All posts in Technology

As unique and daring a product as Google Glass is, it’s hard not to dislike its users. Glass users (or “Glassholes” in contemporary snark) are displaying not so much their hipness with technology, but their access to exclusivity. Google Glass is difficult to get and expensive to buy; in that sense, it’s no different than a fine watch. However, Glass also comes along with a critique of everyone else’s existence. Mere reality is not enough for Glass users; they need enhancements. Let the peasants be un-augmented.

New technologies that expand our choices and enable better communication are usually embraced, not mocked. Think of how excited millions of people get with the latest iPhone update. You’d think a whole new technology category like Glass would be embraced. But the context of any new technology is more important than the technology itself in determining its reception in the marketplace. As long as Glass signals exclusivity, glassholes will be mocked.

Interesting column in the Times today from Hao Qun, a novelist and blogger from China.  He was having a meal with some other bloggers, trying to figure out who will be the next person to be arrested by the government.  Microblogging, according to Hao, has become the public square for China, the only way for information to quickly spread around the country.  Popular microbloggers in China have literally millions of followers, so even in a vast country, information on blogs can spread quickly.

A quote from Hao:

I have been asked if I’m afraid. A couple of years ago, in the early days of my blogging, I was scared. Now I am not. I think my shift is representative of that of many popular bloggers, who have been emboldened by the freedom we’ve found online, as my friends have.

I’m moved by Hao’s courage.  Nothing appeals to me more than an individual’s struggle for freedom of expression.  But Hao’s column gives me great hope for China.  In Poland, the communist regime collapsed when the opposition stopped being afraid and started to organize and agitate in the open.  If democracies rule with the consent of the governed, dictatorships rule by the fear of the governed.  When enough people stop being afraid, even the harshest dictatorships can collapse.

 

Say you have one country — for instance, the US — that isn’t allowed to examine data of it’s own citizens, but can examine the data of the rest of the world’s citizens.  Say you have another country — let’s call it the UK — that adheres to the same rules.  Let’s further say that the intelligence agencies of these countries work closely together and share information.  This seems a massive legal loophole that I haven’t heard anyone discuss.

It’s typical in US history for us (the public and then the government) to panic for a good decade when there’s any kind of threat.  Then when the dust settles a bit, we revise our policies and feel pretty apologetic for our mistakes (internment camps, anyone?)  I hope and expect we’re beginning that phase now with the “war on terror,” especially since Obama said recently that war is over.

Democracies can be run by the mob, but only for a while.  Then rationality begins to take hold.

At least that’s my hope.

There’s an interesting article in Salon about the downside of e-readers.  There is some weak research and data about people not remembering as well reading off a screen as from a book, but I think there really is a point here.

I’ve been reading a book on Kindle, and not been very satisfied with the experience.  The width and feel of a book, the sense of making physical progress through it, is much better than just seeing the advance of a progress bar. I’m less emotionally committed to completing that bar than I am to “getting through” or “getting to the end” of a book — you really make a trip through a book and end at a new place; there’s a palpable sense of movement.  A screen, however, doesn’t change.  You’re where you’ve always been, just a different set of pixels is on.

The two media really present two different purposes: reading as gathering information, and reading as a fulfilling experience.

I’m not arguing for being a Luddite; I’m just making the point that history is not a happy parade of progress.  As we gain, we often also lose.  With the advent of print, the spoken word lost much of its power — can you even imagine there were people who could recite the entire Iliad?

I suspect the switch from books to e-books will also, in time, represent some loss of ability for us, or perhaps better phrased, a loss of a more satisfying experience.

There’s a great new product that’s generated serious buzz — Memoto, the lifeblogging camera:

The Memoto camera is a tiny camera and GPS that you clip on and wear. It’s an entirely new kind of digital camera with no controls. Instead, it automatically takes photos as you go. The Memoto app then seamlessly and effortlessly organizes them for you.

Every 30 seconds, it takes a snapshot of what you’re seeing and can store them in the cloud.  You can keep a record of your entire life this way — getting married, seeing your baby’s first steps, going to the bathroom after that burrito — it’s all there.  What could possibly be better?

I have the answer.  It’s a new product out there on the bleeding edge.  I’ve got a working prototype, I just need some more money to productize it, then it can be easily mass produced.  I call it Memetoo.  You see, the great flaw in Memoto is that it only captures what you’re seeing.  That is so much less important than capturing you’re reaction to what you’re seeing. With Memeto, you’re not even in the picture.  With Memetoo, you are the picture!

Memetoo consists of a plastic arm that extends four inches beyond your face.  On the arm is a glass coated with a metal amalgam, that reflects a clear image of your expression.  This way, you will always be able to see your own expressions at any given moment of the day.

Better yet, Memetoo‘s more sophisticated technology provides not mere pictures every thirty seconds, but live streaming at better than 30 fps!  You’ll be able to see your expressions change in real time, 24/7, for the rest of your life.

Pretty great, huh?  There’s no off switch on “genius.”

 

Netflix announced today that they’ve found another thing to do with Facebook:

Starting today, Netflix members in the U.S. can share their favorite shows and movies on Netflix with friends by connecting to Facebook and agreeing to share.

Facebook is based NOT on people’s interest in what you’re doing/saying/thinking/watching, but on your assumption that people are interested in what you’re doing/saying/thinking/watching. Narcissism is the killer app.  Every Facebook user seems to be agreeing to an overarching social compact:  I will let you be self-obsessed, if you will let me do the same.

It’s really a perfect conversation, where everyone can talk without anyone having to listen.

But seeing people’s Netflix list is just too much.  Your rental list reveals your true self, instead of the mask you’ve spent years learning how to show.  A string of insipid romcoms?  Mindless 3D CGI-gagfests?  You’re just too easy to mock.  And if you go the other way, stuffing your list with classics, you open yourself up to whithering criticism (“You mean you haven’t seen Grand Illusion yet?”)

You might think that if no one really pays attention to what you say in Facebook, they will ignore  your Netflix list as well.  Ah, but that’s the rub — for the true narcissist, the one thing better than ignoring someone is putting them down.

MediaPost’s Vidlog has an article about Alloy raising $30 million, in large part because of its success creating channels on YouTube, and a large part of that is their most successful channel, Smosh.

Although this sounds like gibberish to most adults, Smosh has over 2 billion views, and nearly 7 million subscribers. What is everyone watching?  Well, by conventional standards, not much: hundreds of 3-5 minute comedy videos with strong branding and really, really bad acting.  And yet it has a much bigger audience than Mad Men.  How can this be?  I think we can make a couple of conclusions:

1) It’s yet another sign of the Apocalypse.

2) If you think about their target demo, teenage boys, this is easy and appropriate content to watch on the phone between classes or on the bus home.

3) There are other niche markets like Smosh that a narrowcast channel could own (but they don’t quite exist yet).

 

 

Every five or ten years, a new Internet company streaks across the firmament, drawing delight and wonder from media and investors alike. And then, inevitably, it crashes down to earth, revealing all along it was just some rock and ice.

When that happens, someone gets fired. Andrew Mason, the CEO of Groupon, was really, really fired the other day. If he was any more fired, we’d have to bring back public burnings.

Mason, however, took it well — maybe a little too well. “I’m O.K. with having failed at this part of the journey,” he tweeted. He then went on to compare his experience to a game of Battletoads.

I’m sure the investors who threw money at Groupon when it went public were delighted to hear that Mason had met his very realistic expectations of failure as they watched the value of their stock drop like a rock (and some ice).

They also can be comforted with the knowledge that this whole sorry experience will not crush him. He ends his tweet by writing, I’ll now take some time to decompress (F.Y.I. I’m looking for a good fat camp to lose my Groupon 40, if anyone has a suggestion), and then maybe I’ll figure out how to channel this experience into something productive.”

Something more productive will turn, no doubt, into a new opportunity for investors eager to see yet another startup streak across the firmament — and hopefully, next time, they’ll get out before it crashes.