Notes from Bergen

Our two most precious currencies are time and attention.  Money, our more conventional currency, helps to focus attention and to make us chary of how we spend our time.

I write this sitting in Chaos Coffee, perched at the edge of the University of Bergen campus and a block from Nygård Skole where W, my 9-year-old son, is in a Norwegian-language immersion program.  Tuesday, the school lets out at noon, so I’ve made Chaos my hangout: they have plentiful wifi and don’t mind if I nurse a drink for a couple of hours while typing at a quiet table between a shelf of books on my right and the bright yellow door that leads into the back kitchen on my left.

ChaosCoffee

Buying my second latte is a reckless extravagance.  Then I throw all fiduciary sanity over my shoulder and add a small piece of dark chocolate cake.

It tastes better than it deserves.  I wouldn’t pay attention if this were happening at a Peet’s in America, but in Norway the cake and latte cost 60 Kroner.  Ten dollars!  And I already spent nearly that on my first latte and an apple.

The cake feels ropy between my tongue and the roof of my mouth, then the chocolate lights up the taste buds at the sides of my tongue as that first mouthful heads south towards my esophagus.

Cognitive dissonance at play: regardless of the cause I’m experiencing this as mighty fine chocolate cake.  The latte’s not bad either.

It’s just us boys for the next couple of days.  Kathi, my wife, is at a conference in Oslo for Fulbright winners.  H, our 13-year-old daughter, and J, our visiting 23-year-old nanny/niece/auxiliary kid, are on the train to join Kathi for the night.  W & I plan to watch “X-Men First Class” on the laptop later, and there is talk of a post-school surgical strike to acquire some McDonald’s fries (a rare treat).

Today is my 13th day in Bergen and my second Tuesday morning at Chaos. Liat, who comes to Bergen from Tel Aviv, runs the café on these days.

Liat

She manages the music with a disk jockey’s care, pouncing on the stereo to manage sound levels and selecting a range of easy listening, orchestral, classic U.S. rock (Springsteen, Tracy Chapman), a smattering of current music (Passenger), Norwegian lounge music and more.  At first, I was the only one here and she mentioned that “Vamp” was a famous Norwegian pop group.  I’ll check them out on Spotify later.

Back to focused attention.  I only vaguely recognize the Passenger tune “Let Her Go” and want to identify it, so I grab my iPhone and hit Shazam, then wince as I feel precious data trickle away.  Oh no!  What have I done?  Until Kathi gets her Norwegian identity card (and, perhaps much later, we get ours) we can’t get bank accounts or mobile phone accounts, so we’re on pay-as-you go SIM cards.  We are non-people living in a cash economy.  Not a big deal in the long term, but I’m used to all-you-can eat data back home in the U.S.

Indeed, I only bought the pay-as-you-go SIM cards yesterday when I realized that the girls would be in different parts of Oslo and would have no way of reaching each other (or me) without them.  The cost-per-TXT is .69 Kroner (about 11 cents), so we all use Skype for real-time communications.

I don’t miss having chronic mobile access and regret having it back now.  Without the magic mirror in my pocket I pay more attention to my Norwegian surroundings, although the millisecond I find myself in a pocket of wifi (stand outside any Burger King and you can log on even without buying something, I learned) I grab the iPhone and peer into my digital other life.  My info addiction is not subtle.

Now, with a SIM card, Skype bleeps whenever family and friends in the U.S. want my attention.  It doesn’t happen often with the time difference (9 hours from the west coast), but I quickly have become accustomed to experiencing only local interruptions.  In the same way that I’ve shed a few stubborn pounds because now I’m a pedestrian I had shed a few distractions by not having a smart phone.  Now they are creeping back, forcing me to choose mindfully to turn off data or resist the urge to Google something, whereas yesterday geography made that choice for me.

Second meetings seem important in Norway.  Liat and I had a pleasant interaction a week ago, but today I learn more about her.  She is Israeli, married and still mourns the loss of her gigantic English mastiff a year ago.

Liat calls me to the front of the store to meet Marlis Bühler, who has just published a beautiful, poetic photography book of people with dolphins called “Dolphin Love.”  Marlis, I think, is leaving Bergen tonight.  She has come to Chaos to give Liat a copy of her book and say goodbye.  That says a lot about the kind of coffee shop this is.  Liat introduces me as “my new customer” to Marlis, which I find a unexpected and welcome compliment.

Right now, my time is chopped up seeing to the kids and the house and maintaining contact with various people and projects back in the U.S., so face-to-face human contact is at a premium.

It’s even harder for H, my daughter.  Norwegian secondary schools are on strike and have been for nine weeks.  The union and the administrators seem to get more sclerotic in their positions with each passing day, so I don’t know when the strike will end.  So while W happily greets his buddies in the schoolyard at Nygård each morning, H doesn’t have a peer group.

Last Sunday, a colleague of Kathi’s with L, his 12-year-old daughter (and two 9-year-old boys for W) came to visit.  Heaven.  H lit up to have another girl to chat with, and they were quickly comparing notes on books, TV shows (who knew that “Gravity Falls” was an international hit?), YouTube videos, Instagram and more.

The moment I knew the visit had gone well came towards the end when we’d all gone out for an evening walk. As we approached our new friends’ car, L announced that she had to go back to our house because she had left her beloved iPad Mini there.  We turned towards the house and I spied L quietly opening her coat to H in a “first one’s free” gesture that revealed the iPad in her pocket.  L didn’t want to leave just yet.  The two girls caught me catching them.  We shared a conspiratorial smile.

We’ll find more girls for her to hang out with while we wait for school to start.

Less than two weeks into our 10-month stay here in Bergen it’s just thinkable for me to write about it.  Until now, I’ve been too busy, too close, able to stick the occasional photo onto Facebook, but not able to do real thinking.

Bergen is a medieval city with a third millennial overlay.  If Oslo, the business capital, is New York then Bergen is San Francisco or Boston.  There is no Los Angeles equivalent in Norway: it isn’t sunny enough.  Modern day hustle bustle squeezes through narrow, crooked and meticulously cobble-stoned streets.  An ancient castle complete with dungeon sits next to a Radisson Blu mini hotel.  There are more hair salons per capita than there are heads, which is odd because it’s not like this is a city of terrific haircuts.  Everything is so expensive here that if I bother doing the Kroner-to-Dollars equation I’m frozen in place: how much for a pack of gum?

And with that, ‘tis time to get the boy from school.

Is Netflix moving away from binge viewing?

American culture’s long nightmare has ended. Breath can release from empurpling faces across this mighty land: we now know Chelsea Handler’s next move. This morning, Variety broke the story: “Netflix Announces Chelsea Handler Talk Show to Debut in 2016: Comedienne to create new talk-show format and specials for streamer, after seven-year run on E!”

How will it work? Can Chelsea Handler retain an audience in an on-demand video environment?

Handler has forged a witty and wicked brand for herself as talk show host, comedian and author, but “Chelsea Lately” isn’t appointment viewing— it’s just always on, in continuous rotation, and reliably snarky and gossipy about the days celebrity news. Her books are the same: I’d never order one on Amazon, but I’m happy to look one over when I’m bored at the airport.

Most engagements with Netflix are in the long tail, with a  short fat head of original content like “Orange is the New Black” and “House of Cards,” and Netflix famously releases an entire season at once to promote binge watching.

Binge watching takes takes advantage of our human love of story and endless desire to see what happens next. That dynamic doesn’t operate in talk shows.

Or does this mean that Netflix is getting into the business of timely watching? Do they want to own 11:00pm Monday through Friday (the current slot for “Chelsea Lately”) with new and original content that will get stale as the hours tick on? 

If so, then why? Is this merely to drive subscriptions with experiences viewers can’t get elsewhere? Are they going to dip a cautious toe into advertising-supported programs… which the talk show format supports perfectly?

Note: This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this idea surface: back in 2010 when Conan O’Brien was fired from “The Tonight Show” he flirted with bringing a new talk show to Xbox Live before landing on TBS.

[Cross-posted on Medium.]

Journey Back, Journey On: Watching my son rediscover a comic book 4 years later

W_SatAM_Reading2

Saturday morning. Mom’s at yoga. Dad’s puttering downstairs. 13-year-old Big Sis is hibernating — those pesky teenagers.

What’s an almost-9-year boy old to do?

That’s my imagination of what W, my son, was thinking after I shushed him for the fifth time when he was playing in the open area right next to where his sister’s puberty-induced coma went on… and on.

Then I remembered that a few days back one of his buddies had asked about the comic book hero “Green Arrow,” whereupon W had turned to the ultimate authority in his life on the topic of superheroes— me.

We’d talked through the legend of Oliver Queen getting marooned on Starfish island, how the character started as Batman with a bow but slowly morphed into something more interesting.

I told him about the “Hard Traveling Heroes” sequence from the 1960s and 1970s when Green Arrow and Green Lantern went on an Easy Rider like journey around the country. “Dad,” he replied. “Why didn’t Green Lantern just create a force bubble to travel in… why did they need a car?

It kept coming up, so when I needed him to find a quieter activity this book came to mind:

SecretOrigins

 By Dennis O’Neil, circa 1976.

I trotted over to his bookshelf and grabbed it, opened it to “Green Arrow,” and walked him back into his room.

The front and back covers of my copy — acquired when I was his age — are long gone and what remains is in tatters, but as the picture at the top of this column indicates, W is lost in that book right now.

I remember my own fall, wondering at the paired Golden Age and late-Silver Age tellings of the stories, feeding my brain with the basics of the superhero rhetoric that would inform decades of comic-book reading.

Although he started with Green Arrow, when I snuck in (to adjust his pillow, make sure he wasn’t starving, and — I confess it!— to snoop) he was deep into the Golden Age account of Wonder Woman’s origin.

I first gave W this book shortly after we’d moved to Oregon, when he and I were busy watching the “Justice League” and “Justice League Unlimited” series. That was his first go-round with superheroes, and his primary interest was in collecting action figures. He looked at the book, made it a little more tattered, but didn’t fall inside.

This morning, he fell.

Books are fixed points in our ever-changing lives. This is the glory of re-reading.

Reopening an old friend reminds us of how far we’ve come, reintroduces us to past selves and sometimes points us onward towards where we want to go.

I remember back when I was finishing my doctoral thesis on Shakespeare a moment when I felt my sympathies slipping from Romeo to Capulet (Juliet’s father), where they have stayed.

The lousy version of this is when you pick up an old friend and find that you’ve moved irrevocably on— I can’t stomach Edgar Rice Burroughs anymore, for example, which I discovered when I tried to re-read “A Princess of Mars” after the mediocre “John Carter” movie a couple summers ago.

I hear thumping upstairs.

Time to make breakfast.

I wonder if he made it to the“Hawkman” origins…

[Editor's Note: cross-posted on Medium.]

From the Archive: Why does “on demand” feel so… demanding?

A kind tweet today from my friend David Daniel reminded me of this post, first published October 1, 2006. A look through my site found it a casualty of a domain transfer, but the always-useful Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive brought it back from the dead. Original version (with original comments) can be found here, and a subsequent story by CNN can be found here.  I don’t remember where I coined the term “TiVo Guilt,” but this at least is where the thinking comes from…

Having the best of the media world at my fingertips via cable VOD, TiVo, DVD, the internet and the metric ton of videotapes still lying around my garage can be a drag.

A couple nights back I cleared out the episodes of “House” piling up in my TiVo because they had ceased to be a special treat that I was saving for myself and started to feel like a homework assignment I’d forgotten to turn in. Similarly, my wife and I have had the many-many-Emmy-winning “Elizabeth I” in TiVo since April– April! We’ll never watch it, but we can’t bear to raise the white flag.

TiVo works best for short delays… watching something 15 minutes after it starts so I can blaze through without commercials,* or later that night, or the next night, but not much after that. I saw the second episode of “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” on Tuesday night and loved it… almost as much as if I’d seen it on Monday night when it aired.

A short delay preserves that sense of sobytiinost — the “eventness” or connectedness with other people that I’ve talked about before — but eventness doesn’t last long. Like a delicate radioactive isotope, it has a half-life measured in mere hours.

The longer a piece of media lies around unseen, the more my satisfaction index declines. To be more precise, as a piece of media lies around, I find the prospect of watching it less satisfying. If I actually hurdle the barrier of my lack of desire to watch something once it’s no longer new, then I’ll probably enjoy it, although not, I suspect, as much as if I’d watched it when it was newer or live.

This is not just true of media that I can get in my home. With big, tentpole movies that have had expensive marketing campaigns and been drilled into my consciousness, I’d better see them close to the opening weekend or I’m going to wait for it to surface on HBO. If I’m only dimly aware of a movie — or if I’m seeing just about anything with my daughter who brings to the theater her own eventness — then this dynamic doesn’t happen. And as a corollary, with a sleeper like “Keeping Up with the Steins” the expectation — the sense of being about to be in on something that the unwashed multitude hasn’t heard about — brings its own anticipation.

Late at night, beached on the couch with the dog at my feet while the rest of the family sleeps, the last thing I want to do is make a well-informed, thoughtful, right-thinking decision about how I’m going to spend the next hour. That all sounds like such a commitment: I just want to relax. Dredging something from TiVo’s bowels means that I’ll have to make judgments and decisions: Should I have recorded this? Should I cancel the season pass? Is it more important that I watch this thing than that other thing? It’s supposed to be entertainment for heaven’s sake… not a test of my skill as a TiVo user.

The Year Five data from the Center for the Digital Future found that Americans now log onto the internet with no objective… just to spend time having fun. That’s a key distinction between self improvement and self renewal– between an ought to do and a want to do. If I wait too long, TiVo transmogrifies the former into the latter.

Comments, please?

* To all my brand marketer friends out there… yes, I admit it: I use TiVo to skip the commercials. Sorry, y’all.

2 Kinds of Wearables: Info display vs. creation, and how they work with time

Note: I’m keynoting about wearables at the Brand Innovators Fashion Week event on Friday, February 14, 2014.  The kind folks at Brand Innovators have published this piece as a white paper. You can learn more about the event and download the white paper here.

People talk about wearable computers in one lumpy category, but doing this erases a key difference between two overlapping — and often opposing — orientations of wearables: the display of old information and the creation of new information.

These orientations have a lot to do with time and whether at a given moment we prioritize present or future.

Being thoughtful about these two orientations can help people use wearables in productive ways that improve their lives, and doing so can also help people seize special moments.  On the flip side, wearables can also add new layers of distraction to our already information-overloaded lives.

When it comes to industry — from media to health and wellness to CPG and beyond — understanding the differences between display and creation can help companies determine the right strategies for using wearables to help build businesses through analytics, advertising and partnership.

Display: here I’m talking about wearable computers that take information coming in from the world and stick it onto new spots on your body.  This is translation in the literal, Latin-root sense of trans locare “to carry across.”

Google Glass perches on a user’s face: the device is a prominent prism in the upper right corner of a user’s glasses, which is a spot nobody paid much attention to before.

Although it has received a ton of press and even a witty new term — “Glasshole” — for people who wear it all the time, Google Glass isn’t the world-changing iPhone of HUD (“heads up display” or “on your face” information), it’s the Apple Newton.

There are other versions of HUD, including an interesting contact lenses plus glasses approach by iOptics and Meta’s “I gotta buy this— wait! it’s $3,000” Iron Man interface.

Display is also the orientation of most Smart Watches, a bit humbler than HUD but with a rich Dick Tracy history.

DickTracy

The Pebble brings text messages and phone calls to your wrist so you don’t have to fumble for your phone, so do the Samsung Galaxy Gear, the Qualcomm Toq, the LG, the Razer Nabu and so on.

Creation starts with the lowly pedometer that counts how many steps you take each day and moves forward to more sophisticated measurements that link a bracelet with sensors and an accelerometer to give a fuller picture of your physical activity.  Some folks call this “m-health.”

The Nike FuelBand and various Fitbit devices (the Flex, the Force) are prominent examples here with Fitbit owning two thirds of the market and enjoying broad compatibility with various smart phone apps to make tracking and analyzing information easier.  The new Force also has an altimeter that is useful for runners.

Creation also embraces all sorts of medical devices, from the much-covered Google Contact Lenses that will help diabetics measure blood sugar to Medtronic’s wireless telemetry that lets its cardiac pacemakers download data from a patient’s pacemaker over wifi to a home network that then sends the data directly to a doctor.

Information creation is at the heart of the Quantified Self movement that turns your body’s activity into accessible and actionable data.  GroupM’s Rob Norman recently quipped on Twitter that this has also created a new genre:

“The Quantified Selfie” definition: sharing the details of your run, walk, or cycle via a wearable device to a social network. Question: why?

Of course, these two information orientations — display and creation — overlap.  The FuelBand and Force creation devices also tell time; the Basis watch has more skin sensors than other fitness wearables.  Google Glass can take pictures and videos— and historically we’ve seen with Facebook and smart phones that photo sharing can drive massive, exponential adoption.

But even if the same device encompasses both orientations, who we are when we use them differs in the moments when we use them for display and creation.

How we think about time

Google CEO Larry Page has said, “Our goal is to reduce the time between intention and action,” but intention, like wearables, is complex.

Deliberate intention expands over the course of time: it is conical.  When we speak, for example, we intend what we say (unless we are lying) but we also mean everything that is implied by what we say even if we haven’t thought out those results in detail.  (In their work on relevance Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson call these “implicatures.”)

Intent and action can mean our best laid plans and the work we do to achieve them, but they can also mean impulse and reaction.  One gets us to the gym to work out and the other says, “screw it” and reminds us about the yummy bag of chips in the pantry.  Intent is the superego.  Impulse is the id.  We’re all ego trapped in the middle.

Information creation wearables orient towards the future: who we want to be.  They are devices of intent.

With these devices we work towards fitness goals, or collaborate with our doctors to manage our medical care.  Although there is a big social component (e.g. people geographically separated sharing runs and achievements), that sharing tends to happen after the activity in question.

Wearable information creation devices, in other words, can help us get where we have decided to go: seven hours of sleep each night with 10,000 steps of activity, for example.  They can help us build towards flow states, Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi’s delectable, ephemeral total immersion that happens with practice and focus.

In contrast, information display wearables orient towards the now: who I am at this moment.  They are impulsive rather than considered intent.

When we strap on a SmartWatch or HUD we are inviting the universe to interrupt us, telling the mere meat space reality where our bodies live in that it and its inhabitants are less important than the invisible, alluring universe of information floating just out of sight.

These interruptions — texts, calls, reminders — are even more urgent and intrusive than email with its 67 trillion messages per year because they slide from the supercomputers in our pockets directly onto our wrists or eyes like pickpockets in reverse.

Where information creation devices give us ample chances to share later, information display devices lure us into sharing right this second without fumbling for a device.  Press a button or murmur “OK Glass” and we can broadcast our passing thoughts at any and every moment.

This is not necessarily a bad thing.  We live, after all, in endless progression of moments that build on the shaky foundation of yesterday and lead in a drunkard’s walk into tomorrow.  And we are social beings, pack animals, who need to connect with each other: information display devices help us connect.

But we need to make thoughtful choices about our information diets just like we do with our food diets.  Given my druthers, I’ll always pick the mini-can of Pringles rather than a handful of salted hazelnuts.  But my bigger druther is not to look like Fat Bastard from the Austin Powers movies.  So I only choose the Pringles sometimes.

An entire fitness industry exists to help people mediate between our present urges and future plans, but we don’t have that for our information diets.  Wearables, paradoxically, can accelerate both our discipline and our dissipation.

devil_angel_animal_house_forumVoice Recognition software like Apple’s Siri, Intel’s “Jarvis” prototype, and the compelling Samantha character in the Spike Jonze movie “Her” can also speed up our flow states or distraction.

These services are not wearables in the strict sense (although with Blue Tooth headsets and headphones they do extend onto our bodies), but the voice in our ear can help us find information supporting whatever task we have at hand without having to drop everything and go looking for it.

 

On the other hand, the revenue models for voice recognition software include interruption by advertisers.  The user may be taking a thoughtful walk in the park to help himself think through an idea only to have a friendly voice chirp directly into his ear that the sneakers he was eyeing the other day are on sale at the Foot Locker store just steps away.  Bye bye, idea.  Hello, new kicks.

What all this means for business

As businesses think about building their own wearables, acquiring companies in the space or partnering with wearable companies it will help to think about the two different orientations— information display and information creation.

A fatty snacks company, for example, should orient towards information display when thinking about wearables since people make impulse purchases when they are in the moment rather than contemplating growing waistlines.  The right advertisement on the wrist or displayed directly onto the eyes at the right instant can be powerful and profitable.

Wearables can also intervene in impulsive behavior, as demonstrated by the prototype mood bra from Microsoft that helps dieting women avoid eating driven by emotion rather than nutrition.  Like I said before, these categories bump into each other.

A food company interested in health and wellness might focus on information creation, partnering with a Fitbit-like data platform to create applications that helps people use their data to achieve their goals, acting as a partner to the user and, with luck, later reaping the rewards created by the user’s loyalty.

Gigantic CPG companies with both healthy and fatty snacks could use both approaches for different products.

These different orientations don’t just work for CPG: an auto manufacturer might invite a prospective customer into a dealership with the right test drive promotion displayed on Google Glass as the prospect drives by in her old car (information display).

A maker of bed linens might connect to a body temperature sensor worn at night (information creation) to pump up the temperature in an electric blanket to keep a sleeper warm, or then to lower it when it’s time to get out of bed in the morning.

Conclusion

In “Song of Myself” (1855) the poet Walt Whitman wrote, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself.  I am large, I contain multitudes.”  In the 160 years since, social scientists like Dan Ariely and Erving Goffman have shown us the twisty complications of our intentions and identities.

Although we feel like unified beings with coherent identities that transcend all the different hours in the day, we also know that we are different with our children than with our coworkers and that each new situations calls forth a different aspect of ourselves.

We are wide.  We contain multitudes.

For most of us, just 10 or at most 15 years ago our first personal computing experiences were via desktop computer in the disused guest room over a mind-numbingly slow dial-up connection.  Moments of instantaneous computation now spread into every corner of our lives, onto every surface in our homes and even on top of and inside our bodies.

Wearables are new sources of discipline and temptation.  Thoughtful consideration about their orientations towards information and time — rather than as one category — can help us achieve our goals as individuals and businesses.

So long as we don’t get distracted along the way.

 

Sources & Links 

Image of the Dick Tracy stamp found on “MarketingLand.com

Image from “National Lampoon’s Animal House” (1978) found on “TheDissolve.com

http://oldcomputers.net/apple-newton.html

http://www.unevenlydistributed.com/article/details/first-glasses-now-contact-lenses#.Ut1dwGTTl8Y

http://www.theverge.com/2014/1/11/5297162/meta-developing-iron-man-interface-augmented-reality-glasses

http://www.medtronic.com/for-healthcare-professionals/products-therapies/cardiac-rhythm/therapies/unique-features/conexus-wireless-telemetry/

http://www.economist.com/news/business/21595461-those-pouring-money-health-related-mobile-gadgets-and-apps-believe-they-can-work

http://thenextweb.com/google/2014/01/17/forget-glass-googlex-testing-smart-contact-lens-diabetics/

https://twitter.com/robnorman

http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/irvinem/theory/Starner-Project-Glass-IEEE.pdf

http://www.amazon.com/Relevance-Communication-Cognition-Dan-Sperber/dp/0631198784

http://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow.html

http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/19/disruptions-looking-for-relief-from-a-flood-of-email/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fat_Bastard_(character)

http://qz.com/170668/intels-voice-recognition-will-blow-siri-out-of-the-water-because-it-doesnt-use-the-cloud/

http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2013-12/06/microsoft-smart-bra

 

Short post about “My Facebook Movie” — from Charming to Cloying in 21 hours

The first person I saw share “My Facebook Movie” was Terry Kawaja, 23 hours ago as I write this short post.  I clicked.  I smiled.

I shared mine a few minutes later.

Then I looked at those of two friends and stopped.

This morning I saw that my wife had shared hers, so of COURSE I clicked.  Then one more from a friend.  I stopped.  The same cadence. The same music.  The same progression.  Meh.

Then I saw my friend Bettina’s post: “Here’s my Facebook mov… Nah. Nevermind.”  She posted that two hours ago.

Why did this happen?  Why did this cute algorithmically powered story jump off a satisfaction cliff so quickly?

If I’m right and my response is typical, then I wonder if Facebook agrees?  If their only metric is “who views the movie and shares it” then they are probably happy, as it is popping up like a game of Whack a Mole everywhere.

But a better metric would be: 1. View; 2. Share; 3. Watch other people’s movies.  If 3 continues beyond 48 hours, then that would be real success.

Perhaps the biggest problem with “My Facebook Movie” is that it is surprisingly not social.  It’s almost Apple-like in it’s egocentricism.  Sure, I can comment about my video or another person’s, but it’s not about my relationship with another person I designate, nor is it about my interaction with a coherent group— it’s about my interactions with the universe.  Interesting enough when it’s about me, but not when I’m watching a show about somebody else.

Am I just being a sourpuss?

Postscript: I just remembered two interesting articles about how Facebook can make people feel bad about themselves because in general we post about Awesome Life Moments. One was from The Conversation last week, and the other was from The Economist back in August.

UP, UP and away… How a wearable computer changed my brain

Yikes_wrist_photo_smOld dogs can learn new tricks.  So can people young and old.  Behavior is metamorphic, although we seldom recognize that plasticity in the moment.  Instead, we think the world changes while we stay the same, that our children are less responsible than we were at their age but that we threw crazier parties.  We think TV today isn’t as good as the programs we watched when we were younger, forgetting how many nights we spent on “Night Court.”

Sometimes, though, the planets align and we see our own behavior as it changes in the moment.

Here is one such story.

The Jawbone UP has decorated my wrist and recorded my physical activity since mid-March of 2013, but I did not reckon with how I depended on its steady flow of information and quiet alerts until it stopped working.  Ironically, this happened last week when I was guiding tours for Story-Tech at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, where wearable computers were a key technology with massive year-over-year growth, and I could no longer demonstrate how it worked to my tourists.

But the real impact of my UP’s absence didn’t hit until both my wife Kathi and I returned home from overlapping business trips, mine to CES and hers to the Modern Language Association.

Kathi is a night owl working late and I’m an early bird (it’s a mixed marriage), so the unheralded killer feature of the Jawbone UP and its kindred gadgets (Nike FuelBand, Fitbit Force) is the silent alarm that vibrates on my wrist when I get up before dawn to work while the world is silent and all the thoughts are mine to think.

Before the UP, a clock radio or smart phone would chime, blare or buzz, disturbing Kathi and sometimes failing to wake me (the first five or six times).  It took time getting used to sleeping with a bracelet, but I came to depend on that quiet buzz to get me up and let me lurch from the bedroom and pad towards the coffee machine like a sneaky zombie.

The UP’s death didn’t much affect me in Vegas because the Aria let me program the windows to open and the TV to pop on at a designated time.  Before Kathi got back from the MLA I simply used my old nightstand clock radio to wake myself.  But since her return I find myself waking up every couple of hours because I am so anxious about my iPhone’s coming bleep.

So I haven’t slept well, feel my stress level rising, and await the arrival of a replacement UP with less than graceful patience.  This is now the third time I’ve had to write to Jawbone for a replacement in less than one year, and so I find myself wondering if I should give the Fitbit Force a try just because I don’t want to go through this again.

This put me in mind of a fascinating article in December’s Scientific American: “How Google is Changing Your Brain” (preview link here but subscription required and recommended).  The internet’s infinite laundry pen memory has eroded our need to rely on other people to remember things and erodes the difference between information we store in our heads and the information we know is waiting in the cloud.

We’ve always perceived of our possessions as parts of ourselves.  The comic book visionary Scott McCloud observed in his brilliant book “Understanding Comics” that when another car bumps your car from behind we don’t cry out “his car hit my car!” but “hey! he hit me!” The difference is that with computers and particularly with wearables the devices on our bodies talk back to us in new ways.

As I’ve written elsewhere, I have outsourced most of my remembering tasks to Evernote and Instapaper, but my morning wakeup routine isn’t information— it’s action.  And so it’s only a minor exaggeration to say that the UP band has become a part of myself, so much so that when it’s gone I have to adjust in surprising ways.

“Never trust anybody over 30,” a cliché of the mid-1960s free speech movement, mistook an perceived mental inflexibility in the generation of the protesters’ parents with an age-related unwillingness to think and behave in new ways.  This is a common mistake and we make it in both directions, substituting life stage behaviors for generational ones and vice versa.

So, the pundits who claim that Millennials will never care about their privacy and will always overshare on Facebook are wrong: the Millennials just didn’t need to think about why not to overshare until they were on the job market and had to cleanse their profiles of the sexy selfies with the bong in the background.  Behaviors can change.

As a youth I would not have expected my behaviors to change so quickly when I had hit middle age, but they did with the UP band.

According to the UPS tracker my replacement UP should arrive today.  If it doesn’t, I think I’m buying the Fitbit Force.

[Cross-posted with Medium.]

“Future Tweets: Amazon knocks out Ticketmaster” now live on Medium

My latest Medium post — “Future Tweets: Amazon knocks out Ticketmaster” just went live on Medium.  Here are the first few paragraphs:

After my eight year old son accidentally set the clock on my computer forward things got weird on Twitter. Tweets had the time signature from 2019 complete with links, but when I clicked they didn’t go anywhere.

One caught my eye immediately:

“Amazon knocks out Ticketmaster. Longtime entertainment company files Chapter 11.”

Could this Future Tweet be true? Some quick searching proved that my computer was indeed having problems, as Ticketmaster is still in business. But the more I thought about it, the more logical it sounded.

 

Read the rest here.

 

Two Reasons iCloud Sucks

I’m an Apple user and ordinarily a happy one, but iCloud is an abject failure.

Here are two (of many) reasons why.

Reason #1: You can’t get there from anywhere intuitive or convenient.

Apple insists that you access your iCloud files either through the application or through a browser.  But I might not want to open the application or a new browser tab to manipulate a file.

All I want is a shortcut in the upper toolbar right next to the ones for Dropbox, Evernote and the like.  Not at the browser level– at the OS level. This is easy to do and standard in the industry (see Dropbox, Google Drive and just about every other cloud storage option).

Here’s a mockup of what I mean:

iCloud_JustAddThis

Reason #2: Once you get there, you aren’t really there.

If you finally figure out how to get to the iCloud web page — which is the only place you can see a high-level view of the contents of your iCloud — it looks like this:

icloudsux_browswerwindowWhile it’s nice to have the “Find My iPhone” app here as well as access to webmail, when it comes to the files I might have in Pages, Numbers and Keynote this is terrible.

Where is the total view of all my files?  What if I want to group files from different programs into one folder?

Let’s say I’m creating a project — for my own business, for a consulting client, for one of my kids — and that project includes a spreadsheet for expenses, a word-processing document for all my notes and a deck of slides about the project. With a normal folder or a cloud-based folder from another provider I can toss all three files into one “Project” folder that is intuitively named and easy to find.

That doesn’t work with iCloud.  I have to go searching through different applications to find things, and I’d better be neurotically tidy about file naming conventions or I’m sunk.

Oh, and if I’m composing an email and then decide that I want to drag and drop a file from iCloud into the email to share with my correspondent?  Can’t do it.  I’d have to download the file onto my desktop and then attach it. And if I “Share” the document from within iCloud I am giving my correspondent access to my original, not a copy.

What is so galling about this is that decades ago it was Apple itself (via Xerox Parc) that innovated the graphical user interface (GUI) that employs a spatial metaphor in which you put files inside of folders and then arrange folders within other folders.  This is the “Windows” metaphor that Microsoft later scaled to every corner of the digital universe.

Generally, Apple is great when it comes to my work, my way, in my environment.

But the flip side is that Apple is terrible at anything involving more than one person.  There’s a reason it’s products are called iPod, iPad, iPhone, iMac and iCloud. The “i” may be lower-cased but it’s narcissistically focused on the individual.

What I want is the WeCloud. Fortunately it exists. It’s called Dropbox.

[Cross-posted on Medium.]

 

Short Post: Best iGoogle Replacement

I’m a devoted iGoogle user since it first came online, and so I staggered through all the stages of grief when Google announced that it was discontinuing the product 18 months ago… with the count down ticking down to November 1… just a few days from now.

For months I’ve held on to the fond hope that Google would relent, would pivot the product in some way.  Then, at the beginning of the summer I came to a grudging acceptance and purged my iGoogle page of extraneous feeds so that I wouldn’t have to transfer too many things.

Finally, today, I gave up and decided to move my home page.  Do a quick search on “iGoogle Replacement” and you’ll find a bunch of inadequate solutions.

  • Netvibes is too busy and it’s import tool doesn’t work… it’s also just a free trial that attempts to get you to upgrade, so expect the freebie to go away.
  • igHome is ugly and has no import tool, so you’ll have to recreate your iGoogle page.
  • PortalPanel is one of those “if you think exactly like the developer then this rocks!” sites, and I don’t.
  • Symbaloo is just weird

The winner is [drum roll please...] My Yahoo! complete with a handy iGoogle import tool that actually works.  I had the bones of my home page set up in moments– the only real pain was having to reconstruct a list of bookmarks by hand.

It’s not perfect: the themes are limited and unattractive; the Gmail widget works but limits you to five emails, but it’s Fast, Functional and Free with only one unkillable banner on the upper-right side of each tab.

So don’t bother looking at alternatives– you can switch over to My Yahoo! in a jiffy and then think about the home page of your dreams… and wonder why there isn’t more competition to grab this real estate.

Addendum: In the 20 hours since I posted this I’ve discovered a few minor irritating flaws in the My Yahoo! page:

  • I can’t install a Google search box on the page or an Amazon search box
  • I can’t make the default setting change so that when I click a link on the My Yahoo! page it opens up a new tab… meaning that chronically have to hit the home button and reload the page rather than just clicking back to the home tab.