lovehate: In Web We Trust

I remember, as children, we would get into a phase of being smart-asses with parents, teachers and friends... some of us haven't grown out of that phase, but that's the subject of another lovehate. We always sought the tangible and something we could sense before we would believe. It was this time that most of us would start questioning the faith we put in schools and churches.

And it was always the smartass in us who would question the teacher when they told us we would math or writing skills later in life. And it was the ignorant small-mindedness in us who would loudly proclaim, "If I can't see it, it doesn't exist!", or some other like absolute. And it was the same smartass in us who would find a thousand ways to disbelieve an authority figure until they trapped us in a simple geography loop like:

"Well, do you believe Iceland exists?"

And we'd say, "Sure!"

And they'd say, "Well, have you ever been there?"

And we'd say, "no."

And they'd say, "Well then, in your world anyway, Iceland must not exist because you've never seen it."

And we'd reply, "But it's in an atlas."

The truth that hammered home at that point, whether we realized it or not, was what do we put trust in, people or paper? I went through plenty of educational years where the text was gospel and the voice of the preacher at the pulpit was suspect. And now that a couple of decades are working through, I'm wondering how much has changed. Where do I place my trust these days when it comes to information about things from the useless and insignificant to things that are earth-shattering and replete with personal implications?

I'm not talking simple tendencies to believe here, I'm talking complete trust. There may the smattering of iconic Twitterers that you're willing to let guide you through your everyday tech news. There may be a number of bloggers that you're willing to accept suggestions from when it comes to your pop culture ingestion for the week. There may even be a some news outlets that you still believe completely when they report stories both good and bad. Where does our trust get limited with each and all of these sources?

If I get a phone call in the middle of the night from an unknown caller telling me to get down into my basement because a tornado is coming in five minutes, do I get out of bed and run downstairs. How about if I get that call from a neighbour?

In many ways the web has been the great equalizer of authority. While I find little reason to ever go to my MySpace page anymore, I remember how great a tool I thought it was for musicians when it first blew up because, in its nascent pahases, my music page offering up a list of a few songs was no different than the page allotted to some of the biggest recording artists in the world. The commonality between the design became the great equalizer and someone coming onto either page with no knowledge of either performer's works could make an unbiased decision on their musical likes and dislikes, not based on packaging, but on simple subjective like and dislike.

Early blogs allowed for this aspect as well, at least to a certain degree, but the proliferation of "professional" blogs and bloggers has driven a division between a trust based on content and a trust based on perception. If the content is not coming from the stylish "professional" looking site, are we less convinced that the content is true?

And as we move from the blog to the microblog (or essentially a status update) how do we then extend the trust factor. If someone who you just added to Facebook on a lark posts a status update telling you to disconnect your modem, reboot your computer and run a virus scan because a worm has just hit 90% of users on social networks, do you follow the advice? What if, instead of a little known acquaintance, it's a friend who you know is not that strong with computers? What if it's a random Twitter follower, or perhaps one of the Twitterati who should know what they're talking about? Do you follow any of these recommenders solely based on trust, or do you require back up that you could spend valuable time searching for while your hard drive gets more corrupted?

Are we that much different from the student who was willing to disrespect the authority without the paper and text backup? If the link attached to the warning, that directs us to a blog of unknown origin, spells out the threat in detail, yet we are unfamiliar with the writer of the blog, we are in a quandry. Do we trust a story of a virus more than one we might pick up from a reputed tech blog? Do we still need to see the atlas page of Iceland?

If the web is the great equalizer, how are we redefining our concepts of trust around the presenters of such information. I don't know that there are any Edward R. Murrows or Walter Cronkites out there who completely own the undivided trust of this single medium. The web's anarchic authority subjectivity is messy business that I'm quite happy to have muddled and sullied by lies and half-truths, because the day information gets presented in blacks and whites instead of millions of shades of grays and browns it currently resides in, is the day the medium ceases to be culturally relevant and instead becomes as devoid as a newspapers and television reporting.

As much as I never know who to completely trust on the web, I do have faith that the truth is somewhere out there as opposed to the lack of the same faith I have with traditional media. They used to advertise indoor Monster Truck Rallies with "We're turning the arena into a GIANT MUDPIT!" Enjoy the mudpit folks; one day it will be gone and replaced by a parking lot with lots of flourescent signs and big box stores. For now, in web we trust - so say we all.


thinglets: Dad at 13

When I first learned the rumored existence of a British boy who has fathered a child at age 13, I let out an audible "WTF?" and grew dizzy, eventually bashing my head into the wall and blacking out. Upon awakening I thought to myself, did I wasted my teen years away watching television and movies? Did I miss out on having to wake up for midnight feedings in grade eight? Were all those wasted trips to the arcade developing my hand/eye coordination nothing but hokum and being a victim of the powerful Space Invaders lobby?

When the proud new teen papa looked up from his Harry Potter books enough to be interviewed and was "asked what he would do to support the child financially, Alfie replie[d] in a small, high-pitched voice: "What's financially?""

And after reading that I became at once thankful for the video arcades of my youth, and awestruck at "Alfie's father, Dennis - who reportedly has nine children [and] allowed [him] to sleep over at the girl's house."

I suppose we can just be thankful the 15 year old mother wasn't taking fertility drugs or there may have been need to start up six new Jerry Springer-like shows to deal with the white trash backlash.

UPDATE: 13 year old boy scammed into believing the child was his by parents scamming media deals.

lovehate: 25 Things I Didn't Want to Know About You

I refuse to participate in the 25 Things meme on Facebook as I don't think Facebook is a good platform for long-winded text entries and I'm half-convinced that the FB gurus started the activity themselves as a means to move people from blogging to staying on the social network du jour.

While I do admit to a lovehate relationship with lists, as evidenced in previous blog entries here and here, I will define my participation in the activity from the reverse angle and present "25 Things I Didn't Want to Know About You"

1) You wet the bed every night until you were 17... you only wet it twice a week now.

2) You voraciously defend Richard Gere's reputation on the gerbilling accusations at the pet store three times a week.

3) Your musical "guilty pleasure" is the Mamma Mia soundtrack... your regular listening habits include the entire ABBA discography.

4) You watch NASCAR, but not for the crashes.

5) You keep lube beside your clock radio.

6) You once mistook Preparation H for toothpaste.

7) You once signed a petition to make LOLspeak an official language using your Twitter name and included the @ sign.

8) You still check the bulletin board in your building every day to see if people have ripped off one of the phone number tags for the flyer you put up about your "Handmade Crafts for Sale" and then rush back into your apartment to sit by the phone with the lights off.

9) You are building a wall in your basement of empty 2 liter bottles of dollar store Cream Soda.

10) You made a conscious decision not to speak "baby talk" to your cat because you wanted him to learn the proper way to yowl for Meow Mix.

11) You have a rash and/or are chafing. (I don't care where it is or how you got it, just don't speak of it any further)

12) You speak of your child's feces like you're gazing on the golden city of El Dorado.

13) You are only fourteen months away from completing your five year photoessay entitled "Things I've Cut or Clipped From Me".

14) You never gave up on the Laserdisc format and it's "close to DVD" resolution even though it's been all but dead for twenty years.

15) You overuse unnecessary articles by always saying "The Facebook", "The Twitter", and "The Skype".

16) You always say you're not "feeling fresh".

17) You decorate your house for the Olympics.

18) You have been hanging on to old issues of Tiger Beat for 25 years because you're sure that when Kristy McNichol makes a comeback they'll be worth something.

19) You scrapbook.

20) You consider shopping a hobby.

21) You once went to a concert because you overheard someone you thought was really cute say he/she was going there and you wanted to run into them and have something in common.

22) You have a collection of soaps, shampoos and other sundry bathroom items from every hotel you've stayed at that you keep on a curio shelf and will not open for fear of reducing the product's sentimental value.

23) You think it's quite acceptable to replace every lyric after the first line of a song with mindless monosyllabic gibberish.

24) You spend fifteen minutes in every supermarket you enter evaluating the wobble of grocery carts to ensure the success of your comsumer experience.

25) You would gladly write 50 or 100 things people didn't know about you if only a whacky social network spamming activity would prompt you to.

So that's it - 25 things I didn't want to know about you... or anyone for that matter. Here's an idea; let's pass this idea around and I think we'll learn a hell of a lot more about our friends without feeling like we're playing a bad game of Scruples.


Podcast Thirty Four: Beware of Geeks Bearing Gifts

Concerning employers trying to become our new social networks, tech blog entries full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, Comcast pays us to watch porn and the how I'm preparing to blow out the last candle on the integrity of popular music.

lovehate: Glitzy Corporate Portals - Beware of Geeks Bearing Gifts

Sitting in a workshop to expound upon the new rollout of a client platform that will become the "new face" of employee interaction over the next few years, I am, at once, grateful and wary. I'm grateful that corporations are realizing the importance of Web2.0 and social networking apps to engage employees and encourage use of technology. I am hesitant and wary at the proclivity of employees to mesh their social networking activities with their employee activities.

The ability of an employer to camoflague their portal software to make it more user-friendly may enhance ease of use and familiarity with the work systems, but when I social network at home my interactions are far more "loose" than they would be on a work system. The informality of Twitter with its tinyurls and profile updates via bookmarklet applets allow us to perform a free association of text/image/video sharing that maybe completely appropriate and expected with my friends, followers, and even the world in general, but this same content could violate Standard Operating Procedure or Corporate License Agreements and lead to a disciplining of employees who decide to treat work relationships and non-work relationships in the same way.

I get it, if companies can make your buy into their intranet as a social network, perhaps you will feel better about your work and work from home. And if you log in from home, you can be tracked. Your work from home becomes data, and the data leads to expectation.

Allow me to clarify some of the background bias I'm entering this discussion with. By profession I'm a high school teacher. The school IS a social network and yet teachers are asked to use technology to communicate with the same children they see every day, in meaningful ways, at home. Teachers are also being encouraged to communicate with parents in similar ways. Imagine, however, that the flippant insignificance that you can brush off with a smiley in an email to a friend is misconstrued with a student or parent. Imagine my new "social network" includes a top list of "friends" that include three of my students, but excludes all others. You are starting to see the dangers of adapting social networking to professional networking.

I am also a teacher in a province where the expectation of the profession includes being a teacher 24/7. There is no end of the day bell that stops my responsibility to not only protect children (which is admirable) but also includes not stretching any social or legal taboos. And I get that the responsibility of any adult should be to protect children, but we've had teachers disciplined for not stepping in to stop a fight between students off school grounds on a weekend, when the teacher DOES NOT EVEN KNOW the students involved.

In addition to the social network portal to the employer's intranet, an iPhone/Touch app has been developed. The intranet/work server becomes your hub and everything sent over it becomes archived and is potentially actionable. While certainly easier and more fun to use, the disguised corporate hub may be loved by some and adopted by several others but how often do the practices of one portal of platform travel with you to another. Can you jump from one browser tab (where you're using Facebook and posting with a little bit of unrestricted abandon) over to the company portal where some of the same friends you have just talked about getting together for a night of intoxication are crossing the lines between personal and professional with their posts?

Just because someone adds commenting, wikis, and ratings to excel spreadsheets, doesn't mean I should be sucked into bringing them home with me. Beware of Geeks bearing gifts.

social network at work

lovehate: The Real Reasons

When the Superbowl arrives every year, those of us who are even casual football fans, and many who never watch football at any other time, prepare for parties that rival Caligula's hedonism. While this is nothing new, and the tradition is certainly well-established, it has prompted a question about connections between two seemingly completely unrelated things.

I realize for some that the idea of Sunday football has become less about football and more about food, drink and friends. This is the relationship that I find so interesting. Essentially, the real reason for many people to watch the Superbowl (which is traditionally a mediocre game) is to give people an excuse to socialize with friends. With this connection in mind, some of the other real reasons we do things may start to unfold.

I thus present a lovehatethings list, based on no scientific research, and in no specific order, that I shall call...

The Real Reasons

The real reasons people read self-help books are to help moderate their insecurities. After all, if only 25% of the things in the book apply to you, there are people out there in 75% worse shape than you are.

The real reason people line up for things is to appease their demographic.

The real reason people ice fish is to drink.

The real reason people go to bars is to not be lonely.

The real reason women go clubbing is to have fun with friends.

The real reason men go clubbing is to get laid. This is also the irreducable primary for 90% of the things men do, but to save time, you'll just have to trust me.

The real reason people buy Monster Cables is because they believe cost equals quality.

The real reason we still go to McDonald's is because we were brainwashed as children to choose brand over exploring.

The real reason people drink alcohol is to forget.

The real reason that people blog is steeped in vanity.

The real reason that people podcast, in addition to vanity, is to out do bloggers.

The real reason people yell is because they feel insignificant.

The real reason people go to church is the same reason people use online social networking is the same reason people spend hours in a coffee shop is the same reason people watch Oprah.

The real reason we steal music by illegal downloading is because someone doesn't want us to.

The real reason we spend money on things we don't need is because concretizing our wealth is comforting to our sensiblities.

The real reason people go hunting is because they lack the serenity to go walking.

The real reason we buy the thing that's "new" and "improved" is more about wish fulfillment and possibility than actually belief.

The real reason the economy is so messed up is because we're lazy.

The real reason we're lazy is because action can lead to failure.

The real reason failure scares us has little to do with fear of our inabilities and more to do with our fear of others.

The real reason people laughed at that kid getting his head shot off in the back seat of the car by John Travolta in Pulp Fiction is because we're too scared to cry is the reason therapists thrive.

The real reason we advance technology is because the whenever we ask the existential questions that lead to the nature of real reason for everything, we realize we can't answer, but we hope technology will one day allow us to.

The real reason for every war of the modern era isn't borders or religion or resources, but the low self-esteem of the decision-makers.

The real reason borders still exist is to preserve a way of life that has been manufactured, packaged, imported and sold to you.

The real reason you "buy-in" is because it's too much work to "buy-out".

The real reasons that motivate our actions bely our need to avoid reality.