Category Archives: Technology

Tomorrow in Hindsight

 

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In 1997, Intel commissioned One Digital Day: How the Microchip is Changing Our World art of the company’s thirtieth anniversary. The result is a coffee table book filled with pictures pertaining to the microchip, all taken on the same day. While a picture may be worth a thousand words, that doesn’t preclude the assortment of essays and captions featured in this tome. The foreword is written by Andy Grove, Chairman and CEO of Intel at the time of publication. Michael S. Malone introduces various “chapters” of the book, classifying photos under different categories. I use the term “chapter” loosely since, in this case, it identifies sets of photographs and their corresponding captions placed under a particular heading rather than what one would conventionally consider a chapter to be. This is a picture book for the adult who wants to look into the future with the same wide-eyed marvel as a child opening a superhero comic book for the first time. The difference? This is not fiction. This was actually happening over a decade ago.

What exactly were we doing on July 11, 1997 or what Andy Grove describes in his introduction as “last July, on an ordinary day?” To provide some personal background, in 1997, I was a seven-year-old first grader. Unlike most of my classmates, I did not have a personal computer. Instead, I would use my mother’s old electric typewriter to do assignments that required typing out. A computer was not seen as a necessity just yet, at least not by my family. This is why seeing the experiences of Katie Durbin, a five year old child at the time of the book’s conception, suffering from a condition which made her unable to walk in sunlight without getting severely burned (xeroderma pigmentosum or XP), is eye-opening. She is seen coping via an online network of friends on xps.org. Social media was already alive and well even before the advent of Facebook and Twiitter or their predecessors MySpace and Friendster. However, it wasn’t as prevalent. Still, the solace it provided for children like Katie, making them aware that they were not alone, proved indispensable. The first photo we see if Katie is one where she is shielded from the sun by her mother who swaddles her in cloth. It’s only on the next page that we see the charming child under the blanket, smiling and pointing at a computer monitor. Katie herself declares “The moon is my friend.” Thanks to the microchip, she’s able to make the acquaintance of more than just that singular heavenly body. Now, she’s in the company of children with bodies like hers through the internet. To my seven-year-old self, the thought of making friends with other children who might be on the other side of the planet would have been inconceivable. However, that is what happened. Back in 1997, a child younger than me was social networking while I tapped away at my typewriter.

Most of the book’s appeal is in seeing the advancements in 1997 from the point of view of one living in the new millennium. It’s like speaking to a grandparent and being surprised to discover that yes, they did already have colored television in the sixties. Now, it’s a bit more recent. We see that they already had social networking and voice activated software in 1997. IMAX films, something that only recently came to Philippine shores via the Mall of Asia, was already in use at New York City’s Sony IMAX theater where we see a slew of children wearing 3D glasses and pointing at the screen in awe. There are also pictures of a soldier in simulation programs that turn an entire room’s walls into screens with images projected onto them, immersing the combatant in a battle scenario. In Tokyo, Japan, we see a robot dubbed “WABOT-2” playing the electric organ. Even more astounding, this robot was built all the way back in 1984. We see a striking image of Buddhist monks in a computer shop and the caption claims “In addition to traditional methods, the monks, from the Maha Phrutharam Temple, use computers to learn about Buddha and his teachings.”

The way we perceive reality has changed. Time is fluid. We can be reached at any moment through our computers and our cellular phones via people we may have never even met in real life. If they had 15 billion microchips then, how many might he have now? No doubt we likely have more. Malone states that back in 1997, there were enough microprocessors for everyone on the planet to have two computers. How is it possible that, today, there are still many who have never touched a computer in their life? Even back then, the digital divide was a concern. After all, I can speak for myself and my typewriter with its lovely backspace key known as correction fluid. How do

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you think technology has developed so far in your lifetime? Do you anticipate or dread what’s to come? Have you ever come across an old book and marvelled at how far we’ve come since it was published?

Trekking on Tumblr

 

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Tumblr is proving to be quite a versatile form of social media. With its focus on sharing images, it affords users a chance to tell stories through pictures. From memes to images that evoke nostalgia from decades gone by, there’s practically nothing you won’t be able to find on Tumblr. Sometimes, images even gain a new dimension as users add captions to it, giving it an entirely new meaning. GIFs featuring moving images evoke an era gone by. It’s like the silent films of early cinema have come back into fashion in this digital age. Based on all these wonders, it’s not surprising that celebrities would be attracted to this platform. It’s a lot less mundane than Twitter.

One celebrity who has recently joined Tumblr is George Takei, an actor most famous for his role of Hikaru Sulu in the original Star Trek series. He’s also well-known for promoting equality as a member of the LGBT community. The man’s a hero both onscreen and off-screen. With the recent buzz around the sequel to 2009’s Star Trek franchise reboot, his Tumblr is a nice little glimpse into a man who helped turn the sci-fi series into a cultural phenomenon. Besides, there’s a certain joy that comes with his quirky sense of humour along with the excitement that he may very well end up re-blogging one of your posts.

The first thing you’ll notice about George Takei’s Tumblr is his love of puns. He makes a point of posting many images with witty lines of his own. For instance, a picture of Barack Obama photo-shopped to look like a classical musician features the line “An instant classic.” He also posts a picture of an action figure Thor accompanied by “Here’s to a Lo-ki Friday, friends.” Two horses kissing in a meme marked “A stable relationship” gets Takei to quip “Just a little horsing around.” It’s his cleverness made short and sweet while accompanied by visuals. Once you click on his Tumblr, it’s likely that you’ll find yourself scrolling through for hours. It’s definitely a great way to pass the time while waiting to see the latest Star Trek.

Micro-blogging Isn’t As Small As The Name Suggests

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In the first decade of this new millennium, we find ourselves on the brink of massive change. Advances in new media have been made beyond our wildest dreams. The response? To dream wilder. Computers, cellular phones, high-definition television and many others mark this decade as one of notable progress. But these are merely devices; what about their intended purpose? Communication is central to many of these hallmarks of technological progress. Consider what some may perceive as an average evening in the United States: You can watch American Idol on Fox, make your vote using your cellphone (probably powered by AT&T) then later use your laptop to tweet your thoughts on the episode in one concise statement. The tweet’s relevance is subject to question though. Just how important are your thoughts on the entertainment you consume? Does reducing that thought to a length of 140 characters reduce the meaning behind the thought? What is tweeting or, to use a broader term, micro-blogging? How does it impact the world of technology and communication as we know it today?

 

Let’s start with a definition. According to the Macmillan Online Dictionary, micro-blogging is “putting short updates such as brief texts, photos etc. on a personal blog, especially by using a mobile phone or instant messaging software.” It’s classified as a “buzz word” or “a word that has become very popular, especially a word relating to a particular activity or subject.” From this, one can surmise that micro-blogging is a fairly new term for an activity that has reached popularity only recently. Macmillan goes on to briefly detail the word’s background by breaking it down into

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its two component words for the sake of etymology. “Micro” means small while “blog” is short for “weblog” or “online journal.” The latter concept was conceived in the early nineties with the advent of the internet we know today. (Macmillan 2011) With this in mind, we can clearly see that micro-blogging’s ancestor is less than two decades old and already spawning. Technology has its roots firmly entrenched in its consuming public and is branching out with new tendrils every day. We’ve gone from diaries for our eyes alone to blogs for an online audience to micro-blogs for instant gratification in disseminating our opinions. It seems our voices get louder as technology makes it easier for us to be heard.

 

But what is the nature of this new-found voice? What is micro-blogging to the average person? Now that we’ve broken it down into its simplest essence through the dictionary definition, I present here my anecdotal definition. As I see it, micro-blogging is a more personal method of communication in that it tends to be more impulsive. A single sentence escapes one’s fingers far more easily than several paragraphs. If one has certain feelings, a single burst comprised of 140 characters (perhaps rife with typos and shorthand misspellings) is far easier to manage and post than a blog entry comprised of a multitude of thoughts in hundreds (maybe even thousands) of words. With the latter, one is forced to introspect and ponder, to re-read and analyze. Is this really fit to post? However, with a micro-blog entry, one simply hits send upon finishing the sentence, almost as if to punctuate it. “Send” is the new “period.” Indeed, errors might add to what makes a micro-blog more personal. This is a heat of the moment impulse thought presented raw with mistakes and all.

 

However, more personal as it may be, does it get the message across better than a blog entry that’s been thought out? Blogging versus micro-blogging can actually be seen as analogous to letter-writing versus e-mailing in this way. It takes time and patience to compose blog entries and handwritten letters while e-mailing and micro-blogging offer instant gratification. There’s also a contradiction here though. While both e-mailing and micro-blogging offer instant gratification, the latter is far more personal. Why is this so?

 

First, let’s look at the eldest of these forms of correspondence. In the letter, your penmanship is a concern along with the choice of words and the frequency of error. When writing out a letter by hand, it’s common for people to first compose a rough draft. From that rough draft, a final draft is copied out which lacks all the mistakes present in the rough version. There’s no backspace key when it comes to putting pen to paper. Then, when it’s time to mail your letter, it can take days, weeks or even months to reach its destination. The effort in producing a letter is palpable and therein we find the personal appeal. It’s a form of one on one correspondence that transmits a willingness to exercise effort for the receiving party.

 

On the other hand, e-mailing is much faster. Once you hit send, your message is now in your intended recipient’s inbox. It doesn’t matter if they’re in the next room sharing your wi-fi connection or on the other side of the planet; the amount of time it takes for your message to come to them is the same. Though some actually do put in the effort to spell correctly in their e-mails, the norm (as I’ve experienced it) is to treat it as a less formal medium of communication unless one is corresponding with an authority figure. Text-speak and typos are common especially when an e-mail is rushed. There’s no personal touch brought by penmanship when one simply selects a font. So this begs the question: how does micro-blogging, despite being faster than e-mail, somehow end up being more personal? What sets it apart from the standard blog format?

 

We’ll have to first look at the blog before we can arrive at an answer. In a blog entry, one is essentially writing a diary entry for the public. Though certain web platforms offer you the option of locking an entry to a select few individuals, what you write here is still intended for some form of public consumption. Most blog entries tend to be comprised of at least one paragraph; a far cry from the character limits one finds in micro-blogging. In fact, one could say there is no word limit to a blog entry. You can go at length about a certain topic with no end in sight should you wish it. But is it enough to hold attention? Most of the time, when people surf the internet, they tend to simply scan over a text rather than truly assimilate. In this way, the impact of your thoughts may be deadened. If your intended audience’s attention span isn’t focused, your message is unlikely to get across.

 

Going back to our earlier query about why micro-blogging is more personal and likely to get across to readers as opposed to a blog entry or an e-mail, we can surmise that the answer lies in impulse control, length and audience. When one is micro-blogging, the words come easily because one must be concise. Hardly is there ever a spell-check function or an option to change fonts to distract you from the words you wish to post. You simply type what you think and hit send. In a way, it can be comparable to instant messaging or text messaging where you find yourself speaking to the other party directly. Micro-blogging feels like a conversation as opposed to simple blogging which feels like you’re putting your thoughts up for peer evaluation. With its short length, micro-blogs aren’t difficult to read. You can go through hundreds of tweets on someone’s Twitter feed over the span of a single hour. In this way, the audience is compelled. Rather than becoming bombarded by a wall of text, they see information in manageable chunks and thus have an easier time focusing.

 

But what about e-mail? Aren’t they similarly short at times? Don’t they also fulfill instant gratification in being easy to send and receive? Yes, but e-mails tend to fulfill a different need than a micro-blog. With a micro-blog, you are writing for an audience. With an e-mail, you are writing a brief one-on-one correspondence like a text message. Writing for one just doesn’t fulfill the same social expectations as writing for many. In an e-mail, one can perhaps revive the length of the usual letter format and fill it with one’s emotions but then we come to the same problem we have with blog entries: length that requires more attention to focus on. In the end, micro-blogs are more personal than e-mails because they encourage impulsiveness and do so with an audience watching. It’s a new kind of digital exhibitionism.

 

But, as we all have already learned when it comes to technology, new doesn’t necessarily mean “good.” Micro-blogging is something users must be responsible with. After all, since it appears to be a license to be impulsive, one is now more likely to post something one might regret. A harsh Tweet can’t be taken back easily. Sure, you can delete it but there’s that saying about things on the internet being there forever. One can say that the same standard for even the simplest form of communication applies here. Think before you speak or, to be more apt, think before you Tweet. You never know who’s watching on a social network. You just might put off future employers and ruin your chances at an excellent opportunity. That’s the power of 140 characters. Micro-blog responsibly.