Monday, August 31, 2009

Mind Meld? Yeah, There's an App for That

I see it as a sort of swim cap - although, I'm sure a more dapper model could be produced.  Slip on the cap, think something and the words would appear on your computer screen - maybe with the soundtrack you imagine. You could "think" the cursor around the screen to revise and edit.  Then you think "save" and its done. You could have the computer play it back to you.

It is not nearly as sci-fi as it sounds.  Stephen Hawking, the theoretical physicist with ALS uses a "talking computer" to  articulate the words he creates with very slight muscle movements.  As early as 2000 scientists had figured  out how to let other "locked in" people manipulate computers directly from a "neural implant" (Kennedy et al).  Monkeys learned to "think" their way through a computer game even when the joystick was removed (Graham-Rowe).  So, we can do it.  The question is should we?

The benefits are myriad and obvious.  The physically disabled, but mentally robust, would have a wonderful new ally for enriching their lives.  Folks like my 97-year-old father could talk and think their way through memoirs.  The computer might even be able to track multiple tellings of the story about Ozzie and the runaway horses, and morph it into one composite version with all the details, while highlighting obvious discrepancies to be fact-checked at a later date.

I, too, would benefit.  I do some of my most insightful thinking in that wonderful place between waking and sleeping.  Sometimes I manage to remember, sometimes I even get to pen and paper.  Often I do neither.  The Vulcan MindMeld Dreamcatcher application would snare those butterfly thoughts.

The dark side is also obvious.  How do you turn it off?  Like OnStar which is only a good idea if you want people to know where you are, VMMD is only a good idea if you want to have your thoughts captured.  What if you don't?  Makes the prompt "What are you thinking now?" seem a little less cheerful, eh?  What is to keep someone from using VMMD to capture those thoughts I wish to keep safely enfolded in my skull?  Googlemind? Yeeech.  On the other hand, it might make torture unecessary - after all, you could just open the mind.

Graham-Rowe, D. (2003). Monkey's brain signals control 'third arm'. Retrieved Aug. 30, 2009, from

Kennedy, P. & Et Al., . (2000). Direct control of a computer from the human central nervous system. IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON REHABILITATION ENGINEERING,, 8(2), 198-202.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Some Buckets are Barrels

Metaphors are powerful constructions.  By linking a known concept with an unknown body of knowledge we can “jump start” a dialogue much more quickly.  Consider this blog for example.  You know what a bucket is – you have used one.  You put stuff into it in order to move the “stuff” from one place to another.  Hence, the title of the blog tells you that it will be discussing the ways in which new communication media will be moving content from one place to another.

The title of today’s post indicates a shift.  The image I have is of communication software like Photoshop™, and GarageBand™, transformative software.  Photoshop claims it will give users “more intuitive user experience, greater editing freedom, and significant productivity enhancements.” (Adobe) and GarageBand™ asserts “If you want to learn to play an instrument, write music, or record a song, GarageBand can help. (Apple)

These bits of software obviously intend to do something far more than simply contain content.  They intend for content to pass through them and come out the other side as something different, hopefully better.  I see grape juice going into a barrel.  Time passes, the barrel and the juice work together for awhile, and voila, out the other side comes wine.

Our authors assert that “The Internet has unleashed an explosion of creativity.  .  .” (Palfrey and Gasser, p. 12.)  That may be true, but it wouldn’t have happened if Digital Natives didn’t have this “barrelware” to play with.


Adobe Software.. (n.d.). Create powerful images with the professional standard. Retrieved Aug. 25, 2009, from

Apple, Inc.. (n.d.). Musicians wanted: No experience necessary. Retrieved Aug. 25, 2009, from

Palfrey, J., & Gasser, U. (2008). Born digital: Understanding the first generation of digital natives. NY, NY.: Basic Books.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

One Web Doesn't "Fit All"

There is an interesting story in today's NY Times. The headline is: Health Debate Fails to Ignite Obama’s Grass Roots.

Here is the link to the story:

I am surprised that they seem surprised. The author, Jeff Zeleny, appears to have made a classic mistake in assuming that if you pour a message into the "right" media container it will have the same effect as it had the last time you poured a message into that container. No, it doesn't really happen that way. The negotiation that goes on between our communication needs and the technologies that meet those needs is dynamic on all levels. The message, the medium, and the individuals who use the medium to encounter the message, the transformation of the message by all of the preceding, and behaviors resulting from the on-going negotiation - those are all elements in a dynamic process.

President Obama's digital election campaign made significant use of electronic resources to revitalize the PPPE [a Previously Passive Portion of the Electorate :-)] that shared both his agenda and his technology. My guess is that much of the PPPE is under 30, certainly under 40. Healthcare is a hot button issue for FFOFs [Fearful Folks Over Fifty] who, largely, do not "techno-verb": blog, tweet, Facebook or Google. Sure, that is changing, but not to the extent that we can expect the communication strategies that work for the PPPE to be equally effective the FFOFs.

The PPPE still feel immortal. They don't get sick. They want their "healthcare" to deal with accidents - car, bike, skateboard, tri-athletic, whatever. They will not be the important stakeholders in this issue - except to the extent that their lack of attention might make things more difficult for their parents who tend to be FFOFs.

As Mr. Zeleny does point out in his article, to leverage the support of the FFOFs who are concerned about healthcare, the Obama administration is going to have to address the negotiation differently, perhaps starting with a new container.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Honey, I Broke the Internet.

In much of the industrialized world we have come to see the Internet as a force of nature. Like sunshine and storm, it rolls uninterrupted around the globe and out to the ubiquitous flock of satellites that buzz like bees around the azure bloom of Planet Earth. The events of the last few days demonstrate that in reality the Internet, like aspects of nature, is fragile indeed. Here’s what happened:

Russia and Georgia [the nation, not the US state with the football team] have, shall we say, "issues." As the Soviet Union crumbled and previously independent nations and wannabe nations sorted out the new maps, Russia and Georgia asserted rights to the same turf. As a war it was smaller than most – but it got a lot of press here because at the time we liked Georgia and didn’t like Russia. The shooting part of the war has been over for a while but the bad blood continues to bubble up.

These days, bombs and bullets are taking a back seat to bits and blogs. Among the current players is an economics professor from Georgia who is a strident nationalistic blogger. The professor seems to have rubbed his Russian counterparts the wrong way. They responded with a “denial of service”* cyber attack on the blogger’s tools: Twitter, Facebook, and LiveJournal. Twitter went down for most of a day and the other two were severely compromised.

The point is this – two or three angry and immature geeks brought down large portions of the Internet in a fit of personal pique. They either did not stop to think, or did not care, that others depend upon the Internet for information, and communication, for work, for directions, for entertainment and for revenue. More frightening still is the thought that they had no idea of the potential scope of their personal feud. In any case, the big old monolithic Internet got zapped in a personal fight. A number of questions come to mind:

  • How dependable is the Internet?
  • To what extent do you assume your Internet connection will always be available?
  • How disrupted is your life when you are separated from your technology?
  • Do you most often use the Internet as “big and public space” or as “small and private space”?

*In a “denial of service” attack, the attacking computer(s) overwhelm the target computer with a flood of bogus messages that prevents the victim from making normal use of their computer. For a more complete definition see this article from US-CERT: The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team: