What is Technology Doing to Us?

I highly recommend The Waking Up podcast, and particularly episode #71, in which the host, Sam Harris, holds a conversation with Tristan Harris an ethicist for design. If you’ve ever gone to Facebook to look up something quickly and then wondered how you found yourself caught in a vortex of wasted time, this conversation will surely enlighten you. Recommended listening for everyone that uses technology and especially those that build it.

From Tristan’s bio page:

Called the “closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience,” by The Atlantic magazine, Tristan Harris was previously a Design Ethicist at Google and left the company to lead Time Well Spent, a non-profit movement to align technology with our humanity. Time Well Spent aims to transform the race for attention by revealing how technology hijacks our minds, and to demonstrate how better incentives and design practices will create a world that helps us spend our time well.

Tristan is an avid researcher of what persuades our minds, drawing on insights from sleight of hand magic, linguistics, persuasive technology, cult psychology and behavioral economics. Currently he is developing a framework for ethical persuasion, especially as it relates to the moral responsibility of technology companies.

His work has been featured on 60 Minutes, PBS NewsHour, The Atlantic Magazine, ReCode, TED, 1843 Economist Magazine, Wired, NYTimes, Der Spiegel, NY Review of Books, Rue89 and more.

Previously, Tristan was CEO of Apture, which Google acquired in 2011. Apture enabled millions of users to get instant, on-the-fly explanations across a vast publisher network.

Listen to the conversation as Sam and Tristan talk about the arms race for human attention, the ethics of persuasion, the consequences of having an ad-based economy, the dynamics of regret, and other topics.

http://wakingup.libsyn.com/71-what-is-technology-doing-to-us

(or use Overcast to listen at a faster speed — that’s what I do)

Here’s a taste of what Tristan’s all about:

Apple Watch

I’ve had a strange affinity for all things Apple lately. Most recently, against my better fiscal judgement I decided to pre-order the famous Apple Watch. It wasn’t an easy decision, I went back and forth with myself for months after it was first announced last September. I even hesitated for a couple of days after the pre-orders started on April 10th but even when I finally convinced myself it was ok to click the buy button I was left with a feeling of uncertainty.

After much anticipation with a dash of frustration (I opted for pick-up which meant navigating the perplexity that is the light-industrial area), it finally arrived at its new home on my wrist yesterday.

My first thoughts about the new gadget are probably similar to what others have said. It’s lovely — heavier than I imagined but then again I’ve never had a real watch before, (anything more than $50 has always been out of my price range). It’s shiny and black and fun to swipe and explore. Honestly, it doesn’t do a lot relative to the amazing iPhone 6 with which it’s paired, it’s just a lot of fun to take phone calls on my wrist, to see messages as they arrive, and to know the time again (all without resorting to the savagery of pulling my phone). I love it.

As others have talked about, Siri seems smarter than ever — though after the last update there seemed an improvement on her phone version too.

Probably most important, though not the most fun, I know for a fact I have missed at least one less phone call than I would have without it. Considering my living depends on catching such phone calls, perhaps the Apple Watch will pay for itself.

In case you’re wondering, I’m no longer uncertain if the watch is right for me. I would buy it again in a second.

iPhone 6

This week the world was introduced to iPhone 6. Last week I had my credit card number compromised which meant I wouldn’t have to stay up all night to order a phone that won’t even ship to me until October. I did, however, get a new card in the mail yesterday and the phone which I have been anxiously holding off through three generations of iPhones (four if you count the 5c) will finally be on it’s way in just another week. The photos I’m going to take are going to be amazing… I can’t wait.

Some might argue that spending so much money on a new Apple device would actually be much better spent on buying Apple stock. The $500USD that was spent on my first ipod (the iPod Photo 40gb) would have been a better investment in Apple stock considering that same $500 would now be worth $12470. While I really loved my iPod, it wasn’t worth $12.5K.

So this time around, I decided to have my cake and eat it too. I invested in the spring and so far I’ve made enough to pay for my iPhone just out of earnings. The tough part is deciding to pull my money out now or to let it ride for the long haul. This little chart, What if I had bought Apple stock instead? would suggest I should let it ride.

Update: it has arrived!

First-Person Hyperlapse Videos

At this year’s SIGGRAPH conference, Microsoft Research presented their First-Person Hyperlapse Videos. These videos are compiled of rendered hybrid frames from shaky head-cam footage turned into amazing time-lapse videos that flow smoothly. The dramatic improvement between the before and after is astounding.

We present a method for converting first-person videos, for example, captured with a helmet camera during activities such as rock climbing or bicycling, into hyperlapse videos: time-lapse videos with a smoothly moving camera.

They say they are working hard on making their Hyperlapse algorithm available as a Windows app.

Awesome.

Google Wave

Google Wave LogoThe other day a friend and I were talking about the history of messaging mediums and what the next generation of communication tools will look like. Snail mail, the telegraph, the telephone, fax, email, and instant messages have each taken their turn as the communication technology of the day but we wondered what the next iteration of such technology would do and how it would either replace or compliment our existing tools.

I’m happy to say we’re about to find out. I just learned about a brand new tool that is about to change everything. Google Wave is an amazing mash-up of chat, email, blogging, event planning, and document sharing all in one. I was sceptical too, at first, but check this out (at least some of it):


[Google Wave Developer Preview at Google I/O 2009 – YouTube]

Will it mean the beginning of the end of existing social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter? How will it affect usage of collaborative tools like Sharepoint and Basecamp? Well, I’ve always felt that outside of its core search business, Google has faced an uphill battle for user acceptance. I’m still shocked when I find friends refusing to upgrade from whatever ridiculous email provider they’re using to the super efficient and powerful Gmail.

I think that Google Wave’s openness and flexibility will be enough to overcome the tipping point of adoption though because of its inherent backwards compatibility. Twitter users can tweet from Twitter, while Facebook users can update their statuses from Facebook. Meanwhile Google Wave will consolidate everything into the interface of my choice and I can even respond back without reloading my browser.

I have seen the future; it is Google Wave.

Teens Fight Back

Remember the Mosquito anti-teen device that was supposed to deter kids from hanging around by emmiting a high pitched sound that only folks under 20 can hear? Well students have turned lemons to lemonaide with the technology. According to a news article from Metro.co.uk students have highjacked the high-frequency sound out of adult hearing range and are using it as a ringtone in a defiant challenge against authority.

From the article:

Schoolchildren have recorded the sound, which they named Teen Buzz, and spread it from phone to phone via text messages and Bluetooth technology.

Now they can receive calls and texts during lessons without teachers having the faintest idea what is going on.

Clever. Here is a clip of the Mosquito Anti-teen device sound and a clip of just the ringtone—or so I’m told because I can’t hear anything.

(via Waxy)

Update: According to BoingBoing, using a 20hz sound as a cell phone ring is not possible. I suppose we are left to assume that the students have just pulled the wool over the teachers’ (and reporters’) collective eyes making them believe that there is something happening which they cannot hear.

Update: It’s now been pointed out that since new phones can play MP3’s and apparently people under 20 can hear the sound on the mp3’s it’s likely not a bogus story.

Are Software Patents Evil?

One of the things I think I would enjoy most if I were an employee at Google would be listening to all the great speakers the company pays to come in and give lectures. Here is an tremendously interesting talk about the pros and cons of software patents and the related trappings: Are Software Patents Evil?

Because there’s so much scope for design in software, a successful application tends to be way more than the sum of its patents. What protects little companies from being copied by bigger competitors is not just their patents, but the thousand little things the big company will get wrong if they try.

PC World Busts the Biggest PC Myths

PC World Logo
PC World published an article revealing the truth behind some common computer myths. Have you ever wondered:

  • If magnets will damage your data?
  • Does using a cell phone on a plane actually interferes with the navigation and communications systems of the aircraft?
  • If you don’t ’stop’ a USB device before unplugging it from a PC, will you really screw things up?
  • Do cookies track everything you do on the Internet?
  • What terrible things happen if you turn off your PC without shutting down Windows?
  • Does opting out of spam gets you even more spam?
  • If you don’t periodically run your laptop batteries down to zero, will you lose battery life?

Find out the answer to these questions and more as PC World exposes the myths that waste your time and money.