Technology

All A-Twitter About Twitter?

Call me boring - or call me old-fashioned...but is it possible to be TOO connected?

It seems that everyone lately is on Twitter. I get emails from people every day saying that they're on Twitter, and asking me if I'm on it as well. Politicians have entered the game and you can receive "tweets" from everyone from Mayor David Miller to President Barack Obama.

Twitter describes itself as "a service for friends, family, and co-workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?"

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As a new media specialist and marketing professional, I have a strong admiration for technology and its ability to engage communities all over the world. Finally, we all have a voice and most businesses are able to harness its tremendous power as a tool to showcase their products and services.

With this in mind, I can't help but ask one question: "Is it possible to be TOO connected?" While I like to keep in touch with friends and colleagues, do I really need to update them on my latest shopping trip or grocery list - or on the fact that my car is in for repair? And do they really want to know these things?

While technology has given us so much, I feel that some of us are losing a bit of ourselves in the process. Yes, it's cool to be updated on what people in your life are doing, but in an age that depends so much on interconnectivity - at what point does meaningful content become meaningless?

I'm not here to bash Twitter - and overall I think it's an interesting idea. I just wonder if maybe we're headed too much the other way.

So, what are you doing?

(For those of you who are interested, I'm spending the next week relaxing on a beach in Cuba. I'm taking a break from hyper-connectivity and am hoping the only "tweets" I hear are the ones singing on my balcony railing!)

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Negroponte's XO Computer: Why Simplicity Can Be A Good Thing

Xo_intro_v2_8By now you've probably heard of MIT Media Lab co-founder Nicholas Negroponte's $100 XO laptop computer. Negroponte is part of the One Laptop Per Child Foundation whose mission it is to : "stimulate local grassroots initiatives designed to enhance and sustain over time the effectiveness of laptops as learning tools for children living in lesser-developed countries."

The raison-d'etre of OLPCF's initiative and brainchild of Negroponte's initative is the XO laptop - a $100 (or so) laptop built to the needs, interests, climate and culture of children in developing countries. At first glance, it's pretty amazing to see so much technology jammed into such a small and inexpensive machine. The laptop offers some pretty cool features that allow kids to use it in some pretty harsh climates (the keyboard is waterproof and the casing designed to withold dust), as well as technological features such as a 360 degree hinge that allows the XO to be converted into a tablet for eBook applications.

Besides the ingenuity behind Negroponte's initiative, what's perhaps more interesting is the laptop's focus on simplicity. Ryan Bigge, in a recent Toronto Star article called "Road-testing the $100 laptop's 'appropriate technology", states "...in an era where the all-in-one gadget rules, sometimes the few-in-one device isn't such a bad thing...we all want to be part of the technological conversation. But sometimes, being a "smartperson" means recognizing that the multiple options of flashy smartphones and laptops actually makes it more difficult to communicate."

How true. Many say that technology makes it easier for us to become part of the conversation, but is the increased focus on splash and gadgetry drowning out what technology was supposed to help us with in the first place? When was the last time you walked into a phone store and were able to find a phone that allowed you to JUST make a phone call? As Bigge's suggests, at some point, is the focus on technological features working against what they were supposed to do in the first place - and that's communicate something to someone - somewhere?

Time will tell what happens to Negroponte's $100 invention. But it makes me wonder whether, at some point, the design of technology will outlive its usefulness. Once the gadgetry outlives its initial period of usefulness and excitement, things will revert back to more simplistic technology. I call this the "law of diminishing usefulness." The law is impacted by two things -the time it takes for the initial excitement phase surrounding a product to diminish and the degree of usefulness a product is able to keep in meeting its owners initial purpose and intention.

At some point, what we'll need are just computers that can help us write, research, and communicate with each other more effectively, so we can do what human beings have done for centuries - communicate with each other through words and stories.

Do you think technology is getting too complicated? What is the prime purpose of having technology in your life? How could technology be better designed so we could get more joy out of using it?


When Old Technology Is New Again

I'm in job hunting mode and use the internet to do the bulk of my research. Today I was researching a particular company and was trying to determine its current operating name. I Googled, searched archives in various marketing publications - yet couldn't find the answer I needed. Desperate to find the answer, I finally pulled out the phonebook and looked up the name of the company. Voila!

Our reliance on new technology made me wonder if there isn't still room for the old stuff. While working in corporate communications, I used a paper daytimer to track appointments and follow up phone calls. The system was foolproof. It never crashed, was never in danger of being accidentally deleted, and my yellow highlighter and sticky notes were always there to point me in the right direction.

Don't get me wrong. I'm a huge believer in the power of technology to help us get through our everyday lives. I just think that sometimes there's so much information out there, that for some things, we might just be better off taking a simpler route.

Nathan Shedroff, one of the true pioneers in the area of Experience Design, says that "Most of the technology we call information technology is, in fact, only data technology, because it does not address understanding or the forming or communication of information. Most of this technology is simply concerned with storage, processing, and transmission." (Information Design, edited by Robert Jacobson, 1999).

Shedroff explains that too often audiences are deluged with data instead of information. This means that we are often left with the dubious task of trying to sort it out and make sense of it. If there is no context and meaning to data, there cannot be successful communication as audiences will have no idea what it is you're trying to say. In the interactive medium, it's all about experience, and information designers have to keep that in mind.

Shedroff puts information interaction design on a continuum that leads from Data, through Information and Knowledge, and finally onto Wisdom. At the Knowledge level, the process is participatory, and this is the level all communications should target as it provides the most valuable messages.

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There is lots of data out there, and we live in a world of global information excess. Perhaps it's time to take a step back, and extract some of the benefits we derived from using old technology. Is what we are seeing and reading out there providing us with positive and meaningful experiences, or are we just seeing bits and bytes of random data merely disguised as information?


Let's Incorporate Science and Technology Into the Bottom-Line

It's always amazed me how few companies take the time to incorporate key findings from the worlds of science and technology into their business strategies. On the other hand, it's also surprising how few computer scientists are familiar with the needs and culture of the business world. Yet if these sectors took more time to understand each other, we may not have the problems we have today at the customer experience level. Problems which, no doubt, have had serious consequences on the bottom-line.

MIT's Media Lab was created, in part, to help merge the worlds of science and industry. Founded in 1980 by Professor Nicholas Negroponte and former MIT President Jerome Wiesner, one of the lab's key functions is to encourage "collaborative dialogue between industry and academia" and enable a "cross-pollination of ideas." It is a science and technology incubator used for R&D purposes by some of the top entertainment companies in the world including Sony, Warner Bros. and News Corp.

According to an article in The Hollywood Reporter's Future of Entertainment issue, the lab's mission statement is where the "bits of the digital realm interact seamlessly with the atoms of our physical world and where our machines not only respond to our commands but also understand our emotions...Digital innovation becomes the domain of all."

This understanding of experiences in the digital realm can help industry on several levels. The advent of digital technology brings with it the need to truly understand the nature of interactivity - how humans react to technology and how they make decisions in electronic environments. This understanding can lead to the creation of new business models based on findings from the worlds of science and technology. The process should be a synergistic one based on the creation of mutually beneficial relationships.

The worlds of science and technology are also taking note of the need to educate their 'up and comers' with principles traditionally taught in business school. Dr. Ronald M. Baecker, Professor of Computer Science and Bell University Laboratories Chair in Human-Computer Interaction at the University of Toronto, teaches an innovative course to fourth year computer-science students called The Business of Software. Dr. Baecker discusses issues such as the high technology business environment, basic processes to growing a healthy business within the software industry, and the ability to write and pitch business plans designed to enhance computer forecasting models.

As founder and Chief Scientist of KMDI (Knowledge Media Design Institute), Professor Baecker understands the need for an inter-disciplinary and human-centered approach to the study of media, technology and communications.

When I first started my company K-Vision Communications in 2000, I proposed the idea of creating a Digital Storytelling Institute consisting of two components: 1) The Centre for Interactive Excellence (resource centre for corporations to learn about principles of interactivity through scientific research) and 2) The Prophet Margin: a place where CEO's could gather to learn how to use the principles of interactivity to improve their bottom-line.

The idea was inter-disciplinary in nature, and would provide a creative environment where HCI experts, new media designers, software professionals, business executives and ad agencies could brainstorm on issues affecting their industries.

Perhaps it's time for a true collaboration amongst disciplines. After all, bit by bit, we're writing the future together.


The Future of Entertainment

As I celebrate my birthday today (I won't make it easy on you by telling you my age...let's just say that I still have my original Sony Walkman stashed in my drawer, and that when I took a few computer courses in University we were still using punch cards...), I find my mind drifting towards the future.

Technology has made so many advancements, and I wonder where all this is going. In 2005, The Hollywood Reporter published a special Collector's Edition piece called "The Future of Entertainment." The purpose was to have key industry players look at the next 75 years to predict what it would hold for Hollywood and the entertainment industry.

Then Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, Robert J. Dowling, introduced the edition with a few interesting insights in his "Letter from the Publisher." Dowling predicted that physical media in the traditional sense would disappear, leaving us with digital streams of media delivered by broadband. He said that audiences would no longer be categorized by traditional demographics such as age and gender, but by common interests such as cooking, golf or gaming. Programming would be configured on every device, and would be available "on demand." The concept of theme parks would be translated to shopping malls and other public places, and eventually to our homes. This would add to the sensory experience of an activity as we would interact more and more with our surroundings.

Dowling's views correspond with other predictions from media executives, directors, producers and marketers on the subject. It seems that the key to entertainment in the future will be an increased element of interactivity and immersion with media. Rather than being passive observers, the audience will become active participants in the experience.

Movies studios, distribution systems and the way we experience movies in theatres are also due to change. In the same 2005 Collector's Edition in a section called "Postcards from the Edge", director Steven Spielberg predicted that "50 years from now, we're going to be inside the movies; we're not going to be looking at them from the outside...But in the future, you will physically be inside the experience, which will surround you top, bottom, on all sides." When Spielberg was asked if he could invent a device that would enable us to do this, he said he had already invented it, but couldn't discuss it due to a patent pending!

The idea of immersion and interaction within an experience is not new to the world of media. What will change, is the degree to which we interact WITH it. If we have the ability to affect our experience with media through an increasing amount of interactivity, we will soon be able to write our own story whether through a book, a movie, or online game. Some of this is happening right now, as the human need for self expression blends into the virtual world. The future is already becoming a reality, as we all seem eager to leave our mark as participants on the global entertainment stage.