Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


Search Engines

I started these readings expecting to learn about how search engines work. I honestly expected to read some technical jargon about how search engines do their thing.

I actually took away something about how I look for information on the web.

I remember when I first starting using the internet, back when I had to walk two miles through the snow up hill both ways to get in line for the 28.8 kbs modem. Way back then, the first thing I would do to find something was to type it into a web address. A few awkward conversations with my parents and some groundings after they found adult content in the history and I realized that typing in http://www._____.com probably wasn’t the best way to do things. So I found search engines.

The best methods out there were engines that searched multiple search engines at once. I used them but I never became fluent in them. They were a tool that I was forced to use. Google changed that. They made search engines better and now thats primarily what I use.

But it took more than Google’s website. When I bought my first Mac, it came with Apple’s Safari browser built in. In the top right corner of the browser, there is a Google search bar. I don’t even have to go a website now. I can search while my homepage is loading. And I do. I use that built-in search bar for every little request. I don’t even think about where something could be, I immediately search for it.

I think thats the magic of search engines. They appeal to the laziness in people. The Internet saves us from going to the library for data and search engines save us from thinking about where that data is. The billion dollar question is: what comes next? How can they make more data closer to our fingertips?

Put the phone down

The technological feats outlined in this weeks articles are neat. Some of them, like getting directions or finding places to eat via your phone or a personal fabricator, are cool and useful. Some are sort of creepy, like having entire relationships via SMS or sending people blank messages to get a response. Some, like the guy who rigged his doorbell up to phone so he could see who was coming, just make me wonder why. Why was the recurring question that came to me throughout this weeks readings.

Why are these things necessary? Have we reached a point where we have to be connected EVERY second? Have people forgot how to breath without their cell phones? You can’t even use the phrase “cut the cord” because all these things are cordless. I guess I don’t understand why other people are so attached to their mobile devices.

I take my phone most places. When my best friend is on a break from work, we spend that half hour texting. But I also turn my phone off on a regular basis. Most nights my phone is either off or on vibrate in the other room. Depending on where I’m going, I’ve even been known to leave it in the car. And there are no games on my phone. My phone is my primay means of communication to everyone, but its still only a tool. I don’t let it govern my life and I hope I never get to that point. So I guess I don’t understand why people need their phones to do everything. If anyone can explain that to me, please do.

Oh, and if anyone knows how Japan and Finland got to be the centers of cell phone technology I would love that explained too. I keep searching for things that would tie these together but I’m coming up blank.

Political Campaigns

I’m not sure if any of the running candidates have viral videos. I don’t believe they do, because that seems too “new generationish” for the old guard. At least I haven’t heard of any viral videos from their respective camps.

The reason I’m not sure is I don’t pay attention to political campaigns. Campaigns are nothing more than advertising machines attempting to sway voters. I don’t want to be swayed, I want to make a decision based on whats important to me so I avoid them.

I use a simpler process to decide who to vote for: a few days before the election I find a fact sheet, chart or something else that sums up all the candidates’s views on all the issues and vote for the candidate most in line with my own views.

The Secret Desires of Bloggers

In the grand scheme of the blogosphere this blog doesnt matter. I don’t even think I’ve reached C-list status. I view myself back a few letters farther in the alphabet, h maybe? I think this rates as an h-list blog. I don’t have grand ambitions to have everyone in the world reading these thoughts of mine, I don’t lay awake at night wondering how many people are anxiously hitting refresh to catch my latest post the second I post it.

But apparently some people feel that way. According to the articles I’ve just read, lots of people want to be famous through their blogs. Apparently people hound the best bloggers looking for links. People beg and plead for shout-outs on well-read blogs. My personal feeling that the whole things seems like something from Orwell’s version of the future: the masses begging for crumbs from the elite few, constant vigilance to keep from being forgotten, the (slightly) hidden commercialization of a supposedly democratic medium. All the undercurrents I just read about just make the blogosphere seem like some weird dystopian future. But yet millions of people are blogging and playing the popularity game.

I have a theory on this, on why people strive to have their blogs make the “a-list.” And its more than monetary, because I think that the people who do it don’t expect to make money. I think that, deep down, people want to be writers and that blogging is the closest any of us are going to get. According to my theory, the general attitude of the blogosphere is something along the lines of “so what if I’ll never have a bestseller, I have x-page views an hour/day/week/month.” Look at the great American authors we read in high school: who doesn’t want to be like that. Who hasn’t imagined themselves in Hemingway’s life? Or wandering around Paris with Beckett? Or going to parties in their pajamas with F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald? These are the things that great authors do and we secretly want to do those things too. But, since bestsellers are rare, blogging is as close as we can get.

My Directorial Debut

Here it is, my official entry into the 2007 Insomniac Film Festival. If you only see one three minute video made by people who don’t know what they’re doing and whose primary goal is not to break the borrowed equipment or be arrested, this should be it. Without further ado, I give you “The Mongoose Cries at Midnight.”*

*Why the “Mongoose Cries at Midnight?” Because when I was editing it at 1AM that was the only suggestion I was given. Besides, my friends and I are strangely attracted the mongoose. We know nothing about them, we just like to say the word and argue about it’s plural form (mongooses? mongi? mongeese?). At least it will attract attention in the contest.

The Truth Behind Online Gaming is Not Found in this Weeks Articles

What the Man Believes
Huizinga’s article, “Nature and Significange of Play as a Cultural Phenomenon,” is was pointless. He tries to argue some interesting points, among them the philosophical point behind play and that religious ceremonies are an intricate form of dress-up/make believe, but he ruins the article with a single sentence. “We are hovering over spheres of thought barely accessible either to psychology or to philosophy,” if those two fields can’t begin to expain this phenomenon, what makes Huizinga (a historian) able to explain it? He invalidates the entire essay with that sentence.

Pine and Gilmore’s article (“Welcome to the Experience Economy”) is interesting but it doesn’t mention online gaming at all. Its very possible that our economic base has shifted to a fourth level because we want to sell people experiences. Their theory makes sense. Well it makes sense to this untrained, only did so-so in college economics. (Remember the Lewis Black sketch from Black on Broadway: I took economics, and I’d explain it to yea’… but I flunked that course. Not my fault. They taught it at 8 o’clock in the morning. And there is absolute nothing that you can learn out of one bloodshot eye.” My college picked 8AM for economics too.)

Hinton’s article (“We Live Here: Games, Third Places and the Information Architecture of the Future”) was the only one that mentioned online gaming at all, and that was a self-serving attempt to draw in readers to read about his profession. But I’ll accept his “third place” theory as truth. I find it very believable that the physical hang out places are being replaced by virtual places online.

What I Think People Should Know
There are two types of online games: persistent worlds and random encounters. Persisent worlds are (for lack of a better word) permanent. Each time you log-in you have the same character in the same world. Generally the point of these games are to build up a character over an extended number of sessions. World of Warcraft is the biggest of these games. Random encounters are games like Quake. They exist online for so that people can play against each other. Each time you log-in its a different place and the characters are static.

I don’t view Second Life as a game. Second Life is the closest thing was have to a truly virtual world. People do business there, they make things, they meet people, its really more of a tool than a game. I’ve read a lot about it and I rarely encountered things where people say they “play” it, instead they enter Second Life.

Massively multiplayer online games don’t have to involve large amounts of social interaction. I play World of Warcraft with my two best friends in New York. The only time I chat with people other than them is to tell them to answer a really quick question or to tell someone to go away. I don’t think this takes away from the game at all.

Online games has their own language. I don’t want to understand it, but I catch snippets. I think words like “pwnage,” “leet” and “zomg!” represent the decline of the English langauage.

Playing video games is not a religious experience. For those who think it is, I suggest you walk away from the the computer/tv and go outside. Leave the Game Boy, PSP and laptop indoors.

Games are an experience. Something I was just reading put it like this “games put the player on a stage where the player is the only one without a script.” We play games because something draws us too the game and makes us want to play it. We want to experience the game. This is nothing different than wanting to experience the latest book, movie, cd, play or anything else cultural.

For a lot of people games are the new culturally relevant events. I will always remember certain video games for their impact on my life and I know a lot of people that feel the same way. My friends and I talk about games like they were real events, but people do that same thing with tv shows. Remember reading about the massive lines of people waiting for the latest Xbox/Nintendo/Playstation? When did people preorder the last Harry Potter book?

I guess I just want people to keep an open mind on gaming. Its here to stay and its a lot of fun.

Why I need World of Warcraft

I play the online game World of Warcraft. I’ve played the Warcraft series since the first strategy game came out in 1994, a fact that makes it the longest relationship I’ve ever had. I grew up playing these games with my friends. We’d get together, start the computer and work through missions together. Having two people working on a mission made it more fun and made it easier. We played on one computer and took turns. Then, when later games came out we’d play across a network against each other.

Fast forward a couple of years and World of Warcraft comes out. Here was the chance to actively participate in the game universe I had grown up in and loved. And I resisted. I thought paying to play a game each month was kinda dumb. I resisted until some friends got it and started playing. I’d borrow their characters and play around a bit. It intrigued me so I bought it. Played for a few months then stopped. I was behind my friends so I couldn’t interact with them.

I started playing again last fall. I was sitting around with two friends, we were bored so I suggested getting copies of the game. A trip to Best Buy later we were logged in and having the time of our lives. Now I cant imagine not playing World of Warcraft.

Its a fun game. We don’t obsess over it we just log in and have fun. We mock each other, we’re constantly saying “wonder what happens if we do this,” and we die a lot. Since they’re still in New York, World of Warcraft is how we do things together. I can’t see them in person nearly as much as I’d like to but we can be together anytime in World of Warcraft. As much as this sets of my nerd alarm, we even play when we’re all together. I bring over my laptop and we set around staring at our respective screens. Its actually more fun this way because we can talk instead of having to type.

My primary character just hit level 57 yesterday. I have a lot of time invested in him. Hes not as close to me as a pet and I don’t miss him when I’m not playing but hes part of my life. I can imagine life without that character but I’ve come to depend on World of Warcraft. This is how I interact with friends who aren’t around.

My Weekend Adventure

Last Saturday when I was supposed to in class, I borrowed a video camera and went home to make a movie. Apple was sponsoring a contest called the Insomniac Film Festival and I decided I should be involved. The rules were simple: 24 hours to write, record, edit and submit a movie that featured as many of the items from the list of required elements as possible. The list came out at 9:00 AM Saturday morning and consisted of the following: a park bench, a bird cage, a character named Robin Darjeeling, radio static, a tuxedo, a Dutch Angle camera angle, a dream sequence, an edited match cut scene, the phrase “don’t tempt me” and someone dressed as an old person.

This was the greatest experience of my life. I’ve never had so much fun, laughed so hard and learned so much in a single day. To make it even better I had three of my best friends with me every step of the way.

I’ve only really used a video camera several times. I’ve never directed anybody. I don’t know the technical terms to articulate what I wanted to do with the camera. I’ve only edited once. Two of my actors had never acted before, the other one had only done a plays. The contest was set up so we couldn’t do any prep work ahead of time. This was very much the blind leading the blind. Later this week I’ll post the movie we made.

Media Cocoons

Calvin: The fact is, I’m being educated against my will! My rights are being trampled!
Hobbes: Is it a right to remain ignorant?
Calvin: I don’t know, but I refuse to find out! ~Bill Watterson Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat, page 41.

The simple fact is you can’t force people to learn. Since the dawn of media, people have found ways to ignore points of view other than their own. Don’t like what the town cryer is saying, shout louder or leave his area. Don’t want to read an article in the paper, just skip over it. Tv news reporting a story you don’t want to know about, change the channel. There are a plethora of ways to ignore points of view you find distasteful.

As Sunstein points out, in Democracy and Filtering the Internet makes ignoring other points of view incredibly easy. Whereas before you had to actively skim over content to see if it was something you wanted to learn, new technologies (like RSS) will actively filter out information based on personal preferences. If you don’t want to learn something, the Internet makes it remarkably easy to not learn things.

Joys of the Internet
Not only does the Internet allow you to ignore things, you can find other people who don’t want to learn about the same things as you. In the same article, Sunstein reports on a study that these communities cause the members to agree with further extremes than on their own.

I don’t see these as bad things, unfortunate yes but inherently evil? No. I don’t agree with ignorance, but I’ve learned to accept its existence. When I encounter someone who doesn’t want to learn something, I try even harder to teach it to them. I think other people share this view. I feel that everytime I read a news article online with a misleading headline, the author is trying to reach these people who want to remain ignorant. Is this trickery, without a doubt. Is tricking people into learning wrong, that I’m not sure about. If you’re faced with an audience that is willingly trying to be ignorant, I think that deceit is a valid tactic.

With their Walls
At the same time, some interesting things are happening inside these communities. First of all, discussion is occuring. If the studies Sunstein cites are correct, people are being convinced into believing an extreme they didn’t believe in before they joined that community. Of course its easier to convince people who agree with you, but they still have to be convinced to reach the same extreme as the extremists.

Secondly, I think the polarization within these communities enhances democracy. For every extreme group on one side of a view, there is an equally extreme group that believes in the opposite. Inevitably these two groups will meet and argue their beliefs. These arguments will draw in others, who will then add to the debate. The effectiveness of a democracy is direct related to the number of people participating. Even if an extreme view is being presented, the fact that they are presenting it means the democratic process is working.

Technology allows people to create and inhabit their own media cocoons. Within these coccoons they don’t have to deal with anything they don’t want. Instead of trying to force these people to change, they should be pitied. In they choose to miss out on the wonders of education, let them. Its there choice and their loss.

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