Stop Googling. Let’s Talk.

Illustration by Yann Kebbi

Excerpt from this article by Sherry Turkle, the MIT professor who wrote “Alone Together” that was a fascinating look at the impact of technology on interactions. She has now written ““Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age,” which looks at the same themes (that last bit about the effect of the “mere presence of a phone on a table” !):

College students tell me they know how to look someone in the eye and type on their phones at the same time, their split attention undetected. They say it’s a skill they mastered in middle school when they wanted to text in class without getting caught. Now they use it when they want to be both with their friends and, as some put it, “elsewhere.”

Young people spoke to me enthusiastically about the good things that flow from a life lived by the rule of three, which you can follow not only during meals but all the time. First of all, there is the magic of the always available elsewhere. You can put your attention wherever you want it to be. You can always be heard. You never have to be bored. When you sense that a lull in the conversation is coming, you can shift your attention from the people in the room to the world you can find on your phone. But the students also described a sense of loss.

It’s a powerful insight. Studies of conversation both in the laboratory and in natural settings show that when two people are talking, the mere presence of a phone on a table between them or in the periphery of their vision changes both what they talk about and the degree of connection they feel. People keep the conversation on topics where they won’t mind being interrupted. They don’t feel as invested in each other. Even a silent phone disconnects us.

Updated to add: This other article on Quartz covers the same thinking from Sherry Turkle, talking about how “Many [parents] worry what technology is doing to our kids. A cascade of reports show that their addiction to iAnything is diminishing empathy, increasing bullying, robbing them of time to play, and just be. So we parents set timers, lock away devices and drone on about the importance of actual real-live human interaction. And then we check our phones.”

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Siri, Tell Me a Joke. No, a Funny One.

Illustration by Lisa Adams

Excerpt from this article:

Fred Brown, founder and chief executive of Next IT, which creates virtual chatbots, said his company learned firsthand the importance of creating a computer with a sense of humor when he asked his 13-year-old daughter, Molly, to test Sgt. Star, the Army’s official chatbot, which allows potential recruits to ask questions about the Army, just as you would in a recruiting station.

Molly was chatting with Sgt. Star when she looked up and said, “Dad, Sergeant Star is dumb.” When he asked why, she said, “He has to have a favorite color, and it can’t be Army green.”

Turns out, more than a quarter of the questions people ask Sgt. Star have nothing to do with the Army after Next IT programmed it with more human answers.

People trust the machine more if it has a personality, especially a sense of humor, and not just the ability to answer the question correctly, Mr. Brown said.

Siri, Cortana, And Why Our Smartphone Assistants Have Such Weird Names

Excerpt from this article:

Tech companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft are making calculated bets that intelligent personal assistants are the future… The most obvious similarity among many digital personal assistants is that they sound like women, even though our robot friends are decidedly gender neutral… Many of these helper bots also have distinctly feminine voices to go along with their girly names.

Obviously, these companies want us to think of our disembodied servant companions as women. Since most of these programs end up doing what amounts to secretarial work, that fits into cultural stereotypes of who should be doing that kind of work…

Spoof Apple campaign takes iPhone 6 selfies to new levels

Also Shot on iPhone 6 spoof campaign

Excerpt from this article:

Like pretty much everyone else in the world, you’ve probably seen the adverts for the new iPhone campaign from Apple – you know, the big glossy images of impossibly beautiful snowscapes and forest scenes with the words “Shot on iPhone 6” underneath them? If you’ve ever rolled your eyes and thought, “As if anyone’s camera roll actually looks like that,” this post is for you.

Two pranksters have been putting up spoof iPhone ads all over San Francisco, only a few miles away from Apple’s own HQ in Cupertino. The result: Also Shot on iPhone 6, which is probably a much better reflection of what people actually use the camera function on their iPhones for.

And also check out this article on the spoofs from The Guardian:

These people live in a wonderful world: all magnificent deserts, rustic paths and well-shod feet (photographing your own feet is a particularly cool idea, suggests Apple). It doesn’t take a misanthrope to find this array of perfect modern beauty a bit false. No wonder a couple of Californian pranksters have been putting up satirical Apple posters that show, instead of ravishing sunsets, the kind of things they reckon people really take photographs of with their phones – clumsy selfies, mostly.

…Apple is right to preach beauty. All of us are in the gutter – at least Apple is looking at the stars. The fault of the iPhone 6 art gallery is not its love of beauty. It is the inability of modern photography to see complexity. The more our cameras make moments look lovely, the less we seem to photograph – or see? – the depth of reality.

…Not a single photograph ever taken has captured the richness of a city street seen by human eyes. Photos, even the best of them, are flat and arid in comparison with human perception.

A Music-Sharing Network for the Unconnected

Photo: Digital-music merchants in Mali’s capital provide a vibrant human-driven alternative to iTunes. by Michaël Zumstein/Agence Vu, for The New York Times

Excerpt from this article, and be sure to check out the slideshow, excellent and interesting perspectives on downloading digital content in this part of the world:

…As of 2012 there were enough cellphones in service in Mali for every man, woman and child. The spread of cellphones in this way has driven innovation across the continent. M-Pesa, a text-message-based money-transfer system, has made financial services available for the first time to millions. Another enterprise tells rural farmers by text what their crops might sell for in distant markets; mass-texting campaigns have helped promote major public health initiatives.

Yet for many Africans, the phone is not merely, or even principally, a communications device. You can see this on the sun-blasted streets of Bamako, Mali’s capital, where a new kind of merchant has sprung up along Fankélé Diarra Street. Seated practically thigh to thigh, these vendors crouch over laptops, scrolling through screen after screen of downloaded music. They are known as téléchargeurs, or downloaders, and they operate as an offline version of iTunes, Spotify and Pandora all rolled into one. They know what their regulars might like, from the latest Jay Z album to the obscurest songs of Malian music pioneers like Ali Farka Touré. Savvy musicians take their new material to Fankélé Diarra Street and press the téléchargeurs to give it a listen and recommend it to their customers. For a small fee — less than a dime a song — the téléchargeurs transfer playlists to memory cards or U.S.B. sticks, or directly onto cellphones. Customers share songs with their friends via short-range Bluetooth signals.

How You Really Look While Taking That Selfie

Excerpt from this article, and be sure to check out the accompanying slideshow:

Dörr and Kala call the project The Self Promenade, and it’s something of an anthropological study of contemporary culture. The series cheekily highlights the way smartphones often interrupt how people experience the world around them. The photos capture the various ways people contort themselves to get the “perfect” shot, often oblivious to how strange or silly they look. Many people go to great lengths to capture the ultimate Insta-moment, yet pay little attention to their surroundings.