November 3rd, 2009 — 3:31pm
UX Matters just published Anonymous Cowards, Avatars, and the Zeitgeist: Personal Identity in Flux. This is the latest installment of my column on ubiquitous computing and user experience, and it takes on the question of how personal identity is changing is a result of the rise of digital tools, services, and measurements for identity. Identity is a fundamental aspect of experience, so it’s critical that we understand what is happening to this universal element. ‘Anonymous Cowards’ is the first of two parts, focused on understanding how digital identities work, and are different from what we know. Here’s an excerpt:
Driven by dramatic shifts in technology, economics, and media, nothing less than a transformation in the makeup and behavior of our personal identity is at hand—what it is, where it comes from, how it works, who controls it, how people and organizations use and value it. As a direct result of this transformation, the experience people have of personal identity—both their own and the identities of others—is changing rapidly. As designers of the blended digital, social, and material experiences of everyware, we must understand the changing nature of personal identity. And now that humanity itself is within the design horizon, it is especially important for design to understand the shifting experience of digital identity.
The second part will look at the implications of these changes for our experience of identity. As I put together my predictions for what identity will be like in 10 years, I welcome input — what do you think?
2 comments » | The Media Environment
December 11th, 2008 — 5:21am
I’ve been focused on understanding future directions in the landscape of digital experiences recently (which nicely parallels some of the work I’ve been doing on design and futures in general), so I’m sharing a summary of the analysis that’s come out of this research.
This presentation shares an overview of all the major waves of change affecting digital experiences, some of the especially forward-looking insights around shifts in our identities, and the implications for those creating digital experiences.
The 8 waves discussed here (are there more? let me know!)
- Digital = Social
- Digital Natives
- Itʼs All a Game
- Take Away
- Seeing Is Believing
Comment » | Ideas, The Media Environment, User Experience (UX)
June 18th, 2007 — 10:08am
For regular readers wondering about the recent quiet here, a notice that Boxes and Arrows will shortly publish an article I’ve been working on for a while in the background, titled, “It Seemed Like the Thing To Do At the Time: The Power of State of Mind”. This is the written version of my panel presentation Lessons From Failure: Or How IAs Learn to Stop Worrying and Love the Bombs from the 2007 IA Summit in Las Vegas.
I’ve written about organizations and failure — Signs of Crisis and Decline In Organizations — in this blog before (a while ago, but still a popular posting), and wanted to consider the subject on a larger level. With the rapid spread of social software / social media and the rise of complex social dynamics in on-line environments, exploring failure at the level of an entire society is timely.
In The Fishbowl
Failed or failing societies are an excellent fishbowl for observers seeking patterns related to social media, for two reasons. First, the high intensity of failure situations reveals much of what is ordinarily hidden in social structures and patterns: Impending collapse leads people to dispense with carefully maintained social constructions.
One source of this heightened intensity is the greatly increased stakes of societal failure (vs. most other kinds), which often means sudden and dramatic disruptions to basic living and economic patterns, the decline of cities and urban concentrations, and dramatic population decrease. Another source is the very broad scope of the aftereffects; because a failing society involves an entire culture, the affects are comprehensive, touching everyone and everything.
Secondly, societies often command substantial qualitative and quantitative resources that can help them manage crisis or challenges, thereby averting failure. Smaller, less sophisticated entities lack the resource base of a complex social organism, and consequently cannot put up as much of a fight.
Examples of resources available at the level of a society include:
- Leaders and planners dedicated to focusing on the future
- Large amounts of accumulated knowledge and experience
- Sophisticated structures for decision making and control
- Mechanisms for maintaining order during crises
- Collective resilience from surviving previous challenges
- Substantial stores of resources such as food and materials, money, land
- Tools, methods, and organizations providing economies of scale, such as banking and commerce networks
- Systems for mobilizing labor for special purposes
- Connections to other societies that could provide assistance (or potential rescue)
Despite these mitigating resources, the historical and archeological records overflow with examples of failed societies. Once we read those records, the question of how these societies defined themselves seems to bear directly on quite a few of the outcomes.
I discuss three societies in the article: Easter Island, Tikopia, and my own small startup company. We have insight into the fate of Easter Island society thanks to a rich archeological record that has been extensively studied, and descriptions of the Rapa Nui society in written records kept by European explorers visiting since 1722. Tikopia of course is still a functioning culture. My startup was a tiny affair that serves as a useful foil because it shows all the mistakes societies make in a compressed span of time, and on a scale that’s easy to examine. The Norse colonies in North America and Greenland are another good example, though space constraints didn’t allow discussion of their failed society in the article.
Read the article to see what happens to all three!
Semi Random Assortment of Quotations
In the meantime, enjoy this sampling of quotations about failure, knowledge, and self, from some well-known — and mostly successful! — people.
“Technological change is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal.” — ALBERT EINSTEIN
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” — CHARLES DARWIN
“It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.” — EPICTETUS
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” — THOMAS EDISON
“It is on our failures that we base a new and different and better success.” — HAVELOCK ELLIS
“Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it.” — ANAIS NIN
“We read the world wrong and say that it deceives us.” — RABINDRANATH TAGORE
“Whoever longs to rescue quickly both himself and others should practice the supreme mystery: exchange of self and other.” — SHANTIDEVA
“Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.” — JOHN DEWEY
2 comments » | architecture, Ideas, The Media Environment
January 10th, 2006 — 1:13pm
What happens when this classic vernacular interjection meets linguistics, data visualization, and the Web?
The Aargh page, of course. (It should really be The Aargh! Page, but this is so fantastic that I can’t complain…)
Here’s a screenshot of the graph that shows frequency of variant spellings for aargh in Google, along two axes:
Note the snazzy mouseover effect, which I’ll zoom here:
Looking into the origins aargh inevitably brings up Robert Newton, the actor who played Long John Silver in several Disney productions based on the writings of Robert Louis Stevenson. I remember seeing the movies as a child, without knowing that they were the first live action Disney movies broadcast on television. So do plenty of other people who’ve created tribute pages</>.
Aargh may have many spelling variations, but at least three of them bear a stamp of legitimacy, as the editorial review of The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary (Paperback) at Amazon.com explains, “If you’re using the 1991 edition or the 1978 original, you’re woefully behind the Scrabble-playing times. With more than 100,000 2– to 8-letter words, there are some interesting additions (“aargh,” “aarrgh,” and “aarrghh” are all legitimate now), while words they consider offensive are no longer kosher. “
There’s even International Talk Like A Pirate Day, celebrated on September 19th every year. The organizers’ site offers a nifty English-to-Pirate-Translator.
Most random perhaps is the Wikipedia link for Aargh the videogame, from the 80’s, without pirates.
Comment » | The Media Environment
January 10th, 2006 — 10:48am
“To search the net for your name or links to your web pages. Perhaps connected to long-established SF-fan slang egoscan, to search for one’s name in a fanzine.“
Now a consumable service at: egosurf.org
From the about page:
“egoSurf helps massage the web publishers ego, and thereby maintain the cool equilibrium of the net itself.”
Comment » | The Media Environment
December 15th, 2005 — 11:51am
We rely on many ways of recognizing people, near at hand or from afar; faces, voices, walks, and even the scents from favorite colognes or perfumes help us greet friends, engage colleagues, and identify strangers.
I was in high school when I first noticed that everyone’s key chain made a distinct sound, one that served as a kind of audible calling card that could help recognize people. I started to try to guess who was walking to the front door by learning the unique combinations of sounds — clinking and tinkling from metal keys, rattling and rubbing from ceramic and plastic tokens, and a myriad of other noises from the incredible miscellany people attach to their key rings and carry around with them through life — that announced each of my visitors friends. With a little practice, I could pick out the ten or fifteen people I spent the most time with based on listening to the sounds of key chains. Everyone else was someone I didn’t see often, which was a fine distinction to draw between when gauging how to answer the door.
There are many other audible cues to identity — from the closing of a car door, to the sound of foot steps, or cell phone ring tones — but the key chain is unique because it includes so many different elements: the number and size and materials of the keys, or the layering of different key rings and souveniers people attach to them. A key chain is a sort of impromptu ensemble of found instruments playing little bursts of free jazz like personalized fanfares for modern living.
The sound of someone’s key chain also changes over time, as they add or remove things, or rearrange them. That sound can even change in step with the way your relationship to that person changes. For example, if they buy a souvenier with you and put it on their keychain; or if you give them keys to your apartment. Each of these changes reflects shared experiences, and you can hear the difference in sound from one day to the next if you listen carefully.
And like those other ways of recognizing people I mentioned earlier, which all reach the level of being called signatures when they become truly distinctive, the sound of someone’s key chain serves a sort of audible signature.
Until now, the sound of a keychain was perhaps the only truly unique audible signature that was not part of our person to begin with (like the voice). Now that Jason Freeman has created the iTunes Signature Maker, we may have an audible signaure suitable for the digital realm. The iTunes Signature Maker scans your iTunes library, taking one or two second snippets of many files, and mixing these found bits of sound together into a short audio signature. You choose from a few parameters such as play count, total number of songs, and whether to include videos, and the signature maker produces a .WAV file.
I made an iTunes signature using Jason’s tool a few days ago. I’ve listened to it a few times. It certainly includes quite a few songs I’ve listened to often and can recognize from just a one-second snippet. Calligraphers and graphologists make much of a few handwritten letters on a page: music can say a great deal about someone’s moods, outlook, tastes, or even what moves their soul. I listen to a lot of music via radio, CD’s and even live that isn’t included in this. I’m not sure it represents me. I think it’s up to everyone else to decide that.
But what can you do with one? It’s not practical yet to attach it to email messages, like a conventional .sig. It might be a good way to bookend the mixes I make for friends and family. I can see having a lot of fun listening to a bunch of anonymous iTunes signatures from your friends to try and guess which one belongs to whom. There’s real potential for a useful but non-exhaustive answer to the inevitable question, “What kind of music do you like?” when you meet someone new. Along those lines, Jason may have kicked off a new fad in Internet dating; this is the perfect example of a unique token that can compress a great deal of meaning into a small (digital) package that doesn’t require meeting or talking to exchange. I can see the iTunes signature becoming a speed-dating requisite; bring your iTunes signature file with you on a flash drive or iPod shuffle, and listen or exchange as necessary.
At least the name is easy: what else would you call this besides a “musig”. Maybe an “iSig” or a “tunesig”.
Unique ring tones, door chimes, and start-up sounds are only the beginning. Combine musigs with the music genome project, and you could upload your signature to a clearinghouse online, and have it automatically compared for matches against other people’s musigs based on patterns and preferences. Have it find someone who likes reggae-influenced waltzes, or fado, or who listens to at least ten of the same artists you enjoy. Build a catalog of one musig every month for a year, and ask the engine to describe the change in your tastes. Add a musig to your Amazon wishlists for gift-giving, or even ask it to predict what you might like based on the songs in the file.
You can download my musig / iSig / tunesig / iTunes signature here; note that it’s nearly 8mb.
I’ll think I’ll try it again in a few months, to see how it changes.
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November 4th, 2005 — 3:47pm
A few months ago, I put up a posting on Mental Models Lotus Notes, and Resililence. It focused on my chronic inability to learn how not to send email with Lous Notes. I posted about Notes, but what led me to explore resilience in the context of mental models was the surprising lack of acknowledgement of the scale of hurricane Katrina I came across at the time. For example, the day the levees failed, the front page of the New York Times digital edition carried a gigantic headline saying ‘Levees Fail! New Orleans floods!’. And yet no one in the office at the time even mentioned what happened.
My conclusion was that people were simply unable to accept the idea that a major metropolitan area in the U.S. could possibly be the setting for such a tragedy, and so they refused to absorb it — because it didn’t fit in with their mental models for how the world works. Today, I came across a Resilience Science posting titled New Orleans and Disaster Sociology that supports this line of thinking, while it discusses some of the interesting ways that semantics and mental models come into play in relation to disasters.
Quoting extensively from an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education titled Disaster Sociologists Study What Went Wrong in the Response to the Hurricanes, but Will Policy Makers Listen? the posting calls out how narrow slices of media coverage driven by blurred semantic and contextual understandings, inaccurately frame social responses to disaster situations in terms of group panic and the implied breakdown of order and society.
“The false idea of postdisaster panic grows partly from simple semantic confusion, said Michael K. Lindell, a psychologist who directs the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center at Texas A&M University at College Station. ‘A reporter will stick a microphone in someone’s face and ask, ‘Well, what did you do when the explosion went off?’ And the person will answer, ‘I panicked.’ And then they’ll proceed to describe a very logical, rational action in which they protected themselves and looked out for people around them. What they mean by ‘panic’ is just ‘I got very frightened.’ But when you say ‘I panicked,’ it reinforces this idea that there’s a thin veneer of civilization, which vanishes after a disaster, and that you need outside authorities and the military to restore order. But really, people usually do very well for themselves, thank you.‘
Mental models come into play when the article goes on to talk about the ways that the emergency management agencies are organized and structured, and how they approach and understand situations by default. With the new Homeland Security paradigm, all incidents require command and control approaches that assume a dedicated and intelligent enemy — obviously not the way to manage a hurricane response.
“Mr. Lindell, of Texas A&M, agreed, saying he feared that policy makers in Washington had taken the wrong lessons from Katrina. The employees of the Department of Homeland Security, he said, ‘are mostly drawn from the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, and from police departments. They’re firmly committed to a command-and-control model.’ (Just a few days ago, President Bush may have pushed the process one step further: He suggested that the Department of Defense take control of relief efforts after major natural disasters.)
“The habits of mind cultivated by military and law-enforcement personnel have their virtues, Mr. Lindell said, but they don’t always fit disaster situations. ‘They come from organizations where they’re dealing with an intelligent adversary. So they want to keep information secret; ‘it’s only shared on a need-to-know basis. But emergency managers and medical personnel want information shared as widely as possible because they have to rely on persuasion to get people to coöperate. The problem with putting FEMA into the Department of Homeland Security is that it’s like an organ transplant. What we’ve seen over the past four years is basically organ rejection.‘
If I read this correctly, misaligned organizational cultures lie at the bottom of the whole problem. I’m still curious about the connections between an organization’s culture, and the mental models that individuals use. Can a group have a collective mental model?
Accoridng to Collective Mental State and Individual Agency: Qualitative Factors in Social Science Explanation it’s possible, and in fact the whole idea of this collective mental state is a black hole as far as qualitative social research and understanding are concerned.
2 comments » | Modeling, The Media Environment
November 3rd, 2005 — 2:35pm
Apparently, if you wait long enough, all circles close themselves. Case in point: I’ve always thought Golding’s Lord of the Flies nicely captures several of the less appetizing aspects of the typical american junior high school experience.
And I’ve always thought that much of the reality television programming that was all the rage for a while and now seems to be passing like a Japanese fad, is simply a chance for people on all sides of the screen to revisit their own junior high school experiences once again — albeit with a full complement of adult secondary sexual characteristics. When I do channel surf past the latest incarnation of the primal vote-the-jerk-off-the-island epic, Golding’s book always comes to mind.
Then a friend recommended Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale as recreational reading. Battle Royale is, as Tom Waits says, ‘big in Japan’ — it being a Japanese treatment of some of the same themes that drive Lord of the Flies.
The editorial review from Amazon reads:
“As part of a ruthless program by the totalitarian government, ninth-grade students are taken to a small isolated island with a map, food, and various weapons. Forced to wear special collars that explode when they break a rule, they must fight each other for three days until only one “winner” remains. The elimination contest becomes the ultimate in must-see reality television.“
And so the circle closes…
1 comment » | Reading Room, The Media Environment
September 17th, 2005 — 10:12am
A tip o’ the hat to Richard Boakes for foiling a second-rate spammer by buying up the domain they were promoting with comment spam before they did.
1 comment » | The Media Environment
July 7th, 2005 — 6:13pm
I went to the 4th of July concert on the Esplanade this past Monday, for the first time in several years, expecting to show some international visitors genuine Boston Americana. After all, 4th of July celebrations are singularly American experiences; part summer solstice rite, part brash revolutionary gesture, part demonstration of martial prowess, part razzle-dazzle spectacle as only Americans put on.
I suppose a unique American experience is what we got: in return for our trouble, we felt like unpaid extras in a television production recreating the holiday celebrations for a remote viewing audience miles or years away. It was — de-centered — hollow and inverted. It’s become a simulacrum, with a highly unnatural flow driven by the calculus of supra-local television programming goals. The center of gravity is now a national television audience sitting in living rooms everywhere and nowhere else, and not the 500,000 people gathered around the Hatch Shell who create the celebration and make it possible by coming together every year.
Despite all the razzle-dazzle — and in true American fashion there was a lot, from fighter jets to fireworks, via brass bands, orchestras, and pop stars along the way — the experience itself was deeply unsatisfying, because it was obvious from the beginning that the production company (B4) held the interests of broadcasters far more important than the people who come to the Esplanade.
There were regular commercial breaks.
In a 4th of July concert.
For half a million people.
Commercial breaks which the organizers — no doubt trapped between the Scylla of contractual obligations and the Charybdis of shame at jilting a half-million people out of a summer holiday to come to this show — filled with filler. While the commercials aired, and the audience waited, the ‘programmers’ plugged the holes in the concert schedule with an awkward mix of live songs lasting less than three minutes, pre-recorded music, and inane commentary from local talking heads. We felt like we were sitting *behind* a monitor at a taping session for a 4th of July show, listening while other people watched the screen in front.
I bring this out because it offers good lessons for those who design or create experiences, or depend upon the design or creation of quality experiences.
Briefly, those lessons are:
1. If you have an established audience, and you want or need to engage a new one, make sure you don’t leave your loyal customers behind by making it obvious that they are less important to you than your new audience.
2. If you’re entering a new medium, and your experience will not translate directly to the new channel (and which well-crafted experience does translate exactly?), make sure you don’t damage the experience of the original channel while you’re translating to the new one.
3. When adding a new or additional channel for delivering your experience, don’t trade quality in the original channel for capability in the new channel. Many separate factors affect judgments of quality. Capability in one channel is not equivalent to quality in another. Quality is much harder to achieve.
4. Always preserve quality, because consistent quality wins loyalty, which is worth much more in the long run. Consistent quality differentiates you, and encourages customers to recommend you to other people with confidence, and allows other to become your advocates, or even your partners. For advocates, think of all the people who clear obstacles for you without direct benefit, such as permit and license boards. For partners, think of all the people who’s business connect to or depend upon your experience in some way; the concessions vendors who purchase a vending license to sell food and beverages every year are a good example of this.
For people planning to attend next year’s 4th of July production, I hope the experience you have in 2006 reflects some of these lessons. If not, then I can see the headline already, in bold 42 point letter type, “Audiences nowhere commemorate Independence Day again via television! 500,000 bored extras make celebration look real for remote viewers!“
Since this is the second time I’ve had this experience, I’ve changed my judgment on the quality of the production, and I won’t be there: I attended in 2002, and had exactly the same experience.
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