Archived entries for digital lifestyle

Junk feed

Information funnelI’m a total Facebook slut. Jenny doesn’t like it, but begrudgingly accepts that I happily share things about myself in all over the Web, not just on Facebook, but also discussion forums, Twitter and this blog (although I’m not quite as bad as this). I also have several hundred friends on Facebook and don’t block any of them from my newsfeed (games, apps and pages on the other hand, are a different story).

Why not, you might ask? A lot of people think that subjecting yourself to random posts is a waste of time, but there’s a hidden benefit lurking amongst the updates on Aunt Phylis’s latest medical drama, pictures of your friend at so-and-so’s wedding, and what Jack had for breakfast.

First, let me explain: our main instinct, when faced with the firehose of information that the Internet delivers, is to filter it down as much as possible, by “hiding” people from your Facebook feed for example. The problem with that approach though – even though it helps greatly with time management and feeling a sense of staying on top of it all – is that end up with a wicked case of confirmation bias.

Seeing only things that you like, and which align very closely with a tightly defined set of interests and values, will have a narrowing effect on your mind. One symptom I’ve observed in myself, is becoming bored with the Internet. Think about that for a moment – it’s the Internet. If you can’t find something interesting or entertaining, either you’ve become omniscient, or it’s a sign that you’ve become a victim of too much awesome. It’s not unique to the Internet either. Ever found yourself saying “there’s nothing on TV”, or scanned through the newspaper headlines and thought that journalism today ain’t what it used to be?

The remedy is simple: be open minded. Follow a blogger or Tweeter with a strongly different opinion to yours, take up a project like The Great Library Challenge like one of my friends did, or simply allow friends who post crap (e.g. me) to appear on your Facebook friend feed.

The end of privacy

PrivacyThe Wikileaks saga has cemented one thing in my mind: digital privacy is no longer probable (or maybe even possible), and the people of the future will just have to submit to being better PR managers for themselves and learn how to manage their digital persona. I don’t belong to Generation Y but I’ve completely immersed myself in the Internet and so I’m fairly comfortable with being the constant stream – some would say deluge – of information from tweets, blogs, feeds and other useless minutiae from people’s lives.

Jenny, on the other hand, is an intensely private person and has never been comfortable with even having a Facebook account. She only signed up (or rather, got signed up by me) as a result of my pestering her about being able to put her in the “married to….” part of my profile, to which she very reluctantly agreed. She never touched it though, and I had to go in there and shut off every kind of notification, request, update, etc. After watching The Social Network though, she made me delete it.

I don’t claim any kind of noble reason for my digital openness – far from it in fact. As best as I can tell, my brain has developed in a way that I see life as a game, and one best played with perfect information. If you can’t be bothered clicking on the link, the term comes from a type of game described in the Game Theory branch of applied mathematics, where a player know all of the past moves made the other player(s). Wikipedia gives the example of Chess, where the board and the position of the pieces are known and visible to both players at all times.

I’m sure you have this problem: keeping an addressbook of your friends and family. When people keep moving around, and without significant effort and diligence you end up with way too many Christmas cards not received or returned (that’s right – if you didn’t get a Christmas card from me it’s your fault). My ideal state would be to have an addressbook where everybody owned and updated their own entry. Facebook is about the closest I’ve come to achieving this goal – not that it’s the best tool out there (Plaxo is good) – but because of the high rate of adoption amongst the laity.

But of course if you make your information publicly available then you have to deal with the troublemakers. People like telemarketers, thieves, stalkers and other unsavoury elements that seek to use your information for their own gain. For that reason (and especially at the insistence of my wife), my address details aren’t public, and I don’t usually mention things like our holidays until after the fact. I also actively maintain two separate and distinct e-mail addresses – you could even say separate personas. “zzyss” is my digital persona, my nickname in discussion forums, and a hotmail address. It’s also a magnet for spam, and despite having my junk mail filter settings turned to maximum I still have to contend with a number of messages from legitimate service providers (although I religiously opt-out and unsubscribe from all advertising, newsletters, notifications, alerts, etc. My preferred means of staying on top of things is via RSS feeds, but I won’t go into that here…)

Of course, those of you who know me will know that I also maintain a separate “personal” address on the same domain as this blog. That’s one of the great things about having your own domain name – I can create as many fake e-mail addresses as I like, and change them as necessary. For example a previous incarnation of this site used as the address for feedback and comments (this is in the days before blogging and comment features). Now I can post that address here with impunity without having to worry about being being found by a spambot crawling my site harvesting e-mail addresses, because I no longer use it.

Those are some of the techniques that I use in my digital life. I don’t fight against the elements that antagonise my privacy and try to expose me, and I get very little in the way of trouble in return. How public/private are you?

My brain’s too full (again)

It’s a sentiment that I’ve probably expressed before, but I feel as if my brain has too much stuff in it. Sometimes – like tonight – when I emerge from the cinema after a particularly stimulating movie it’s like my brain is on the verge of exploding. Friends and family might interject by saying that this is because I spend all day and night ingesting information from the Internet – which is true – but the difference is that everything on the Internet is already already cooked well-done, and partially digested, even.

A heavy diet of this “junk information” has completely ruined me for anything even remotely intellectually challenging. I make 2 passes at a crossword before deciding that I won’t get any more clues out; I only read as a distraction to pass the time while doing unavoidable business; and I absolutely can’t stand television.

The whole point of TV is to enslave – keep you watching, book you into a timeslot where they sell you ads by demographic, drip-feed you stories one 45-minute piece at a time. Who has time for that? You only need to know the key memes, or the right buttons to push, to get other people to volunteer lots of information which you then pick apart discussion-forum style:

  • Big Bang Theory/The IT Crowd: my real life, except people laugh at the jokes.
  • Modern Family/3 and a Half Men/How I Met Your Mother: oh, that’s the one with that… guy… from y’know… and the hot chicks, right?
  • Sex and the city / Desperate Housewives: 4 vaginas in various states of decay, wrapped in designer clothes and acting like cunts.
  • Law / medical dramas: (s)he slept with who?!
  • Crime shows: the answer is… science!

Instead I’ve imprisoned myself in a virtual jail of my own design. Instead of zoning out in front of the TV every night like a normal couple, I’m leashed to the computer: checking Facebook, ensuring that I’m not missing any offers on OzBargain, seeing if anybody has replied to my forum posts, flogging myself to write the next GeekReads or THRIFTerrific blog post, etc.

Fortunately, Jenny suffers no such problem. She’ll happily while away the time watching (or rewatching) her favourite TV shows and movies while I’m here in front of the computer Googling to see if the correct expression is “while away the time” or “wile away the time”.

I think writing is my catharsis, purging my mind of the thoughts that build up like the pile of rubbish being delivered by never-ending stream of garbage trucks. A rare moment of output instead of input, a verbal overflow. But considering the above, it makes me wonder what kind of writer I’d be if I wasn’t constantly filling my mind with other peoples’ ideas. Am I really creative, or am I simply processing information like a worm turning food scraps into vermicast*?

Do I have a point? No, not really. I’m just rambling to relieve the pressure (and to avoid writing what I “should” be writing, which is a review of The Social Network for GeekReads). By the way, I apologise if anybody is offended at my using the word “cunt”, although you shouldn’t be surprised.

OK, I think I feel a little better now. Thanks for listening.


* This analogy will probably make more sense once I get around to finishing my “worm farming” post on THRIFTerrific.

Preachy scribe: a git’s lame blog rant

Wooden letter cubesA bit over a year ago I had a crazy idea: if I start writing book reviews and attach affiliate links to Book Depository at the end of each one, people will buy them and I’ll get rich off commissions! Thus GeekReads was born. Like all harebrained schemes born of greed, the idea fell flat and destroyed any delusions I had of blogging my way to fame and fortune.

However, GeekReads remains, and has instead become the home for my thoughts and opinions on popular entertainment – movies, games, Web comics, etc. What there isn’t very much of any more is book reviews, ‘coz the only time I get to read is while riding the Porcelain Express, and that only gets me through a few pages a day at best. Hence source material is a bit scarce (except maybe when I’ve gone and eaten something old and dodgy out of the fridge).

While trying to think of a new name, I had the idea of using the Internet Anagram Server (I, Rearrangement Servant) to see if I could make something clever by rearranging the letters of cyberseraphic. Amazingly, there are 5,231 possibilities (in comparison to a mere 1,361 for “Caesar Wong” and one single measly entry for “Jenny Wong”). Most of them are gibberish, but it’s bloody funny gibberish; just seeing “preachy scribe” had me in hysterics, being an almost-too-perfect description for this blog. I think I have way more fun than is normal for a person scanning through a list of words.

Still no viable alternatives for GeekReads, but if I wanted to create some dodgy sites I could go with “Cheery Bra Pics”, “Yep, barer chics” or even “Her Racy Biceps” for the extra kinky types. On a more wholesome note I could do a cutesy blog called “Peach Berry (sic)”, or while we’re on the fruit theme, how about a property website called “Peachy Cribs RE (Real Estate)”? Food blogs tend to be growing in popularity – I could call mine “Chars by recipe” or “Spicy crab here”. What about sports commentary “by epic archers”… we could be here all day.

In case you’re still scratching your head wondering, the second part of the post title isn’t “Gorillas get Batman”, “Install garbage, Tom” or “Algebra maligns tots”, but a rearrangement of “blog title’s anagram”.

Spatial dissonance

Minority Report user interface3D TVs have barely hit the shelves, and there are already claims that they will result in brain damage. Whether that turns out to be true or not, I don’t think 2D screens have done us any favours either.

I had a fairly typical day at the office today, doing the usual stuff, and trying to crack a new idea that’s been brewing in my head for the last week or so. By the late afternoon though, I started to get really bored and distracted, and found it hard to concentrate on work. Tried flicking open some Facebook and forums, but those weren’t doing it for me either. Nothing unusual, right? Happens to everybody.

Knock-off time. As I started walking to my car, the ideas started flooding into my brain, and I thought to myself “why does this always happen?” Maybe it’s happened to you too: your best ideas have come to you while driving, in the shower, walking the dog… but never behind your desk. My take on this is that we’re spatial beings who live in a three-dimensional world. Our brains and bodies work best in 3D space, and it takes a surprising amount of effort to confine it to a flat surface. Therefore when I finally made a break from my work (and not just a temporary respite) my mind was freed from its boxy jail.

I dub this condition spatial dissonance – the encroachment of the flat virtual world into the real world. The problem is, my career and hobbies are all currently critically dependent on interfacing with a screen, and while I can quite easily take up new hobbies that don’t involve monitors or TVs, I’m at much less liberty to make similar changes at work.

I guess that’s why found this TED talk video so interesting. In it, John Underkoffler makes the point that User Interface design has lagged significantly behind increases in speed and capacity, and gives a live demonstration of a real-world implementation of the spatial interface technology that he helped to design for the movie Minority Report.

I can’t wait.

Here’s the video:

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