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Down With Grammar

Who Needs it Anyway? Sort of….

For something so simplistic, I’ve had quite a 24 hours!!!  Anyway, here is the YouTube video of my final project pitch. It is still processing, so it may not be the highest quality.

Yet another TED Talks video has my mind racing with considerations.  Neil Gershenfeld, director of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, gave a talk in 2006 regarding some creativity labs the university had instituted.  As I listened to him discuss the way the lab works, I thought about how Apple has allowed almost anyone to create an application for its iPod Touch and iPhone devices.  If you’ve got an idea for a application for one of the devices and you know how to begin designing it, Apple gives you the ability to create it and even post it for sale if you’d like.

During his presentation, Gershenfeld showed a young girl in Africa at a Fab Lab like the one one MIT has opened to its students. The girl was working on some type of chip, complete with a soldering gun in hand.  She had refused to leave until she was finished with a particular part of her creation.  I was amazed.  I wouldn’t know where to begin with something similar, but this young girl not only knew where to begin, she was doing it.  All because she had access.  I think it’s phenomenal.

I read through the comments of Gershenfeld’s presentation at the TED Talks website and the opinions posted there were mixed.  As much as I enjoy technological advancement, I too tend to sometimes lean towards being a little more cautious because let’s face it, mankind has let technological ideas run amuck before.  Atomic bomb, anyone?  But, as someone mentioned in the comments of the presentation, we can’t govern ourselves by fear, nor stifle progress because of the same. 

Sure, there will be some folks who will abuse the access offered by a Fab Lab in a neighborhood near them, but that’s the chance that life offers.  Besides, all of the ingredients for most any bomb can be found fairly easily without any access to something like a Fab Lab.  But, we don’t have bombs going off all around us all of the time now, do we?  No.  So, there’s no need to be under any more of a threat of fear should Fab Labs become more accessible in the future.  If anything, something like this opens up financial doors to individuals that would have never been opened before.  How many times hasn’t some fledgling entrepreneur pondered one idea or another, only to realize that they don’t have the wherewithal to make it happen?  This access offered by a Fab Lab could make a major difference in breaking down such a barrier.

I was talking to a friend of mine recently about how easy it was to avoid talking to our parents during those dreaded “check in” calls most students get while attending college away from home.  I started my undergraduate studies in 1994 and Caller ID was not available on my campus that first year.  But, anytime your parents called, you just kind of…knew.  Almost like instead of saying rinnnnnnnng, the phone sounded like mommmmmmm or daddddddddddd anytime they phoned. 

Aside from that spidey sense that a call from the folks seemed to invoke, an answering machine was the only barrier between a student and a “concerned” parent.  If you paid close enough attention to the pattern of when your parents usually called, it was easy enough to simply avoid answering, have a roommate give a bogus excuse as to why you couldn’t answer the phone or face the Spanish Inquisition (lite) about your daily travails and evening plans.  The cell phone has completely changed the game.  Well, mostly….

Sorry I Missed Your Call

As I read the “Shibuya Epiphany” chapter from Howard Rheingold’s Street Mobs, I couldn’t help but laugh.  I can just imagine how frustrated parents must feel when they can’t reach their college-going children these days considering electronic tethers that we all have dangling from our wrists.  I have a 21 year old sister who is in college and she is notorious for either having her calls going directly to voicemail or ignoring them altogether.  My parents call me often to rant about how they pay the bill and she should answer or at the very least call back in a timely fashion.  I courteously “mmmhmmm” them back to an acceptable blood pressure.

But, as I read Rheingold’s piece and the chronicles about the use of text messaging among young people in Japan, I was amazed.  The painstaking effort that was put into making sure that young people would be pleased to adopt the new technology was tremendous.  It amazed me that developers had such foresight to know that though young people won’t be paying for the service, they are in fact the future and a certain amount of catering to them has to take place.

It was only after I started buying smart phones two years ago, that I started to enjoy text messaging.  I’m 33 years old and at times I feel a little silly text messaging family and friends, but then aren’t we communicating?  Does communication have to occur audibly in order for it to be relevant or important enough? 

Over the past few years, we’ve heard stories about young people who have nearly caused their parents to have heart attacks when cell phone bills arrived with massive text message charges.  AT&T even went so far as to release a whole ad campaign with several commercials touting the benefits of their unlimited texting plan if parents wanted to rest easy as their youngsters walked around with checkbook zapping devices on their hips.


One line in that Rheingold article continues to resonate with me as I hold out on joining the iPhone hysteria.  He talks about meeting with Kenny Hirschorn of British telecom giant, Orange.  He says:

Hirschorn had cautioned me against thinking of the telephone as a device to talk into, urging me instead to think of the mobile telephone as evolving into a ‘remote control for your life’.   

The meeting occurred in 2001…six years before the iPhone was introduced to the United States.  Today, the iPhone with all of its applications (and other mobile phones for sure) has proven to be more than capable of serving as remote controls for our lives.  I’m just wondering whether a remote control for our lives is what we all really need?  The television remote has made us all lazy enough to opt out of turning a television on if we can’t find it.  What’s going to happen to us when these “life” remotes are unavailable and we’ve all become even more addicted to them?  Too scary to really consider…..

Consumers have been sharing the use items that they’ve purchased for as long as they’ve been purchasing products.  The battle to maintain the sanctity of copyright on a film or song is one that will end with consumers winning, yet again.  Certainly, the recording and film industries are launching a massive attack against consumers set on sharing these things, but they will have to finally face the fact that they cannot win this war.   We are sharers by nature—communicators as is mentioned in Steal this Film II.

As I listened to the information shared in the film, I was astounded.  I had no idea that as the VCR was being released, the film industry was fighting tooth and nail against it. Considering the fact that not only was the VCR released and used widely by consumers worldwide, the technology has now become defunct as we’ve moved on to DVD recorders and now Digital Video Recorders (DVR).  All of these mediums allow consumers to share in some form or another.

When I was much younger, the cassette tape was the media most used in order to listen to music.  You could go into a store and buy a three pack of blank cassette tapes, pop a cassette with some recordings on it into one side of a stereo and make a copy for a friend or family member—usually in the same amount of time that it would take for the tape to play.  Unless you were a major producer and reseller of these tapes, the recording industry was none the wiser about your activities.  Now, with the ability to make copies and share with family and friends in a matter of seconds, the industry is in an uproar.  What gives?

I’ve listened to arguments on both sides of this issue for the past few years and to be honest, I believe the music and film industries are misguided.  Surely, there are those who intend to only grift off of the hard work of recording artists and filmmakers, but why should a few friends be afraid to send a few files between  one another?  I think it’s ridiculous, especially considering the fact that we’ve done this before, as I described about the cassette tapes above.  This is not some new phenomenon.  Now, we can do it faster.  That is the only difference. 

I own a Microsoft Zune and I pay $14.99 a month for unlimited access to millions of songs.  As such, I don’t have to make a choice between paying thousands of dollars for music and “stealing” it from one of the dozens of file sharing sites in existence.  But, should the recording industry come to its senses and decide to stop trying to prosecute individuals for sharing files, I will be doing away with that $14.99 plan.  Until then, I rest fairly easily at night, not having to wonder whether some men in black are going to show up at my door because I’ve downloaded a copy of the soundtrack to Bette Midler’s “Beaches”.

For my project, the media company website, with an initial focus on a documentary I’m working on, there shouldn’t be any ethical or legal issues.  Aside from assuring that the subjects in the videos are aware that not only will they be featured in the film, they may also be featured on our website, things should be fairly cut and dry.  There will eventually be a component that allows site visitors to purchase DVD copies of the film, but that won’t come for quite a while.  Once we reach that point, it is my sincere intention to keep our commerce offerings free of any sort of devices that would allow other companies to gather information about our visitors. 

The really sobering thing is, many companies probably started out intending to “do the right thing” only to be enticed by financial gain.  I believe that we will be able to keep things ethical, but I guess only time will tell the full story.

I’m a frequent internet user.  I’d have to be considering the fact that I’m enrolled in an online Master’s program.  But, even before now, I used the web a lot.  I search for all types of things, but I tend to purchase a lot of things online as well.  Most of my family lives pretty far away, so I usually purchase gifts online and have them shipped to where they live.  I’m certain, there is a host of private information about me stored in the databases of various companies.  I’m not happy about it.

As I read Louise Story’s article, To Aim Ads, Web is Keeping Closer Eye on You, I couldn’t help but wonder who we’ve all gotten to a place where we can accept so easily that we are basically being spied on, for our own good.  In the article, Story writes:

But executives from the largest Web companies say that privacy fears are misplaced, and that they have policies in place to protect consumers’ names and other personal information from advertisers. Moreover, they say, the data is a boon to consumers, because it makes the ads they see more relevant.

On the one hand, I believe that the targeted ads are beneficial, if a consumer wants to receive such, but what if a consumer does not?  Many of the web companies have some sort of opt-out policy, but I didn’t even know such a thing existed until I read the article.  How many other web users are as in the dark as I was?  It’s not as if the web companies are going to make the policies front and center because there is so much money to be made from collecting the data. 

I feel as though I’m constantly sounding an alarm about privacy issues where technology is concerned, but we are sliding down a very slippery slope.  The seemingly innocent suggestion that companies are doing us all a favor by constantly bombarding us with ads for products based upon our search history is fairly condescending.  If there is anything consumers need help with, deciding what to buy isn’t it. 

This whole thing feels as if, instead of ordering something online, I searched through a physical, printed catalogue, called up a company and placed an order.  Then, all of a sudden, my snail mail box started filling up with ads for products similar to what I’d ordered from that company.  I’m sure that in some way, this is already happening, but not with the same frequency as what we are all experiencing via the internet.  If it isn’t palatable to us via our snail mail, why is it okay via the internet?  Is it because we are all so addicted to the speed and convenience of the internet that we are almost willing to consider the loss of privacy a trade-off for something that makes it all worth it?

As I continue to learn more and more about how our information is being collected and culled for future use by companies with a profit margin in mind, I am getting more and more concerned.  In Story’s article, she uses a quote from a spokesperson of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.    Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of the group says this about the information being gathered, “We’re recording preferences, hopes, worries and fears.”  It is precisely this type of information, hopes, worries and fears that can grab an individual and hold on tight, causing irrational decisions to be made… like buying a machine that claims to be able to cut hair using a vacuum cleaner like nozzle.  The infomercial industry has done enough damage to our finances as it is.  

For several years, I operated a small video production company with a good friend. The same friend who I am planning to launch my new production company and companion website with. One of the ways that we sold ourselves was that we were one of the few all female companies in the region. We primarily did wedding videos and we found that this was a great selling point.

In this new endeavor, we will be focusing on other things besides wedding videos, namely documentary production, and we will attempt to work our gender in yet again. Not that we are better than any of the guys out there doing it (though we probably are better than a lot of them :) , but our gender does allow us to do some things that the men can’t do. In the case of weddings, we were able to enter dressing rooms with the bride and bridesmaids without them feeling uncomfortable.

With regards to documentaries, we should be able to capitalize off of gender all the same. Documentaries usually elicit emotions. Without a doubt, men are capable of conveying the emotional side of a documentary, I believe that as women, we’ll be able to make the delivery a little more succinctly. Everything from capturing the image of a mother crying or a unkempt child that really drives the point home about the subject matter. I think, the nurturing nature of women will help us to offer something different in documentary production.

The website that I will be working on as a part of my project will be the cornerstone of all of this. As I’ve said before, we will use the website as one of the primary modes of information sharing where digital media is concerned. It will be the main hub, so to speak. It will very important for the website to convey the same deep emotion, and top-notch quality production abilities all at once. Nothing like frilly pink and lavender flowers, but images that speak volumes and lead to an emotional response. The right colors will have to be used, along with a host of other details that will make a tremendous difference. I am really excited about moving forward in the process.

Now, to set the mood, check out the mighty, mighty, O’Jays below singing, “Give the People What They Want”.  Not exactly a song about goods and services, but you get the drift…

As I listened to Dr. Halavais’s lecture on social architecture, I flipped through my memory bank to try to determine whether I would be presumptuous in labeling myself a social architect.  Dr. Halavais mentioned a book entitled,  Human-Built World, by Thomas B. Hughes that I think I will add to my library of books and attempt to get around to it at some point.  The synopis at the University of Chicago Press’s website reads:

From the “Creator” model of development of the sixteenth century to the “big science” of the 1940s and 1950s to the architecture of Frank Gehry, Hughes nimbly charts the myriad ways that technology has been woven into the social and cultural fabric of different eras and the promises and problems it has offered. Thomas Jefferson, for instance, optimistically hoped that technology could be combined with nature to create an Edenic environment; Lewis Mumford, two centuries later, warned of the increasing mechanization of American life.

First There Was Fire….

It is true that man-kind has been constantly moving forward, creating new and unique technological advances.  The discovery of fire didn’t require any wires and cables, but it was indeed an advance.  Thousands of years after that discovery, we are now using fire to heat our homes, build steel structures and a host of other things that many of us can’t imagine how we could live without. 

If you really think about it, man-kind has been evolving at a remarkable rate.  The advent of social media and its surrounding technologies is a fascinating new step in this evolution.  In the lecture, Dr. Halavais mentioned the necessity of social architecture in product development.  He also mentioned the necessity for designers and social architects to always be in somewhat of an idea seeking mode.  He suggested that designers and architects keep a camera and a notebook handy to capture things that could serve as inspirations to better serve the public as they work on a new or current project. 

I think it’s imperative to constantly be aware of your surroundings, especially as you visit new cities and countries.  There is so much to see and soak in, I don’ t know how anyone even considering a career in interactive media or communications can’t feel the energy all around them.  We truly are living in a remarkable time.

Actress uses the "magic mirror" at Prada's flagship store in New York City.
Actress uses the “magic mirror” at Prada’s flagship store in New York City.

I watched the TEDTalks video of IDEO’s David Kelley highlighting some of the new products they were working on and I have a dozen questions now.  What occurred to me is that though the products aren’t artificial intelligence in the strictest form of the word, they do border on something more than pure technological offerings.  For instance, the “Spy-Fish” is a robot that will look and swim like an actual fish.  This attempt to emulate a real fish takes the tech side of this effort to another level.  For the longest time, scientists have launched various items into the deep and managed to obtain a massive amount of data.  Those tools didn’t look like actual fish.  So, why the attempt to make the offerings of today more fish-like?  Who are creators trying to trick?  The fish?  Maybe they are trying to make the researchers working with these tools adjust more easily to the grueling hours of work necessary to their jobs.

Earlier this year, we were all wowed by the images of a robotic carp created by engineers at the University of Essex.  The amazingly life-like “fish” is massive, measuring about 8 feet long.  They will be used to detect pollution in waterways.  Previously, some Japanese engineers had developed their own robotic carp, though it didn’t look as life-like as the one created by the U of E engineers–further demonstrating how rapidly technology advances.

How About a Life-Like Kidney?

If you take a moment to look at the images and video of the two carp, you will notice the stark contrast in the life-like look of each.  The engineers at the University of Essex must have worked painstakingly to make their robotic carp look even more life-like than that of the engineers at Ryomei.  Again, I wonder why.  It certainly is exciting to be alive to witness such genius being demonstrated, but questions abound as to why something like this is getting so much attention.  I would rather all of the time spent making these carp more life-like was spent making a life-like artificial liver or kidney or some other necessary organ.  We certainly can’t ever have “too many” people working on that when there are so many people waiting on organ donors in this country.

A Magical Mirror, to Whom?

The other part of Kelley’s presentation that amazed me, but caused me some concern as well was the portion about the tech offerings at the flagship Prada store in New York.  I’m very disturbed by the “magic mirror” demonstrated in the video. describes it this way:

Another wall incorporates a “magic mirror,” a camera and display . As the customer begins to turn in front of the mirror the image becomes delayed, allowing the customer to view themselves in slow motion from all angles.

The word “camera” is what bothers me, but apparently it hasn’t stopped Diesel from incorporating a “magic mirror” of their own in one of their stores in New York.  I keep trying to justify the use of a camera in this device, but I just can’t.  I tried to find something that explains how these images are recorded–as in, where are they stored and how are they destroyed and I can’t seem to find anything.  Also, at what point does the mirror start recording?  As soon as you step into the dressing room and slip into your undies, or only when  you are directly in front of the mirror?  I don’t shop at Prada, but maybe if I were spending as much money as the folks who do I’d want a sure shot of my backside before I purchased a $1,600 pair of pants too.  It just seems like an awful high price to pay–the loss of privacy…

Everyone who uses the internet should be paying attention to these developments.  Check out the video from a Russia Today broadcast below: