The Best Device

Technology is progressing at a rapid rate.  Many times people are wondering what the next step is and which device they can purchase to stay on top of the game.  My best device has a wide variety of applications from education to communication to gaming.  This device is called MYO.  Check out the video below:

There are a few values that each category of use would contain.  These values are:
  1. Price
  2. Ease of use/intuitiveness
  3. Ability to transition to different platforms/tasks
The MYO satisfies each of these values terrifically.  At $149 dollars, this device is affordable to almost all demographics.  Education would be able to purchase them, gamers could justify the cost and even the typical home user could pay the price for the novelty.

Right now, the device is in pre-order.  In the video, it shows various applications in the developer model which they were able to come up with.  However, the most exciting aspect of this device is its ability to adapt to existing and future devices.  Imagine this paired up with some google glass, or tied into a smart board system for teachers.  The developers are working on an API, which will allow third party apps and hardware to interact with the device and come up with new applications for it.

Various devices which accomplish a similar task already exist.  There’s the XBOX Kinect, wireless mice and other gesture control systems as found in the Playstation and Wii gaming systems.  However, this device is the first to make the process nearly seamless; becoming just another part of your body.  You are also no longer limited to controlling things when in the sight of a camera; everything is self contained.  You can be in another room, double tap on the counter and skip songs.

Pretty awesome, eh?  I know I will be buying one, and I’m sure that I’ll be recommending it to everyone I talk with.  Where couldn’t this thing be used?


The ‘human’ element of social media

I have another confession to make.  I absolutely despise posts on facebook like the one above.  Call me heartless, but I just hate how people exploit the aspect of going viral for seemingly selfish reasons.  Maybe its the fact that I really want a puppy myself, but can’t have one that is subconsciously making me jealous.  Who knows.

Point of the story:  These kind of photos seem to have gained a lot of traction the past few weeks.  I don’t have anything I would ever do something like this for, but some people get really creative.  It’s humanizing the cold world of social media.

“Humanizing?  What on earth do you mean?  Isn’t the idea of social media human enough?”

No.  Here’s a prime example of why these photos work:

The above photo is a former teacher at my high school alma mater.  Even with my own hatred for photos like this, I HAD to post this.  It’s not because I know him (never even had him as a teacher).  It’s not because I feel obligated (because all my facebook friends are posting it).  It’s because I’m human.  In my experience, these posterboard messages gone viral are always playing off our deepest emotions: who doesn’t remember the feeling of wanting a puppy when they were young?  In the case of this second photo, who doesn’t want to feel some sort of connection to your family; especially your own parents?

That is the reason these posts are working.  Everyone, even the most cynical and mean have just enough humanity left in us that we want to help someone feel those same feelings we hold so dear in our hearts.  I don’t think something like this would be possible before the ubiquitous facebook.  Maybe a news story on the local network, but even that has limited reach.  The audience for something like this is literally world-wide.  Just by sharing the photo myself (which I did… because of the reasons above) this has now gained traction to a small demographic in southern Cameroon in Central Africa.  I know at least one of my friends there has reposted it, and from there, who knows who else they know.  I HIGHLY doubt anyone over there has any information worth contributing to this cause, but that’s besides the point.  

The point here is the reach.

Across the world, in a completely different country and culture, people are sharing things like this; helping people they will never know.  Why? Because we all still have a glimmer of humanity left in us.  Things in current events can be frustrating and depressing, but we can all take a moment to think about the little glimmers of good happening across the interwebs.

I don’t know if Mr. Larson will ever actually find his biological father.  But a quick share couldn’t hurt.  If you wanna help, you can share the photo located HERE

The State of the Union of New Media

I have a confession to make.  Since the 2012 presidential debates I’ve developed a new addiction: monitoring (and interacting on) my social media networks during important political events.

Tonight was the annual State of the Union address.  I’ve always enjoyed this opportunity to hear our president speak to the nation, whether they are republic or democrat.  The rhetoric fascinates me, and it always gives me hope that maybe something progressive will happen.

Here are some of my musings and thoughts from observing tonights speech on twitter and facebook.

  • The speech tonight was over 38,000 characters long.  People have been summarizing and paraphrasing the speech in 140 characters or less.  One major news organization prompted their followers to come up with the best 140 character summary and will show their top ten favorites on their broadcast this evening.
  • I was watching the ‘enhanced version’ of the broadcast as provided by the white house on their website.  This enhanced version provided “the charts, facts, figures, and graphics you need to get the most out of the speech” (according to the white house.  All I could think about was how something like this could be used as a form of modern propaganda.  I’m not implying that the statistics or images were misleading, but the fact that they COULD be.
  • Like many of the past political events covered by the twittersphere, hashtagging was incredibly important.  The White House promoted #SOTU (state of the union) beforehand as the official hashtag of this address.  The speech generated various hashtags throughout; some user-created and others promoted.  When talking about gun control, this image to the right appeared in the enhanced version and was sent out via the official white house social networks.
    • The hashtag #nowisthetime began in january as a call from democrats to start the discussion on gun control.  The fact that it has tied itself into one of the most important political speeches of the year is important.
    • After the speech was over, the official White House pages began pushing people to use the hashtag #JobsNow in order to “tweet your support of my [Barack Obama’s] plan to create jobs and strengthen the middle class.” A little over an hour after that tweet went out, the hashtag was on the rise in terms of trending, while the hashtag #SOTU continued to dominate the trending topics here in Utah and across the country. The hashtag #GOPresponse also began to trend in the time after the speech, beginning the polarized bickering match between the two parties which seems to always ignore the idea of compromise
  • One interesting trend I found was that my facebook feed was pretty quiet about the state of the union address.  I can’t exactly figure out a reason as to why, except for the fact that the social media tide is shifting away from facebook and the fact that a majority of my facebook friends would fall into the category of “red-blooded republican” and probably were as interested in watching their (democrat) president speak as the elected, republican representatives were to be there.  
  • (Full disclosure, the image above is most definitely taken out of context, and I don’t even know if these guys are republicans or even at the SOTU address.  But this is about how I imagine they all looked.)
So that’s that.  I’m sure that as I go to sleep tonight, I’ll think of more things.  If I do, I’ll post an edit.  What do you think?  What did your social networks show during the speech?

Vine: a window into your life

Developed by Vine Labs, Inc. (A subsidiary of Twitter)

Back when the Lumiere Brothers starting filming, they captured short scenes from everyday life.  These scenes, while seemingly meaningless to us now, enthralled audiences of there time, mostly due to the technology involved its novelty.

What is Vine?
Vine is social video sharing app akin to instagram.  Taking a line from these original Lumiere Brothers films, Vine allows you to record short segments of your life and experiences and posts them in a social newsfeed for your friends and followers to gain a glimpse into the world through your eyes.  According the developers blog:

Posts on Vine are about abbreviation — the shortened form of something larger. They’re little windows into the people, settings, ideas and objects that make up your life. They’re quirky, and we think that’s part of what makes them so special.

At first glance, you realize that the navigation of this app is similar to that of many social media apps which work in a ‘feed’ type formula (extremely familiar if you use instagram).  The main difference is that as your screen ‘settles’ on an entry in the feed, it starts playing automatically.  Like how twitter lets you communicate a message in 140 characters, each video in the feed has a maximum of about 6 seconds.
The design choices in terms of navigation and usability were made quite intentionally.  Again, from the developers blog:

Here’s another example: Vine is a video service without a play button. This was intentional. Old things are beautiful, but new things should look, well… new. That’s why Vine doesn’t have a play button. It also doesn’t have a pause button, a timeline scrubber, a blinking red light, or dials and a brushed-metal finish to give you the impression that you’re using a dusty video camera.  There’s only one nod to traditional filmmaking; the create button, which is an abstracted video camera. 

When you are in the record window, you simply tap and hold your finger on the screen to record.  If you want to record something else in the clip, or pause recording for a few seconds, you lift you finger from the screen until you are ready to start filming again.

After you have finished your clip, it will compile it into a looping clip with sound and give you the option to add a caption or hashtags and the ability to post it to twitter and facebook in addition to your Vine newsfeed.  You select your options and that’s it!  Quick and painless.


The app is very young.  It only launched just a couple weeks ago and has had some issues since then, but it is constantly evolving.  If you follow the developers official twitter account, they are always posting about new features and things they are testing out.  I can only imagine it is just a short amount of time before some basic filters are placed within the app.  Enhanced privacy and posting controls have been promised in the future as well.

Because the app was acquired by Twitter shortly before launch, the significant hurdle of gaining a user base will not be huge for them.  Right now, the userbase of my actual ‘friends’ is small, but existent.  Like facebook, instagram and other social networks, this will eventually grow.

Currently, the app is only available on iOS and it is not universal (technically limited to iPod touch and iPhone, though you can run it on an iPad).  Like other social networks, it is inevitable that it will become cross-platform (I’m sure that is twitter’s eventual goal).

Its definitely something that looks to be quite a competitor with instagram, however, I think this will benefit both networks in the long run.  Still photography and video are two completely different animals, so if anything this will provided another artistic outlet to social media-philes.

The app is free!  For what you pay (nothing) you are receiving an app with a familiar, but unique functionality.  It provides a new way to show your feelings, waste time, or get creative.  This app could be a really unique tool for event hosts to promote their events and give people that ‘extra push’ at the last minute to come to something happening at that time; or to record a promo for something happening in the future.  

The Rhetoric of Polarization

In the past decade or so, I’ve seen some interesting things happen. Some have been awesome, funny or even absurd.  Others have been memorable for much more somber reasons.  One common thread that ties all of these events together in recent history has been how my friends, family and acquaintances have responded to these events.  I remember a time when we actually talked about things.  If we couldn’t talk face to face because of distance or time constraints, we may have even called each other to talk about things, if we felt strongly enough about it.

Then this little thing came along called social media.  In my mind and among my group of friends, this started first with instant messaging.  We didn’t have profile pages or websites, just a little icon showing us when our friends were online.  Eventually, among my group of friends and family we joined Myspace  made our profile pages, posted our cover song and stressed about which friends to put into our top eight.  People would post on your page, and it was kind of a novelty. 

When the original Myspace began to die out, we mass migrated over to Facebook   Facebook provided us a set template and more of a focus than Myspace   It became much more like a journal of your life which your ‘friends’ could follow.  People would post their photos on their profile, along with little updates about their life, how they were feeling and what they were doing at the time.  It all started so innocently, but we let it become something else.  Something much more divisive and… dare I say…. anti-social.

That is a pretty long history of my experience with social media, but it has an important purpose.  We put so much time and effort into our social media profiles, developing a social media personality, that we immediately begin to feel threatened if someone with a contrasting view or activity starts to clog up our wall or news feed with opposing viewpoints or activities.

This is the underlying problem with the debate about gun control right now.  I think that it is obvious that something needs to be done, and both sides would acknowledge that, but we’ve lost the middle ground.  In my social networks, I have an interesting mix of ideologies amongst my friends.  One of my roommates is very staunch on his attitude that Obama will be dissolving the 2nd amendment completely and we must hoard all the weapons and ammunition we can so that we can fight against the government when the time arrives.  I laughed at this idea until I realized he was 100% serious.  His attitude of paranoia is honestly that one day the government will be at war with the people and will have an advantage because they’ll have the automatic weapons and the only thing we’ll be able to have as citizens are muzzle-loaders.  There is no doubt that social media has influenced his opinion on this issue: he follows Fox News exclusively, his friends and family are from a very small town Southern Utah and a good majority of his friends are right-wing republicans.  None of these things are ‘bad’, however the things he sees on his news feed are going to be extremely weighted towards one side of the issue.  Whenever he logs in, most of the things he sees posted will be in accord with his ideology  and anything to the contrary will look like an attack from (what he calls) a ‘vocal minority’.

Here’s the thing.  Those people contrary to his opinion aren’t a ‘vocal minority’.  They are definitely vocal, but far from a minority.  A poll from John Hopkins’ School of Public Heath discovered the following:

A national survey of 2,703 respondents found 89 percent support universal background checks; 69 percent support banning the sale of semiautomatic assault weapons; 68 percent support banning the sale of large-capacity ammunition magazines.

Since the Sandy Hook shooting, there has been numerous polls and surveys conducted, showing very similar results (take a look at this overview here).

The most important thing to remember is that when it comes to the opinions we are exposed to online, we are our own personal gatekeepers.  If I get frustrated with something someone says, I can un-follow them, block them, hide there posts and do whatever I want to steer away from having conflict on my profile page.  If I were to pull a Martin Luther and post these surveys on my friends Facebook wall, him and every person he follows would begin to swarm me with facts, figures and opinion contrary to that of my own.  It doesn’t mean that either of us would be right, but the effect of the spiral of silence theory would be evident.

As I examine my own social media networks, the calls to action from both sides are evident.  Among my friends and family on Facebook, the discussion is very one-sided towards keeping gun laws the way they are; blaming gun violence directly on the people involved, the president and generally ignoring the root of the issue.  This side is fueled by a perceived threat and a paranoia.  Inversely, other more left wing social networks which I frequent are one-sided in taking all guns away, blaming the violence on the fact that people can get these guns and are fueled by a seemingly knee-jerk perception of all people who own guns are crazy nut jobs who target shoot every day and are otherwise hermits who hoard guns.

The role of technological determinism should not be ignored in the debate about guns either.  I do not believe that either side would deny that guns have evolved significantly since the founding of our country.  There was a time (not that long ago) where it was much more expensive to own a gun.  Because of advances in our factories and materials research, the price of guns and ammunition has dropped.  The appearance of online gun retailers and gun trades show how easy it is to obtain one of these weapons.  Guns are no longer for hunting animals, but they are precision instruments designed to kill.  The guise is that the precision is for target shooting and the like, but that is what a gun is designed to do in the end: kill.

This meme was posted on a friends facebook wall.  Interesting visualization of this debate.

When it comes down it, neither side is correct.

The calls to action from both sides are driven by a misunderstanding of the other side.  There is information out there, but because we act as gatekeepers of our social connections, we inevitably (and most of the time, unknowingly) tend to choose people and media that agree with our opinions.  I believe that we all start out in the middle, but with the opinions and arguments exposed to us on social media we start to migrate towards one side or the other.  Washington can try to make laws that will fix the problem, but because our elected officials are worried about re-election they will inevitably cater to those lobbying on either side of this highly polarized issue.

I don’t have an answer to gun violence and gun control.  I’m still struggling to find the middle ground again myself.  However, I don’t think it wouldn’t hurt to move this discussion out of the realm of  social media and talk about the facts face to face, just like we did in the past.  It seems like we accomplished a lot more back then, doesn’t it?

EDIT 20-March-2013:

As I was reading the news today, this story about an app to map out “gun friendly” businesses has begun.  Though the developer stated that the goal was not to push any sort of agenda, really what it is doing is furthering the polarizing rhetoric into two distinct camps.  Now, instead of rhetoric, we could start seeing economic consequences against certain businesses.   Great… :-\

Take a look at the story below: