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October 2010

Nothing brings people together like ignoring each other to stare at their phones

SanityFearAppIcon Last night, on the Colbert Report, near the beginning of the segment on Fear for All, Part I, host Stephen Colbert announced the new Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear app for the iPhone (also available in the Android store).

The app was developed by MTV Networks for the upcoming combined Rally to Restore Sanity (instigated by The Daily Show's Jon Stewart) / March to Keep Fear Alive (instigated by Colbert) in Washington, DC, this Saturday, an event that has received considerable attention over the past few weeks on Comedy Central, Fox News and other traditional and new media outlets (though the rally will apparently not be receiving any direct attention from National Public Radio).

PeopleStaringAtPhones Colbert highlighted several benefits to this new mobile social activist application:

If you're going to the rally, well, there's an app for that ... It's really cool! You can use the app to get directions to the rally, check-in on Foursquare, post photos to Facebook and Twitter, and you get a special video message from Jon [Stewart] and me on the morning of the rally. This app will truly enhance your rally experience, because nothing brings people together like ignoring each other to stare at their phones. [emphasis mine]

image from blogs.reuters.com These "features" for enhancing physical world experiences reflect the tensions I recently wrote about regarding the Starbucks Digital Network and its impact on engagement and enlightment on physical world "third places". Although I have not precisely measured it, I have perceived an increasing trend of people standing or sitting together in Starbucks and becoming ever more effective at ignoring each other by staring at / typing on their phones (or laptops), and I predict less physical world engagement will result from the greater online engagement provided by this new location-based network. This may not be universally seen as a "bug" by all, but I have been encouraged to read others urging a shift of attention from the online back into the offline, such as Lewis Howes' recent post predicting the offline shift is coming, and John Hagel and John Seely Brown's recent article in Harvard Business Review proclaiming the increasing importance of physical location.

Malcolm Gladwell has also addressed the relative tradeoffs between online and offline engagement, touching off a firestorm of controversy in a New Yorker article criticizing online social networks such as Twitter and Facebook and their impact on social activism in the physical world: Small Change: Why The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted.

image from www.rallytorestoresanity.com The Rally to Restore Sanity, however, is more about resolution than revolution:

We’re looking for the people who think shouting is annoying, counterproductive, and terrible for your throat; who feel that the loudest voices shouldn’t be the only ones that get heard; and who believe that the only time it’s appropriate to draw a Hitler mustache on someone is when that person is actually Hitler. Or Charlie Chaplin in certain roles.

image from www.keepfearalive.com The March to Keep Fear Alive is, of course, also intended to promote reasonableness, though employing the kind of parody traditionally used by Colbert in drawing attention to the fear that is regularly promulgated through other media channels:

America, the Greatest Country God ever gave Man, was built on three bedrock principles: Freedom. Liberty. And Fear — that someone might take our Freedom and Liberty. But now, there are dark, optimistic forces trying to take away our Fear — forces with salt and pepper hair and way more Emmys than they need. They want to replace our Fear with reason. But never forget — “Reason” is just one letter away from “Treason.” Coincidence? Reasonable people would say it is, but America can’t afford to take that chance.

I will not be present at the rally / march in Washington, DC, but I may attend the Rally to Restore Sanity in Seattle. In any case, I will be tuning in to the main rally  /march remotely - perhaps using my iPhone - to see how the resolution or revolution will be tweeted.

The Colbert Report Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Fear for All Pt. 1
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes 2010 Election March to Keep Fear Alive

Update, 2010-11-16: Perhaps due to the fact that the only commercial TV I watch with any regularity is the Comedy Central "news" hour - The Daily Show and The Colbert Report - and even those I typically watch via buffering on my DVR to skip commercials, I was not aware of the Microsoft Windows Phone ad campaign launched earlier in October that promotes the theme of phone-based obsessive-compulsive disorder that Colbert is alluding to. While I like the video, I don't see how this would motivate people to buy Windows Phones (say, instead of iPhones or Androids), but perhaps the goal was simply to draw some attention to Windows Phone. In any case, I'm embedding the Windows Phone "Really" advertisement below.

And finally, just for good measure, I'll embed what I see as the classic short video in this genre, Crackberry Blackberry (though I do not believe this was ever used as a marketing tool by Research in Motion). Interestingly, it was prefaced by yet another Windows Phone ad when I watched it just now.


Preemptive Foreclosure: Problems with GoDaddy Domain Name Registration Service

I am frustrated with preemptive actions taken by GoDaddy this week, effectively impounding my web site without adequate notification for at least two days. The web site has since been released, but I wanted to share my experience in case it helps others make better informed choices about domain name registration services ... and to release some of my frustration. I would be very interested in any recommendations for other reasonably priced services that offer better customer service.

My domain name, Interrelativity.com, is currently registered with GoDaddy.com, and was set to auto-renew on October 25. Unfortunately, my Visa credit card - which was the card on file at GoDaddy for auto-renewals - was hacked last week, and the old card number was cancelled on October 23. On October 26, I received the following email from GoDaddy, with the subject "Product Failed Billing Notification":

Dear Joe McCarthy,
Customer Number: ******

According to the terms of our agreement(s), we tried to bill your Visa card ending in the last two digits 89 in the amount of $41.96 for the item(s) below, but our billing attempt failed. This could be for a variety of reasons, including an invalid or expired credit card on file.


 

Product Name Next Billing Date  Qty
Price
.COM Bulk Domain Name Renewal (1-5) (recurring) 10/30/2010 1   $11.62
    INTERRELATIVITY.COM
.NET Bulk Domain Name Renewal (1-5) (recurring) 10/30/2010 1   $15.17
    INTERRELATIVITY.NET
.ORG Bulk Domain Name Renewal (1-5) (recurring) 10/30/2010 1   $15.17
    INTERRELATIVITY.ORG

 



If an item has already expired, it is noted above as "CANCELLED" and can no longer be renewed. PLEASE NOTE: Once an item has been cancelled, all related data – Web site files, emails, databases, etc. – is removed from our server and cannot be recovered.

If there is a date in the "Next Billing Date" column, we will hold your item(s) and attempt to bill again on the date shown, OR you can renew now and qualify for bonus savings.

[instructions / link for online renewal omitted]
 
Thanks as always for being a Go Daddy customer.

Sincerely,
GoDaddy.com, Inc.

In reading this email, I didn't interpret "hold your item(s)" as "impound your item(s)". I interpreted it as "we will hold your item(s) - rather than try to resell your items". I figured that GoDaddy would simply try to bill the card again on October 30, by which time I hoped to have a new Visa card number that I could substitute for the old number in my account information.

I was surprised when I was contacted by someone today who told me that my web site appeared to be for sale:

GoDaddy-BuyThisDomain

Since I have not yet received my new Visa card, I immediately logged into my account to enter a different card number. I then called GoDaddy customer service to (a) determine what notification I missed or misinterpreted that should have informed me of the impending impoundment, and (b) find out how long it would take for the content on my web site to be released / reinstated.

Foreclosure_sign3 During my phone call with the GoDaddy customer service representative, we reviewed two preceding email messages I had received (on September 25 and October 20), notifying me of the upcoming auto-renewal for the domain, and we reviewed the message I included above. The only signal of impending impoundment the representative could point me to was the use of "hold" I alluded to above, i.e., "hold" = "impound" rather than "hold" = " will not resell" ... and I don't know how accurate the "will not resell" interpretation was, either. The representative never offered an apology, repeatedly referring me to their "terms of service", but did try to offer some sympathy using the analogy of a wireless carrier suspending service for a mobile phone. I responded that the public nature of my web site having been "parked" (as shown in the screenshot above) seemed more like a bank posting a foreclosure sign out in front of my house. I'm glad the most recent email message from GoDaddy only thanked me for being "a customer", vs. the thanks I often receive from other companies for being "a valued customer", as I don't feel that my business is valued by GoDaddy.

image from www.optify.net Ironically, I do feel like a valued customer at Optify, a Seattle-based real-time marketing service. It was Jennifer, a customer service representative at Optify, who called me to let me know about the inaccessibility of my web site content (and/or availability of my domain name) - and more generally to see if I had any questions about Optify. I say this is ironic because I signed up for the free trial of Optify on Monday, shortly after reading an article about them in TechCrunch, but I was using my Interrelativity web site primarily to experiment with and learn more about the service, more out of curiosity than with any serious marketing intent. That said, the prompt and helpful followup by Jennifer has proven unexpectedly valuable, and exemplifies a strong customer orientation and valuation.

Interrelativity-LogoNameMantra-320x90 Fortunately, after getting off the phone with Jennifer and updating my credit card information at GoDaddy, the content of my web site was reinstated and available again within an hour or so. While I no longer use Interrelatvity.com for any direct commercial purposes - as I liked to say when I joined Nokia back in 2006, the business of Interrelativity failed, but the dream lives on - my Interrelativity homepage continues to serve as the central online hub for my professional activities, including links to my projects and papers  as well as my accounts on a variety of social media services (such as Twitter, SlideShare and this blog). Given that I am currently in another career transition, exploring new professional opportunities [self-promotional link to my resume / CV (PDF)], the preemption of my web content for 2 days while I am sending links to my homepage to prospective employers may have cost me valuable "impressions".

And, as I noted above, I am also exploring a transition to a new domain name registration and hosting service, so I would welcome any recommendations from others who have enjoyed better customer service from other companies.


Virtual Reality, Somatic Cognition, Homuncular Flexibility and Object-Centered Sociality and Learning

VirtualReality Jaron Lanier recently wrote about virtual reality and its potential application to learning, utilizing some evocative terms and offering an educational scenario that reminds me of a seminal 1997 paper that described how a Nobel prize-winning biologist fused with her objects of study. The Saturday Wall Street Journal article gave me a keener appreciation for the potential applications of virtual reality (VR) - immersive computer-generated environments that model real or imaginary worlds - and for the pervasiveness of object-centered sociality, a concept I first encountered via Jyri Engestrom.

Crane-sm6 Lanier's article is about new frontiers for avatars - "movable representations of ourselves in cyberspace" - and how they can be used to manifest somatic cognition - the mapping of human body motion "into a theater or thought and strategy not usually available to us" in which one's hands (or presumably, other body parts) can solve complicated puzzles more quickly than one's head (or conscious mind). The examples he gives of somatic cognition outside the realm of virtual reality include professional musicians, athletes, surgeons and pilots, and I found myself thinking of a documentary I saw years ago on heavy machinery, and the way that a crane operator who was interviewed described the bewildering array of levers as virtual extensions of his arms and hands.

After describing a software bug in an early VR system that gave his humanoid avatar a gigantic hand, Lanier generalizes homuncular flexibility as a more general principle: "people can learn to inhabit other bodies not just with oddly shaped limbs [gigantic hands], or limbs attached in unfamiliar places, but even bodies with different numbers of limbs [lobster avatars]". Dean Eckles generalizes this notion even further - in a 2009 blog post reviewing a 2006 article by Lanier on homonucular flexibility (which offers more details about the lobster) - to distal attribution: our propensity for attributing sensory perceptions to internal or external - or proximal or more distant - sources.

However, it is Lanier's reference to an experiment with elementary school children being turned into the things they were studying that I found most interesting [although I have not been able to track down the reference]:

Some [students] were turned into molecules, dancing and squirming to dock with other molecules. In this case the molecule serves the role of the piano, and instead of harmony puzzles, you are learning chemistry. Somatic cognition offers an overwhelming emotional appeal for education, because it leverages vanity. You become the thing you are studying. Your sensory motor loop is modified to incorporate the logic of a science, and you develop body intuition about that logic.

This idea of fusing or becoming one with the object of study is one of the two primary manifestations of object-centered sociality articulated in Karin Knorr Cetina's seminal paper, "Sociality with Objects: Social Relations in Postsocial Knowledge Societies", [Theory, Culture & Society, 1997, Vol. 14(4):1-30]. As I noted in an earlier post on place-centered sociality, the other manifestation of object-centered sociality - sociality (interactions and relationships) through objects, such as online photos, videos or even blog posts - is better known, at least among many of those who study online social media (and mediation). But Lanier's article evokes the manifestation of sociality with objects themselves, reminding me of what I earlier wrote about Knorr Cetina's articulation of how this can promote deeper investigation and learning:

[Knorr Cetina] looks specifically at knowledge objects, and how they are increasingly produced by specialists and experts rather than through a broader form of participatory interpretation. She argues that experts' relationships with knowledge objects can be best characterized by a the notion of lack and a corresponding structure of wanting [emphasis hers] because these objects "seem to have the capacity to unfold indefinitely": new results that add to objects of knowledge have the side effect of opening up new questions. This perpetual unfolding gives rise to "a libidinal dimension or dimension of knowledge activities" - an "arousal" and "deep emotional investment" - by the person studying the knowledge object. As an example, she describes the way that biologist Barbara McClintock, who won the Nobel Prize for her discovery of genetic transposition, would totally immerse herself in her study of plant chromosomes, identifying with the chromosomes and imagining how they might see the world - evoking an image (for me) of object-centered empathy more than sociality.

Kinect The prospect of empowering future Nobel laureates with virtual reality technology to engage with and virtually embody objects of knowledge at an early age is very exciting. Lanier mentions the Kinect camera for Xbox 360 made by Microsoft (his employer), which will likely put virtual reality technology in the hands (or homes) of millions of people in the near future.

The primary emphasis of Kinect marketing is on fun and games, but based on Lanier's article, and Knorr Cetina's insights into object-centered learning, Kinect might also provide a platform for a new approach to education. In an ideal world, of course, fun and learning would not be such distinct concepts ... perhaps this new technology will help promote a new dimension of convergence in the not-too-distant future.


Coffee and conversation with congressional candidate Suzan DelBene

SuzanDelBeneCoffee Two local Coffee Party groups - from Redmond and Renton / SE Lake Washington - organized a meeting with Suzan DelBene, the Democratic candidate for Washington's 8th Congressional District, at Vovito Caffe & Gelato in Bellevue last week. A dozen or so people participated in a civil and engaging conversation with the candidate about a range of important civic matters during the one-hour event. Some of the participants became quite animated about some of the issues they were raising, but all those present abided by the Coffee Party civility pledge, and so articulated their positions with passion and respect. The upshot is that I came away with a keener appreciation both for the candidate and the process of civil, honest and respectful political discourse.

Suzan began with a brief overview of her background, motivations and goals for seeking the 8th Congressional District seat currently held by Republican Dave Reichert. She was born in Alabama, attended Reed College, and has held leadership positions in a variety of organizations of different sizes and orientations - a large corporation (Microsoft), two for-profit startups (Drugstore.com and Nimble Technology, the latter of which was spun out of the University of Washington) and a non-profit promoting micro-financing in Latin America (Global Partnerships). She wants to apply her business and entrepreneurial experience to the problems facing the 8th district and the country as a whole.

Having experienced the effects of her father losing her job when she was in 4th grade, Suzan has first-hand experience with the challenges that arise during periods of unemployment. I was inspired by her emphasis on the importance of not just creating economic opportunities (jobs), but creating meaningful opportunities -jobs that promote a sense of pride, dignity and confidence, as well as foster community and leadership - reminding me of some entrepreneurial wisdom shared by Guy Kawasaki on making meaning vs. making money.

TheFortuneAtTheBotttomOfThePyramid-cover One of the first questions was how to address the unfair advantage large corporations seem to have over small businesses with respect to political influence and access to financial capital. Suzan acknowledged that the financial system is broken, and emphasized the prime importance of stabilizing the system. Referencing the book, The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty through Profits, she suggested that we need to find more ways to make more capital - and opportunities - available to people at lower levels of the pyramid, e.g., through reducing the tax burden on small business and increasing the flow of money to community banks. She commended the Small Business Jobs and Credit Act (H.R. 5297) signed into law by President Obama two weeks ago - after Congressman Reichert voted against the bill in the House [Suzan didn't mention this, but I looked it up] - as a positive step in that direction.

We also discussed health care, and there seemed to be general agreement that we still need to move forward with [further] health care reform. Suzan observed that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 was more about health insurance reform than health care reform, expanding access but falling short of the cost containment requirements to ensure long-term stability of the health care system. She also expressed support for a position that I (and others) strongly believe in: health care is a right, not a privilege.

Qliance-how-it-works Suzan mentioned a local company, Qliance, that is taking a new, more entrepreneurial approach to providing health care by providing incentives that are more appropriately aligned with achieving positive health care outcomes. Qliance members pay a $75 monthly fee (on average) for unlimited access to a primary care clinic, and with no extrinsic monetary incentives for ordering additional tests or requiring additional clinic visits - in contrast to the pay-per-procedure incentives that pervade the predominant health insurance system - doctors are more focused on successful treatment (and prevention) than successive treatments. In briefly skimming the Qliance pages, it appears that there may be significant gaps outside of the realm of primary care in the overall coverage (e.g., "prescription medications, laboratory tests and outside services such as x-ray interpretation" ... and, I imagine, hospitalization), but it does seem to offer a promising possible alternative.

The conversation then shifted to education, and Suzan expressed a preference for President Obama's Race to the Top program over former President Bush's No Child Left Behind program - comparing them to a carrot vs. a stick - but noted that charter schools (which are not [yet] allowed in Washington State) are disproportionately favored in the RTTT point system. Having served as CEO of Nimble Technologies, a startup that spun out of University of Washington research, she is also a strong proponent of funding basic research. More generally, she observed that we need to shift our thinking (and acting) from the short-term to the long-term, focusing less on spending and more about investing.

image from fightwashingtoncorruption.com The last topic we discussed was campaign finance reform. Suzan said she disagrees with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizen United v. Federal Election Commission, which struck down campaign spending limitations that had been imposed on corporations. She mentioned state initiatives such as the Clean Elections Act in Maine, which has served as a model for subsequent campaign finance reform initiatives in other states, and the Fight Washington Corruption campaign ("Democracy for the other 98% of us") initiated by MoveOn.org. She supports greater transparency in political campaigns.

image from covers.oreilly.com This emphasis on transparency, combined with her entrepreneurial approach to problems, and her proposal that "we need more leadership and less followership" reminded me of Tim O'Reilly's concept of government as a platform, and the application of platform thinking to government, health care, education and science. Although Suzan is a Democrat, many of the views she articulated struck me as more libertarian than liberal, and more pragmatic than ideological ... and she doesn't appear to see government as the sole or even primary solution to our problems.

I do not live in Washington State's 8th Congressional District, and so I cannot vote for Suzan, but many aspects of her experience and perspective resonate with me, and I am grateful for the chance to learn more about her beliefs and goals. I also want to express my gratitude to the other Coffee Party members and supporters, as well as to our gracious hosts, Ariff and Shairose Gulamani, Alex Negranza and the rest of the staff at Vovito Caffe & Gelato (who, like the Coffee Party, support civil discourse and the democratic process but do not endorse any political candidates).

Finally, I want to note that a recent poll suggests that DelBene is gaining on Reichert, and I hope this will provide greater incentive for Reichert to reverse his refusal to debate her ... as I think we all benefit from more opportunities to engage in - and/or observe - civil discourse on civic matters.