Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Web Secret #160: The Internet Is Making Us Forget

In 1957, author Isaac Asimov wrote a prescient short story "The Feeling of Power."

"The Feeling of Power" tells of a distant future, where humans live in a computer-aided society and have forgotten the fundamentals of mathematics, including even the rudimentary skill of counting.

We are almost there.

In a recent New York Times article "The Twitter Trap," Bill Keller

"Until the 15th century, people were taught to remember vast quantities of information...the ability to recite entire books — [was] not unheard of. Then along came ... Gutenberg. As we became accustomed to relying on the printed page, the work of remembering gradually fell into disuse."

Bill proceeds to give more contemporary examples. The calculator has caused us to forget math skills. Excel has caused us to lose the ability to pick up on patterns in data. GPS has impaired our sense of direction. Typing has caused us to forget penmanship.

He worries, "...what little memory we had not already surrendered to Gutenberg we have relinquished to Google. Why remember what you can look up in seconds?"

He concludes, "Basically, we are outsourcing our brains to the inner worrywart wonders whether the new technologies overtaking us may be eroding characteristics that are essentially human: our ability to reflect, our pursuit of meaning, genuine empathy, a sense of community..."

And no, your 700 friends on Facebook are not a real community. Try calling them at 2 a.m. with an emergency and see how many respond.

Gen Y is being described as “The generation that had information, but no context. Butter, but no bread. Craving, but no longing.”

Should I be concerned?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Web Secret #159: It Gets Better

Every now and then, we need to be reminded that social media can be a force for good.

One shining example: the "It Gets Better Project."

In September 2010, after a rash of gay teen suicides, author Dan Savage created a YouTube video with his partner Terry to give hope to LGBT youth facing harassment.

This is the video that started it all:

It took only two months for the "It Gets Better Project" (TM) to turn into a worldwide movement, inspiring over 10,000 user-created videos viewed over 35 million times.

Some of the submissions came from celebrities, politicians and major companies, including President Barack Obama, Anne Hathaway, Matthew Morrison of "Glee", Tim Gunn, Ellen DeGeneres, Suze Orman, the staffs of Google, Facebook, Pixar, and many more.

Many of the most poignant and powerful entries came from ordinary people.

The site is now a place where LGBT youth can view videos that show how love and happiness can be a reality in their future. It’s a place where straight allies can visit and support their friends and family members. Everyone is invited to make and post an inspirational short video.

It Gets Better has spawned a book, a national TV ad, as well as supporting a number of charities to help prevent suicide and promote tolerance.

This is the Google Chrome national TV ad:

In its essence, "It Gets Better" is a meme. All great memes have one thing in common: a simple idea that turns into something unimaginably powerful.

The web is what you make of it.

One video. Two months. A revolution.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Web Secret #158: USB EcoStrip

Haven't reviewed a gadget in a while. It's time.

If you're smart, all of your computers are connected to power via a power strip of some kind. That's because you know that power surges can destroy your equipment.

Normally though, when you turn off your computer, it is still using power - 70 to 250 watts - nearly as much power as an energy efficient refrigerator.

Want to save yourself $100 per year per computer, and help make the planet a little greener?

Swap out your old power strips for the brand new $44.95 USB EcoStrip 2.0.

What's so special about the USB EcoStrip 2.0?

EcoStrip 2.0 acts as a normal power strip/surge protector for your computer and peripheral devices -- with one important difference: when the computer is turned off, power is shut down to peripherals eliminating the "vampire drain of electricity."

That's great, and saving power makes me feel thrifty and virtuous. But I also like the fact that the EcoStrip plugs into a USB port and doesn't require any more work than that to function.

Simple - I like.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Web Secret #157: Hyper Wired

We are in the midst of a profound cultural shift - we are becoming hyper wired.

60 percent of American families with children own two or more computers, and more than 60 percent of those have either a wired or wireless network to connect to the Internet, according to studies by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project.

A third of all Americans log on from home multiple times a day, nearly twice the number that did so in 2004.

On top of that, iPads have inundated homes, as have fast-downloading smartphones. Media companies are jumping on board to make sure their content is available at any time, on any device.

According to a recent New York Times article, today's hyper wired family still gathers in the living room after dinner. But Mom is looking up ideas for a family vacation on her iPad. Dad is streaming the N.C.A.A. men’s basketball tournament on his laptop. Their son is absorbed by Wii on a widescreen TV. Their daughter is playing a game app on an iPod Touch.

The family is in the same room, but not together.

Is this an ominous domestic version of “The Matrix” — families sharing a common space, but plugged into entirely separate planes of existence through technology?

Certainly, there are many experts who are proponents of that view.

Then again, the appearance of new home media always causes an outcry.

The emergence of television led to decades of hand-wringing over the specter of American families transformed into sitcom-addicted zombies.

Interestingly, a 2009 survey of 4,000 people by a Canadian market research company indicated that people believe technology is bringing the family together, not pulling it apart.

This might be even truer in households nowadays, when the proliferation of devices and media options makes it easier for family members to pursue their interests online while seated in the same room.

Behavior inside a cyber-cocoon can be surprisingly interactive. “There’s a lot of, ‘Hey, look at this!’ ‘Let’s plan our trip to Vegas!’ ” he said. “People get up from their laptops, come together on one screen: ‘Hey, look what I just found, isn’t this weird?’ It isn’t the image of one person huddled in isolation with their screen.”

And it might be safer. “when everyone is doing their digital thing out in the open,...the total death of privacy is a parental advantage.” What are your kids doing? Just check the far corners of your living room. They're doing homework online or poking friends on Facebook. They're iChatting with friends, while Mom and Dad catch up on work e-mail.

The reality is, once you let the genie out of the bottle, you cannot go back. The hyper wired world is expanding and here to stay.

Welcome to the new "quality time" circa 2011.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Web Secret #156: Social Media in a Disaster - part 2

I have written many posts where I am critical of social media.

But I have also showcased the wonders of the Internet. For example, I previously wrote a post showing some of the ways it can be incredibly powerful after a disaster.

Time passes, and as users become more sophisticated, so does their creativity with new media.

Following the devastating tornadoes that ravaged the South this past April, I came upon a wonderful example of this in the New York Times.

Patty Bullion, 37, of Lester, Ala., created a Facebook page directly titled Pictures and Documents found after the April 27, 2011 Tornadoes. She asked her friends to post a link to it on their own pages. People were invited to post photos of any items they found along with their e-mail address so that they could be claimed by storm survivors.

The first of the images that Ms. Bullion posted were identified and claimed a few hours later. They were from Hackleburg, Ala., a town almost 100 miles away.

Perhaps most poignantly:

"The tornado that killed Emily Washburn’s grandfather this week also destroyed his Mississippi home, leaving his family with nothing to remember him by — until a picture of him holding the dog he loved surfaced on Facebook, posted by a woman who found it in her office parking lot, 175 miles away in Tennessee.

Like hundreds of others finding keepsakes that fell from the sky ... the woman included her e-mail address, and Ms. Washburn wrote immediately: “That man is my granddaddy. It would mean a lot to me to have that picture.”

The site is reuniting dozens with their prized — and in some cases, only — possessions.

An added bonus is the page has turned into an unexpected source of support. "Along with the photographs of found items are the comments of well-wishers and homespun detectives speculating as to the identities of their owners. For those spared by the storms that killed hundreds in the South, the page is a bridge to its victims, a way to offer solace and to share in their suffering." One person posted: “Is there anything that I can do for your family or your community?”

Within 48 hours, more than 52,000 people had clicked the “like” button on the page, and more than 600 pictures had been posted.

Bravo Patty!