Category Archives for Technology
Haven’t blogged in a long while, but after attending Northern Voice, I got the expected kick in the pants from many of the attendees there. The enthusiasm is infectious, but more than that, it’s just a great reminder that blogging demonstrates first-hand the power of the web. So, no excuses for my lapse, but this is just what adults who care about the web do: we blog.
So I had the pleasure of sitting in on a discussion on web literacy that took place during the unconferenc-y first afternoon of #nv12. (Here’s a good breakdown from Boris who had the idea for the conversation.) It’s interesting for me to come to a discussion like this one with my background in libraries and in health, because I think though my personal level of “literacy” on the web as we talked about it is high, my perception of an average web users’ skill set is different. Maybe it’s pessimistic, maybe not. But, my sense is this:
To me, web literacy should be about establishing an understanding of how the web works practically. I’m not saying we shouldn’t value understanding how the web works technically, but I am saying most people aren’t interested in that right away when they sign up. What they’re interested in is getting some pictures on Facebook and Instagram. They want to reblog someone’s Tumblr post, they want to grab that infographic and Pin it. Before we can talk about HTML, before we can talk about DNS and hosting, we need to acknowledge that, like it or not, much of the creation and consumption happening on the web right now is mediated by large platforms like these.
So I don’t entirely agree with Boris when he says “I don’t think posting photos to Facebook or using an app to post to Twitter qualifies as putting your own content online.” To me there is nothing fundamentally different between a Facebook status and a blog post. Value judegments aside, at the core, those acts are all the creation of a cultural artifact on a web platform.
My perspective in health comes in here, because there’s a correlary between my perspective on web literacy I’ve just outlined, and how I think about health care on the web now, too. People are looking for information and to connect with others by any means necessary — if they do it on Facebook, or Patients Like Me, or on another health-oriented web community doesn’t really matter (to them). What matters is the connections they can make and their newfound ability to share.
So I believe it’s important that we start helping people to understand what it means to share their information on platforms where they don’t own the content, so that they can make informed decisions about what they choose to share there. I don’t believe people will stop using Facebook or things like it. I do, however, want people to feel empowered to participate on those platforms with an understanding of how much control over their contributions they can reasonably expect; to continue sharing with an explicit acknowledgement that they are freely giving up some ownership of their content in order to gain access to the advantages of the network.
If, after that, they end up (like we hope they do) making the decision to own their content then all the better, and let’s help with that. But in my view, we’ve got a very consumption-heavy web right now, and we have to tackle the implications of making your web content OPP first, and help transition people into owning their content second.
The other day my uncle and I were emailing about a recent family trip, and posting pictures online. Perhaps not knowing exactly what he was getting himself into, he asked me: “How concerned are you about matters of privacy regarding Facebook, Picasa, Twitter and others? Your dad told me not long ago that he had stopped using Facebook because of that concern. For example, are you concerned, as I am, that my photos on Picasa will remain in the hands of Google even if your aunt closes her account? Am I being too sensitive about this?”
Since I feel this was somewhat apropos to the release of Google+, I thought I would share how I responded to him.
So, I somewhat accidentally wrote you two answers since you asked what was perhaps an unexpectedly interesting question. The first one is short. The second one might require a beverage and a place to put up your feet, but hey, it’s practically the weekend!
Short answer: yeah, you’re probably being too sensitive, but that’s OK. Share whatever you feel comfortable with. If Facebook creeps you out, don’t join. We can always email. But if you’re looking for an easy way to share family photos, you can’t beat Picasa albums — and you can always delete them later if you want.
Long answer: My feeling is well you’ll always have a copy of the photos you post — or you should — so if Facebook or Google goes out of business or crashes or whatever, you’ve got a backup. That’s just common sense and I imagine as a photographer you have quite a bit of hard drive space laying around so it’s not your concern.
Secondly, you are allowed to delete stuff , so if for whatever reason you want to delete your Google account you can. Just take down your photos before deleting your account. Facebook is worse about this, so for photos I’m a little more wary there. Google or Flickr don’t concern me as much. They are more explicit about not taking ownership of your content. Facebook actually states they CAN use your content without asking, so that’s where the concern lies. They are also quite sinister about allowing you to leave (they “helpfully” lock your profile in carbonite Han Solo style — if you ever rejoin, BAM it’s back up like you never left).
I’d imagine a site like 500px, that is tailored to photographers, would be respectful of your content. Often times you can poke around the site for more info about ownership and copyright stuff and it will be clear. Smaller companies usually try to set themselves apart by explicitly saying they’re better than evil corps like Facebook and Google.
Finally, for me, it is inevitable that my life content will be shared on the web because not only will it be more and more impractical for stuff to be on my local drive for various technological reasons (why keep stuff in one spot, when you can access from anywhere!), but also because I am just coming up in the world when that’s what’s being done. I see value in sharing stuff with family and friends and even strangers that outweighs the risks inherent in putting things out there. This is maybe because as a young person I have a desire to meet new friends and have networking to do — but it is also somewhat philosophical, in the sense that I feel there’s more to be gained (socially, mentally, maybe even spiritually) from being open than constantly stopping myself from taking advantage of this incredible opportunity just because something could “go wrong” (whatever that means).
I think you have to start to see that value before it makes sense to pile your life’s work into a piece of software that may not survive a year from now. 500px is a good example because it’s new and its future is far from certain. Some people might be devastated by that. Me, I would shrug and start over somewhere new because the sharing is what’s important, not the tool. There’s a real possibility you would be pleased and surprised with the amount of feedback and exposure you could get in a place like that, but you have to want it.
If you read this far, pour another drink, you deserve it.
I was all set this week to write a post about all the cool new toys coming out to track your health at the Consumer Electronics Show. For the uninitiated, CES is a massive trade show where companies set up demos in a huge Vegas convention hall, and all you can read on the tech blogs all week is about gadgets that have just arrived, and will soon be on the market, ready to change your life. Of course, most of these new products never do see the light of day, and what you get is a lot of hype for products that, by and large, you never hear about again.
And I never thought the health market had a niche there, but they do. My hunch is that health technologies probably didn’t have much presence at CES until the iPhone came along, because CES is so heavily gadget-focused. But whatever the case is, health gadgets are all the rage there now. For instance, there’s the
- iPhone ECG: “The AliveCor iPhonECG is a slim case that fits over a smart phone. Low-power electrodes on the case are pressed against the fingers or chest of a person to display electrical activity of the heart.”
- iPhone Blood Pressure Cuff: Actually, there’s another one of these, and they both debuted at CES.
- Then of course, there’s the CES announcement that a fingertip pulse oximeter will integrate with Microsoft Health Vault in coming months. You can pick one up for the low-low price of $265 USD.
There’s more where that came from. But back to my point: does any of this hype matter? Should we really be spending our time and energy worrying about the newest gadgets on one week of the year?
The only reason why I’m even bothering to ask (assuming the answer is usually, “Sure, why not?) is because I read a really nice column by Farhad Manjoo entitled “The most worthless week in tech.” Observe:
In private, gadget reporters will tell you that covering the show is a tremendous hassle and rarely yields any interesting news. But because CES demos make for great headlines and visuals—hey look, Steve Ballmer unveiled a tablet PC even before Apple did!—and because of the sheer volume of new stuff to post about, CES is a boon for gadget blog traffic and a honeypot for advertisers…
So, why is CES so dependably dreary? It’s the curse of that old Yogi Berra joke—nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded. If you’re a big tech company with something truly great to push, you’d be foolish to tell the world at CES.
He goes on to argue that CES is just fodder for “bogus hype” and that the things that truly matter take place at other times of the year. In fact, thanks to the web, they can take place whenever you want. If what you have is going to change tech or health care, it doesn’t matter if you announce it from a press conference in Vegas or on your blog from your basement. If it’s great, it’s great. If it’s not, well, just because you have live audience can’t change that.
Being a somewhat gadget-loving guy myself, reading that article in the middle of the week last week kinda put a damper on things for me, so I thought I’d save it just in case, to give you one last hoorah with CES and all the glitz and glam. And now that it’s over, this year, I’ll be paying attention all year long. Looking not just for the latest gadget to take my blood pressure, but something that has some potential to make my life and yours truly better.