Is Google Making Us Stupid?:

For me, as for others, the Net is becoming a universal medium, the conduit for most of the information that flows through my eyes and ears and into my mind. The advantages of having immediate access to such an incredibly rich store of information are many, and they’ve been widely described and duly applauded. “The perfect recall of silicon memory,” Wired’s Clive Thompson has written, “can be an enormous boon to thinking.” But that boon comes at a price. As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.

Such is the lament of the bookish mind as it faces annihilation from the Internet.

Restating my mantra, media constantly go to war with other. They constantly compete for the center of attention by moving in and out of the periphery to the center and back again as new technology changes how we consume and share information. Often the winner incorporates/repurposes/remediates elements of the old into the new (the Internet, for example, uses text, and newspapers use more images, color and article summaries for Web influenced info snackers).

So as the Internet is pushing books to the edge of the mediacological ecosystem, book people are fighting back. The most prominent pugilist recently entering the fray is The Atlantic’s Nicholas Carr, whose article, Is Google Making Us Stupid?, revises the persistent argument that new digital media are dumbing us down. The thing I don’t like about this argument is that it assumes there are good kinds of aptitude and bad kinds, the classic-book-deep-thinking being a good kind of intelligence, and the being-in-the-moment of net surfing is bad. We need both.

Carr’s article is actually quite good and outlines how knowledge work is an extensions of Taylorism and the systematizing of work and thinking. Where I fault the piece is how it focuses too much on loss, and not enough on gain. Some of the major benefits of the information economy, which MIT new media guru Henry Jenkins refers to as Convergence Culture, are described by the following characteristics (BTW, I go into this in more detail in my book, Mediacology, ch. 8, “Media Lit’s Mediacological Niche”):

  • collective intelligence,
  • affective economics,
  • transmedia storytelling, and
  • participatory culture.

Consequently, Jenkins believes that in order to be fully engaged participants of convergence culture, students (and teachers) need to develop skills that allow for

the ability to pool knowledge with others in a collaborative enterprise (as in Survivor spoiling), the ability to share and compare value systems by evaluating ethical dramas (as occurs in the gossip surrounding reality television), the ability to make connections across scattered pieces of information (as occurs when we consume The Matrix, 1999, or Pokemon, 1998), the ability to express your interpretations and feelings toward popular fictions through your own folk culture (as occurs in Star Wars fan cinema), and the ability to circulate what you create via the Internet so that it can be shared with others (again as in fan cinema) (p. 176).

There is nothing stupid about these kinds of skills. Thus, I think the argument that the Internet makes one more shallow often ignores the other aspects of emerging cultural practices that are greatly needed and are deep in their own way. In particular, I find these latter skills necessary to develop strategies for sustainability, just as much as those cultivated by the isolated mind of the solitary book reader.

Still, I have to admit. I was depressed after reading the article because I felt that there really is too much to do, read, search, and write. The Internet compounds that. Upon reflection I thought some meditation would do the trick, because what I really needed was to clear my mind of books and the Internet. As Skype tells us, just breath.

McLuhan 2.0


Dig the graphic!

Eric McLuhan, son of the late great Marshall, updates the master.

NowPublic @ Vidfest 2008: Dr. Eric McLuhan, Interviewed by Michael Tippett | The News is

11:40am – Tippett: It would be helpful for you to explain the concept of the “Global Village”?

McLuhan: It’s an uncomfortable place; everyone knows everything about you. You’re always in close contact and proximity to other people. The term was coined to describe the effects of radio. But we’re living in a new one, or a new part of the village. When you put people in contact virtually, electronically, you create the conditions of a village. The bodies being dissociated is almost irrelevant.

Television and satellite have turned the world into a global stage. Now everyone is looking not for jobs, but for roles to play. This brings in the idea of constructing an identity in relationship to an audience. This means the idea of private identity is no longer useful.


11:35am – Tippett: Attention is an important issue in contemporary media. My question to you is, as the holders of attention, are we the last great resource holders to be harvested?

McLuhan: News-savvy people are paying attention to harvesting inattention. There are massive amounts of inattention. Advertisers no longer compete for your attention, they compete for your subconscious — a place where you have no defenses. It is by definition an area of vulnerability.

Book is true enough


“True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society” (Farhad Manjoo)

I just finished True Enough, which challenges the conventional thinking that new media democratize information and will lead to greater vetting and truth. On the contrary, the author argues that new media encourage the retreat into reality tunnels. The greatest benefit of the book is a detailed analysis of the psychological factors that go into propaganda. It explains why “Swift Boating” works. Manjoo– a columnist whose platform is the Web– makes an insightful and correct analysis, but I’m also wondering if there is also a nostalgia for solidity, to the days when there were less media, and diminished freedom of expression due to the top-down model of the one-to-many media structure of old. I think the warnings he makes about our tendency to regress into info tribes should be headed. Does he want to a return to the Jeffersonian ideal of educated elites, or a newspaper saturated public sphere? The solution, I think, is rather old, which is to rely on the Buddhist concept of mindfulness, which is to not hold onto some notion of mediated truth, but to surf it as an engaged, mindful observer.

For more insight follow the debate about the book’s conclusions between Manjoo and Steven Johnson, author of Emergence.