2006-12-25T13:31:53.183-08:00My friend Robert Tolmach has been on fire with the launch of his startup, ImportantGifts, and its spanking-new site, Changing the Present.
2006-12-07T07:33:39.056-08:00Researchers are discovering -- finally -- that brains reconfigure themselves all the time.
"The circuitry of the brain is like a social network where neurons are like people, directly linked to only a few other people," explains [researcher] Markram. "This finding indicates that the brain is constantly switching alliances and linking with new circles of "friends" to better process information."
Neuroplasticity is the central topic of The Mind and the Brain, by UCLA OCD expert Jeffrey Schwartz and the immensely talented Wall Street Journal science reporter Sharon Begley,which I've just begun reading. More on that as I digest it.
We tend to think of the adult brain as pretty much finished. All the wiring is done, with extensive retraining needed after traumatic brain injuries, for example. You can't, after all, teach an old dog new tricks, right?
This all echoes my favorite line from the controversial film What the Bleep Do We Know?: "Neurons that fire together, wire together."
Engage in the same thought often enough, and it etches its own neat neural pathway. That's as true for "I'm worthless and incompetent" as it is for "I'm skilled and happy." Yow. Makes those crystal-gazing affirmations sound pretty interesting, doesn't it?
I suspect our socialization processes, fear-based culture and unchallenged assumptions (that old dog and them new tricks) all contribute to making our brains far less plastic than they otherwise would be. Change is fun!
2006-11-26T23:38:34.236-08:00Turn the clock back two or three decades -- three to be safe -- and consider what technologies the average office worker had to master. From today's perspective, 1976 was pretty simple. You had to wrangle:Dialing through a PBX (9 for an outside line, 8 for long distance?)A typewriter or dedicated word processor. Maybe. Remember Wang?A calculator. On occasion. (My HP-12C still works with its original batteries)A photocopier. Now and then. Too early for fax. Today? Yeesh! Here's a start:Cellphones (voice dialing? camphone? carrier? roaming? Web? apps?)Office phones (still that pesky internal dialing)Voicemail systems for each phone (with different command structures)BlackBerry (with its own email app and commands)Microsoft Windows or Mac OSThe Office suite: Word, Excel, PowerPoint (oy, PowerPoint!), OutlookAntivirus and backup apps; avoiding Trojans and phishingPrinters (toner!) and corporate networksWiFi snargling so you find and keep a connectionIDs and passwords for everything; password managementIM (SameTime, AIM, Yahoo, ICQ, Google Talk)The browser(s) (IE, Firefox, Opera, Safari) and their lingoGoogle searchesWeb-based email (Hotmail, GMail)Other Web apps (Basecamp, Wikipedia, Yahoo Finance, Salesforce.com)Possibly Skype or some SIP or VoIP appsAnd iTunes isn't really a business app, but really...Daunting, no? That's before learning about blogging, wikis, Flickr, del.icio.us, tagging, podcasts, screencasts, YouTube, MySpace and Second Life, never mind peer production and folksonomies. So I have a lot of empathy for people in business these days, who are expected to perform 120 percent of 1976's duties with 30 percent of the support staff. In the 90s, Neutron Jack led the way to skinnying out all those extraneous people and making sure nobody has enough time to really think anymore.I expect the current wave of innovation will take another ten to 15 years to shake out. At that point, many things that are mystifying today (e.g., why are mailing lists and discussion forums separate pieces of software? why are we still typing in contact info from business cards?) will disappear. And with luck, we'll have figured out how to talk to one another well by then. [...]
2006-08-16T21:40:25.606-07:00Commons thinker James Boyle of Duke Law wrote a great opinion piece published in the FT on August 7 titled "A closed mind about an open world." (Thanks for the link, Anthony and BoingBoing.)
It is not that openness is always right. Rather, it is that we need a balance between open and closed, owned and free, and we are systematically likely to get the balance wrong. Partly this is because we still do not understand the kind of property that exists on networks. Most of our experience is with tangible property; fields that can be overgrazed if outsiders cannot be excluded. For that kind of property, control makes more sense. We still do not intuitively grasp the kind of property that cannot be exhausted by overuse (think of a piece of software) and that can become more valuable to us the more it is used by others (think of a communications standard). There the threats are different, but so are the opportunities for productive sharing. Our intuitions, policies and business models misidentify both. Like astronauts brought up in gravity, our reflexes are poorly suited for free fall.Our reflexes are poorly suited, indeed. It takes considerable effort, plus the occasional gut-twinging aha!, to retrain those reflexes. And the changes open new risks. Those are some of the reasons why this transition will be slow.
2006-08-14T21:46:13.003-07:00In that last post, I completely forgot to note that Colbert seems to have installed Mediawiki and cranked up a really funny wiki at the domain Wikiality.com.
2006-08-14T21:09:36.466-07:00Shortly after Colbert's report on "wikiality," I checked Wikipedia to see if they had a page for it yet. After all, they had truthiness. No entry yet, but they did mention wikiality as the Word segment in a summary table of Colbert episodes, which was groovy.
2006-08-12T17:11:53.216-07:00Scott is a Jedi Master of visual communications. Author of the cult classic Understanding Comics, he has a way of making comprehensible deep insights about how we make and share meaning.
2006-07-21T22:41:56.426-07:00We're up to episode 94 of our weekly Yi-Tan tech community calls, and this coming Monday's promises to be extra fun: we'll be mulling the effects of YouTube, which now draws 100 million visits and 60,000 uploads a day.
2006-07-18T19:18:00.543-07:00Gordon Cook has long been a thoughtful, connected and prolific writer on the telecom scene. His Cook Report on the Internet (not to be confused with the Cook Political Report) chronicles the inside games of telecom as well as its offers, politics and market forces.
2006-07-15T01:41:33.766-07:00I really enjoyed the World Cup games, which ended for me with two memorable bits.
2006-06-19T21:03:30.860-07:00I had a wonderful time last week in Minneapolis, first presenting at Masters Forum, then taking part in Cecily Sommers' PUSH conference (about which more later).
2006-05-22T12:20:08.116-07:00Antonio's recent post describing his startup Tabblo's premature outing on Valleywag reminded me that email is a survivor:...if you look at the numbers, by far the biggest photo-sharing service out there is still email. For the most part, people find that what is out there does not add enough value to merit being used instead of just attaching a bunch of pictures to an email and hitting send (and this despite all of the associated mailserver hell).Email still wins most tech battles.The millions of dollars corporations have spent on knowledge management systems, specialized collaboration tools, file-sharing systems, groupware solutions, workflow applications and other once-hot tech categories have all too often been wasted. People balk at using separate KM applications. They end up attaching PowerPoints to emails and whipping them around the corporate network. (Then they end up helplessly searching said network for the latest version or a specific slide. So it goes.)The problem is congenital: Our overreliance on email is a birth defect of the "personal computing" revolution, which somehow completely failed to integrate the social aspects of Doug Engelbart's famous 1968 demo (see my earlier post on this). Although they successfully implemented Doug's overlapping windows and scrolling mice, both Jobs and Gates were completely blind to networking and the social side of computing that Doug demonstrated. Both had to learn those lessons slowly and painfully.This congenital condition means that group functionality is typically grafted on to the dominant personal productivity tools, awkwardly, rather than being built in. So we end up having to buy and install "groupware" capabilities, or even use tools and interfaces that are completely separate from our everyday tools in order to "harvest knowledge." A few tools try to infer knowledge from our everyday work products, but few of them seem to achieve great value.It's been 22 years since the Mac's debut in 1984. Why isn't platform-independent screen sharing just baked into all machines yet? Why are wikis, which allow collaborative editing, such an anomaly? And so late? I'll come back to this issue in future posts.There is one promising trend that could kill off email. Millennials, interestingly enough, see email only as a way to communicate with their parents and teachers. They communicate with one another through IM, cellphones, online games and sites such as MySpace and Facebook. Voicemail? Naaah!So when us old farts die off, then maybe the next generation will drive a stake through the heart of email. Maybe.This is a funny issue for me. I love IM. When I first wrote about it for Release 1.0 in January of 1997, I was piqued; by June, I was convinced this was the future of the phone interface (which hasn't happened quite yet) and much more.But when I hear about kids' IM-centric world, my first response is, "how on earth do they track what they promised to do, or where they said they would meet?" (My second response: "wouldn't life be wonderful without all those messages haunting me?") It turns out many kids look things up in the IM log files, which serve the same purpose as your email archive or chock-full folders.I wonder: is the log file now an important feature when kids pick IM clients? Probably not. More likely it's just which IM their buddies use.The other thing I wonder is how kids handle the constant interruptions.More broadly, I wonder if this IM/cellphone behavior represents a long-term shift toward real-time communications, or instead a reaction to today's rather primitive tools, which will cause our eventual tools to settle somewhere between IM and email, whatever that might look like. After all, in an always-connected world, who needs store-and-forward? It was a kludge to w[...]
2006-05-20T23:26:29.476-07:00The Flickr user interface has been overhauled, and I have to say that it's a net negative for me.
2006-04-23T23:25:48.626-07:00You never quite know what will come from a longish interview, so it was a fun surprise that the quote Andreas Kluth used in his great survey of participative media (requires sub.) in The Economist this week was my saying "What an ignoramus!" -- about major media mogul Barry Diller.I don't think Diller's a slouch. His IAC/InterActiveCorp has been busy buying up companies that power transactions on the Net, from TicketMaster and HSN to RealEstate.com and LendingTree. They just did a terrific makeover of Ask.com, formerly the perennial also-ran Ask Jeeves (though I do miss the Jeeves reference).Match.com is still in the running, but Evite... I always thought of it as a feature posing as a company, and if you've tried the invite feature built right into Google's new calendar, you'll see what integration does for invites (and events, and more).But when it comes to media and talent, I put Diller's "there is not that much talent in the world" comment alongside other executive hubris, like AT&T's Ed Whitacre threatening to charge sites for using his pipes. (I can't get over the irony of SBC resuscitating and adopting the AT&T brand. Ouch!)The thing we tend to forget is that until this Internet thingie came along, an average person could not leave stuff out in the world for many others to find and use. Impossible. Through all of human history.This remarkable, short period since the very end of the last century is the first time ever that we've been able to share essays, comments, songs, film clips and code with one another. Worldwide. All the time. With very few constraints. It's remarkable and brilliant, a turning point in human history.Even better, the tools for producing all this stuff now cost a couple thousand dollars, not several hundred thousand. And when you buy a commodity connection to the Net, global distribution comes free.So of course there will be excesses. People will post junky, goofy things. They will experiment. They will do the most senseless things with the new medium. They will also get obsessive about it, sinking hours and hours into it. No wonder: they can now connect to everyone. It's overwhelming and exciting. And messy.As they learn the tools, experiment with the forms and invent new ones, we will see the latent talent that exists everywhere.Perhaps more interesting, their talent won't be constrained by the artificial busines pressures that so constrain "media" today, like the very concept of mass markets.At a conference about the future of newspapers a half-dozen years ago, I remember a guy from an African-American periodical describe his market as a "niche." If the black American population is a niche, we've got real problems.I realize this will sound too utopian and "everything will be free"-ish, so let me add that I'm actively involved in creating novel ways for talented people to be rewarded.It happens that much new media can be produced at low cost, merely for the attention it attracts or the needs it fills. Over time, though, we'll find ways for new media to support promising talent outside the pretty dysfunctional music industry, for example, or the painting scene. The solutions are likely to be authentic and low-cost, with fractal markets built through long-term relationships. But all these things will take a couple decades to materialize.Till then, I'm betting on an abundance of talent.Oh, there's also a nice podcast interview accompanying the Economist piece.[...]
2006-04-03T07:37:15.483-07:00Looks like interesting-conference season is under way.
2006-01-31T17:06:17.890-08:00Good Morning Silicon Valley's terrific John Paczkowski reports that Google seems indeed to be working on a desktop OS, "Goobuntu," based on the Ubunto Linux distribution. John points to an interesting screenshot, too.
2006-01-29T12:45:58.450-08:00In a thoughtful editorial in today's New York Times, Verlyn Klinkenborg describes his addiction to email. Rather than ranting about the email flood, as email volumes these days would justify, he compares it to the postal service and examines how it's all affected his life. I especially like this paragraph:
I think of e-mail as a continuing psychology experiment that studies the effect on humans of abrupt, frequently repeated stimuli — often pleasurable, sometimes not, but always with the positive charge that comes from seeing new mail in the inbox. So far, the experiment has revealed, in me, the synaptic responses of a squirrel. It is a truism of our time that we now have shorter attention spans than ever before. I don't think that is true. What we have now are electronic media that can pulse at the actual rate of human thought. We have the distinct discomfort of seeing our neural pace reflected in the electronic world around us.I often find myself checking for mail when I shouldn't be, because it feels like looking for gifts. Every now and then, little gems drop in there and I get an endorphin rush. I wonder what paths are being reinforced or built in my brain.
2006-01-23T14:29:01.640-08:00Mary Hodder is blogging live from the TV-centric Economics of Open Content conference at MIT.
2005-12-31T19:47:32.493-08:00Jim Fallows, usually an author and writer for the Atlantic Monthly, has long had a column in the New York Times called "Techno Files."
Tinyurl.com/9lsr9, a site created by the consultant Jerry Michalski, which shows the possibilities that lurk in a program called the Brain. Mr. Michalski has used this program to store everything he has noticed or thought about over the last decade. The results are more intriguing than practical, but intriguing they are. (link)Not quite sure how the shortcut URL I sent him became the name of my online Brain -- quite possibly an editor's hand in there -- but there it is, a really nice start to 2006 nonetheless.
2005-12-27T10:04:19.596-08:00Or, as Sean Savage puts it in his clever post, "context is everything."
2005-12-26T21:50:05.000-08:00Today and Wednesday, John Abbe (who is currently in Sri Lanka) and some of his colleagues are organizing an online wiki-raising.
2005-12-26T14:37:52.030-08:00CPsquare will shortly host an online mini-conference that will examine how a few categories of new, "Web 2.0" tools are affecting the dynamics of communities of practice. I'll be helping out a little as a guest thinker.
2005-11-20T00:20:21.763-08:00I'm in Abu Dhabi at the Higher Colleges of Technology, participating in the eMerging eLearning conference, courtesy of my friend and neighbor Jay Cross.
2005-11-05T23:26:34.240-08:00Paul Rademacher's mashup of Google Maps and Craigslist is elegant and useful, but it's just a start. Excellent that you can see Craigslist houses for rent in the zone you like, within certain price ranges, showing pictures and full listings at the flick of a pinkie. It's a great start.
2005-10-27T23:58:01.860-07:00BJ Fogg has one of the more interesting jobs on the planet. The "captology" program he runs at Stanford University studies persuasive technologies: things that make us change our behaviors, such as a TV that runs only when you ride the exercycle attached to it.