Author Archive

The Go Game-A Dumb Phone Adventure

October 22, 2009

I worked on GO Team this summer, and we helped run the freshmen overnight adventure, DiscoverUSF. While the students were here, we (paid tons of money and) got to play the Go Game! It was incredibly fun and it serves as an example of what technology like FrontlineSMS can do for “dumb” phones, beyond the wonders its done for “dumb” phones in developing countries!

Basically, a group of students would get a lunch box with a map, BART tickets, and a phone. After turning on their phone, they would receive a text message with a question that would prompt them to text back the correct answer to get a clue to their next question or task. The tasks would take students to various sites in SOMA and the Mission. A Go Game server would assign the teams points on how quickly and accurately they answered the questions. It was great competition and more fun that one might think!

I personally think it would be really cool to create a similar program for Android. A user could play games with their friends, choosing from among different themes and difficulty levels. Who knows, it might even be a game a user could play by himself in order to get to know a city he’s visiting better?



The Long “Tail” Behind Virgin’s Downfall

October 1, 2009
The Virgin Record Store closing in downtown San Francisco

The Virgin Megastore in downtown San Francisco, once one of more than 20 in the US, closed late this summer.

9.30.09 Free stuff rocks. I love free things! Free chocolate, free music, free t-shirts, free whatever-it’s all fun and games… until someone gets hurt. And boy, oh, boy, did someone get hurt when big business figured out what Chris Anderson’s articles, “Free” and “The Long Tail” are about. Due to the exponential jump in online/iTunes purchases and the ever-expanding desire for the new and unique, Virgin Megastores are now closing down. With six stores of the original twenty left in the US, it’s plain to see that the Long Tail has waged its war on the music industry, and those businesses who have not yet divorced geography have lost the battle. Windows that were “once an icon of hipness and high-end music tastes”° are now boasting “40% off! Store closing!” because of the switch from CDs to digital downloads. No doubt, this is just one of many endings to come, thanks to our increasing demand for items in the Long Tail.

° Local article on the SF closure

Hey, you! Get off of my cloud.

October 1, 2009

Hey, you! Get off of my cloud. Don’t hang around, baby, two’s a crowd… ~The Rolling Stones

9.21.09 Though I generally consider myself a cautious realist, it seems that when it comes to the hurricane of new technology that has swept the world in the last few decades, I am a down right cynic. Though I cannot and do not wish to deny the marvelous benefits of these technologies, I also cannot put aside my feelings of unease when it comes to the side effects of cloud computing. I am as guilty as the next college student of wasting away countless hours on Facebook, Hulu, and YouTube. I enjoy the benefits of GoogleDocs and my school’s Blackboard system. But at the end of the day, these very services are leading to an unfortunate phenomenon that I like to call the Diva Bubble.

The Diva Bubble places two basic constraints on the average occupant: the first is the over-personalization of media and entertainment, mentioned in Nicholas Carr’s article, The Big Switch, and the second is the inability to focus on other people. To break this down, because of the rise of cloud computing, more online services are available to more people. These services are entrapping us in only the news we want, keeping us in contact with all the friends we want, allowing us to post countless blogs about whatever subjects we want, and giving us hundreds of other choices that are distancing us from what we find distasteful. If all you find distasteful is ugly clothes and brussels sprouts, this might not be a big deal. If however, you find genocide, national debt, and global warming distasteful, you’ll likely choose to ignore these and focus on pleasanter things (like brussels sprouts).

Due to cloud computing, the majority of computer users have access to Facebook and Twitter. These sites allow a user to enlighten his friends about anything going on in his life. He can update it once a year or once a minute. He can talk about the War in Iraq or the consistency of his spaghetti sauce. Whatever he wants to comment on, he can blast to an entire network of people with one click. In a closely related vein, GoogleBlogSpot allows the user to write thousands and thousands of words on thousands and thousands of topics. While very useful for the spread of knowledge, what the users of these sites often fail to recognize is that not all knowledge needs to be spread.

Once the privilege of publishing a book of poems or hanging a masterpiece painting in the Louvre was reserved for the truly gifted. Now, anyone can write a 2,000 word blog on the color of his couch and, when he gets 15 replies to his post, feel every bit as special as George Orwell when Time chose his novel Animal Farm as one of the 100 best English novels of the 20th Century. The same goes for the teenager who wants to feel like John Lennon, so he messes around on GarageBand for half an hour and then posts his music to his MySpace page. While hyperbolical, this idea shows the dangers of entering the Diva Bubble. It is disheartening to think that because of the opening up of public space to so many “artisans”, we might perhaps be missing out on the next Picasso or Shakespeare.

Everyone has something to share, and it is important for individuals to feel valued by their peers. However, some corner of the world must still be reserved for truly special human achievements. After all, if everyone is special and unique, no one will have time or energy to pay attention to all the other special and unique people in the world.

The Big, Bad Switch

September 14, 2009

“We’re getting the power to wrap ourselves in our own custom-designed culture, our own tailor-made media cocoon.” ~Nicholas Carr, The Big Switch.

9.13.09 Though Carr’s article was rather pessimistic and I am not inclined to agree with all his points, I find one of his arguments particularly compelling. When he states that “Because we can ‘personalize’ [the Internet] to an extent that wasn’t possible with, say, newspapers or radio or TV, we’re getting the power to wrap ourselves in our own custom-designed culture, our own tailor-made media cocoon,” he strikes a chord that is all-too-familiar to my generation, though many of us may not realise it. Carr basically says that our way of interacting with the world, our ability to focus, even our very way of thinking has been altered as never before, and the positive results have yet to be seen.

For my own part, I used to only use the Internet for research or the occasional television rerun. I did not sign up for social sites such as MySpace or Facebook until my senior year. I read the newspaper almost every day and listened to the radio in the car, at home, and at work. Now, I often surf the Internet four or more hours a day, do not buy papers, and do not own a radio. Interestingly enough, I can’t put my finger on the exact moment when I made the switch to having the Internet as my main source of entertainment and communication.

As my Internet usage has increased, I’ve noticed a tendency towards a shorter attention span, both online and offline. I find myself doing homework while watching a movie or watching YouTube videos, and I often cannot focus on my homework unless there is music of some sort in the background. For someone who has always considered herself rather distanced from “pop culture,” I am a bit troubled to realize how much time I spend on Internet sites such as Facebook.

Besides my increased dependency on (in my opinion) rather frivolous Web sites, I have noticed other negative side effects of my own “Big Switch.” I find myself dreading communication with others, which is strange, as I’ve always been a pretty friendly person. Though the Internet cannot take all the credit for this, I feel that my dread at checking e-mails, Facebook notifications, and other Internet-based communication stems from an over-exposure to social interactions. All this (not to mention cell phones and Instant Messaging) means too many channels for too many people to contact a single person. It seems that there a growing lack of privacy and personal space because of these avenues of communication.

One of the most disturbing results of the Big Switch is the almost total elimination of news in my life. As a newspaper was not a practical thing to deliver to a dorm room, I did not have a weekly subscription to a paper, and the natural medium to turn to would be the Internet. However, I never felt like reading such articles as “5 More Die in Gang Violence” or “DOW Goes Down 5 Million,” so I simply did not. I was able to click on articles like “Last Harry Potter to be Made Into Two Movies” or “Newest Twilight Trailer Leaked” instead. Just as Carr puts it, I have been wrapping myself my “own tailor-made media cocoon.” People will mention the latest major stock market losses or more violence in Palestine, and I will have no idea what they are talking about, having read nothing about it on my Facebook news feed, a fact which I find very depressing but have made no attempts to ameliorate.

In the end, Carr  is correct in arguing that humanity is venturing into unknown waters when it comes to our society’s reaction to the Internet. I cannot say that my experience applies to everyone my age, and certainly not to all of the 6.3 billion people on the planet, but I can assert that the ramifications of our newest utility have sprung up exponentially fast and that they are by no means finished altering us. For now, I only hope that I can get off Facebook long enough to post this blog before the deadline…