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Frown Town Evasion
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When I first started working on this movie, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. A film about Web 2.0? How could I resist? Once I came up with an idea, I worked furiously on the screenplay. By the end of the process, I was even scriptwriting in my dreams. I finally started filming with exactly two weeks left to the due date. Didn’t really bother with sleep anymore, and my friends began to complain that I was never around. This has probably been one of the most exhausting experiences of my life, right behind hiking in the French Alps at age seven and junior year of high school. But you know what? I made a movie

I promise that, going into this, my intentions were the very best. I was going to make a movie about Web 2.0 in an interesting, creative way. I wanted to explore the properties of Web 2.0 as a reflective medium. How could I ever have thought that it would be just that? I should have known that it would end up being something else entirely. This sounds funny, but I’m not quite sure what this film is. Just as it has been one of the most exhausting experiences, it’s also been one of the most intensely personal things I’ve ever created. I try to write from what I know, so it’s no surprise that I keep seeing myself in the characters. But I’m still astonished.

A secondary goal of mine was to use this film to showcase not only my art, but other people’s as well. Tyler, the poet (in real life and on screen), wrote the poem he reads in the film. Brady Earnhart performs his own music. I loved the idea of this film serving a dual purpose in that way, and having art within art. Not only man-computer symbiosis, but symbiosis of minds. Once the internet is involved, it becomes infinite symbiosis, with chains of inspiration weaving everything together.

I swear that this movie had plot at one point, which is pretty unusual for me. Not anymore. (Blame flow.) My friends joke with me about how nothing I make ever has a plot. I always shake my head, laugh, and say that I’ll do plot “next time.” But now that I think about it, does there have to be plot to make something meaningful? I think the closest I can get to describing this film is suggesting that it is a cinematic stream-of-consciousness, of sorts. But not just one person’s consciousness; what happens when you use the internet–Web 2.0–to create a montage of thought, emotion, and reflection? We often view cinema as showing us the world “through a lens”, just as we describe the internet as showing us the world through a computer. But for both film and the internet, I think it would be more accurate to say that they show us the world “through a mind.” Because what you’re really looking at is another person.

Despite the fact that the finished product is radically different from what I expected to create, I think I like it. At some point during those long, sleepless nights of editing, this movie transformed into something new. The one question I dread (but always get from people when I say I’m making a movie) is “what’s it about?”

Nothing. Everything. Maybe you just have to grok it yourself ;)

 “How different is online communication from real-life interaction? I use the phrase ‘real-life,’ but how far away are we from reaching the point at which there is no significant difference left? We already have online banking, retail, art galleries, databases, journals, education… even entire virtual worlds and communities. Pretty soon the internet will be as real as everything else we experience. Maybe it is already. And what happens then? Will online life replace ‘reality’? I don’t think so. In any event, that’s not the really interesting question.

What will happen to ‘real life’ once it and the internet interpenetrate? How will our offline lives change? Will we emphasize the division or embrace the symbiosis? Most of all, will we let this new cornerstone of our lives inspire us in ways that have never been possible before? Increased communication expands innovation exponentially.”

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“8 Democratic candidates face a new kind of questioning”

Tonight at 7:00pm Democratic candidates engaged in a “new” form of interaction with voters. Users were invited to submit questions via home-made YouTube videos for the candidates, and both the chosen questions and responses were shown on CNN for two hours.

Is it truly a “new form of questioning”?

While watching this debate, I had the thought that’s it’s almost a reverse kind of fireside chat. The phrase “from your living rooms” was used multiple times, obviously to emphasize the idea that these questions were coming straight from real Americans in their homes. It’s interesting that Roosevelt used radio to reach out to Americans between 1933 and 1944, and now that kind of connection between politicians and voters is being reversed, with YouTube users interacting with candidates on national television. But that still doesn’t answer the main question– is this a new type of questioning? What makes this different from town hall debates and answer sessions? Not much.

Now that we’ve introduced people asking questions directly to candidates in this way, is anything still missing? How about the ability to interact and confirm? One of the advantages of live debates with audience questions is that candidates can clarify questions and interact with people. This current interaction, like fireside chats, is still really only one-way. It’s more multi-step than previous forms of questioning, but still only in a single direction. (Person –> candidate= step one; candidate –> televised audience= step two) And one direction simple isn’t good enough for me. I want my politics web 2.0-style!

I know it’d be nice to think that this single event has revolutionized the way we interact with our politicians, but there’s a lot of tweaking to be done before this type of interaction can really be described as “new” or “revolutionary.” For one thing, despite the fact that all questions were user-submitted, CNN had selection power. A system based on user feedback (i.e. popularity, ratings, view count) would have been a much better method of selection. The questions asked were just the ones that CNN decided to choose. None of them were especially provocative or daring, and certain political issues were given a much greater amount of time than others. Until the selection system becomes more user dominated and methods of further user response are developed, this form of political debate will never be truly new.

So what is it? Well, it’s a stepping stone. The fact that this even took place is a great sign that news and political organizations are beginning to understand the importance–no, necessity–of online communication. Not just communication; interaction. It’s not enough anymore to travel around the states shaking hands and making speeches. By exploring this idea further, politicians will be able to reach a whole new group of voters. It has enormous potential, and I hope that this exploration continues. There is a huge online community just waiting to become involved in ways that have never been possible before. Watch out, FDR.

You can view the debate on the CNN website, or read the transcripts: PART I; PART II

The questions, along with others that weren’t selected and video responses to the debate are here.

I’ve been keeping my eye for the past few weeks on the new Facebook polls. They have been interesting at best, and utterly ridiculous at worst. However, the latest one was a little different:

“Who do you look up to the most?” (CHOICES: Politicians, athletes, businesspeople, artists, or scientists)

I think part of what makes it interesting is how abstract the question is in relation to former questions. (i.e. “boxers or briefs?” “Is global warming a concern?” “What’s your favorite burger joint?”) What do they mean by “look up to”? Admiration? Respect? Most valuable to society? Most interesting? Closest to matching personal goals? Stereotypical, desirable personality traits associated with each career path? Successfulness? (As measured in happiness or monetary gain?)

Has this abstraction of query affected the results of the poll? Let’s take a look at the responses. (NOTE: Facebook does not claim statistical significance with these polls. Keep that in mind.)

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Ok. So at first glance it appears that–on average–Facebook users look up to artists the most, with athletes coming in second. What about demographic breakdowns?

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No surprises with the percentage of age groups. Facebook poll responses have generally followed this pattern. But wait! The male/female response ratio is a surprise. (Though only if you’re geeky like me and remember past ratios.) If I remember correctly, most previous poll responses have been dominated by women. Why was there a higher male response to this poll? Do women have a harder time answering a question like this? And is it because they don’t look up to others as often, disagree with the method of categorization, or because they recognize the high level of subjectivity in the question, which makes a thoughtful response more difficult? And why is this question so easy for men to answer? Does this simple bar graph indicate a meaningful difference in gender-related thought processes and societal influences?

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Oooh! The only two categories in which females exceed males in vote percentage are, oddly enough, two occupations we (society) generally consider to be opposites: artists and scientists. What is it that we’re supposed to be getting out of this graph? That women place a greater value on art and science while men favor sports? I certainly don’t think we should jump to that conclusion; it’s probably unfair to men. But what does it mean? I think it ties back to the issue of subjectivity. How flexible is the question being asked? (It’s plastic, Dr. C.) Perhaps what happened is that, due to differences in cognitive directions, men interpreted this question in one way while women interpreted it in another. Likely?

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This last one is interesting too. It seems that the oldest age group looks up to scientists more, whereas the youngest idolize artists. Naiveté vs. practicality? 18 to 24-year-olds also chose artists, and 25 to 34-year-olds went for athletes. Do age differences contribute in the same way as gender differences, or is it a bit more random?

The only observable, significant uniformity was general loathing for politicians. Unsurprising.

On Monday, we were all discussing Ashley’s idea of creating a Facebook page for the class. Many ideas were thrown out (see? there’s that phrase again) and I thought I’d recap a couple. These are more thematic than technical, but I think this Facebook thing has huge potential.

  1. Page rather than group, because we want flexibility of content.
  2. This will serve as an online community for the members of this class. Even after the class is over, we can stay in touch and continue to exchange ideas and engage in discussions.
  3. Even more exciting is the potential for new members! Future members of this class can join the community and expand the circle of students actively involved in this exploration. Students taking new media courses at other colleges will be able to join us too, until we have a huge community of students thinking, discussing, and creating.

What better way to further online discourse on new media than through students, the future creators? I’m excited.

I think I can finally connect a few thoughts I was having last Thursday.

Web 2.0 is all about connections between people and interaction in the online environment. It involves creation of new content in addition to simple acquisition of available information. But what about the cabinet in the short story we read? It automatically knows what Bishop wants. Right now we input information into a computer and use it to find what we want. The computer does the work for us, but we still have to tell it what we want. Is it possible to have a computer that performs the exact functions we want without any input from us? I know it sounds outlandish; after all, wouldn’t that be bordering on the psychic? Perhaps not. There are already programs in existence that use minimal input as a starting point for extensive retrieval of desired information, even when inquiries are not particularly specific. After all, the most difficult things for us to find are the ones that aren’t straightforward information retrieval, but operations that deal with more complex needs and desires. What are we in the mood for? What will inspire us at any given moment? What do we need to go in a new direction? And I think those are the questions that computers can help with the most, potentially.

A good example of a current program that is covering a sort-of middle ground between present and future is Pandora. Yes, there’s still input required, but not much. You type in a song or artist you like, and fwoosh! Pandora gives you a playlist of other music it thinks you’ll like, based on that one song. It’s not foolproof–nothing is–but the point here is not what it’s accomplishing but what it’s attempting to accomplish. Pandora delivers what it thinks we want. It’s not a simple search and play program. It’s search and explore.

Getting back to the title of my post (I’m sure you’re all just dying of curiosity), what exactly is Web 16.0? Web 2.0 allows us to interact with each other. Web 16.0 interacts with us itself. Web 16.0 is, in effect, an independent entity. It is an enhanced mirror. Not a portal, or a window, but a crazy kind of conglomeration. It is a replacement for a human being, but so different in its capabilities that it would act more as a supplement than a replacement. And true Web 16.0 would be neither replacement nor supplement; one of those words implies lack of need for interaction between humans and the other implies inferiority to us. It would be equal. And more importantly, just as Web 2.0 acts as a network of connections and inspiration between people, Web 16.0 is a network of mutual inspiration between people and computers. As we evolve, so does our technology.

If we let it.

I had one of those weird dreams the other night. You know the kind–the ones that happen right as you’re waking up, and it takes you a few minutes to sort out what’s real and what isn’t. I rolled over in bed and saw huge butterflies with black and dark violet wings fluttering around my room. Some of them were on the ground, dying, and some were still in the air, but just seemed to be waiting for their turn. Eventually I realized that there weren’t really butterflies in my room.

I think I’m unraveling a little at the edges.

My script, while not polished, is done. I’m filling in camera directions now. Its evolution was interesting, and it’s not at all what I thought it would be. I think I like it. (We’ll see if I still like it after I get some sleep for the first time in over 48 hours.)

There’s something that’s really been bothering me, but I’m not sure why. It struck me the other day that as wonderful as “real learning” seems,  and as worthwhile our ideas for a better educational system are, there’s still a major flaw. I’ve always believed fervently that if a school is structured around learning and independent study, with teachers guiding rather than spoon-feeding, students would automatically be more interested, passionate, and enthusiastic. On Tuesday night, only one student had done the entire reading. The rest of us, for whatever reasons, were simply not prepared for class. The structure of this course is exactly what I’ve always thought of as an excellent model for an educational system. So what went wrong? I don’t think it’s that we’re not motivated. I didn’t do the reading. I should have. I have no valid excuse. Does that mean that I just don’t care? Does it mean I don’t care enough? I don’t think it’s that either, because I care immensely and I am loving everything about this course.

But, inadvertently, we’ve exposed the flaw of all that lovely discussion on Monday. Even if a system is perfect in every way, things like this are going to happen occasionally. It’s an inherent risk. Does that mean it’s not our fault? Of course not. It’s not a problem of motivation, it’s a problem of seriousness. Allowing students to direct their own learning can be a wonderful thing, but what that means is that they only really answer to themselves. They’re working for themselves, not for anyone else, and that means that there’s a risk that they’ll occasionally let themselves down unless they remain completely disciplined.

This can be very disheartening for the teacher, especially since there is no good explanation that can be offered. But perhaps it’s good if this kind of let-down occurs at least once during a course, because it can function as a wake-up call. We don’t want to let the teacher down, and we especially don’t want to let ourselves down. All an instructor can do at this point is have faith in the students, and hope that they’ll learn from such an experience, and begin to approach the course with even more passion and commitment than before. Do you think that’s too much to hope?

I’ve never been a college professor, but I can only imagine that hope constitutes an enormous amount of the job.

Don’t give up on us yet.

“If an entity is sufficiently non-humanlike, then the humanlike characteristics will tend to stand out and be noticed easily, generating empathy. On the other hand, if the entity is “almost human”, then the non-human characteristics will be the ones that stand out, leading to a feeling of “strangeness” in the human viewer.”(Wikipedia)

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Just a shameless plug for my online portfolio :)

www.serenae.com

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I keep going back to Engelbart’s assertion that computers shouldn’t be easy to use. Do I agree with it? I know I don’t believe that computers should be difficult to use just for the sake of being difficult, but they shouldn’t be easy either. I think the debate is slightly oversimplified, because the real question isn’t whether computers should be easy or hard to use. The real question is if the things we do with computers should be simple or complex. It is possible that if computers are too easy to use, we won’t think of doing (or be able to do) more complicated things with them. But do you think that’s really true? Is “easy” synonymous with “simple”?

I think computers need to be complex. And yes, they need to be difficult to use, to a certain extent. It is only when we are being constantly challenged that we reach peak innovation. I want my computer to make me think and create. This should be a positive feedback loop. Increased difficulty and complexity leads to further mastery and inspiration, which in turn leads to the need for more complexity. We thrive on challenges; why would we want to eliminate that element when it’s an essential component of creation?

As for the concept of computers being more like people, what if computers were able to build off of us just as we’re able to build off of them? Everything we do with them and everything we create lets the computer add new components, new challenges. Things that will give us new ideas. A chain of human-computer innovation, of sorts. There has always been an urge to make computers more like us. Why is this? Why do we push so hard to make computers easier to use but also dream of giving computers human characteristics and abilities? (Isn’t a computer, after all, supposed to be a replacement for human activity that is difficult or time-consuming? A substitution that allows us to go further by eliminating things we would have to do ourselves otherwise?) I think we want computers to be more like us because we actually want this exchange of inspiration. We inspire each other, and since a computer is a replacement, doesn’t it follow that at some level we want (expect?) the computer to inspire us? To perform that last function that allows for further breakthroughs?

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Are computers one day going to be more intelligent than humans? Dr. Campbell doesn’t think so, but I’m not so sure. If we continue in this direction of expecting computers to be easy to use and nothing else, then perhaps not. Is a computer simply a sum of what we put into it? Does it–and can it–only do what we’ve programmed it to do? What if we program it (as discussed in class) to feel emotion? Or to reason? Would it still have limits? What if we program it to learn? Is it still functioning on the same basic set of processes and simply building an information base? Or could it be capable of true learning and creation? Clearly such programming wouldn’t be immediately successful and any possibility of “true learning” would be a result of the buildup of several of these processes running and evolving over time. But we shouldn’t ignore the possibility, because that’s what stops it from happening. We have an excellent track record of being able to accomplish things that were thought to be impossible. Anything imagined can be created.

I’ve been meaning to blog this for quite a while now.

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What does everyone else think of this video? I saw it (partially) as a statement on the media’s influence over us, but perhaps it’s also saying something about human nature. What makes it so sad? The very end, or everything leading up to it? (Or do you even think it is sad?) Just something to think about.