Connectivity, privacy, porn and the generational shift

I thought I’d post a new entry in response to the comment by Euph about not having any personal space any more with regards to the Sound Pryer post. So, just to clear up a more or less technical question first, Euph asked:

“how do you tune in to another channel if you are picking up what every one else if listening too ?”

Well, from reading the blurb about Sound Pryer, you would obviously be able to switch it on and off. But, hey, even with 10,000 songs on your iPod, you might get bored. So they describe Sound Pryer thus:

“The metaphor used to guide the design of Sound Pryer is that of a “collaborative” MP3 player. A user can play his or her own music, but also tune into rear mirror”

Euph also mentioned that porn is what all connectivity boils down to. Well, yes and no in my opinion. Porn, or rather sex, has always been a major driver of new technologies, almost all of them when you think about the biological imperatives that living beings have. Now, aside from the morality of porn and your opinion of it (which is a different discussion), one thing the porn industry understands is human nature and they understand it in a way that is way more sophisticated than most industries. They were way ahead on rich media content online, secure access and billing, video-conferencing, etc. Partly this is to do with the easy economics of it – people will always buy it, so investment is a pretty safe bet. Also, there are few industries that tailor their offerings to customer tastes as much as the porn industry. In general, the globalised company wants customers to buy into whatever they are selling and use their marketing to try and change the customer (because that’s much cheaper than making lots of different things).

All of which has had a lot of positive trickle down (no pun intended – well, okay, maybe a bit of one) into other areas of contemporary culture, many of which aren’t so controversial and which benefit a lot of people. In essence, the porn industry is a testing and proving ground for a lot of technologies because they can afford to try things out.

There’s another, really complex can of worms that Euph mentioned too:

“It’s getting to being at the point of being able to know what everyone is thinking just by waking past them “I really don’t want to know what everyone is thinking or what music they are listening too unless I choose too and the other person has given me permission and not just electronic permission (and yes we know today people don’t give permisison and they still take stuff but) “It’s becoming way to close to having no personal space “Yes conectivity is good but don’t forget the human……you can get to much connectivity “Ask any mother who has looked after kids all day there comes a point where silence is needed and you can’t even cope with any more touch. How do you get this if everyone keeps tuning in to you”

Now I completely agree about the need for moments of silence. Personally, I practice Iyengar Yoga fairly regularly as well as write. Both of which are my moments of silence, both internally and externally. Perhaps it is because I’m currently in Australia and all my family and old friends are in Europe, but I really enjoy the relatively connectivity of instant messaging, SMS, etc. Presence technologies such as ICQ and AIM, which tell you when people are away, busy, available, where they are, etc. can be slightly “stalker-like”, but on the other hand it is comforting to feel like friends and family are only a quick message away.

When I had my first mobile phone back in 1994, I remember thinking that I really needed it for all those important offers of freelance work. I soon realised I used it like everyone does, for trivial little things, often sending a text message to a loved one just to let them know what I’m up to and that I am thinking of them. So I think there can actually be more of a human connection, not less. I certainly feel less distanced from my family thanks to email.

The other thing here is permission. Presumably if you let people tune into you, you’ve given your permission. It’s like a blog, people are free to read what they like and, if commenting is turned on, free to leave their comments. The same deal applies to the Sound Pryer. However, presence technology has an unintended downside, as anyone with a mobile phone knows. When you’re not available, people get suspicious. “Why didn’t you have your phone on? Where were you?” Etc., etc. Spamming on a mobile feels much more offensive than via email (which, I hate, but feels less personal). I think this is because the mobile is one of the few pieces of technology that feels like an extension of our personal space. The only other item that I think really feels like that is the car. It’s something I’ve written about at length elsewhere. I think this is probably a transitional period as we become more accustomed to this kind of connectivity – technology moves much fast than society and culture’s ability to assimilate it.

It takes a generational shift for the real change to happen. I’m of the TV and videogame generation – I grew up with them, they were always there (just about, I remember our first videogame console, a Prinztronic Tournament from when I was about 7 years-old). So I treat them differently to my parents generation who can remember, gasp, a time before TV. So the thing is, any child under 10 now, will have always known the Internet and mobile phones. My niece, for example, finds it odd when she sees a phone with a cable; she’s grown up in a household of mobiles and cordless phones. We think it sounds like a shocking indictment of the future and the world going to seed at a fast pace, but it has always been the way, my grandparents used to tell me about ducking in and out of horses around Piccadilly Circus in London. The under-tens generation will no doubt make some interesting things with all this new technology precisely because it will no longer be new technology to them. It will hold no novelty for them so they’ll use it in different ways. I’m looking forward to seeing what artists and designers will do. It’s something that Mark Pesce goes into in some fascinating detail in his book, The Playful World.

Lastly, the idea that you can know what someone else is thinking, or at least into, just by walking past them is already underway. Cute Circuit in Italy plan to do exactly that with their Identity Service. Basically it boils down to a wearable device which is plugged into a massive database of your personal information, which you choose to share elements of and filter, etc. I interviewed Francesca Rosella a while ago and she said that the idea was about reclaiming your own personal data that is harvested by corporations and authorities anyway, largely without your explicit permission (it’s in the small print of your credit card contract that you never read). The Identity Service allows you to connect with people you might be interested in but would otherwise miss. Fora simple example, if you have either bought flights to Italy or registered in some way that you are into Italy or speak Italian and you walk past someone with similar interests, then you get an alert (in your ear probably) that they share your interests. Of course, you could ignore it, but then I wondered what kind of social etiquette would be required if the other person also got the alert and saw you ignore them.

There are still questions to be answered and cultural practices to adjust to, but they can happen surprisingly fast when the technology is something people find fills a gap. In the short life of mobile phones (really not more that about 12 years in mainstream culture) we’ve become quite used to seeing people talk on phone publicly, a far cry from the old phone booth. We’ve even become fairly used to people talking into thin air with handsfree headsets. One thing is for sure, none of this technology is going away and my feeling is that it is, in general, getting better at fitting around what people want to experience, but it takes time. I would argue that we actually get a sense of just how connected we really are with these technologies, far from losing the human connection. Perhaps it is just quite a scary revelation.

Designer fired for having an opinion about Bush

I just heard this story about a designer, Glen Hiller, from agency, Octavo Designs, being fired for heckling George W. Bush at a politcal rally.

Apparently one of Octavo Design’s clients had provided the tickets to the event and took objection. It’s pretty scary that something like this could happen. It seems likely that Hiller could take his former employer to an industrial tribunal and win, but he has no plans to get his job back.

I’m surprised there are even tickets to these events, but perhaps that’s to stop hoards of people turning up to shout Bush down for being so inept. It also shows the shallowness of the advertising agency world when they suck up to clients so dreadfully. Surely they pride themselves on their originality and creativity? They probably even trade on their hip, cutting edge understanding of youth markets. I can’t tell at the moment because their site doesn’t appear to be working at present.

Individuality, thinking outside of the box (including the ballot box), voicing opinions when others shy away are all markers of a creative mind, particularly in advertising. It just shows how governments and big-business are in each other’s pockets. What was the client doing giving out tickets to a Bush rally if they didn’t expect people to voice their opinions? It’s hardly like sending out complimentary tickets to The Lion King after all.

I, Robot – a very short review

I finally saw I, Robot the other night wondering what Alex Proyas might have made of the famous Asimov story. I had the interesting experience of working with/for him creating his Mystery Clock Cinema site (the navigation was changed by his crew since). I haven’t read the original but I have some idea of what the gist of it was from all the other reviews of the Proyas film.

In the end it was typical Alex, long on style and mysteriousness and a little short on performance from the prinicpal cast. It’s a little hard to tell with Will Smith really. He’s funny and carries himself well (and he has buffed up for the film), but I found it hard to believe his sense of moral outrage and character journey. For my money the best performance was from the robot, Sonny.

Another thought that crossed my mind was this: In many visions of the future robots are painted as slaves doing all our menial tasks. Granted, we do use robots for repetitive jobs such as welding cars or for dangerous jobs such as bomb disposal. But these tend not to be smart robots, they have little artificial intelligence, if any, and tend to be either pre-programmed to make a set of moves or controlled by a human.

What has happened in robotics is that most of them that have made it into the mainstream are not slaves at all, they are pets and companions. It seems likely that the terrible Kubrick/Spielberg mess of a film A.I. is more likely to be the way robotics goes. Humans tend to imbue even dumb machines (like this computer or my car) with human attributes. It seems we can’t avoid anthropomorphising everything – from pets to machines. My guess is that it will be humans that defend robots against other humans much more than intelligent robots defending themselves. Robots would probably see the logic of a situation and take the path of least or most probability for a successful outcome.

How to be Creative

Just saw this thread titled How to be Creative doing the rounds. As someone who spends his time trying to teach others to be creative, and lamenting my own lack of dedication/time in the process, I can truly say it’s spot on. It’s nice to see this has been picked up so much on Popdex too.

Update – 27.11.04 Okay, now I have to admit to being quite addicted to Hugh’s Gaping Void site. It’s really interesting to see someone’s mind unfold and publicly work through and idea and it’s a real gift from him to do it. Of course, he’s attracted a lot of attention in the process, so it just goes to show that being open and giving has some kind of karmic return (I hope).

Mobile Spam

This is an article that I wrote a while back for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in Australia. The original link to and title is Protecting the extension of your personal space amd examines the issues of spam and privacy in the mobile arena. Thought I would post the link up here for posterity as well as for any editors looking for future writing from me.

The article follows in full – click on “Continue reading…” below.

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