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September 2006

"The Google Generation"

The phrase Tony Blair used on Thursday in his conference speech is examined in today's Guardian:

"Google isn't actually something I associate with young people any more," says Andy Hobsbawm, the European chairman and co-founder of the digital marketing company - and son of the decidedly non-digital Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm. "To me, it's part of the fabric of everyday living. It's too universal." By way of better signifying the youthful flash the PM was presumably after, Hobsbawm would recommend a quick dip into the discourse of marketing and advertising. "There are lots of different versions of the same concept," he explains. "It usually refers to the people for whom the internet and communications technology were in the world when they were born. A few years ago, somebody [Marc Prensky] wrote an article, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, about the people for whom the world had always been that way, as against the ones who had to adapt to it. Everything else is just versions of that."

The broadest label, he explains, is Generation Y - those "born between 1977 and 2001, or thereabouts". Those who have focused specifically on the impact of technology have also talked about the Internet Generation ("probably born from the late 80s onwards"), and the IM - as in instant messaging - Generation. Then, in recent years, there has been much talk about the MySpace Generation, and even the Mypod Generation, "which is meant to be a combination of MySpace and iPod, but I think that's probably getting a bit silly".

Running through all these terms is a loose set of common assumptions: first, that this generation is globally attuned, propelling all kinds of cultural product, from Japanese cartoons to American indie rock bands, around the planet at extraordinary speed. How they might digest particular aspects of the media defies the old rules. In the US, for instance, there has been a great fuss about the fact that Jon Stewart's Daily Show is the most popular news outlet among those between 18 and 25. And their habits of interacting with the new media means that, often by word of mouth, small-scale internet operations can suddenly flower into huge concerns. Just as Napster heralded the decline of the compact disc, now YouTube makes traditional TV look positively stone age.

Most significantly, though, given the traits Tony Blair implicitly ascribes to the Google Generation, today's under-25s turn out not to conform to their caricature as consumerist slaves to all things "aspirational", but to be much more complicated. "Young people are still defined by what they consume - it's still important to have the right badges - but I'm not sure that's about any display of purchasing power," says Hobsbawm. "It's more about knowledge: being up with what's cool and interesting, defining yourself by what you do than rather what you buy."

And there's this, which certainly squares with how my sons and my younger friends are experiencing things, here in the UK and in Europe:

… the prime minister seemed to imply, they are the lucky pioneers of life on demand. But in stark contrast to all this, another version of the Google Generation represents today's young people as the victims of a historical curse. Earlier this year, there was a great buzz in the US about a book entitled Generation Debt, written by a 24-year-old Yale graduate named Anya Kamenetz, and cheerily subtitled "Why now is a terrible time to be young".

"I was born into a broke generation," she wrote. "I look around and I see people who have borrowed more to go to college than they can repay, who can't find a good job, can't save, can't make solid plans. Their credit card bills mount every month, while their lives stall on the first uphill slope. Born into a century of unimaginable prosperity in the richest country in the world, those of us between 18 and 35 have somehow been cheated out of our inheritance."

In Britain, the picture seems little different. "Debt is the ever-present conversation among my friends," says a university student I spoke to. "When we talk about the future, it's always, 'Will we ever be able to afford a house? Will we be able to get a decent pension?' It's kind of simultaneously normal and quite shocking. And even when it's kept in the background, it's there with just about all the people I know."

According to a view crystallised in the title of a recent report by the centre-right thinktank Reform, the Google Generation might easily be rebranded as the Ipod generation - "Insecure, pressured, over-taxed and debt-ridden". "You would think this generation have never had it so good, to quote another prime minister," says Andrew Haldenby, Reform's director. "The opportunities for international travel, education, very liberated social mores - it's a great time to be young, you would think. But then you start to look at people's circumstances and talk to young people themselves, and they expect to have a difficult career and be in a difficult economic position well into their 30s. They're probably going to have a low disposable income, difficulty getting on the housing ladder and high levels of debt."

By 2010, he estimates, the average graduate will be paying half their income in tax, loan repayments and newly high pension contributions. The future Haldenby foresees is of a glaring disjunction between the supposed opportunities of a hi-tech society and the lack of cash to actually pursue them.

John Harris goes on to look at the way this B-side of life in the Google Generation is reflected in contemporary pop songs. He concludes:

Those who are seeking to snare the attention of a supposedly digital generation should take note: among these people, the idea that new technology is worthy of comment is almost pathetically old-fashioned. Once you've implied that using the web is remarkable, you've probably lost them.

Trying to be politically hip with technology is just embarrassing, but this of course doesn't mean that we should settle for taking technology for granted. Good teachers spend a great deal of their time reminding themselves and their students that the world (and more) is remarkable —'worthy of comment'.


Talking of getting used to technology, I've just read Maciej Ceglowski's fine posting in his blog, Idle Words, about flying over the North Pole. It's a beautiful and characteristically amusing piece, finishing with this:

Passing over the North Pole hardly helps make the experience less dreamlike. Such flights were a novelty even into the 1950's; it's only within the last twenty years that routine passenger service over the Arctic have become technically possible, but already people are able to pull down the window shades and calmly watch the DaVinci Code or even just sleep through the whole spectacle. It makes me wonder if there is anything we can do to help our world recover its former vastness.

Back in 2004 I noted briefly how experiences of awe and wonder in relation to the net seem to have the power to excite and stir us, and that these experiences are in turn very important to a certain contemporary experience of interiority. That was a link to something Matt Jones wrote (reachable now via the Wayback Machine, here), linking to a John Naughton piece: 'Beautiful essay by Michael Benson in The Atlantic which brilliantly captures the sense of awe and wonder about the Net that first prompted me to write my book'. (A year ago I was couching this sense of awe-about-the-net in terms of 'net as labyrinthine library' — not so happy with that image now.)

More generally, imaginative, intelligent use of net-based and other technology in schools is helping us recover a sense of the world's still-remaining-vastness, and of our responsibilities therein, even as we continue to shrink distances and, to our great shame, make a Dusseldorf of everywhere. Out of so many examples I could take … yesterday evening I caught the first of the BBC's new 3-part series, Galapagos:

… the three fifty minute programmes explore the history, landscape and wildlife on the tiny cluster of islands, composed almost exclusively of volcanic rock, scattered in the South Pacific Ocean 600 miles west of mainland Ecuador. It was here that Darwin found the perfect conditions to formulate his evolutionary theory: far from the ravages of the continents, life evolved into a miniature world of specialised creatures who adapted to their harsh environment in a variety of ways. Blending photo-real 3D graphics with high-resolution satellite and aerial imagery, the programme reveals new perspectives on the Galapagos islands, with footage of its volcano summits, lava flows and impossibly blue sky and sea. Galapagos brings to viewers pictures of an incredible mix of polar and tropical species; from penguins and fur seals to flamingos and tropical fish, including evolutionary wonders such as Darwin's finches, land and marine iguanas, giant tortoises, waved albatrosses and sea turtles in some of their last habitats on earth.

BBC Post Production Bristol is providing a high definition tape-less post production solution to support Galapagos , to deliver high quality uncompressed HD programmes, whilst maintaining a smooth sustainable workflow. The ingest, storage, editing, effects, grading and archive system is based around a 9TB Sledgehammer HDIO NAS from Maximum Throughput and includes Lustre® and Smoke® from Autodesk Media and Entertainment. Identical to the post production solution BBC Post Production designed for the BBC's new landmark HD series Planet Earth , it ensures the highest quality of content is preserved and delivers an efficient and cost effective workflow. The programmes are being shot on the Panasonic Varicam, with Super 16mm used to capture particularly high speed moments, such as frigatebirds hunting on the wing. The main underwater work is being captured with Sony 750 and 900 cameras. Thermal cameras are being used to reveal the basking tactics of marine iguanas, whilst infra red cameras record petrels nesting at night and a digital stills kit condenses the passage of time with clouds, shadows, tides, stars and sun.

Series Producer, Patrick Morris says: "Never before has a series like this been made about the Galapagos Islands and, as natural history film makers, this compelling story goes right to the very heart of all that we do. The high definition pictures are beautiful and the post production solution provided by BBC Post Production Bristol will ensure that the highest quality is retained."

It could have been just "another nature programme", but it was really quite arresting: I don't watch much TV and this kept me watching — the strangeness of it all and some of the underlying science was engagingly visualised. I hope the next two episodes go into the science rather more, but it's encouraging to see what I assume is cutting-edge technology (not all of paragraph two makes sense to me, by any means!) being deployed to more than "Wow" ends.

Beginner's Mind

Beginner's mind is a concept in Zen Buddhism, often referred to by its Japanese name shoshin (初心) or (much less commonly*) nyuanshin. As the name suggests, it refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would. The term is especially used in the study of Zen Buddhism, other Asian philosophies, and martial arts. The phrase was also used as the title of Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki's book: Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, which reflects a saying of his regarding the way to approach Zen practice: In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few. Wikipedia


Howard Rheingold, replying in exasperation (I imagine) to the Pew Internet survey, The Future of the Internet II (pdf; page 52):

The way the question is worded embeds some assumptions. I have a serious addiction to reading; is that a social problem? Has the world 'lost' me?

The "question"?

Prediction: By the year 2020, virtual reality on the internet will come to allow more productivity from most people in technologically- (sic) communities than working in the 'real world.' But the attractive nature of virtual-reality worlds will also lead to serious addiction problems for many, as we lose people to alternate realities.

I'm with Howard Rheingold.  Reading's great and the net is an explosion of reading opportunity … full of surprises. Garr Reynolds (on presentation design):

You know my philosophy: Keep reading and keep looking — we just never know where we'll find inspiration and knowledge if we open our eyes and go off the beaten path. If we embrace the "beginner's mind" and keep our mind "empty" then it's ready to accept anything for examination. It was in this spirit, then, that I purchased a book on (gulp) comics. I first heard of the book from Cliff Atkinson about two years ago. Dan Pink also mentioned the book in A Whole New Mind which I just read a few weeks ago. The book is called Understanding Comics: The invisible Art by Scott McCloud. I highly recommend that you get this book. …

When you get right down to it, it always comes back to desire, the willingness to learn, and the ability to really see. Many of us have the desire, it's the learning and seeing that's the hard part. McCloud says that in order for us to understand comics we need to "...clear our minds of all preconceived notions about comics. Only by starting from scratch can we discover the full range of possibilities comics offer." The same could be said for presentation design. Only by approaching presentations and presentation design with a completely open mind can we see that the options are virtually endless. It is just a matter of seeing.

I've been a reader for most of my life, but I'm reading more than ever  — and most of it is now online. Sure, it's taxing — on physical energy alone. Bruno Giussani (writing about editing the first Swiss news website Webdo in 1996–7; his experience parallels mine, mutatis mutandis, as a reader/blogger):

Those were intense years, spent exploring and trying to understand an innovative media space and the new social and cultural reality it was shaping; keeping up with multiplying sources and an expanding network of contacts; trying out new pieces of technology as they came along and designing a couple ourselves; trying to invent a new language and acquire new social-ware skills; working a lot and writing a lot and traveling a lot. Most days started with a “big sync” and continued at the same pace. It was exhausting but also constantly new, stimulating and exhilarating …

I read more in part (great part) because I am building a network of people whose eyes and ears I trust — and this is far more extensive and living than anything I have ever known before. Why is this working out? Shimon Rura:

As we continue to interact, and develop a greater body of shared experience and understanding, we refine our trust in each other. … What makes blogs (and the RSS-powered subscription mechanism) so powerful for getting you information you care about is trust. Specifically, you can think of a blog subscription as an indication of trust that some feed will contain items of interest. It is a rather coarse-grained indication of trust, but is quite effective. Especially when I the reader have my own blog, and participate in the common practice of linking and excerpting the especially interesting content from my subscribed feeds. When I do that, I am delegating trust … This is exactly what happens in social situations. Suppose you're at a party and meet someone new. What's the first thing you ask them? "So, how do you know Bob?" Now suppose you know Bob has despicable taste in music, but he makes the world's best cheesecake. You'll spend a lot less time talking with someone who answers "I played in a grunge band with Bob in 1992" than someone who answers "I'm a pastry chef instructor at the local culinary institute where Bob took night classes." This example, ubiquitous in our social lives, illustrates how powerful and adaptable trust is. Even without being consciously considered. The amazing thing about blogs is that they can reflect this kind of nuance. Almost every blogger has a variety of interests, sometimes spread among multiple blogs, a blog and a livejournal, or categories within a blog. Furthermore, blogs cluster into communities based on shared interests, such that if you subscribe to any of the blogs in the community you are unlikely to miss any major news within the community. This redundancy permits individual bloggers to specialize in the details, and offers readers a chance to adjust who they trust, over time, as they learn more about their options. Just like if you're first interested in an academic field, you can work with any professor who's involved and learn a lot from them; but if you want to do a PhD thesis you'd better find someone who not only is interested in something you want to study, but is also easy for you to get along with.

Add network to that.

So I think Andrew Brown is wrong when he writes:

I am coming to suspect that the internet will be to my generation of journalists, and to any younger ones, what alcohol was to our predecessors': a destroyer first of thought and then of productivity, destructive both of the capacity to reflect, and to react, blurring everything into a haze of talk and endlessly repeated variations on the same experience. Just like alcohol, and even cigarettes once were, it seems an inevitable part of the job, one of the things that distinguishes it from all others. Stories are chased and found on the net just as they once were in bars. … The internet, like alcohol, brings spontaneity and conversation to the writer: often the illusion of wit, and sometimes its substance. But it never ever brings you silence, and it makes it far too easy to escape from the necessary boring solitude of the job. Obviously, no one ever went into journalism in search of boring solitude. In fact it is a profession unusually attractive to people with overactive, playful minds and short attention spans. Alcohol is attractive partly because it damps down the natural exuberance of such minds; the internet seems to encourage it and liberate from the mundane altogether. Either way, the effect is often terribly destructive. … the internet has no edges, any more than it has depth.

Not my experience at all. Beginner's mind. The web really is the new university.

This is also why Alan Johnson is being … unhelpful in declaring that from now on coursework at secondary level will be written under conditions that do not permit candidates to access the internet. What we should be doing is teaching pupils how to use the internet in academically responsible ways. 'Unhelpful' is the kindest word I can find to use here.

'It is just a matter of seeing.'

Newspapers: proprietary readers and the future

I Want Media:

The New York Times Co. last week announced the appointment of Michael Rogers as "futurist-in-residence," a first for the newspaper industry. The Times describes the new position as a one-year consultant appointment to work with the company's research and development unit. …

IWM: Will newspapers on paper disappear eventually? 

Rogers: Not for a very long time. Paper is a high-resolution, high-contrast, unbreakable and extremely inexpensive display device. As the years go on, though, I think we may see more newspaper content delivered electronically and printed locally. However, we're within a few years of seeing some very effective electronic reading devices that finally do begin to challenge paper. 

The new Times Reader, on a tablet PC, is already a pretty good experience. Spin that forward five years and you're starting to have a compelling alternative. Finally, in another decade, a substantial part of our audience will have grown up already doing much more of their reading on screen, and they're not likely to have the same emotional attachment to paper as does much of the current readership.

I don't need the NYT Reader — but I can see that if I were reading the NYT often enough, and it were a major source of news, analysis and opinion for me, then it could well be a different story. Would I use it if it were the Guardian Reader? Yes, I probably would: I'm hugely indebted to the Guardian for news, views and links and I feel a great allegiance to the brand. Put the current digital Guardian alongside the NYT Reader and that version of the online Guardian looks old and passé. Of course, it is a very different beast, and Guardian Unlimited NewsPoint is no equivalent, either. That leaves Guardian Unlimited news for mobiles (read about it here; more on Guardian mobile services here) — which doesn't run on an E70, yet. (In fact, I've recently unsubscribed from the digital Guardian: using it conveys the feel of being embroiled in something more like a library archival programme than of being at one of the online coalfaces of an exciting, national newspaper that is also read and followed internationally.)

But there's an interesting issue here. On if:book, Christine Boese writes:

You know, for the money the Times spent on this (and the experienced journalists the Times Group laid off this past year), I'd have thought the best use of resources for a big media company would be to develop a really KILLER RSS feed reader, one that finally gets over the usability threshold that keeps feed readers in "Blinking 12-land" for most casual Internet users.

I mean, I know there are a lot of good feed readers out there (I favor Bloglines myself), but have any of you tried to convert non-techie co-workers into using a feed reader lately? I can't for the LIFE of me figure out why there's so much resistance to something so purely wonderful and empowering, something I believe is clearly the killer app on par with the first Mosaic browser in 1993.

'Kevin' comments:

The Times Reader smartly (it’s a brand after all) incorporates the branding, styling of the print edition (e.g. typography, colors, overall look and feel). But that’s about the extent of it. Sections and articles are in columns and pages using new layout technology that scale and adapt to screen size and resolution – but that’s more about usability and making use of the entire screen rather than trying to replicate the paper medium. …

Usability and Design. This reader provides a much more usable and readable experience than today's alternatives. It’s a big claim but it’s backed up by usability studies. Users strongly prefer this model to the text presentation found in the current browsers for example. Users also retain more information and read for longer periods. Columns, ClearType, Pagination, Hyphenation, Seamless navigation, Zoomable layouts, etc all contribute to a highly readable, easy-to-use experience. 

Interactivity. The app is still in beta and many more features are planned before its release but you can find a number of interactive features already. For example, you can comment (with ink or text) on text and share that with friends. The highlighted text is captured and the comment is recreated and rendered for others exactly as it was written. You can click on “topics” for any article and find related articles via the Search feature and “Topic Explorer”. You can peruse the news via Pictures /Photos or via the “What’s Read” feature. Stay tuned for more features. Feel free to make feature suggestions to the Times as well.

Also on if:book, in a post following Christine Boese's and picking up on her argument that re-creating a facsimile of a print newspaper online is 'just a kind of "horseless carriage" retrenchment', Ben Vershbow wonders, too, if this isn't to go backwards into the future. Most interesting bit in his post? This:

… are these proprietary, bound devices really going to replace newspapers? It seems doubtful when news consumption is such a multi-sourced affair these days (though to some extent that's an illusion). A device that allows readers to design their news menu seems more the ticket. Maybe the Times should be thinking more in terms of branded software than proprietary hardware. Make the best news reader on the web, prominently featuring Times content, but allowing users to customize their reading experience. Keep it open and plugged in. Let the Times be your gateway to more than just the Times.

Full info about the NYT Reader is available here. Currently, NYT Reader is Windows-only ('can be installed on any laptop, desktop, or tablet PC running Windows XP') and requires .NET 3.0. All OK for me, but … Mac users will want to read this post by Nick Bilton, Art Director at the NYT.

Finally, here's a quotation from Michael Rogers (IWM article) which I liked:

I think that being a futurist is in a way the last refuge of the generalist. You need to pull together all kinds of sociological, economic, technologic, anthropologic information into some kind of coherent whole. And finally, I'm not sure that the real value of a futurist is to predict the future -- the future is always going to surprise us in one way or another -- but rather to get others thinking about it in a creative and flexible way.

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Blair and us

William Keegan in last Sunday's Observer:

… my strong impression is that the public squabbling has done the Labour Party a lot of harm.

Confirmation of this came in Friday's Guardian:

The scale of the challenge facing Gordon Brown as Labour's likely next leader is revealed today by a Guardian/ICM poll showing that voters believe David Cameron would make a more effective prime minister and that Britain will be better off if Labour loses the next election. … its reputation for unity and direction has taken a battering, with the chancellor, accused by some of prompting the leadership crisis, appearing to receive much of the blame.

Martin Kettle: 'every step Labour takes towards the Brown succession is now also a step towards electoral defeat'.


5.15am, 2 May, 1997, Tony Blair:

The British people have put their trust in us. A new dawn has broken.

2 May, 1997, Tony Blair, outside Downing Street:

… it will be a government that seeks to restore trust in politics in this country. That cleans it up, that decentralizes it, that gives people hope once again that politics is and always should be about the service of the public. And it shall be a government, too, that gives this country strength and confidence in leadership both at home and abroad, particularly in respect of Europe.

It shall be a government rooted in strong values, the values of justice and progress and community, the values that have guided me all my political life. But a government ready with the courage to embrace the new ideas necessary to make those values live again for today's world -- a government of practical measures in pursuit of noble causes. That is our objective for the people of Britain. 

Above all, we have secured a mandate to bring this nation together, to unite us -- one Britain, one nation in which our ambition for ourselves is matched by our sense of compassion and decency and duty towards other people. Simple values, but the right ones.

Dawn of Hope, indeed. Craig Brown: 'In fact, fear was one of the most successful growth industries of the Tony Years.'


I was rifling books, trying to find where Freud (?) talks about how what a people forget in their History is as, or more, important than what they remember, when I stumbled over another quotation I'd also been trying to track down for a while. Nietzsche (Human, All Too Human,1878, Hollingdale translation, Penguin, 1977):

The point of honesty in deception. — With all great deceivers there is a noteworthy occurrence to which they owe their power. In the actual act of deception … they are overcome by belief in themselves: it is this which then speaks so miraculously and compellingly to those who surround them.


Thank God for satirists. Their power may be limited (I guess everyone knows Peter Cook's remark about the Berlin satirical cabaret clubs of the 1930s which 'did so much to prevent the rise of Adolf Hitler'), yet it still exists. There was a world-weariness about Armando Iannucci's column in today's Observer ('I don't know whether to be cheered by the fact that things haven't got much worse, after all, or depressed by the knowledge that neither have they got any better'), but it was a great column:

I'm about to quote something someone actually said. I'm finding I'm doing this more and more. Normally, with the party conference season upon us, I look forward to making up the sort of weird, meaningless, verbless sentences politicians deploy in their speeches. 'Forward to an exciting burst of tomorrows' and that sort of thing.

But now I find quoting actual politician's sentences is even better. My favourites so far are David Cameron's: 'I think more young people should be forced to become volunteers', Tony Blair's warning to Iran that 'no country has the right to interfere in the internal affairs of Iraq', and George Bush's: 'The Iraqi insurgents are being defeated; that's why they're continuing to fight.'


When all this is over, the question remains — what was our role in the Tony Years? (Craig Brown: 'Were we the tight-lipped ventriloquist, and he the all-talking, all-winking dummy? Or were the roles reversed?'.) I'm late in coming to J G Ballard (he's glaringly absent from the curriculum, the exception being the popular Empire of the Sun). Here he is, writing in the New Statesman earlier this month:

We will all miss Tony Blair
Autumn is almost here, and the new political season approaches in a half-hearted way, the last act of an overlong play that has begun to bore the audience. All the same, I suspect that we will miss Tony Blair when he is gone. The boyish charm is fraying but still intact. The exhaustion, the desperate need to convince everyone of the truth of his own delusions, the raw emotions worn as a kind of exoskeleton, all show one of the great actor-managers in heroic decline. Blair may be the last British prime minister able to trade openly on his emotions. He knows that we are secretly rather drawn to bad acting and are happy to collude in his exposure of his weaknesses.

He is the beaten husband, still in charge of the car keys and the TV remote, but aware that the rest of the household despises him and is impatient for him to bring down the curtain. He jokes and winces, and makes fun of his own despair. The longer he hangs on, the more he can steer us towards the steamy, emotional bath we were happy to help him prepare. Would he like to drown us? After all, we like being lied to, we like promises that will never be kept, we like being locked into his smiling neediness.

His successor is likely to give us a shock, especially if it is Gordon Brown, the greatest mystery in British politics for the past 50 years. High in intelligence and self-control, but zero for acting skills and emotional martyrdom. Will we be happy with him? I seriously doubt it. Perhaps only damaged actors can lead modern societies down the crooked paths that they prefer.

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Cutting loose at last?

Tim Bray:

I was talking with a woman today, a professional writer who works mostly in the health-care technology space. She said “These days, I want to stuff my Dell in the nearest trash compactor and do everything on my Blackberry. The computer, it’s real work to manage, and I can read whatever anyone sends me on the Blackberry, almost.” Is this the future?

Chris Heathcote:

The big question is: do I really need a laptop anymore? Yes, for work, just for Outlook, Visio and mainly Powerpoint (though there is a crazy Powerpoint-esque application installed on the E70). I might feel slightly less tethered though.

Regan Coleman, Forum Nokia:

Our non-developers day-to-day use their laptops and desktops in three main areas 1) accessing the internet,  2) email and 3) office-type functions such as spreadsheets and documents. With smart phones like the Nokia 9300 and 9500, which we use internally, they can do pretty much everything from their phone. It seems inevitable that some day we won't have to all have bulky desktops or laptops - we'll just use our phones. Even more complicated enterprise apps can be hosted on a server and accessed from a browser on the phone. When back in the office, people will just dock their phones. External wireless keyboards for phones are already on the market. It will be interesting to see the development of external monitors for mobile phones.

Antony Pranata (comment to Regan Coleman's post):

Fully agree... In the future, we will be bringing our "laptop" inside our pocket. At home/office, we just attach our "laptop" to a wireless keyboard and big monitor and do normal work. Hope to see this happening in the next couple of years. Btw, don't forget about S60 phones too. S60 is coming to the enterprise world as well, for example with E61.

Insofar as time permits, I'm already getting a lot of mileage out of the E70. More about it soon-ish, I hope.

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Cross-discipline reports:

The buzzword in higher education is "interdisciplinary," and at many research universities, professors are no longer judged primarily on how expert and rarefied their knowledge is in a particular area. Rather, they're expected to bridge fields to remain relevant in a world with increasingly complex problems -- from global warming to the spread of infectious disease -- that demand interdisciplinary solutions.

Stanford is among those at the forefront of this shift. It's pulling professors from their insular domains to work together in ways that could not only hatch profound new discoveries but also may create novel fields of study.

According to the article, 'UC Berkeley, the University of Michigan and Duke University are among the elite institutions that have launched major interdisciplinary initiatives'.

This recalls the Harvard professors' 'critique of the university's approach to scientific research and teaching' as reported in the Boston Globe back in July. I blogged about this here. I believe that inter-disciplinary thinking is very important. The enquiring mind delights in working across disciplines, thrives in doing so. It follows that we should be doing all we can in schools to foster both knowledge of given disciplines and a spirit of innovation and enterprise which connects these (artificially) categorised and seemingly separate areas of study.

This is what Peter Merholz celebrates (as I blogged about in that post):

I have no personal interest in the territorial boundaries of knowledge communities. In fact, I think such barriers are pernicious, and they are exactly why I abandoned academia. I think what we're seeing is that in this world of remix and pattern recognition, the notion of a discrete 'knowledge community' is breaking down.

It also comes out in Frank Kermode's phrase, 'intelligent smattering'.

And it's what I found in the two Reboot conferences I have attended. Just over a year ago, I wrote of Reboot 7:

It sounds excessive to say so, but nothing that happened during my five years at University quite compares with the excitement and stimulation of Reboot — because of the collegiate opportunities for intense, 'creative collision and friction'. I would add, also, how essential to the experience was the inter-disciplinary nature of the event — another feature of Reboot where my university experience compares badly: I was reading widely for myself back then, but my courses of study were fundamentally self-contained and introspective, one or two inspiring influences apart.

… we have to find ways of opening up these experiences to as many people and budgets as possible. I am convinced that the future lies in this kind of collaborative, inter-disciplinary approach to work, play and learning. Educators have got to be brought into this.

To conclude, a caveat and a university-centred concern — from the SFGate article:

Interdisciplinary work does have pitfalls if executed poorly, said Diana Rhoten, program director at the Social Science Research Council in New York. Some observers fear the movement could lead to an erosion of expertise in individual fields. And if it's going to succeed in the long run, universities must change how they reward young academics. Historically, promotion and tenure are based on individual projects, and if young professors take the risk of working with people outside their department, they need to be rewarded, she said.

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New Scientist on the social networking revolution

New ScientistLiving online: The end of privacy?

Offline, it is easy to compartmentalise the different aspects of your life - professional, personal, family - but online, where social networks are so much larger and looser, the distinctions become blurred. These issues have not gone unnoticed by social network providers. They are reluctant to offer too much privacy because this makes it harder for users to communicate with people they don't know. Yet too little privacy means that users lose control over the information they post. "There is a fine balance between protecting and revealing - for users as well as providers," says Alessandro Acquisti of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who researches privacy and information security and is looking at the difference between online and offline behaviour. …

For those wishing to keep out prying eyes, most social networks do offer additional privacy tools. Users of MySpace and Facebook can chose to reveal their profiles only to friends, for example. But recent research shows that many users don't make use of these tools, even if they are worried about privacy. A survey of Facebook users published in June by Acquisti and his colleague Ralph Gross found that even among users who were concerned about a stranger knowing their address or class schedule, 22 per cent still gave their address on their Facebook profile, and 40 per cent published their class schedule. 

What can be done to prevent what Acquisti and Gross call "an eternal memory of our indiscretions"? Some recommend drastic measures. "Anything you put on the internet has the potential to be made public and you should treat it as such," says Jones. "If you put something on MySpace or Facebook, ask yourself whether you would be comfortable shouting it out at a family reunion. If the answer is no, then don't put it up." As newspapers report more stories about students being kicked off their courses and bloggers being sacked because of their online revelations, users might well feel compelled to tighten up their online privacy. This semester, students moving into campus accommodation at the University of California, Berkeley, will even be required to attend a class in social networking to make them aware of the risks. 

It could go another way, though. As people become more tolerant of online openness, we could see a shift in attitudes and a rethinking of what we consider private. "People tend to adapt to new environments of revelations," says Acquisti. "The new generation may be used to people talking online about their drug use and sex lives." 

Their attitudes may depend on what profession they end up in. Lindsey, a law student in Philadelphia who we contacted, has noticed some interesting trends among her friends. "Friends who work as DJs, record-store owners or graphic designers express themselves far more freely than friends who work in more traditional professions," she says. She has also noticed that most of her friends who are teachers don't have online profiles. "They've realised that there's nothing worse than walking in to teach your calculus class only to have them holding copies of the photograph of you on the beach."

More NS links: 

This is your space – Discover how social networking evolved, how it works and how it is already revolutionising the way we live, socialise and work 

I'll have to ask my friends – Instant messaging, Wi-Fi and cellphones allow us to be constantly plugged into our social networks. Sociologist Sherry Turkle worries this is transforming human psychology 

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by Google – A short story by Bruce Sterling 

The internet could be so much better – Social networking websites like MySpace or YouTube owe everything to the genius of Ted Nelson, who invented hypertext in the 1960s 

Give it a try – Feeling left out of the social networking revolution? There are many ways you can get involved, so take a look

This from This is your space:

It seems inevitable that a meta-network linking together all the various social networking sites will emerge - and an individual's full identity, shown from all sides, will live online. We will carry this meta-network with us in small wireless devices so that our virtual identities become seamlessly integrated with the real world. We will be more autonomous and mobile than ever, and at the same time discover an unprecedented form of collectivism. For the MySpace generation, this won't seem strange at all.

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Euan wrote ...

This is just so good, I have to reproduce it here. Euan:

Much of corporate IT has been designed to replicate a hierarchical view of organisations which pidgeon holes people and bears little relation to the real world they work in.

Also most people are still pretty uninspired by computers and fail to make them work for them. They have given up a lot of their social interchanges in return for staring at computer screens and neatly lined up behind the view of them as meatware in a system.

If on the other hand they had been encouraged to grow up, take responsibility, and form relationships then the power to get things done would increase dramaticaly - as the ability to get things done relies heavily on relationship and communication - two things which conventional computing seems designed to limit.

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Friends and friends

Oops ... John Naughton:

I’ve been writing something about the MySpace phenomenon and decided that I’d better sign up. I was then confronted by this rather depressing analysis of my condition! Zero friends! The thing that’s really weird about MySpace is its concept of what constitutes a ‘friend’ — which seems to be anyone whose profile takes your fancy. It’s much closer to the teenager idea of friendship than the adult concept. Certainly, it isn’t anyone you actually know. For me, a friendship denotes a serious relationship that’s been built up over time (otherwise it’s an acquaintanceship). So it’s unsettling to see fiftysomethings on MySpace — who really ought to know better — using ‘friend’ in the shallow, teen sense of the word.

Sorry, John, but I think that's both patronising and just a little out of touch. Here's danah boyd:

Why does everyone assume that Friends equals friends? Here are some of the main reasons why people friend other people on social network sites:

  1. Because they are actual friends 
  2. To be nice to people that you barely know (like the folks in your class) 
  3. To keep face with people that they know but don't care for 
  4. As a way of acknowledging someone you think is interesting 
  5. To look cool because that link has status 
  6. (MySpace) To keep up with someone's blog posts, bulletins or other such bits 
  7. (MySpace) To circumnavigate the "private" problem that you were forced to use cuz of your parents 
  8. As a substitute for bookmarking or favoriting 
  9. Cuz it's easier to say yes than no if you're not sure

The term "friend" in the context of social network sites is not the same as in everyday vernacular. And people know this. This is why they used to say fun things like "Well, she's my Friendster but not my friend." (The language doesn't work out so cleanly on Facebook.) The term is terrible but it means something different on these sites; it's not to anyone's advantage to assume that the rules of friendship apply to Friendship.

Teenagers know a lot about friendship and I don't think they're confused either by the difference between the friendships they're growing (over time!) and friendships that have been grown over many years, or by the way 'friend' is used online. Where they see adults with good, lifelong friendships, then that's what they look forward to growing, too.

If the adults are confused … But I suspect many adults have also worked out that 'friends' online isn't quite the same as 'friends' offline.

Of course, there is a big issue here concerning how social software differentiates between "real" friends and acquaintances. That theme has cropped up this summer in postings on Vox: Don (Park) has said there that 'the  Privacy categories need more work' (ie, for whom am I posting this?), and

I think Vox will eventually need to provide more means for users to organize their neighborhood into cliques without exposing embarassing details to neighbors. By embarrasing, I mean I don't (want) a distant friend to know that I consider him to be a distant friend.

This is true generally of social software — if we want it to conform to the patterns of offline behaviour. On the other hand, I've found it challengingly discomforting and also liberating to have my nice little sense of 'private self' shaken about a bit …

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Some Aula videos ... and three others

In moments this last (busy) week I caught up on some podcasts and video stuff. The first ones below are from, or arise from, Aula: Movement, a series of conversations on social technology held in Helsinki in June 2006. (More information about Aula here.)

Via Loïc Le Meur, Joi Ito and Cory:

I was at Aula in Helsinki for two days (thanks Marko, it was great!) and took a series of video recordings, here is a video podcast with my friend Joi Ito, a 50 minutes conversation on online games (WOW and Second Life), video, online music and copyright. You can view it below or download the video file (itunes/ipod .m4v about 300 Mo) or the audio file.

Cory Doctorow's closing speech: 'The big picture is about the world of self-determination'.

Via Jyri, on

Matt Jones and Matt Webb on Digital Parkour (comics, Parkour, psychogeography, maps, senses, pataphysics, robot readable planet … digital fingertips and foot candy)

Joi Ito on MMORPGs (the polychronic reality of World of Warcraft; 'Second Life is very interesting, but it's not fun')

I would have watched danah on MySpace, but the link on isn't working for me.

Also from Aula, but August, 2005, Ben Cerveny talking about 'Meaning at Play' ( mp4 [large res], mp4 [small res]). Some notes (mine) on areas Ben touched on:

Play is about exploring boundaries and the organisation of constraints in behaviour — it helps us understand the constraints between ourselves and others. Then we formalise, creating formal rule spaces. A third element of what brings meaning into play and makes it important is collaborative improvisation. A fourth is the creation of metaphoric frameworks in play; these are also windows into the culture that is the originating context of the game. Next, interpretation (Tarot), composition (in computational gaming) and performance — and the tide of movement in and out between active play and compositional re-arrangement. Finally, presence and state machines (from camphone to posting-on-Flickr takes about 5 minutes —an almost real-time awareness of where and what your friends are doing): SMS has a lightness to it that is playful — contrast e-mail; simulations are metaphors or skins on top of an abstract computational space and, once you're familiar with the game, you don't need the metaphors in order to continue playing — players internalise the model of the game in a very abstract way, and this process parallels the way we build internal models for understanding how other people behave (it's the same type of state machine); we can express our own states through simulation behaviour.

The dynamic systems of play and the modeling involved in MMORPG and simulation games are portable and artists who understand them can use them in creating their work. New languages will evolve within, and from, the media we are now beginning to use to communicate with each other.

'In play we're going, I think, to be given more and more opportunities to use our own content.'

Finally (and not to do with Aula):

Bruce Sterling speaking at the 2006 LIFT Conference (Six Trends for Objects: RFIDs; geo-location; Googling and auto-Googling objects; 3-D modeling, computer-aided manufacturing; rapid-prototyping fabjects, blogjects; cradle to cradle recycling. Objects as hard copies of a data support system)

ZeFrank at TED (I liked the 'Atheist' game)

MoBuzz on privacy issues (Facebook, etc) … 'customers would like some shades of grey. And, of course, by 'shades of grey' we just mean control.'

Podcasts and videos can, of course, be very time-consuming. If I were a commuter and had significant periods in the day to fill, I might watch more but, as it is, the short YouTube video works much better for me (and, I guess, is why in part YouTube is so successful: it fits many a lifestyle). So I don't use either podcasts or lengthy online videos very much. If you, too, are short of time, I still recommend watching all the Aula pieces above. MoBuzz on privacy is also excellent — and short.

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