Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Web Secret 591: The end of forgetting

As I write this, it is 9/11/19, and today, the New York Times published an article about the fact that in many TV shows and movies of old, the image of the Twin Towers has been deleted so as not to distress viewers.

This made me think about a New Yorker article I read about the indelibility of social media. The author, Nausicaa Renner, writes: "These days, it’s common to find an image emerging, unbeckoned, from the reservoir of the past. We spend hours wading through streams of photos, many of which document, in unprecedented ways, our daily lives. Facebook was invented in 2004.

By 2015, Kate Eichhorn writes in “The End of Forgetting: Growing Up with Social Media,” people were sharing thirty million images an hour on Snapchat, and British parents “posted, on average, nearly two hundred photographs of their child online each year.” For those who have grown up with social media—a group that includes pretty much everyone under twenty-five—childhood, an era that was fruitfully mysterious for the rest of us, is surprisingly accessible. According to Eichhorn, a media historian at the New School, this is certain to have some kind of profound effect on the development of identity. What that effect will be we’re not quite sure." (my emphasis)

So, like everything happening with tech these days, we have no clue about impact.

We muddle through - never proactively - everything that comes our way.

Forgetting may no longer be an option.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Web Secret 590: Before the Internet

When my 25 year old son travels abroad to a place he has never been to, he does so with minimum advanced preparation.

For example, he visited Portugal with little more than a plane ticket and the address of an Airbnb studio he had rented.

He is completely confident that he does not need cash (because cash is passé), a guidebook (I'll figure it out), or a map (I got this.)

He is certain that everyone accepts plastic, the locals will point him in the direction of the most interesting sights, and there will be Internet everywhere so Google Maps.

The last time I traveled with that level of insouciance was in 1972. I motored to Santa Fe from Washington DC with no knowledge whatsoever - except that it was located somewhere in New Mexico.

Of course gaining any knowledge of Santa Fe would have been arduous at the time. I would have had to look up AAA in a phone book, and called them to request a map of New Mexico, which they would have had to send in the mail.

To learn anything about Santa Fe as a tourist destination would have required going to a bookstore, and poring through the travel section to find a relevant guidebook.

If I wanted some in depth knowledge of the history of Santa Fe, I would have had to visit a library, sifted through a card catalogue, and navigated the Dewey Decimal System to find the book I wanted to look at.

All of this would have had to happen at least a month in advance of my trip.

I arrived in Santa Fe a blank slate, as ignorant as Dorothy when she landed in Oz.

I fell in love immediately and enduringly. For no reason that I can recall.

I took no photographs, did not write a diary entry. I vaguely remember horseback riding in the badlands and staying at La Fonda. Maybe I bought a piece of turquoise jewelry - I surely spent no more than $10.

And for a long time now, I have never again traveled with that level of innocence. I plan every vacation with the thoroughness of a military operation. Before I set foot in a new location, I know the weather, I've googled Earth the location of the hotel, I know what to see and what to buy. I have reserved a table at the best restaurants. I have purchased the clothing and gear I need for maximal enjoyment. As much as possible, I leave nothing to chance.

Come to think of it, there is nothing I do in life without first researching it on the Web.

I don't buy anything without reading a review.

I don't go to a provider of any kind without researching their background.

I need to know everything, all the time. Instantly.

Soon it will be almost impossible to remember the mechanics of every day existence before the Internet.

Soon, if not already, most of the people on planet Earth will have never experienced life without the Internet.

I don't know what that means for us.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Web Secret 589: Diagnosis

Way back in 2010, I wrote a post Web Secret #129: Crowd Accelerated Innovation describing the new concept that human beings across the world could access the same video resulting in rapid innovation.

This was right before Apple released FaceTime in the App store.

It is now almost 10 years later, and what we hoped would happen then is in full flower today.

No series best showcases the promise of the crowd than Netflix' Diagnosis.

The premise of the show is that Dr. Lisa Sanders finds medical cases that stump professionals. She then creates a video broadcast that describes the patient's medical problems and makes all performed tests, labs, etc. available to the world. Viewers have up to two months to respond.

And the world answers, solving the mystery, and providing the patients with a diagnosis, a treatment path, and support from the medical community and beyond.

It's exhilarating, inspirational.

And depressing.

Many of the patients featured in the series are bankrupt because of their medical bills. One of the arguments made for not offering universal coverage in the US is that we have to pay to provide the best medical care in the world.

That is not true - if it ever was.

One patient's problems are solved by a revolutionary lab in Italy. Cost to the patient: zero. Everyone in Italy gets free health care.

Here is another sad fact: a third of Gulf War Veterans suffer from Gulf War Syndrome - that's 100,000 people - caused by exposure to Sarin, a lethal chemical, and other poisonous substances. Decades after their service, veterans experience the horrific fallout of that conflict.

While I was watching the series, I came across a video on YouTube that consists of a graphic showing the countries who who had the greatest military expenditures from 1914 to 2018. In 1914 the country in first place is Germany and the US is in 6th place. By 1918, the US moves into first place, and for the rest of the 20th century we stay in the top three (except for a brief time, pre-World War II.) Starting in the 1990s we remain in first place, spending more money on our military than the rest of the top 15 countries put together.

Can you imagine if we put some of that money to provide universal health care and job skills for the millions of people we imprisoned for minor drug possession charges and other non-violent crimes?


Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Web Secret 588: Google Secrets

When I was a very young adult, I spent 6 months working as a researcher at a now defunct company aptly named Find. Find's clients were corporations whose minions could call and ask "What is the market for bubblegum?", or "How does the Palomar Observatory clean it's telescope?"

I answered many questions. Since this was eons before the Internet, this meant I ran around New York City's many public libraries with a bag of nickels to make photocopies. I looked at microfiches by the hundreds. I read directories and books. I found out who the experts were, looked their phone numbers up in the Yellow Pages and called them.

By the end of my stint at Find, I was a crack researcher. Once the Internet was invented, my skills easily translated into being able to science the shit out of pretty much anything.

But most people I encounter in day to day life, not so much.

So I came across a useful article on how to effectively use Google, which I have summarized for you:

1. Use quotation marks to find a specific phrase. When you put quotation marks around a collection of words, it tells Google to look for the words only in that order. As an example, I knew that "science the shit" is an expression that was used in "The Martian" novel and movie, and I used that technique to get the clip that I linked to in this post.

2. Use the minus sign. As an example, a search for for "wedding bands" brings up a ton of results, for both wedding rings and musicians that play at wedding receptions. Think of a word that would appear on all the irrelevant pages — in this case, “jewelry” or “jeweler” — and include it with a minus sign in your search: wedding bands -jewelry. Just like that, you’ve got yourself a bunch of sites that review wedding bands across the country.

3. Narrow your search to a specific time period. You can put a date restriction on search results by clicking the "Tools" button under Google’s search bar, and then clicking the “Any Time” drop-down. You can narrow your results to the previous week, month, year, or a custom time frame.

4. Find the source of a photo with reverse image search. Not all searches are made up of words. Sometimes, it can be handy to know where a certain photo came from, or to find a larger version of it. You probably know you can type a few words to find a photo with Google’s Image Search, but you might not have realized it works in the other direction too: Drag an image into Image Search and Google will find other versions of that photo for you.

Start searching