Monday, February 28, 2011

Treating Your Technology Addiction

As more and more people are realizing how addicted they are to technology, some are making an effort to completely turning off their use of technology in their life. Many people have a difficult time finding the right balance in using technology. For instance, James Cornell, 18, felt anxiety after being anyway from his cell phone for only one day. John Stark, 46, stopped sending and receiving text messages to his friends in hopes that his friends would call him if they needed him, but instead his friends text messaged John’s wife, asking her to relay information to him.

Although these people simply desired a fast fix to their addiction to technology to feel in control of their use of technology, experts think that those who want to treat their technology addiction should view the addiction like a diet instead of a withdrawal from drugs. Experts believe that people need to learn how to distinguish between necessary and compulsive consumption.

The first step in any addiction, however, is realizing you have a problem. I like to deny how many hours I spend on my phone and computer everyday because I feel embarrassed. Facebook, especially, eats up all my free time. I know that shutting down my Facebook account will not fix the problem because I will just become obsessed with something else. I need to treat my problem now using baby steps. I must master self control and I hope those of you with the same addiction to technology feel inspired now to do the same.

Cell Phones and Health Concerns

I rely on my cell phone to get me through my day. I depend on it to wake me up in the morning, to remind me of any meetings or appointments that day, to keep me connected to my friends and family, and to be able to search the web at any moment. Have you ever heard of the saying, “too much of a good thing is bad”? Well apparently my cell phone, which is responsible for keeping me sane, is actually having negative effects on my health.

The National Institutes of Health has conducted research showing that the radiation emitted from only an hour use of cell phones is correlated to a person’s overall health. When talking on a cell phone, the part of the brain that is closest to the phone’s antenna has an increased consumption of glucose, or sugar. Even though scientists have stated that there is no known biological evidence to explain how the nonionizing radiation, which are weak energy waves emitted by cell phones, could potentially cause cancer, scientists remain concerned about whether the repeated stimulation of the brain from cell phones is having negative effects. Scientists believe that the increase in glucose production could be linked to the creation of free radicals, molecules, which in excess could be harmful to one’s health by damaging cells.

The NIH study does not tell us whether this increased brain activity from the use of cell phones is detrimental or even beneficial. The results from this study, however, should make us cautious about the over-use of cell phones. With regards to my personal addiction to my cell phone, I need to know if I am affecting my health. Imagine our generation in 15 years suffering from health problems because we abused today’s technology.

The benefits of technology should not out weigh the negative side effects. When technology tells a person to jump, instead of asking “why?”, they ask “how high?”. I feel that our society adapted to a technology dependent life, without first considering the detriments of technology. Now that many of us rely on technology to get us through the day, it will be hard to limit the use of cell phones, but we must think about the long term effects, instead of the benefits of technology today.

New Distractions on the Road

Since it is illegal to talk on the cell phone without a headset, car companies are now developing features that appeal to those who need to feel constantly connected. Ford cars now have an “in car-connectivity” feature called Ford Sync, which allows the driver to sync up to apps, and play songs on your iPod. It can even read Twitter feeds and your text messages. Ford Sync is voiced activated, which means you can tell Ford Sync to respond to your text messages from a list of 10 prewritten responses. You can even order Ford Sync to find a restaurant that you are craving.

These features sound ideal to the average person, but surely these features will distract the driver. Yes, the driver is prevented from looking down at his or her phone to reply to a text message, but being this connected to technology must be a distraction to the driver. This distraction makes the driver unable to fully concentrate on the road because they are thinking about which text message response they should choose to send or listening to Twitter feeds. I think that these features are putting drivers in danger of getting into accidents.

Nu Txt

The entire purpose of this blog - Constantly Connected - is to analyze what it means to be constantly connected. However, there is very little focus on the “language” of constant connection, if you will. Emoticons and shorthand text are becoming more and more prominent, especially among the younger generations. I cannot go onto Facebook and look at any of my younger friends’ posts without observing “u” instead of “you,” “r” for “are” or “our,” “2” for “two,” “to,” or “too,” and so many others. Often, it makes me cringe. “These people are butchering the English language that I know and love,” I think to myself, and I am certain that many share that view.

However, as a student-designer who works with text as well as imagery, I can understand the value of this shorthand as simply the next stage in the evolution of language. Emoticons, such as the smiley face depicted by a colon and a close-parenthesis or :), are the perfect example of this step. Just like the ancient Egyptians or Chinese cultures, which used pictographic images to symbolize “things,” emoticons are being used to symbolize emotions (see image). A well placed emoticon can perfectly supplement the meaning of a text or instant message.

Fun Fact: according to National Public Radio’s “Wait, wait… Don’t tell me,” President Abraham Lincoln is supposedly the first to have harnessed the power of emoticons, by making a ;) – or a “winky-face” – in his speech to signify a pause for laughs.

Once one gets past the traditions and stodginess of English as we know it, one can see the advantages of txt shorthand: it’s fast, readable, and efficient. Plus, it doesn’t rely too heavily on proper punctuation, grammar, or spelling, meaning that everyone can easily participate. And, really, what good is the internet if it’s not democratic?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Netflix Update

While some may not consider TV and movies within our Constantly Connected scope, this article about Netflix got me thinking about how much the company has changed how we watch both. The article discusses Netflix’s movement towards fully subtitle-enabled content for the benefit of hearing challenged viewers, foreign language speakers, and sheer convenience. I was extremely surprised to learn that this was not already an available feature. I do not use Netflix (nor, truthfully, subtitles,) but many hearing impaired people enjoy watching TV and movies, so it did not occur to me that this would not currently be possible on Netflix.

In addition to increasing the number of movies with optional subtitles, Netflix is expanding the number of devices that will support the change. As of now, Nintendo Wii, PS3, and Google TV devices already support Netflix subtitles, and Xbox 360 is soon to follow. I believe that these changes will further increase Netflix’s market share. Netflix already essentially pushed Blockbuster out of business. While I do not think that Netflix will come to replace traditional television in the near future, I will be interested to see what the effects of this move will have.

Is Your Facebook Clean?

In all of our discussions, I believe that we focused on who should be able to see our information, rather than whether or not we should be held accountable for posting it. Yes, we may want to keep our comments and pictures private, but if they should be made public, are we still responsible for them, despite the fact that they were posted with the expectation of privacy?

I believe that, expectation of privacy or not, a person has still made the information in some way available and should be held accountable. One may be arrested for crimes committed in the privacy of one’s home, and I believe that, similarly, one is responsible for information posted to what many forget is technically a public forum. I’m sure we’ve all heard stories about people’s Facebook pages costing them their jobs, or other such serious consequences. This may be the case for Dr. Joseph Kenan.

Dr. Joseph Kenan is the president of the American Society for Adolescent Psychiatry. He advises family court cases in custody disputes—or, perhaps, that is what he used to do. “Lewd” photographs of Dr. Kenan were recently discovered on his Facebook page, leading many parents to challenge his ability to determine good and bad child rearing situations. Dr. Kenan claims that the photos and comments were made in jest and in no way reflect his real views or professional abilities.

At least one court commissioner approved his removal from a case, but at least one other said that his Facebook has no bearing on a court case. While we have yet to see how this will ultimately play out, what we can take away from this case is that it is far simpler in the long run to maintain a clean profile. Once content is uploaded, there is no telling who may see it. This is not a privacy issue, it’s a common sense issue.

iPhone Captures Last Launch

Thanks to the constant connectivity currently available, a man who probably woke up concerned only with making his flight captured a piece of history. Thursday, February 24th, the space shuttle “Discovery” lifted off for its final voyage into space. Few people witness a shuttle launch firsthand, but due to a two hour commercial flight delay, a man named Neil Monday and those lucky enough to be seated on his side of the airplane got to watch the takeoff midair.

Tech-savvy Neil immediately whipped out his iPhone and was able to capture this historical event and upload it to Youtube within minutes. The video has gone viral, and has been used by multiple blogs and news agencies. Were it not for his quick turn to technology (though many airlines request that phones be turned off,) millions would have been denied the ability to view such a spectacular sight from such an unusual, breath-taking angle. Thank you Neil Monday!

Google Alters Algorithm

Google recently announced that it is changing its search algorithm. This move is meant to make higher quality sites appear before “lower quality sites.” How do they determine which sites are low quality? The New York Times article did not explicitly say what part of the algorithm Google altered. Though Google has received negative feedback about some sites, such as eHow, Google promises that information gathered from which sites Google Chrome users block does not factor into the new rankings. (Google Chrome is a web browser created by Google.)

While I appreciate that Google is trying to offer a more efficient, reliable service, something about their action is unsettling to me. I had never thought about how much my search engine influences what information I find. If there were ever information that Google wanted to keep under wraps, all it would need to do is tweak its algorithm. After all, who is going to jump to page 756 of their search results?

In addition, who is Google to say which sites are “low quality?” Is there a difference between a low quality site and spam? I’m all about keeping spam out of my search results, but where is the line drawn? While I don’t think that Google is overreaching, this did make me pause and consider the impact my search engine can have on my information-gathering abilities.

An App to Help You Unplug

Usually, technology-related apps exist to hook users into spending as much time as possible absorbed in the digital world. Now, from an organization called Reboot, there is an app that does just the opposite. Called the Sabbath Manifesto, this app posts on Facebook and Twitter that the user is partaking in a technology-free day. Lest the user forget, Sabbath Manifesto sends multiple text messages throughout the day prior to the day of unplugging.

As one might guess based on the app’s name, the organization that created Sabbath Manifesto (Reboot) is a Jewish organization. Some followers of the Jewish faith routinely unplug themselves for a full 25 hours. A Reboot spokesperson said that “while the group isn’t anti-technology, it hopes people will consider logging off more often.”

One may note the irony inherent in using a smartphone app to facilitate a day of technological abstinence. However, for many, responding to a cell phone’s beep is as automatic as to a friend’s greeting. By using this platform to advocate unplugging, Reboot is approaching people within their comfort zone, which may make them more likely to follow through. In addition, by informing the user’s Facebook friends and Twitter followers, Sabbath Manifesto makes the user more accountable for his or her adherence.

It is more difficult to measure how many people are not using a particular service than to measure how many are. However, Reboot claims that last year millions partook in the National Day of Unplugging. This year, it is scheduled for March 4-5. Will you participate?

Online Monitors

With so many online dangers for parents to be worried about such as online predators and cyberbullies, it makes sense that parents want a way to track their children’s online activities. According to the New York Times article "Now Parents Can Hire a Hall Monitor for the Web," new companies such as SafetyWeb, SocialShield, and MyChild now give parents the ability to monitor their children’s activities and even flags suspicious reportings. This provides busy parents and those that may not be computer savvy a way to understand their child and make sure that they are being safe online.

How do these tracking sites work? The companies charge $10 a month for subscriptions which begin with parents filling out a profile. The sites ask for the parents to fill in their child’s e-mail address and the family’s physical address. They then look through social networking sites to see if the child has any accounts. The sites will then monitor what the child writes and what others write about the child. The sites will then report back to the parent with a list of the child’s online activity, marking activities as safe, potentially dangerous, or red-flagged as dangerous. What exactly are they marking as hazardous? The sites look for key words suck as “kill” or “suicide” in postings. They also look for age differences between friends. However, these sites have a lot of loopholes and often mark things as hazardous that aren’t dangerous at all, such as being friends with an uncle or perhaps using language that the sites take out of context such as, “I could kill for a latte this morning.”

Are these sites crossing the line into children’s privacy? What if the parent was monitoring an adult child? What if someone used this site that was not a parent at all? I can see the potential for a lot of dangerous stalking occurring. I can understand the concern that parents have over the Internet and the worry that it draws not knowing how technology works well enough to monitor their children themselves. So in a sense, this could ease a lot of parent’s anxiety and even allow parents to trust their children more. But on the other hand, there are so many loopholes in the technology, that the parents may not be getting all of the information that they think they are paying for. What happens if the child uses another e-mail address to set up a social networking account? Chances are, these sites would never catch that activity and parents could be paying $10 a month to see their children’s “good” account. I for one do not think that these sites are worth what they are charging. I think that if parents are really concerned over their children’s Internet activities, they should learn how to use parental controls or do their own research on how to track their children’s online activity.

The other major concern of these sites is the invasion of privacy of the children. If the child is under 18 and it really is the child’s parents who are trying to use these sites, then I would say they are marginally okay. After all, the sites only inform parents of information that the child puts out online for anyone to see. If anything, this could be a lesson for the child of how what you put online can be accessed by anyone. But on the other hand, when things beyond Facebook statuses make it to reports, questions of privacy are brought up. While Facebook statuses are expected to be viewed publicly, things like e-mail exchanges are not. Concerned parents are not, I think that e-mail exchanges are private. If parents are really that concerned about their children’s Internet activity, then I think that they should be having a conversation with their child about what is and is not appropriate online activity.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Driven to Distraction

I work for an organization called Friday Night Live in Sacramento County. Friday Night Live (FNL) focuses on preventing drinking and distracted driving and promotes a positive place for middle school and high school students to make healthy decisions. One thing that I have learned while working for FNL is some of the startling statistics related to the dangers of distracted driving. Most aspects of distracted driving are related to abuse of technology such as fiddling with GPS devices, changing songs on an Ipod, texting, and talking on the phone while driving a vehicle. Despite recent legislation in the state of California making texting and talking on the phone illegal, many Californians take the risks and do it anyway. Focusing on these technologies takes a driver’s focus away from the road and makes them more likely to get into a crash. Most people say that it is obvious that texting while driving is dangerous and distracts drivers from the road, and yet most also admit to having done it. The dangers of distracted driving are so astonishing, that it appalls me to read news articles that companies are creating new technologies for drivers on the road.

The New York Times article “Despite Risks, Internet Creeps Onto Car Dashboards” published in January 2010 discusses companies like Intel and Google sharing their ambitions at the Consumer Electronics Show to shift their attention “from the desktop to the dashboard.” As if cell phone communications were not enough, now consumers will have the option to scour the internet while they drive. Despite efforts of safety advocates and lawmakers, these companies are once again putting profit over safety. The companies have stated that when the “Audi System” turns on, a warning message will read, “Please only use the online services when traffic conditions allow you to do so safely.” But honestly, do they really expect this to deter consumers from using their products when the conditions are not safe? In my opinion, we should not trust consumers with this option when it could jeopardize the lives of others on the road. Checking the weather or sending an e-mail should not be prioritized above the safety and well being of drivers and passengers on the road.

Related material to this post can be found here.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

An Ever-Changing Technology

We are all aware of Apple's ever-changing technology and products. From their excessive new releases of the iPhone to the invention of the iPad, Apple is always in the news. Consumers have long awaited the release of the new MacBook Pro, whose availability was just announced this morning. While this constant improvement in technology is exciting, is it really necessary? To have multiple versions of a phone released in one year, and for the newest versions of a laptop or iPad to be announced within days of each other? To me it seems only obvious that eventually, if not already, Apple will be in complete control of the technological market.

Apple's technology is seen everywhere due to its efficiency and convenient features. With the iPhone spreading to Verizon, even more consumers are gaining access to Apple's products. Earlier today, Apple announced its release of the latest MacBook Pro which is already available to customers. The new technology provided by Intel, called Thunderbolt, supplies faster capability for the device to support "high resolution displays" through one port. It provides ethernet and advanced HDMI capabilities as well. Already, Apple's stock has gone up, presumably because of this breakthrough technology.

Additionally, it is expected that Apple will announce the release of the iPad 2 on March 2nd, just days away. Apple users are anticipating the software updates available on the new iPad to be similar to those on the new MacBook Pro. Other features include an SD port as well as a camera on the rear side of the screen, that would allow for "Face-Time video chat". Interestingly enough, Motorola is also expected to release their competing product next week, the Xoom tablet. Despite competitors in the market of technology, Apple seems to have the strong upper hand.

Constant Apple updates flooding the news is overwhelming. There are so many new software capabilities and applications that customers barely understand the majority of them. However, I do think that Apple has been very successful in marketing the efficiency of their products. Finding out about the latest and greatest Apple technology is exciting, and makes me personally anticipate what will come next. The usage and accessibility to Apple products will only continue to expand.

The Evolution of Board Games

While sitting in any of my lectures, on the bus, eating lunch, or at the library I'm guaranteed to spot at least one person near me playing a game on their smartphone. Not only are these games a way to be distracted and entertained for an hour or two during class, but they're also very fun. Applications such as Words with Friends allow us to communicate with people around the world at any time of day or night. In the past, board games were an activity for family time on Sunday nights. Today, they have become a revolutionary way to entertain ourselves and communicate.

To this day, the cabinet in my family room at home is stuffed with a variety of board games including Monopoly, Sorry, Scrabble, and Uno. Even at my apartment, my roommates and I each purchased and stocked up on some of our favorite board games before moving in, so that we could play against each other. While my friends and family and I still enjoy these old fashioned board games, most of us are also partaking in games on our phones. The difference is that with smartphone games, our opponents do not necessarily have to be in the same room as us, or even in the same country. Chicago resident Megan Lawless began playing Scrabble on her cell phone against some of her close friends, until one day none of her friends were available to play. After selecting the "random opponent" option, she opened up her life to a firefighter, Jasper Jasperse, who was living in Holland at the time. After emailing, Skyping, and finally visiting each other, the two are now married.

It is amazing that communication and interaction can take place through smartphone applications. One of the master minds behind Words with Friends, Paul Bettner, stated "It feels like I’m talking to my friends through the games I’m playing with them." In a sense, this evolution of board games is just like playing a game with a friend in person. Smartphone applications have opened up our technological world to a new sense of communication. While playing old-fashioned board games is still just as enjoyable as always, being able to play board games with friends and family who can't always be with us is a wonderful opportunity.

Constantly Connected Cellphone Use: Brain or Boom?


Are cell phones safe? There is a long-standing debate about whether or not extensive cell phone use is possibly related to rare brain tumors, though many major medical groups have concluded that cell phones are safe. As technology progresses and cell phones become small portable computers that we find ourselves constantly connected to, it's important to ask ourselves, has a decision really been made on this issue?

According to a recent New York Times article,

"Researchers [from the National Institutes of Health] tested 47 people by placing a cellphone at each ear. After 50 minutes, brain scans showed increased consumption of glucose, or sugar, in areas of the brain near the activated phone."

The article also discloses that this study is among the first to discover that weak radio-frequency signals from cellphones have the potential to alter brain activity. It remains unclear whether these signals have beneficial or detrimental implications, but the point is that cellphone use is affecting the brain. One theory about how an artificial increase in brain glucose metabolism could be harmful is that it could potentially act as a catalyst for the creation of molecules called free radicals, which can damage healthy cells. Another theory is that repeated stimulation by electromagnetic radiation could cause an inflammatory response, which studies suggest can cause health problems, including cancer. Therefore, these theories suggest that extensive cell phone use may be more detrimental than beneficial.

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In truth, there are everyday situations in which the overstimulation of the brain, as provided by cellphone use, may play a role.

Besides possible connections between cellphone use and health problems as significant as cancer, there may also be connections between overstimulation of the brain and sleep disturbance. It is believed we do not get restful sleep when lights are left on (even small power lights on devices), or when our cell phones are resting by our head as we [attempt to] sleep. Effects may not always be negative, though, as Dr. Volkow, an interviewee in the same New York Times article, explains that future research may show that the electromagnetic waves emitted from cellphones could be used to therapeutically stimulate the brain.

Ultimately, more research needs to be conducted in order to make a decision on whether or not constant connectivity, as it pertains to cellphone use, detrimentally affects the brain. Personally, I feel that while artificial increase in brain glucose isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's also not a good thing. Will I use my cellphone any less? No. Will I opt for the impersonal means of text messaging? No way! However, I feel more aware now of how much time I spend talking/listening directly on or from my cellphone. It's frightening to think that something that we are so dependent on may potentially be harmful for us. What exactly are we doing to ourselves when we employ the use of such technology? Even scarier is the thought that an entire generation is glued to their devices, with children being introduced to cellphone technology at a younger age than the previous generation. OUR MINDS ARE BEING ALTERED-LITERALLY! For the time being, those of us who remain skeptical about cellphone use not negatively affecting the brain are advised to use a headset or earpiece every now and then to alleviate concern. Thankfully, I rely heavily on my headset, though I hope that research in a few years won't show that headsets cause brain damage. So it remains to be seen whether relying heavily on such technology is "brainy," or if it causes for a mental/physical "boom" with negative implications. What do you think?


Interacting with a Screen

I remember when I was a child, my younger brother and I would sit on the floor of our family room right in front of our television playing our Nintendo 64. Our favorite game was Donkey Kong. If our parents had let us, we would have played the game for hours each day. Of course my mother knew better, in that eventually sitting that close to the t.v. would impair our vision and damage our brains. Today, the world of video gaming is being transformed into an entirely different realm, opening doors for children everywhere.

Recently, Xbox invented new technology that allows video game users to actually interact with their television screens. Instead of sitting on the floor or on the couch while playing, children are required to stand up, move around, and play active games. Craig Mundie, Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer reported to the New York Times that, "The Kinect technology is a new way of communicating with computers." Despite my addiction to video games as a child, I am no longer an avid video gamer. However, when I was shopping at Best Buy a few weeks ago, the store happened to be doing an interactive demonstration with Xbox Kinect. Children and their parents were lined up to test the new technology. For once, being able to play a video game might actually be something that parents support thanks to this new interactive technology.

Xbox Kinect has certainly been a popular item for children, selling over 8 million machines in the first two months available to consumers. While it certainly provides new opportunities for children, what possibilities does Kinect offer to society as a whole? Truthfully, the technology developed for Kinect will most likely spread into other aspects of our lives, to take over more than just the video game market. Microsoft's computer technicians have already begun developing software similar to the Kinect that would have the capacity to control "home applications." For example, "smart" technology would allow us to create avatars for our homes, just like in the movie "Smart House." We could potentially control our entire house with just one machine that operates itself. Thanks to the Kinect technology we will someday be able to control our entire lives and homes just by waving an arm to relay our message to a remote.

Interactive technology not only opens doors for children in the video gaming world, it also gives adults opportunities to simplify their lives. The possibility of interacting with our technological devices would continue making the work place, education, and communication more fast-paced. While it will obviously take adjustment and change, overtime we will be able to adapt to new technology. Starting with a seed as small as Kinect and video games, our constantly connected society can surely use interactive technology to our advantage.

Trading Cities for Computers: A New Breed of Flaneur in the Digital Age

A wide-eyed kid steps out of a yellow taxi onto the bustling streets of New York. He/She bumps past the hotdog venders and newspaper stands as they look up at the alluring skyscrapers. This tourist is one of two people: the kid with big dreams to make an impact in the city, or the flaneur who wishes to soak up the sites and vaporize into the streets. Now, replace the taxi and sidewalks with a mouse and keyboard. Switch the hotdog carts and newspaper stands with popup ads, and exchange the skyscrapers with today’s top websites and social networks. Finally replace the city that never sleeps with the never-ending labyrinth of 1’s and 0’s we call the Internet. While the World Wide Web is a Mecca for those who wish to create or recreate their identity, it has also become a destination for the modern day flaneur. However, like the new breed of idle Las Vegas strollers analyzed by Kurt Borchard in his paper, “From Flanerie to Psuedo-Flanerie: The Postmodern Tourist in Las Vegas," Internet surfers have broken with traditional flaneur values and should too be classified as “pseudo-flaneurs.”
We have discussed how the Internet allows one to stay constantly connected, saturating oneself in social worlds and information. However, another side to the Internet exists: the hidden and faceless surfers that use the Web for observation rather than interaction. The term “flaneur” arose in industrialized post-revolution France in the mid 1800’s. A flaneur is a blasé, idle observer; one who is in the crowd but not of it. He/she is unseen but observers his/her environment, experiencing without acting as a consumer. Sites such as and Facebook allow users to experience their world while remaining an unobserved observer. Drawn to the anonymity afforded by the Internet, many have swapped strolling city streets for idly surfing the Internet.
The original flaneur walked the streets or sat in a café, soaking up their world and watching the passers by. Today, he/she sits behind a desk and does the same thing. The difference is that instead of disappearing into the city, he/she fades into chatrooms and social networks; “mov[ing] through [cyber]space and among the people with a viscosity that both enables and privileges vision” (Chris Jenks-Watching Your Step: The History and Practice of the Flaneur p.152). This new observer experiences the world in a blasé and passive manor, watching videos on YouTube and admiring nature through Google Images or The term “flaneur” does not simply refer to physical acts, but to a mindset and way of life. The cyberflaneur breaks this mindset by consuming actions associated with true flaneurs; he/she is an active participant on the Internet and buys into the system.
While the Internet flaneur (or iFlaneur) shares many similarities with the traditional flaneur, he/she does not truly earn the label. In his paper, Borchard describes how tourists in Las Vegas are not true flaneurs for a number of reasons. These same reasons reveal that the iFlaneur is a pseudo-flaneur as well. First, like the Vegas tourist, they are not truly experiencing their surroundings but simply admiring “simulacra,” copies of the real things such as online pictures and videos. The Vegas tourist “wander[s] from one impersonation of a city/culture/era to another” (Borchard). Second, Borchard points out that the true flaneur is never a consumer; he/she is simply an observer. However, one must buy into the Las Vegas experience which makes one a consumer of “practices traditionally associated with flaneurs” (Borchard). In much the same way, the iFlaneur strolls the cyber world, which is structured by “surveillance, social control, and the organizing principles of capitalism” (Borchard), all of which undermine the core of flanerie. Finally, one cannot remain an unobserved observer in Vegas or online as their structures ensure that one's actions are always being watched and monitored.
A new breed of pseudo-flaneur flocks to its computers to “stalk” others on Facebook, follow people on Twitter, and visit foreign cities or events through pictures and websites. The Internet, while seeming to be a paradise for the unobserved observer, undermines the principles of the true flaneur. While it may be impossible to be a non-consuming, unseen wanderer while surfing online, the iFlaneur does not seem concerned. With unlimited options and places to experience, the Internet may have rendered the true flaneur obsolete, ushering in the era of the iFlaneur.

Twitter: More than Useless Data?

When social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook were first created, their primary usage was to communicate to the people that you know. Soon however, those mediums’ usage changed to become a way for one to network with other people. People with similar interests or goals would be able to meet others, creating online communities and friends. It wasn’t long until some users found it a viable platform to organize events such as surprise parties or reunions. Naturally, there was a continuation of this idea as protest organizers began using these websites to gain more supporters while also increasing awareness of what they are doing. What is extremely interesting however has been the evolution of Twitter, overcoming all other social networking sites as the main tool for a revolution.

Twitter was originally created as a platform to inform others of what you have been doing, and at first, users were unsure of how exactly use this piece of technology. Was it supposed to become the new Facebook? Or was it a replacement for something else? Was it supposed to become an open diary for all to use? For the longest time, Twitter seemed like it was going to be a useless invention that would never get anywhere.

Commonly described as a source of useless data flow, a place where people create updates to their lives in the hope that someone is listening. And for the mass majority of people, that is exactly what happens; over 90% of Twitter accounts die off in the first month, and 53% of active Twitter accounts do not post regularly. However, that does not mean that Twitter is a useless service. Quite the opposite, as Twitter has been in the news lately, and for once it’s not what Palin's latest miss-tweets are. Instead, Twitter has become an instrument of revolutions, a vital tool that both helps to organize rallies while also spreading the word of what has been done.

However, now these days Twitter is the must have object for every revolution. Many protesters cite its ability to rapidly inform others of what the latest events are. It has become an outlet for protesters to let the rest of the world know what has been transpiring, the brutality that dictators try so hard to hide gets revealed to the world. It has become such a critical tool that even when the Egyptian government sought to block out the use of Twitter, one of Google’s chief engineers developed a way to get around what had seemed like an “internet kill”. What was most surprising was how quickly this method was adopted by the masses as they sought to continue their revolution. Now, Twitter has evolved past just a simple website, it is now a symbol for freedom.

Internet Speed Increase?

The Internet is an important part of our lives. Nine out of ten times, the first application opened on a computer will be the Internet browser, which may be used to check Facebook or browse a headline or two on the New York Times. As appealing the Internet is to people, the speed at which we browse is a big part of what makes the internet attractive. Remember the days of dial-up? The internet was not as attractive then as it is now because it wasn’t efficient to browse the internet with transfer speeds of 56 kbits/s. Now we get transfer speeds of 5000 kbits/s, so browsers like you and I are content with what the Internet offers and the speeds we get them at.

As fast as South Korean connection’s are, currently the fastest internet connections globally, their governments aim to make it even faster. New York Times reports in an article that the South Korean government plans to pour billions of dollars into increasing internet speeds in homes up to 1 GB/sec by 2012. To put this number into perspective, Mark McDonald of the New York Times describes it as “more than 200 times as fast as the average household setup in the United States.”

Seems like a pretty unreasonable proposition considering South Korea’s known internet addiction issues and its attempt to help net-addicted youth. Think back to the blog post regarding the South Korean couple letting their child die because of their infatuation with virtual daughter. As outrageous as it sounds to increase an already fast internet in a country where net addiction is clearly an issue, gigabit internet is apparently a necessity for the future. Don Norman, co-founder of one of the leading technological consultant companies Nielson Norman Group says, “We’re all going to be doing cloud computing, for example, and that won’t work if you’re not always connected. Games. Videoconferencing. Video on demand. All this will require huge bandwidth, huge speed.”

It’s common knowledge that as we continue to move forward, technology and the internet will become a larger portion of our lives. This movement to increase internet speeds in South Korea is being emulated in other countries like the US as President Obama unveils a multi-billion dollar broadband spending program in his January State of the Union address. I personally think that the billions of dollars being funneled into increasing internet speed can be better spent elsewhere. Will viewing a page 200 times faster than we do now going to make the browsing experience that much more enjoyable? As nice as having super fast internet would be, the world is facing much more pressing issues.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Constant Connectivity for our Guardians Abroad

Filmmakers and authors focusing on recreating modern military actions are about to lose one of the more romantic aspects of the genre: the classic love letters.

Thanks to social networking, low cost services such as Skype, and smartphones, troops abroad are now able to keep in communication with their loved ones at home on a regular basis. Psychologist Barabara Van Dahlen Romberg accurately describes this phenomenon as “a mixed blessing."



Higher troop morale.

Distraction: Angry Birds during combat = no bueno.

Peace of mind for those at home (unless disaster befalls).

Distraction: Worried about issues at home while on the battlefield.

Perhaps more incentive for others to join the military now that there’s an alternative to writing letters.

Extreme cases of suicide due to the breakdown of long-distant relationships.

Fewer cases of depression, desertion, etc.

A different kind of anxiousness for those at home.

I believe my table does an adequate job of summing up the implications of this newfound connectivity on a personal level, so I’ll turn to a different—but nonetheless related—topic: the integration of smartphones into the military through an Army program called Connecting Soldiers to Digital Applications, or CSDA. Several phases of this program have already been enacted as students at Fort Lee, Virginia and Fort Sill, Oklahoma are already testing the phones for the war zone (Source).

One of the defining characteristics of the United States’ army is its positive attitude towards technology and its proven track record of incorporating these tools into its strategy. There’s no doubt that we are the most technologically advanced army in the world, just look at how the 1990-1991 Gulf War turned out. We have the security afforded to us by our armed forces abroad and at home to thank for the fact that we are still considered the safest country to invest in despite recent economic uncertainty, and our advanced equipment and weaponry play no small part in that achievement.

But let’s get back to business.

We have already seen some impressive combat applications with respect to our implementations of smart phones specifically. Take the fact that military drones can be controlled remotely via iPhone (Source). Other areas currently being explored are a secure network for iPhones and Androids so that they could be used on the field as an effective medium of communication, a software portal available for troops to download relevant applications, and applications which can be used to track down both enemies and friendly forces live on the battlefield (Source).
According to one of my sources, field tests are planned for February 2011. ArmyTimes, however, reports that while there is nothing definitive, the initiative is likely to begin with the highest ranked Army staff members.

One of the problems I foresee is that of uninterrupted service in hostile territory such as Iraq, but I doubt that there isn’t already some sort of solution for this.

It took me a few minutes to grasp the true implications of this news, but now, as I sit back and ponder the scope of events, I realize the possibilities truly are endless. Dialing in your coordinates into your smartphone as friendly planes prepare for aerial bombardments, ejected pilots enabling the GPS tracking on their phones to inform those back at command, and perhaps direct control for artillery barrages by select troops on the field. Granted, I’m sure anyone more knowledgeable of military matters could point out that all of the ideas I just proposed already exist through other technology. Alright, sounds great, but what sort of ideas could the military expert who just corrected me come up with?

“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” Albert Einstein.

“When a new invention promises to be useful, it ought to be tried.” Thomas Jefferson.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Are Blogs Dying Out?

According to The New York Times, blogging may soon be a relic of the past. Particularly with younger generations, blog use is declining. Instead, Facebook and Twitter are being used to serve the same expressive purpose.

With Facebook and Twitter, users can be certain that their content will be viewed by someone, while blogs generally have low view counts. In addition, blogs are considered to be more of a commitment and typically have more structure than a quickly typed status update or 140 character Tweet.

Older generations, however, are clinging to their blogs.
Among 34-to-45-year-olds who use the Internet, the percentage who blog increased six points, to 16 percent, in 2010 from two years earlier, the Pew survey found. Blogging by 46-to-55-year-olds increased five percentage points, to 11 percent, while blogging among 65-to-73-year-olds rose two percentage points, to 8 percent.
In addition, Tumblr still describes itself as a blogging site, though many users are unaware. Despite its description, Tumblr is used mainly for photo uploading. This would indicate that it is the users of a technological service who truly determine the nature of the product. Tumblr can call itself a blog for as long as it pleases, but if users only upload photos, is it really a blog? I think not.

Facebook and Twitter cannot be said to be fully cannibalizing the blog business though; many use these outlets to promote their blogs rather than replace them. Still, how many of us had ever contributed to a blog before this course? Perhaps Facebook and Twitter have evolved from the blog mania that characterized the early 2000's? Technology of course must evolve with societal needs, so this should probably be viewed as technological progression rather than mourned as a dying art.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Computer vs. Brain

The idea of robots and computers taking over the world has long been the stuff of kids’ books and movies. Now, however, we seem not to be too far from this fictional technological invasion.
For the past couple years, leading computer company I.B.M has been developing its own humanly-smart computer. I.B.M named the computer “Watson” and it is extremely outstanding computer due to its ability to understand instantly and respond correctly to questions. Furthermore, Watson is programmed to recall facts, analyze complicated and confusing sentences, and quickly press a button. Therefore, the company decided to host a Jeopardy trivia challenge in which Watson competed against the two of the best Jeopardy players in the U.S. Even though its competitors were faster and more experienced, Watson managed to stay in the lead for most of the competition. Only during the “Final Jeopardy” part of the game did its creators think Watson would do poorly, because in this part the contestants are given thirty seconds to answer a general knowledge question. Since this question can tie many subjects and informational data all together, the answer requires deep analysis. Nevertheless, the humans’ creation ultimately beat the humans. Watson prevailed.

This triumph not only proved the power of technology, but also opened many people’s eyes to new ideas for future “Watson-usage”, primarily in the medical field. Scientists and engineers have already begun transforming this new machine into a “cybernetic assistant” model for doctors and physicians, claiming there is a limited memory capacity to the human brain whereas this computer can keep learning and storing information infinitely.
Although this is very exciting, innovating technological tool, I am sure it makes some of us feel a little unsettled. When I first read this article , my initial shocked reaction was accompanied with many questions. So machines can be smarter than humans? Are computers going to replace people in all job fields in the near future? Who is going to make sure the new computers are not taking over our society?
I do not think anyone can provide the answers to these questions. Even the creators of Watson admitted in this video clip that they never imagined this kind of technology would be plausible and available during their life time. We should approach this social-technological revolution just like we did with the invention of the internet- taking it step by step and seeing where all of these changes and new paths are taking us. I continue to hope it will be to a better place.

Friday, February 18, 2011

When the digital divide and the rural-urban divide align

We talked at one point during this quarter about who is "left out" when they are not constantly connected--either because they choose not to be--or because they have no opportunity to be. For the former category, I suggested the elderly as an example because they may not be willing to invest the time to learn new skills, to master new technology. Plus, we should remember that it is more difficult "for an old dog to learn new tricks."

Now, a front-page story in today's New York Times reminds us of a group who would like to be connected, but who don't have a choice. The headline is "Digital Age is Slow to Arrive in Rural America." In it, journalist Kim Severson reports from Coffeeville, Alabama, population 563, in non-metropolitan Clarke County, where only half of residents have access to the broadband that so many of us take for granted. The story focuses on Coffeeville, but it is essentially about the Obama Administration's plan to "wire" the nation for broadband and close the digital divide--with a special focus on unserved and underserved communities--many of them rural. More than $7 billion in stimulus funding was earmarked for this effort. Severson summarizes the situation:

In rural America, only 60 percent of households use broadband Internet service, according to a report released Thursday by the Department of Commerce. That is 10 percent less than urban households. Over all, 28 percent of Americans do not use the Internet at all.
In Clarke County, the situation is even worse. Half of the county's residents cannot easily engage in e-commerce, consult their physician online, participate in online banking, upload family photos to Facebook, or make an appointment with a public official. With cell phone service also lacking in many parts of the county, they also cannot receive emergency alerts. Severson tells us that the only computer many Coffeeville students ever touch is at school. For many residents, it is at the library.

Severson's story quotes Brian Depew of the Center for Rural Affairs, who likens broadband to electricity early last century, when the federal government made a huge investment in rural electrification to level the playing field for rural people and places and bring them a critical service.

“You often hear people talk about broadband from a business development perspective, but it’s much more significant than that ... . This is about whether rural communities are going to participate in our democratic society. If you don’t have effective broadband, you are cut out of things that are really core to who we are as a country.”

The story is a good reminder of the myriad ways we have come to rely on being constantly connected, ways not available to rural residents because the digital divide all too often does align along the rural-urban axis. Read a related post on Legal Ruralism here.

View a map of the places with broadband access here.