Tuesday, April 17, 2007

It's only funny if it's true - Gmail April Fools Joke - by JoyfulCuriousity

On April 1st when I logged into my Gmail account, I was surprised to see that they were offering a "paper archive" option for email.

As with many pieces of information that pass across my eyes, I wondered briefly, "Who would use that?" and then I thought, "I'm sure they've done their market research."

It was only days later that I saw that Gmail posed the question "Have you seen our April Fools Joke?" The link directed users to the delicious marketing-pitch satire describing "Gmail Paper".

Talking with friends later, I discovered that many, many people print out messages in 14 point font for elderly relatives. They stuff the print outs in envelopes and send the messages through the post.

It's interesting to me that even though the printing of emails keeps the elderly relatives "in the loop", those relatives who cannot respond via email will have lost their voice in the conversation.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

iPod ownership indicates more than mere affluence - by JoyfulCuriousity

Nike shoes or Coach bags tell the world that you have money. iPods tell the world that you own technology.

When I gave my spouse an iPod for her birthday last December, we were amazed at the assumptions that had been made about our comfort with technology. The iPod video comes "plug and play" without an instruction manual; Apple assumes that the user already knows how to turn on and off the iPod and to navigate through the menus.

Beyond the knowledge of how to use an iPod, there is an impressive list of what you need to own in order to operate and customize the iPod.

To run an iPod you require a computer on which you have your own identity (either you're the only user or you have login) and you need a good internet connection. iTunes (which is used to download files and upload them on the iPod) is user-specific. If one owns a PC (not a Mac), before using an iPod for the first time, one has to download iTunes onto their computer from the Apple site. This means that one couldn't use the computer at the public library to maintain, or even initialize, their iPod.

The iPod is a lovely and addictive machine The designers created such an intuitive device that after the first little while of using it, the iPod seemingly disappears and the user is left with the joy of listening to music, learning from lectures, or watching home-made lego videos.

But I wonder who is left out from the iRevolution? I can imagine that beyond separating rich from poor, the iPod separates technologically-comfortable (and endowed) from not.

Note: in the sparse iPod literature that comes with the machine, there is no article before "iPod" - not "an" or "the" or even "your". Is this to make iPod friendly, like a pet or a previously-named Cabbage Patch doll? Or did Apple drop their articles to make their documents less wordy and more accessible to non-English speakers?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Shutdown Day site -- the morning after

I'm disappointed at how the Shutdown Day site has devolved into much more static forms. The home page uses typography to show the often crude and macho claims that the day was spent on the computer and/or engaged in exotic sex. I had been very much taken with the energy of the "Shutdown Day" site in the runup to March 24. It was driven by the device of an artificially created deadline, and some interesting graphic representations of statistics about participation levels, which stimulated more participation. It was engagingly "sticky" to use a phrase from the book "Tipping Point". In comparison to that excitement, the commitment, even on the part of the people who put the site up there, seems to have evaporated once the day came and went. Now the site seems to be drifting like a satellite that has run out of fuel.

I was on the verge of deleting the link to the Shutdown Day site in the sidebar on the right, but then I realized that my reaction might be a generation thing, and that I need to take a look at what is triggering me both positively and negatively. The site took a younger, tech-savvy approach which in the end seems shallow to me. Deleting the link seems like going into denial. The site got 50,000 people engaged enough to go online and, not only comment, but also to participate. Does it matter that the interest was so short-lived? I need to come to terms with the short attention spans and ephemerality of work produced for the internet. Can I live with that as an artist? If I can't, can I take my own advice and "take what I want and leave the rest"?

I'm reflecting a lot about how I, as a socially engaged artist, can make a place for myself on the internet which will find its audience, and continue to hold it. My theme of balancing technology with life is very similar to the one being promoted by the Shutdown Day people. I am looking for ways of expressing my message in a way that engages an audience of peers? The lack of comments here shows that I could learn a lot about "stickiness" from Shutdown Day.

There is a "support Shutdown Day" area, suggesting that people who want to get involved could donate to "the National Laptop Foundation" which recycles computers to people who can't afford them, including seniors. When it showed up on the Friday night I thought it was a puzzling detour from the main event. Now I'm still intrigued at what seems to be an effort to go beyond a one-day event. I'll check it out and let you know.