Saturday, August 11, 2007

Technology does not necessarily make us happy

What makes us happy? I wish I knew. William Davis argues that technological efficiencies do not better our society.

In short, technology may bring down costs, make it easy to do repetitious jobs, help us pass time and improve health care, but does it make us happy?

Mr. Davis contends that efficiency in business processes and interpersonal communication does not imply that the essentially rule-unbound human race absorbs all the tech goodness and becomes happy.

I remember, up till 5 years ago, Artificial Intelligence was supposed to be big but so far it has failed to replicate the illogical bends of the human mind.

I am sure Web 2.0 is beneficial.
The citizen journalists will readily verify this.

The Internet might have had a huge cultural impact, giving avenues of expression to billions around the world.

People are blogging, commenting, posting, chatting, IMing, Twittering, Poking, Digging, Adding Friends as never before.

But, are we all better for it?
Are we happy with Internet on Tap?

As I ask this question, I am reminded of the sterile streets of the future as depicted in the sci-fi shows and movies, all those people in wrinkle-free dull clothes.

This is our all-geek, all-rational, all-consuming future self.

Nicholas Carr’s forthcoming book The Big Switch: Our Digital Destiny explores cultural effects of the internet, among other things.

We will see many more attempts examining the effects of an increasingly technological society.

Meanwhile, next time you get in touch with a friend on your brand of Social Network, ask him what makes her/him happy.

P.S. This writer bets you would get a non-technological reason.
If your friend says he feels happy the most because he has the most RSS subscribers, run away from Robert Scoble.

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Google News & Comments: Google’s smart ploy to please news publishers

Google News, the favorite whipping boy of ostrich/ignorant news publishers, has found a way to keep the blow-hards happy.

Soon, a closed group of participants, basically all who are mentioned in the news story can publish their replies on news appearing on Google News, adding clarifications and what have you.

Here’s what the Google news team has to say about this decidedly Web 1.0 move,

"We'll be trying out a mechanism for publishing comments from a special subset of readers: those people or organizations who were actual participants in the story in question. Our long-term vision is that any participant will be able to send in their comments, and we'll show them next to the articles about the story. Comments will be published in full, without any edits, but marked as "comments" so readers know it's the individual's perspective, rather than part of a journalist's report."

Michael Arrington calls it Google’s Hypocrisy, walling off comments for normal users. (which reminds me to ask Michael about accepting my comments on Techcrunch)

Josh Catone avers,
Rather than encouraging an open discussion on news topics, Google is perpetuating a closed debate between newsmakers and journalists. And they're using a clunky, slow medium (email) to do it.
Quoting Gabe Rivera of Techmeme, Danny Sullivan writes,
Since there's going to be valuable information in these comments, shouldn't Google open these pages up to others to crawl, as Gabe Rivera from Techmeme urges?

The PR bonanza
Danny asks a more important question:
Are public relations firms considered "participants" in a story, if they represent someone or some company mentioned?

Echoing Danny’s views, vis-à-vis PR guys, John Murrell suggests that we might soon witness a boom in PR hiring.

Google sets its own rules. Only Google can decide what is okay and what is not.

The new comments move, promising to give 'voice' to PR guys, suggests that Google has succeeded where Federated Media failed with its brand of “conversation”, where it tried to use the services of A-list bloggers to ‘spokesblog’ for Microsoft.

With its latest move, Google has made the PR guys happy, forcing some of them to make delirious judgments - you will also understand why I don’t give a hoot for what PR blogger Steve Rubel thinks. If Google did venture into original content, putting ‘Walled Comments’ would be a pretty lame way to do it.

It will be far easier and useful if it hired some good editors from these complaining news organizations, getting them to select, submit and moderate a better version of Digg, running on top of Google News, taking into account Google Reader stats as well.

Related Mediavidea posts on Google News
How Google can Gobble Digg

What would we do without the News Indexes

Cliffnotes on News 2.0 for Sam Zell

Coming Soon: Old Media' s last stand

Looking for the future of news

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

How Social Networking is making us fat

Health Researchers in Framingham, Massachusetts, have been running one of the longest ever health study, having started in 1948. Along this time, their scope of study widened and obesity factors soon came into focus.

The researchers now say that it's not where we live that affects our waistlines, it's who we know. In the present context, it means all our friends on Facebook, Myspace or any other brand.

The researchers have found that if one of us becomes fat, the chances that our friends would do so too rise by 57 percent, with the risk increasing to 71 percent in the case of same sex friendships.

The researchers have an explanation for this:

What appears to be happening is that a person becoming obese most likely causes a change of norms about what counts as an appropriate body size. People come to think that it is okay to be bigger since those around them are bigger, and this sensibility spreads

Consciously or unconsciously, people look to others when they are deciding how much to eat, how much to exercise and how much weight is too much.

Do social networks affect other human behaviors?
There is no catalogue of effects as of now.

Meanwhile, next time, think twice before you boast of your number of Facebook friends.

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Chronicles of technology: 10 greatest legal battles

The Guardian lists out 10 greatest legal battles in technology and they are:

1. The Statute of Anne (gave writers a short term copyright ownership over their own works)
2. Bell v Western Union (the telephone patent dispute)
3. Marconi and the invention of radio (who invented the radio?)
4. Apple v Franklin (copying code)
5. The Betamax case (the impact of VCRs)
6. The Godfrey libel (libelous postings online)
7. The US v Microsoft (anti-trust, monopoly)
8. Dmitry Skylarov (DRM, internet laws and national boundaries)
9. MGM v Grokster (filesharing fallout)
10. Apple v Apple (Apple Computer vs Beatles’ Apple Corps – over logo)

The writer left out the “Apple vs. Microsoft” case, (Windows being a copy of Apple), which would have Apple score a hat-trick of legal blockbusters.

We are still waiting to know whether Facebook was a ripoff.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Future of things

A well-known Chinese curse goes like this, "May you live in interesting times". Today, people are so occupied with themselves and their things, that you might be lured into believing the future is not interesting enough. While I am no no futurist, but the promise of technology is not as fantastic as it used to be before - unless someone finds a way to 'beam me up', cure cancer and Aids, on the cheap.

The rich are getting richer, people are as unhappy as before and money can't do anything about it. Technology made some young people billionaires and millionaires but a major part of the working world is sweating it out in the hotels, restaurants, resorts, Starbucks, Walmart Stores, and the Call Centers everywhere.

Peter Drucker used to say that the majority of humanity will always struggle.
So, on some bleak days, I am persuaded to question my party line - concluding that 'the future will be better' tagline is plain out of whack.

Sci-fi writer William Gibson who is credited with coining the term “Cyberspace”, now says that he has given up on trying predicting the future. His latest novel is set in recent past. How do you explain this?

To start, the glut of information and discussion coupled with the general disenchantment with our world seems to be taking its toll on the creative minds. Our senses have been dulled by the deadly duo of video games and digital effects.

Gibson says in an interview with
'We hit a point somewhere in the mid-18th century where we started doing what we think of technology today and it started changing things for us, changing society. Since World War II it's going literally exponential and what we are experiencing now is the real vertigo of that — we have no idea at all now where we are going." "Will global warming catch up with us? Is that irreparable? Will technological civilization collapse? There seems to be some possibility of that over the next 30 or 40 years or will we do some Verner Vinge singularity trick and suddenly become capable of everything and everything will be cool and the geek rapture will arrive? That's a possibility to.

Great trend-deconstruction books are few and far between. The best books on the future, not counting science fiction, were written in the last quarter of the 20th century -Alvin Toffler’s trilogy (Future Shock, Third Wave and Power Shift), John Neisbitt’s “Megatrends”, Faith Popcorn’s book, Drucker’s “The Age of Discontinuity” and "The New Realities", Frances Cairncross’s “Death of Distance”, Michael Dertouzos’s “What will be”, Negroponte’s “Being Digital” and maybe a few others.

In this decade, all we got so far are "Freakonomics" and "The Tipping Point". Maybe, “The World is Flat” too – but these three books are more concerned with human behavior and economical realities than trendspotting.

Whatever Thomas Friedman might say, Globalization has been 'ON' throughout the timeline of human civilization.

Is this a trend that we are seeing, where people seem not that enthusiastic in the future?

It has been said: 95% of all scientists who ever lived are alive now.

In this first decade of the 21st century, this age of ‘futuristic’ video games and make believe Digital Effects, ennui has set in on us.

Programs on Future are part of our regular Media Diet.
The latest Internet thingy grabs our immediate imagination.

Living in an unprecedented ME age, driven by the urge for instant gratification, we are too busy consuming and experiencing the latest in-thing to be thinking about the future.

In many ways, we are already living the future – the internet, social networking, user generated video as the modern pen, user generated content which is shifting power from the silos away from the gatekeepers, some might say, wikipedia, Google Earth, spam, phishing, hacking, cyber-terrorism, digital divide, instant messaging, citizen journalism, robots in hospitals, cloning, genetic testing, virtual worlds, object replicating machines, biometric/facial recognition, school shootings, pollution, climate change, rising energy costs, rabid consumerism, corporations richer and more powerful than governments, non government organizations, global terrorism, private armies contracted by governments, alternative energy...

How many of these were on our minds back in 1995? It is safe to assume that the pace of change is too daunting for even the most die-hard of thinkers.

I hear that thanks to modern science, our kids will live longer. Fine, but I don't want to live for 200 years in a fossilized version of myself - it would be like Homer's Dad watching his great great great grandson having all the fun.

There is a different breed of futurist in town - the best futurists of today are the hedge fund managers who rely on complex mathematical formulaes to determine price movements, the consumer trend spotters barging in on every imaginable teen hangout, the pollsters working on the politician's payroll. Gallup and SMS polls are all we are interested in.

There is more to our disinterest in future.

Our enthusiasm for the future is not the same after the all the sci-fi movies we have all seen. I have yet to see a sci-fi movie without the dystopian feature set. I mean no offense to the late and great sci-fi writer, Philip K. Dick.

Where is the 'good future'?
It is lost in an environment of fear- some real, some created.

Blow-hards who revel in meaningless fear-mongering are increasing in circulation. Back in the 20th century, the world was supposed to end in 2000. Nostradumas and the religious scriptures are responsible for the livelihood of a wide variety of people - moviemakers, evangelists on TV figuring prominently among them.

Our Nuclear bunkers are still there.
For ultra-nationalists in many countries, the Nuclear Club is the place to be seen at.

Then there is the ghostly shadow that the events of 9/11, 7/7, and 11/7 have cast on our minds. Governments are paranoid. Citizens are harassed. Editors are busy dissecting the latest government action/inaction.

We are not alone in not thinking about our future. It comforts us to know that our leaders are as clueless hacks as ever.

Our pastime - our literature, our music and our movies are influenced by these events like never before.

We seem to want to know more about why things happen the way they do, than how things will be.

Witness the popularity of non-fiction books covering history and human behavior, documentaries, realistic movies...

The best sci-fi TV series of our times “Battlestar Gallactica” is a rumination on a post-9/11 Islam-centric world.

Doc said in “Back to the Future”, “Your future is what you make of it”.
I like to think Doc meant that Technology doesn't make the future, people make the future.

So, there are things we must do to make a better world for generations after us:
- We must fight inequality of wealth, knowledge and rights
- We must fight the global warming/ climate change demon and create a clean and sustainable world.
- While it is fine and dandy that China, India, Brazil and a clutch of other countries might outrun the U.S. and other economies, we must seek out better models of democracies.
- We must be hopeful

The age of exploration is not over.
There are ocean depths (the hedal zone) to be explored, habitable planets to be found and settled...

These are exciting goals and surely they will make for an exciting future.
A future that we still haven't shaped.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Terrorist Tube

Today, Channel 4 in Britain is going to give Abu Muhammad, a radical Muslim the opportunity to air his support for terrorism on television. The Director of the show Phil Rees, is the author of the book “Dining with the terrorists” and he thinks that 'Journalists should present the views of radicals in such a way that they are not pushed towards violence'.

The reasoning is thus: you take away someone’s voice; you are making him/her really pissed off.

This should be interesting, way more entertaining than ads from politicians, politicians reading speeches and manifestos during election time, and that most vaunted of all Terrorist Media tactic – the Video.

I look forward to see what British Audience thinks about a Muslim radical calling upon British Muslims to,
arm themselves to prevent the kaffir [non-believer] from coming into their home, terrorizing their families, frightening their children and invading their privacy . . . they have to be prepared to pay the price and fight back."

The word is mightier than the bullet? We shall see.

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How far blogging has come #7: Bloggers’ unions

Techcrunch writes about an initiative reported in the Wall Street Journal about a group of left-wing bloggers who are trying to form a union in the hope that they are able to force their New Media paymasters to provide health insurance, adhere to professional standards and most importantly, create a body with aggregated bargaining power.

Some perspectives:
1. Opponents of this move will say that we should leave pay and benefits to the markets to decide, which presumable takes into account demand, supply and the quality of supply. 95% of professional blogosphere is a grey market, with each player using the economics of cheap web space to run millions of basically rewritten posts, supported by Google adsense.

It is obvious what the focus of blog owners/blog network owners is: make adsense money on the side with help of rewriting inputs from bloggers who presumably moonlight at it.

2. I do not know how long will the rewritten blogosphere go. Maybe forever but even that doesn’t warrant government intervention into what is for all purposes a cottage, mom and pop, geek-and-pundit kind of business. You regulate one blog and the owner shuts it down and starts another blog. The same goes for a blog network – damn, this splogging business is so easy.

Nothing more enlightening can be said about blogging/splogging outfits in India and China. I will put it simply- many of my friends depend on these rewriting factories to make a living.

Besides, enforcing regulations across borders is a difficult task.

3. In many ways, all this New Media talk is sheer nonsense. New Media bosses are no different from Old Media bosses. While there will be some honest folks who don’t find sharing the spoils fairly, and I have yet to come across one, most operators are out to make a quick – keep most ad money to themselves, thinking one blogger goes, there are thousands to fill his space, and some are building swanky houses from VC money

4. Many owners tout revenue sharing policies and unions can do little when supply of bloggers is more than the demand. Duncan Reilly says,
...many smaller networks tended to favor a revenue sharing model that rewards popular topics over effort. They do so whilst the network operators keep the majority of profits for themselves.

5. Among the remaining 5% of the professional blogosphere, there are few Conrad Blacks. David Krug of Telegraphik writes,

While some bloggers in networks are making pennies per the hour the network CEO’s and support staff are raking in huge salaries and getting VC Money to help furnish their homes. I don’t like it. It smells funny.

But these are too few and they don’t make a case for wholesale blogger unionizing.

I don’t know how much bloggers at prominent blog networks Weblogsinc, Gawker, Techcrunch make but I sure do hope the bosses pay the bloggers well enough to set a benchmark for other owners, most importantly setting an informal yardstick ratio of salaries and revenue.

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