Tag Archives: technology

Mid-90s Quotes from Wired

Kev­in Kelly, edit­or of Wired, found an old file con­tain­ing a selec­tion of quotes from the first five years of Wired. This is a nice wander down memory lane, with Wired’s trade­mark embra­cing of tech­no­logy in the face of huge change quite evid­ent (as well as some mid-90s proph­esy­ing, pos­it­iv­ism, and–dare I say it–fear-mongering).

Some of my favour­ites:

Roadkill on the inform­a­tion high­way will be the bil­lions who will for­get there are offramps to des­tin­a­tions oth­er than Hol­ly­wood, Las Vegas, the loc­al bingo par­lor, or shiny beads from a shop­ping net­work.
Alan Kay, Wired 2.05, May 1994, p. 77

The very dis­tinc­tion between ori­gin­al and copy becomes mean­ing­less in a digit­al world – there the work exists only as a copy.
Daniel Piere­hbech, Wired 2.12, Dec 1994, p. 158

For a long time now, Amer­ica has seemed like a coun­try where most people watch tele­vi­sion most of the time. But only recently are we begin­ning to notice that it is also a coun­try where tele­vi­sion watches us.
Phil Petton, Wired 3.01, Jan 1995, p. 126

The future won’t be 500 chan­nels – it will be one chan­nel, your chan­nel.
Scott Sas­sa, Wired 3.03, Mar 1995, p. 113

Isn’t it odd how par­ents grieve if their child spends six hours a day on the Net but delight if those same hours are spent read­ing books?
Nich­olas Negro­ponte, Wired 3.09, Sep 1995, p. 206

The most suc­cess­ful innov­at­ors are the cre­at­ive imit­at­ors, the Num­ber Two.
Peter Druck­er, Wired 4.08, Aug 1996, p. 118

It is the arrog­ance of every age to believe that yes­ter­day was calm.
Tom Peters, Wired 5.12, Dec 1997

Cialdini’s Principles of Persuasion and the Importance of Recognising “Enforced Compliance”

Influ­ence: The Psy­cho­logy of Per­sua­sion is Robert Cialdini’s 1984 book dis­cuss­ing what he calls the six fun­da­ment­al psy­cho­lo­gic­al prin­ciples of com­pli­ance: con­sist­ency, recip­roc­a­tion, social proof, author­ity, lik­ing and scarcity.

The con­clu­sion to Cialdini’s book points out why, in this increas­ingly com­plex world, res­ist­ing attempts at “enforced com­pli­ance” (decep­tion) through these key prin­ciples is as import­ant as recog­nising and respond­ing to truth­ful instances of their imple­ment­a­tion:

Because tech­no­logy can evolve much faster than we can, our nat­ur­al capa­city to pro­cess inform­a­tion is likely to be increas­ingly inad­equate to handle the sur­feit of change, choice, and chal­lenge that is char­ac­ter­ist­ic of mod­ern life. More and more fre­quently, we will find ourselves in the pos­i­tion of the lower animals—with a men­tal appar­at­us that is unequipped to deal thor­oughly with the intric­acy and rich­ness of the out­side envir­on­ment. Unlike the anim­als, whose cog­nit­ive powers have always been rel­at­ively defi­cient, we have cre­ated our own defi­ciency by con­struct­ing a rad­ic­ally more com­plex world. But the con­sequence of our new defi­ciency is the same as that of the anim­als’ long-stand­ing one. When mak­ing a decision, we will less fre­quently enjoy the lux­ury of a fully con­sidered ana­lys­is of the total situ­ation but will revert increas­ingly to a focus on a single, usu­ally reli­able fea­ture of it.

When those single fea­tures are truly reli­able, there is noth­ing inher­ently wrong with the short­cut approach of nar­rowed atten­tion and auto­mat­ic response to a par­tic­u­lar piece of inform­a­tion. The prob­lem comes when some­thing causes the nor­mally trust­worthy cues to coun­sel us poorly, to lead us to erro­neous actions and wrong­headed decisions.

Contextual Writing (Telescopic and Responsive Text)

How can a writer cater to an audi­ence with diverse pref­er­ences and needs (par­tic­u­larly, how much detail they want and how much time they have)? One way is to use tele­scop­ic or respons­ive text.

Tele­scop­ic text is a meth­od of iter­at­ively dis­play­ing more and more tex­tu­al detail on request (I sup­pose the read­er becomes the user). Joe Dav­is’ bril­liant example of tele­scop­ic text starts with the phrase “I made tea” before pro­gress­ing to a 198-word short story through 45-or-so iter­a­tions. Won­der­ful.

Respons­ive text is sim­il­ar in some regards and vastly dif­fer­ent in oth­ers. Like a respons­ive design, respons­ive text ‘scales’ in response to the user’s screen size in order to dis­play an appro­pri­ate amount of tex­tu­al detail. If viewed on a lar­ger screen, Frankie Roberto’s respons­ive text example points out:

It’s a bit of an exper­i­ment, and I’m not really sure how use­ful it really is, but I think it’s an inter­est­ing idea.

It could also per­haps be com­bined with some form of a user inter­face that allows you to con­trol how much text you want to read. This might be really use­ful for news art­icles, for instance – you could decide wheth­er to read full quotes and a detailed back­story, or just the gist.

I think mak­ing this beha­viour user-con­trol­lable is key and an inter­face variable/bookmarklet is an inter­est­ing concept to fol­low. One issue I envis­age is that adop­tion of this will come from authors and mak­ing this easy-to-imple­ment on the pro­du­cer-side will take some skill.

via @fooman­doo­n­i­an

Retreating to Study Technology’s Cognitive Impact

Five neur­os­cient­ists trav­elled into deep­est Glen Canyon, Utah, to con­tem­plate how tech­no­logy has changes their beha­viour. Some were scep­tics and some were believ­ers, and by tak­ing this forced break from their com­puters and gad­gets (there was no mobile phone recep­tion or power) they were determ­ined to find out wheth­er or not mod­ern tech­no­logy inhib­its their “deep thought” and can cause them anxi­ety.

This bit of self-exper­i­ment­a­tion and cog­nit­ive reflec­tion is a bit too light on the con­clu­sions for my lik­ing, but this art­icle, from The New York Times’ Unplugged series that exam­ines “how a deluge of data can affect the way people think and behave”, does have this that’s worth think­ing about:

[By day three] the group has become more reflect­ive, quieter, more focused on the sur­round­ings. […]
The oth­ers are more relaxed too. Mr. Braver decides against cof­fee, bypassing his usu­al ritu­al. The next day, he neg­lects to put on his watch, though he cau­tions against read­ing too much into it. […]

Mr. Stray­er, the believ­er, says the trav­el­ers are exper­i­en­cing a stage of relax­a­tion he calls “third-day syn­drome.” Its symp­toms may be unsur­pris­ing. But even the more skep­tic­al of the sci­ent­ists say some­thing is hap­pen­ing to their brains that rein­forces their sci­entif­ic dis­cus­sions — some­thing that could be import­ant to help­ing people cope in a world of con­stant elec­tron­ic noise.

“If we can find out that people are walk­ing around fatigued and not real­iz­ing their cog­nit­ive poten­tial,” Mr. Braver says, then pauses and adds: “What can we do to get us back to our full poten­tial?”

“Third-day syn­drome”. I like that, and it rings true. Week­ends away to nearby cit­ies don’t do it for me in terms of dis­en­ga­ging and allow­ing free thought; I need at least four days.

One more com­ment that was a bit too close for com­fort:

Tech­no­logy has redefined the notion of what is “urgent.” How soon do people need to get inform­a­tion and respond to it? The believ­ers in the group say the drum­beat of incom­ing data has cre­ated a false sense of urgency that can affect people’s abil­ity to focus.

Inventive Ways to Control Trolls

To keep the peace on the ever-expand­ing Stack Exchange Net­work of online com­munit­ies, own­ers Joel Spol­sky and Jeff Atwood intro­duced the timed sus­pen­sion of dis­rupt­ive users’ accounts. Over time the trans­par­ency of the timed sus­pen­sion pro­cess proved to be occa­sion­ally inef­fi­cient when dis­cus­sions arose regard­ing the mer­its of cer­tain sus­pen­sions. This led the admin­is­trat­ors of the com­munit­ies to invest­ig­ate oth­er ways of mod­er­at­ing prob­lem­at­ic users.

What they found were three fant­ast­ic­ally devi­ous secret ways to effect­ively con­trol trolls and oth­er abus­ive users on online com­munit­ies: the hell­ban, slow­ban, and errorb­an:

A hell­banned user is invis­ible to all oth­er users, but cru­cially, not him­self. From their per­spect­ive, they are par­ti­cip­at­ing nor­mally in the com­munity but nobody ever responds to them. They can no longer dis­rupt the com­munity because they are effect­ively a ghost. It’s a clev­er way of enfor­cing the “don’t feed the troll” rule in the com­munity. When noth­ing they post ever gets a response, a hell­banned user is likely to get bored or frus­trated and leave. I believe it, too; if I learned any­thing from read­ing The Great Brain as a child, it’s that the silent treat­ment is the cruelest pun­ish­ment of them all. […]

(There is one addi­tion­al form of hell­ban­ning that I feel com­pelled to men­tion because it is par­tic­u­larly cruel – when hell­banned users can see only them­selves and oth­er hell­banned users. Brrr. I’m pretty sure Dante wrote a chapter about that, some­where.)

A slow­banned user has delays for­cibly intro­duced into every page they vis­it. From their per­spect­ive, your site has just got­ten ter­ribly, hor­ribly slow. And stays that way. They can hardly dis­rupt the com­munity when they’re strug­gling to get web pages to load. There’s also sci­ence behind this one, because per research from Google and Amazon, every page load delay dir­ectly reduces par­ti­cip­a­tion. Get slow enough, for long enough, and a slow­banned user is likely to seek out green­er and speedi­er pas­tures else­where on the inter­net.

An errorb­anned user has errors inser­ted at ran­dom into pages they vis­it. You might con­sider this a more severe exten­sion of slow­ban­ning – instead of pages load­ing slowly, they might not load at all, return cryptic HTTP errors, return the wrong page alto­geth­er, fail to load key depend­en­cies like JavaS­cript and images and CSS, and so forth. I’m sure your devi­ous little brains can ima­gine dozens of ways things could go “wrong” for an errorb­anned user. This one is a bit more eso­ter­ic, but it isn’t the­or­et­ic­al; an exist­ing imple­ment­a­tion exists in the form of the Drupal Misery mod­ule.