Michael Wolff’s Just-Released Book is a Puzzler

The dust-jacket of Television is the New Television: the Unexpected Triumph of Old Media in the Digital Age describes Wolff as a man with unparalleled access to powerful figures in media and the book as something that will change the reader’s thinking. Moreover, it frames Wolff as an archly bitchy writer with enemies who would like nothing better than to see his vital organs recycled to serve the more deserving. 

None of this is the case.

The vast majority of Wolff’s writing is a sober and thoughtful (if limited and unsupported) account of the power dynamics in media at the moment.  It’s a useful snapshot of what’s happening right now, which reduced to tweet-length is “Print and digital media companies are all turning to video to create brand advertising-worthy products, but TV is hard to make on the cheap.”  This is not an insight that changes my thinking.

The book has mild flights of interesting speculation. For example, without sports digital media companies like Google or Facebook will never be able truly to compete with broadcast and cable companies, but the digital companies have neither the stomach to write the big checks nor the narrative skills to create the product the right way if they did.  However, I didn’t take a single note or make a single check mark in the margin as I was reading (rare for me). 

The occasional outbursts of temper — heralded on the back cover as one of the book’s guilty pleasures — are mean-spirited cheap shots rather than Oscar Wildean performances of acerbic wit.  Rather than a frightened editor red-lining a bad-manners manifesto to prevent riots, as I read the book I imagined a desperate editor pleading with Wolff to make it just a little bit more cruel, please, Michael, whereupon Wolff, with a fatigued eye roll, would throw in something nasty like adding a dash of salt to soup.

Nonetheless, if you work in the digital media industry, then you should read Wolff’s book immediately for two reasons.

First, old media people — who long for less-complicated days before the arrival of the internet with its staggering complexity (and, yes, these folks are still around and in positions of power) — will wave this book about with a dash of glee and a little Rumpelstiltskin dance.  The book panders to the vanity of television people in a way that should make the team at Merriam Webster update their definition of “sycophancy” with a new example.

Second, if you wait even a week the book will be less enjoyable because it will be dated.  Ben Jonson eulogized his pal Shakespeare by saying Shakespeare was not for an age but for all time.  Wolff’s book is of the moment— just the moment.  With each passing development — such as 1) when the government did not allow the merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable or 2) Verizon’s acquisition of AOL, both of which happened as the book was already in press — the picture it paints of the media world becomes more stale.  This book will be on the remainder shelf soon, by which point it won’t be worth reading.

It’s a quick read, and one that pulls a bunch of things together neatly.  Anybody working at the collisions of video and the internet and advertising will find it handy. 

But it’s in the bubble, parochial and like that famous “View of the World from 9th Avenue ” New Yorker cover.  Wolff’s imagination of what is important lacks scope: the internet isn’t important in the history of our species because of what it does for media but because of how it empowers people to communicate with each other— even if what they talk about tends to be television. 

Speaking as a researcher, editor, and writer I have to end this note with frustration.  Wolff is a columnist, not a journalist.  He cites not a single source, gets not a single person on the record, and has not a single footnote directing the reader to where his many assertions can be supported.  Television is the New Television is a collection of long columns: occasionally insightful, informed by numberless conversations with figures in the community, and with a short half life.

[Cross-posted on Medium.]

I Want to be my own Big Brother: an App Daydream

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.” (Gwendolyn Fairfax in Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”)

I’m skeptical about how much corporations benefit from the data I generate.  If tracking my every movement worked, then Facebook would not keep trying to sell me the icky Peloton Cycle — “The only bike with LIVE and on-demand classes streamed to your home” — about which my lack of interest is complete.  To put it plainly, I’d rather have a prostate exam with no lube that ever get on an exercise bicycle to do a spin class anywhere, let alone one where I have to grunt and sweat alongside virtual neighbors. 

Companies use my digital ramblings to try (and usually fail) to sell me things that might have interested me in passing but do so no longer.  The butterfly net of big data swooshes past me and captures who I was, not who I am now.

But golly I’d like to have access to that data.  I spend time (loads, too much) searching through three different email archives, Evernote, Facebook, old Tweets, pictures on my camera phone and journal entries trying to dope out variations to recurring questions about what I was thinking or doing, when I was doing it, where, and why I was bothering in the first place.  Sometimes I even look into my web browsing history across different browsers on different machines.

Little of this includes other information about where I was geographically, who I was talking with, and what was going on in the background as all this was happening.

Big companies and governments have access to this information… sometimes under the pretense of not linking all the bits and bobs of Brad-shaped data to my personally identifiable information (PII), except in the case of government where it’s all me all the time. 

My friend Renny Gleeson calls this a “data contrail,” with my activities carving a big slash through the world like a jet leaving a visible white cloudy line in its wake.

But why don’t I get access to my own information?  I’d like all my traces bound up in a tidy dashboard that I can see at my leisure… sort of like Apple’s Time Machine but for my whole life.  Data visualization please, stat!

In my daydreams, I think of this as an App, called “Diary” or maybe “iDiary,” that hooks up all my activities and makes them easily seen on my phone or tablet. 

Beyond just trying to catch the string of a passing thought, if I suddenly find myself thinking of pizza, then I’d like to know that I walked by 13 pizzerias, saw three ads for Domino’s, and that the episode of “The Most Popular Girls in School” my daughter showed me was sponsored by Pizza Hut.

Everything should be in my Diary: where do I drive?  Who do I talk with as I’m driving?  Include emails and notes, what I post and view on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google searches, where my GPS-enabled phone has been (with me along with it, presumably), what I watch on TV or Netflix, what sounds are happening in the background where I am (because if Arbitron knows, why shouldn’t I?), what am I listening to on Spotify, and what billboards are in my peripheral vision. 

The creepy thing isn’t my having access to this information, although it could quickly lead to Narcissism At Scale (oh look, a new acronym— NAS!), it’s that this information is already out there, just disorganized, owned by disparate competing corporations and governments, and it’s easily misinterpreted to my disadvantage.

At the minimum, the price of corporations tracking me and recording my movements and actions in laundry pen for the rest of time should their sharing what they have written down about me in a way that is easy to access and manage.

I want to be my own Big Brother.  

[Cross-posted on Medium.]

My 2014 in Books

I read a lot — magazines, two newspapers, email newsletters, and countless social-media-shared links I chase down digital rabbit holes. I’d never know anything, for example, without Jason Hirshhorn’s magnificent daily Media Redefined.

But I’m lost without books.  Actual books.  Whether paper or digital, if I’m not reading at least two books then I get grumpy and feel IQ points oozing out of my ears and down the shower drain.

So one year ago, inspired by my friend David Daniel who keeps a list of books he wants to read, I decided to keep a list of books I finished in 2014. Since it is now 12/31/14 and I’m not going to finish any of the three books I’m reading at the moment, what follows is my 2014 list with brief remarks added.

Note: with the exception of My Side of the Mountain I am not counting re-reads. Often, at night, or when I’m in need of a visit with an old friend, I dive back into a novel I’ve already read. My kids are the same way. Since I tell the two of them that this doesn’t count for their reading, I’m not counting it towards my own.

Looking back, there’s a lot of fiction in this list.  I need fiction like I need oxygen (except when I’m writing fiction), and most of the business writing I read comes in articles.  I wonder what the fiction/non-fiction balance will be next year?

So here’s the list:

Dashner, James.  The Maze Runner.  Finished 1/1/14.

I read a fair amount of YA or children’s books, usually in quest of reading matter for my kids, but in this case it was for a project a friend and I were contemplating. Not bad but not good enough for me to read any farther.

Sloan, Robin. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Finished 1/4/14.

A fun ride, albeit only pancake deep. I inhaled this over a day or so at the start of last year. A good yarn for any of the digerati who mourn the loss of bookstores and wonder about the future of book-length reading in a digital age.

Elberse, Anita. Blockbusters: Hit-Making, Risk-Taking & the Big Business of Entertainment. Finished 1/22/14.

Interesting and thoughtful, and powerfully presented. What I wanted, though, were more connections outside of entertainment to the rest of business and human endeavor. A missed opportunity.

Eggers, Dave.  The Circle. Finished 1/23/14.

A frustrating book… it annoyed but compelled me in a similar way to Aaron Sorkin’s just-finished HBO show “The Newsroom.” There’s a smugness to Eggers that grates, and I don’t think he understands how companies like Facebook and Google work.

Asaro, Catherine. The Spacetime Pool.  Finished 2/5/14.

Novella in Asaro’s fantastic “Saga of the Skolian Empire” series, which is great fun for people who like space opera with good physics and a bit of romance.

Aaronovitch, Ben. Broken Homes: a Rivers of London Novel. Finished 2/15/14.

#4 in Rivers of London. I saw #5 on the shelves at Foyle’s in London last week and am excited to read it when the e-book comes out in a few days. This series is delightful fantasy set in modern-day London, written by one of the many “Doctor Who” alumni who go on, like Douglas Adams, to write novels.

Semmelhack, Peter. Social Machines: the Next Wave of Innovation; How to Develop Connected Products that Change Customers’ Lives. Finished 3/09/14.

A good introduction to the Internet of Things, more practical than visionary.

Craighead George, Jean.  My Side of the Mountain.  Finished 3/11/14.  

I read this when I was a kid, found it on my son’s shelf, and re-read it with lip-smacking pleasure.  I was looking in particular for a discussion of how you want a machete rather than an axe, which I remembered from a book I read decades ago, but didn’t find it in this terrific book. Anybody out there know what I’m talking about?

Thomas, Rob.  Veronica Mars: the Thousand-Dollar Tan Line.  Finished 4/3/14.

Loved the Veronica Mars movie that came out around the same time and couldn’t get enough of it, so I read the novel. Fun. Nailed the voice and sensibility of the series. I look forward to the next one, which comes out soon.

Grant, Adam. Give and Take: a Revolutionary Approach to Success. Finished 4/11/14.

One of the best business-y books I’ve read in the last few years, I tore through this after Dana Anderson praised it at the AAAA’s, and had the pleasure of trading notes with Adam Grant subsequently. I can’t say enough nice things about this book. It’s brilliant, and — perhaps more importantly and certainly a surprise coming from a social scientist — it’s beautifully written.

Greenwood, Kerry.  Cocaine Blues.  Phrynne Fisher #1.  Finished May sometime.

Between May and July I inhaled seven of these murder mysteries set in Victorian Australia.  Karen, a woman who practices Tae Kwon-do with my son back in Oregon, and I talk books, and she was flying through them. These are like McNuggets: I kept tearing through them at high speed until I hit a satiation point and stopped.  Formulaic and with a bit of the Ensign Mary Sue about them, I recommend these to historical mystery lovers who also like a recurring cast of characters. The Australian TV series based on these (streaming on either Netflix or Amazon Prime) isn’t bad, although not as good as the books. Things rarely are.  Just this note for all this series.

Greenwood, Kerry. Flying Too High. Phyrnne Fisher #2.  Finished May sometime.

Greenwood, Kerry.  Murder on the Ballarat Train.  Phrynne Fisher #3.  5/28/14.

Greenwood, Kerry. Death at Victoria Dock.  Phynne Fisher #4. Finished 6/13/14.

Greenwood, Kerry.  The Green Mill Murder. Phynne Fisher #5. Finished 6/16/14.

Gottschall, Jonathan. The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. Finished 6/20/14.

A friend — either Ari Popper of Sci Futures or Brian Seth Hurst of Story Tech — recommended this to me at CES.  Good popular science journalism, but I don’t have clear memories of it now, which is a bit of a ding.

Deaver, Jeffrey. The Skin Collector. Finished 6/24/14.

I read it because of my affection for The Bone Collector, but it wasn’t very good.

Miller, Derek B.  Norwegian by Night.  Finished 7/13/14.

My friend Rishad Tobaccowala recommended this to me when he found out I was moving to Norway for the school year.  It’s fantastic: an emotionally engaged and heart-stopping thriller starring an 80 year old Korean War Vet set in Oslo. I can’t believe this hasn’t been made into a movie yet. Clint Eastwood should direct and star.

McKeown, Greg.  Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.  Finished 7/13/14.

This book taught me a lot about how I sabotage my own productivity: I read it with passionate intensity in paper, and then bought a digital copy to bring with me to Norway. It’s on my “to re-read in January list,” which isn’t a long one.

Greenwood. Kerry.  Blood and Circuses. Phynne Fisher #6. Finished 7/18/14.

MacLeod, Hugh.  Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys to Creativity.  Finished 7/23/14.

I admire MacLeod and hadn’t gotten around to reading the book for no good reason. It’s short, sweet and smart. Don’t miss, particularly if you like his cartoons.

Greenwood. Kerry. Ruddy Gore.  Phynne Fisher #7. Finished 7/24/14.

Russ, Joanna.  The Adventures of Alyx.  Finished 8/14/13.

Back in college, my friend Keylan Qazzaz wrote her senior thesis about women in science fiction with a particular focus on this book. I picked it up a few years later, but never got around to reading it.  Then, as I was packing for Norway and grabbing books from the “I’ve been meaning to read this” pile (a big pile), I saw this.  Turns out, it’s a collection of short stories and novellas featuring a terrific protagonist who seems to have amnesia between each story.  More strong space opera.  A bit hard to find now, but quite good.

Shenk, Joshua Wolf.  Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs.  Finished 8/31/14.

I enjoyed the Atlantic excerpt of this book and decided to read the whole thing, which I did in short order.  It’s a powerful antidote to the “genius alone is his garrett” Romantic myth that still pervades western notions of creativity and genius. However, I’d have liked more on how groups collaborate, and think that his focus on the pair is unnecessarily limiting.  Still a worthwhile read, and in addition it lead me to Carse (see below).

Huizinga, Johan.  Homo Ludens: a study of the play element in culture. Finished 9/9/14.

Play is important to how I think about disruptive technologies (much more about this in 2015), and a few years ago my friend and partner Susan MacDermid mentioned this book from the 1930s.  It’s a tough read — continental philosophy that seems deliberately, almost hermetically sealed away against non-specialist readers — but worthwhile and interesting and useful for my thinking.

Powers, Tim.  Expiration Date.  Finished 9/20/14. 

Powers wrote my all-time favorite time travel story, The Anubis Gates, but I never managed to get into this one or it’s quasi-sequel (see below) even though I’ve had them for years.  Powers’ imagination is powerful and intricate, and it takes time to settle into the worlds he creates.  By the time I made it to page 50 I was hooked, and then I was sorry when it ended.  Don’t give up on this one too easily.

Wilson, Daniel H.  Robopocalypse.  Finished 10/10/14.

My friend Renny Gleeson recommended this, and it’s yummy sci-fi candy along the lines of the Terminator movie series only updated to include how the world works post-internet.  For paranoiacs worried about AI, this is either something to embrace or something to avoid for fear of never sleeping again.

Carse, James P.  Finite and Infinite Games: a vision of life as play and possibility. Finished 10/12/14.

As I mentioned, the Shenk book turned me onto Carse.  Like Huizinga, this is far from an easy book to read or understand, but it’s an important meditation on play.  It’s particularly important for Americans, I think, with our cultural tendency to bottom line everything and be more concerned with the final score than how the game was.

Gawande, Atul.  The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. Finished 10/21/14.

Gawande is one of those people who does so much in a day to make the world a better place that he makes me feel like a loser, even though I’m sure that if I said this to him in person he’d charm me into feeling like a superhero until the next morning.  He’s a terrific writer, and in our information-overload era this book is both moving and useful for anybody who despairs of getting the important things done.

Mann, George.  The Affinity Bridge: A Newbury & Hobbes Investigation. Finished 10/28/14.

The Steampunk genre and movement appeals to me, but I keep holding back because it feels like it will turn into an addictive time-suck that will pull me far deeper than just reading the novels.  Suddenly, I’ll be going to maker fairs and dressing in lots of metal-studded leather.  I just don’t have that kind of time.  This is also why I rarely play video games and don’t drive a motorcycle.  Still, I ran across this book at Books, Inc. in Palo Alto and was so interested that I found myself reading it while walking down El Camino Real on my way to a dinner.  For Sherlock Holmes lovers as well as Steampunks, this is great fun.  I also read the sequel immediately thereafter (see next entry) and a cluster of free short stories on Mann’s website.  Like Ben Aaronovitch, Mann is a Doctor Who alum.  I’ll read more of this series eventually.

Mann, George.  The Osiris Ritual: A Newbury & Hobbes Investigation.  Finished 11/6/14.

Scalzi, John.  Lock In. Finished 11/16/14.

Fascinating notion about telepresence for quadriplegics (a reductive description, I admit) as background for a compelling near-future science fiction adventure story.  Scalzi’s voice is the closest to a 21st century Heinlein that I’ve found, particularly with the Old Man’s War series.

Bach, Rachel.  Fortune’s Pawn. (Paradox Book 1.) Finished 11/22/14.

IO9 compared this to Lois McMaster Bujold’s work, and since she is my favorite living science fiction writer I immediately bought the first one.  Bujold it ain’t, but it’s not-bad space opera.  One key difference (literature geek spoiler alert) is that while Bujold practices Austen-like free indirect discourse, Bach’s narrative is first person, which is harder to carry off if you’re not practicing the skaz a la Mark Twain in Huck Finn.  I really like how Bach’s protagonist is a kick-ass woman mercenary soldier, but I wish the writing was better.

Catmull, Ed.  Creativity, Inc. Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration. Finished 11/29/14.

Rishad and Renny both put this on lists of influential books, and I loved every page both as a Pixar fan and as a consultant who watches businesses get in the way of their own success time and time again.  I managed creatives for many years, and wish I had this book on my desk when I started. Don’t miss. Like Adam Grant’s book, this one will stick with and help any business leader.

Powers, Tim.  Earthquake Weather. Finished 12/22/14.

See above note on Powers’ Expiration Date.  I was delighted to discover that Earthquake Weather was a quasi-sequel, because that made it easier to get over my usual 50 page learning curve with Powers.

Connelly, Michael.  The Burning Room: A Harry Bosch Novel. Finished 12/29/14.

My last completed book of 2014, which I finished on a plane this Monday.  Is there anybody who doesn’t love these books?  Connelly seems to be easing Bosh towards retirement or a dramatic death, and while I’m eager to see how it all ends I despair at the notion of a fictional Los Angeles without Harry Bosch solving crimes in it.

Looking forward to 2015: I’m currently reading four books that I hope to finish in January or February:

Daniel J. Levitin’s Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload.

Susan L. Smalley and Diana Winston’s Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness.

(After I finish these two, I’m ambitious to dive into Daniel Goleman’s new Focus, which seems to be along similar lines to both of these.)

James H. Carrott and Brian David Johnson’s Vintage Tomorrows: A Historian And A Futurist Journey Through Steampunk Into The Future of Technology.

And although I haven’t read it, I picked up Lamentation, the sixth Matthew Shardlake novel by C.J. Sansom in London. If you want murder mysteries set in the same time as Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell books, don’t miss this excellent series. 

Any must-reads for the coming year?  Please share in comments below…

IOS 8 Correction: I was WRONG (but check Location settings anyway & here’s why)

Sunday morning after updating my iPad to IOS 8, I was horrified to see that just about all my apps were broadcasting my location 24/7/365, and I blamed the update thinking that Apple had toggled the settings from off to on. I wrote a post about it that you can find here, and I asked my network to share the post, which it kindly did.

Here’s the short version of today’s correction: I was wrong. Apple did not toggle the settings from off to on.

I apologize for my mistake, to the folks who shared my mistake because I asked them to do so, and I thank Jules Polonetsky of the Future of Privacy Forum for setting me straight in a Facebook exchange (hat tip to Jackie Stone for bringing his information to my attention).

Further, I ask everybody who shared the initial post please to share this one, too.

But for heaven’s sake please still go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services and check your settings and pay attention when your i-device warns you about that some app that has little to do with where you are is tracking your location 24/7/365.

That’s the short version– if you’ve had enough or if you are now bored with this topic, then please click away and remember: I was wrong, and I apologize.

For those of you still interested…

The longer version: prompted by Jules Polonetsky, I took screenshots of the Location Services settings on my iPhone 5 before I upgraded to IOS 8. Here’s what the top of the loooong screen looked like:

LocationSettings

Sure enough, the settings were the same after the update. Again, I was wrong.

However, this does beg the question of why all the apps in my iPad were toggled to “on” in the first place? The reason is that prior to IOS 8 Apple, following an industry standard practice, made it frictionless and automatic to add apps without really thinking about whether you want to let the app know where you are at all times. Now, IOS 8 warns you… and it was the warning about Google that sent me down this rabbit hole in the first place.

As Jules Polonetsky pointed out via Facebook, Apple has created an improvement to the original settings where some apps (but not all) can now broadcast location “Never,” “Always” or “While Using” the app.

The burden, though, is still on the user to opt out of location sharing, rather than the other way around. This is a widespread problem with digital privacy in the U.S., where opt-out is the standard rather than the opt-in practiced more widely elsewhere in the world.

So check those settings, please.

Here’s what my iPad settings looked like immediately after the update to IOS 8:

iPadPrivacySettingsWhy would Cozi, the family calendar we use — and for which I pay $5/month to be advertising free — need my location at all times? I never decided to grant Cozi that permission: I simply clicked “OK” when I needed to install the app.

Apple’s new warning about location sharing makes all this ever so slightly less insidious, but it’s still creepy.

That’s why I think the Apple blog post I quoted on Sunday is disingenuous. Here’s the relevant snippet again:

Our business model is very straightforward: We sell great products. We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. We don’t “monetize” the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don’t read your email or your messages to get information to market to you. Our software and services are designed to make our devices better. Plain and simple.

While it may be true that Apple’s revenue model is different than Google’s (which the blog post is describing in detail but not naming), the post doesn’t mention location because Apple does track your location in order to serve iAds to your phone or iPad.

Moreover, just because Apple doesn’t monetize the data stream I throw off over the course of a day’s movements that doesn’t mean that the apps I have downloaded aren’t doing so. They are, and so Apple is providing a platform for that stalky monetization even if they aren’t doing it themselves.

The U.S. is still waiting for it’s Baby Jessica moment when it comes to digital privacy.

Thanks for reading this all the way to the end. If you’re still interested in adjusting your i-device to protect your privacy, Zach Whittaker over at ZDNet has some suggestions here.

 

IOS 8 Warning: Look at your Privacy Settings

Tuesday Update: I was wrong about Apple changing settings: see full Correction and explanation here.

 

Apple hates Google.  It REALLY hates Google.

I have evidence.

A few days ago I updated my iPad to IOS8. Today, as I was looking at email, a warning flashed across the device that roughly said: “Google is sharing your location in the background: do you want this to continue?” Under the warning was a Cancel button and a Settings button.

I clicked and discovered that it wasn’t only GOOGLE that was sharing my location: the IOS 8 update defaults so that EVERYTHING shares your location… even apps that don’t have anything to do with maps or geography.

Put plainly: if you don’t go in and change this, oh iPhone and iPad enthusiast (I’m one of you!), then you are naked in front of the whole world… a cybernetic version of the “standing in front of the classroom without any clothes on” nightmare, but one that is grim reality.

To fix this, go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services.  There, you can change the default to whatever you want.  HOWEVER, don’t ignore “System Services” at the bottom, which takes you to a bunch of other Apple-specific location-aware settings that you might also want to disable… in particular the “Location-based iAds” setting that will turn your i-device into a Minority-Report-like “Hello, John Anderton… do you want a Lexus?” i-rritating voice in your pocket.

What upsets me about this is that Apple could have made this more transparent: it could have said, “We’ve changed your location settings” in a window that you have to press after updating to IOS 8.

Instead, it defaulted in the background, buried this in a mass of documentation, and then had the nerve to issue a blog post ostensibly by Tim Cook claiming:

A few years ago, users of Internet services began to realize that when an online service is free, you’re not the customer. You’re the product. But at Apple, we believe a great customer experience shouldn’t come at the expense of your privacy.

Our business model is very straightforward: We sell great products. We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. We don’t “monetize” the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don’t read your email or your messages to get information to market to you. Our software and services are designed to make our devices better. Plain and simple.

Notice how the post doesn’t mention location?

You don’t have to change the settings, but you should know what Apple is broadcasting about where you are.

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.]

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.

Two new posts on Medium.com, plus thoughts on platform proliferation

The past week or so I’ve enjoyed writing on Medium.com. I mentioned a post about Tina Fey’s “Bossypants as Startup Bible” here before, and since then I’ve written two more:

eBay’s Sublime Terror: Staring down the precipice while hunting Babylon 5 DVDs

and

Barnes & Noble’s real problem: In praise of chunky scale

Medium.com is a wonderful, collaborative, clean, well-lighted place to write, and it’s fantastic to have the comments juxtaposed next to particular paragraphs rather than as floppy addenda at the end of a post.

I also love the curation, the community, and was  tickled to be listed in the Editor’s Picks.

On the downside, why can’t it be easier to have what I write there cross-posted over here, to my own website?  Surely it should be easy enough for them to create a “share this post on wordpress” button at the bottom of the page right next to the “share this post on Twitter” and “share this post on Facebook” buttons?

Convergence, the dream of the first wave internet pioneers before the dotpocalypse of 2000, is still just a dream.

Along these lines, I’m taking Rebelmouse for a test drive to see if it’s a good aggregator of my stuff online, as well as, perhaps, a replacement for iGoogle before it goes away in November.