April Fools or nah?

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So, I’m always a little skeptical of anything I read on the internet. Let’s be real – it’s way too easy to create something entirely untrue online (and to get people to believe that it’s true). And on April 1st, it’s pretty much to the point where I don’t believe a single thing I see online all day.

Still, it has been quite interesting to watch other people react to April Fools schemes online. Tumblr went the traditional prank route, creating a video promoting the “Tumblr Executive Suite.”

tumblr clippy copy

Clicking the video lead to the appearance of an obnoxious animated copy machine that follows you down your dashboard – reminiscent of the Microsoft Office animated “assistant” Clippy the paperclip. Tumblr’s “Coppy” actually got so annoying that someone went through the trouble of figuring out how to use Chrome adblock extensions to get rid of it.

On the other hand, Reddit created a social experiment of sorts with their April Fools special by dropping a button with a 60-second countdown on their site. Users with registered accounts could click the button once to reset the timer…but no one knows what would happen if the timer actually reached zero. Naturally, this created a heated divide between pro-pushers and anti-pushers.

reddit button

And of course, it wouldn’t be a modern April Fools’ Day without an influx of fake new technologies. It’s actually been pretty interesting to see what people came up with this year, and how they relate fake products to real-life trends. For instance, selfie-tech was a major theme this year, ranging from intentionally ridiculous (selfie shoes) to almost believable (pet selfie sticks and selfie cars).

Lately technology has been growing and expanding so fast, often into more experimental realms, that some of these April Fools developments don’t seem too far-fetched. (Here’s a video quiz to see if you can identify fact from fool.) Just goes to show you shouldn’t be afraid to follow through with some “foolish” ideas  – think outside the box!

A Case for Slower Technology

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The tech world is all about speed.

When developing new software, your goal is to be the first to finish it and make it marketable. (And we can all agree you don’t typically get to be first by moving slower than your competitors.)

When the internet frustrates you, you’re probably complaining that it’s slow.

When a web browser or an app updates and it’s not to fix a glitch in the program, it’s nearly always an update to improve performance speed – installation speed, startup speed, page load speed, download speed. There are endless online comparisons dedicated to telling us what works the fastest. In today’s world everything has to be faster because when we want something, we want it now.

But what happens when we don’t want it now?

“I wish emails came slower,” my roommate said this week.

Now, I’m not normally one to request for anything to be slower. I was born a northerner and a city girl, which means I talk fast, walk fast, and get pretty frustrated when other people don’t do the same. But my vacation tech detox made me realize how much strain I was under because of the constant pressure of incoming mail. So when my roommate said she wanted email to be slower, I realized I kind of wished the same thing.

“The Internet has always been about getting to the information you need faster than you could in any other way.” – Michael Muchmore, PCMag

Technology has progressed to become not only faster but a more integral part in our lives than ever before. The appeal of an email is in its speed; you write what you want to say, send it, and it is in someone else’s inbox waiting to be read almost instantly. On the face of it, this action is great. Quick, easy communication – something we all want. Right?

Yes, until the inevitable conditioning to this technology happens. Because you can send an email so quickly, you begin to expect a response just as fast. And with the rise of smartphones, there’s really no excuse for that person you contacted to not get back to you almost immediately, is there?

It’s really a doubled-edged sword, the speed of this communication. You’re happy that it’s faster and easier to contact people in writing than to put your thoughts in a letter and send it in the mail. But the immediacy of the email has created a culture in which we feel compelled to respond to these correspondences in the same “timely” manner.

I personally find this immediacy stressful. I receive dozens of emails a day from work, school, and my internship that I have to take the time to respond to. When my email notification chimes, I sigh internally as I reach for my phone. The constant email-checking is frustrating, but it’s to the point where I can’t imagine a life without it.

email ghost

The trouble is I know when the tables are turned, I expect the same treatment when I send an email. No response within 12 hours? Did they fall off the face of the earth? Why haven’t they checked their email?

And with thoughts like these on both sides, what can I do but wish emails just came a bit slower?

Push notification

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And now, a case of a “push” notification, redefined:

A woman in Newark, New Jersey went in for a routine pregnancy check up when her water broke. This actually sounds pretty ideal in terms of surprise-water-breaking-scenarios – being already surrounded by medical staff when it happens – but Keyanna Rivera had another problem: her doctor wasn’t there.

When Rivera went into labor, her doctor was finishing a surgery in another facility a few miles away, leaving her with only a medical assistant who had never delivered a baby before.

Rivera’s husband came up with the idea to FaceTime Dr. Devalla during the delivery. Sounds pretty crazy, but it actually worked: Dr. Devalla was able to give instructions to Rivera and the medical assistant via the iPhone app, helping Rivera to safely deliver her son Rafael.

facetimeI think we often forget about how the technologies we take for granted can make a real difference in the world. If asked to pick a potentially life-saving iPhone app, your first thought probably wouldn’t be FaceTime. (I assume – I don’t use FaceTime, so maybe its regular users would be quicker to vocalize their support.) But this story is a great example of how we can push our communications efforts and the boundaries of our technology, not just by creating new devices, but by coming up with new ways to use the ones we already have.

Rivera was happy with her husband’s quick thinking and Dr. Devalla’s response and instructions, but she says she would not want to have to deliver another child via FaceTime. (Can’t say I blame her.)

My Vacation Mass-Comm Detox

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For the first time in my life I made Spring Break plans – a couple of friends and I took a road trip to Savannah and Charleston – and I was determined to make this a real vacation for myself. I decided to help my travels feel more like that vacation by doing a serious tech/social media detox for the duration of the week.

On our way out the door, my roommate saw my computer on my desk and told me not to forget it. I said I wasn’t bringing it with me. She looked at me like I had grown a second head and that head told her I now hated chocolate, kittens, and all things good in the world.

“I’m taking a real vacation,” I said. “No laptop.”

that's a terrible idea

I’ve come to think of my laptop as a sort of ball-and-chain in my life, tethering me to all the work I have to do for school and my internship. Sure, it can be for fun/meaningless internet browsing as well, but since I’m usually doing that to procrastinate from taking care of my responsibilities, even the fun part now has an ominous work-undertone. I knew if I brought my computer with me I would feel pressured to use it for work…so I left it.

I brought my cell phone with me, but I refused to let that dominate my time or pressure me to work either. I kept it charged for potential emergencies, but I didn’t let myself use it for any bored social media scrolling or work/internship email-checking. (Actually, that Heelmail outage was a great help. All I had to do was wait to reconfigure the email settings on my phone until after I got back to school, and I didn’t have to feel compelled to keep checking it on my vacation.)

I didn’t use Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube, or any of the other social media sites I normally frequent while on Spring Break. I only pulled out my phone to text family and friends when I was traveling from one city to the next. (Ok, and once or twice to use the GPS to navigate in the unfamiliar downtown areas.)

Overall this was one of the best vacations I have ever had, and I believe that had a lot to do with my mass-comm detox. I feel like my life is really wrapped up in work all the time – I have a Sakai message about a school assignment, an email from my internship about a new project, a text from my boss asking me to pick up a shift – to a degree made possible by our mass-comm technologies. Leaving the tech behind helped me leave work behind, which allowed me to have a much more relaxing vacation.

I highly recommend ditching the computer/tablet/cell on your next getaway.

Smart(er) cars

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At the beginning of the semester we did a quick write-up on how we predicted mass media and interaction would look in the future. I wrote that our media technology would become even more essential to our lives, becoming less about devices we carry around and more about the physical spaces we exist and interact in – namely, smarter cars and houses.

I’ve now got proof that my predictions were correct! At least in terms of smart(er) cars. I found this list of up-and-coming developments in auto technology. Here’s a few media and communications related developments:

1. Built-in Wifi

If you asked me to identify a single technological advancement that I thought would become a part of our near-future, I would have said getting Wifi in cars. Let’s be honest – it feels like the next logical step. If you’ve ever been on a long road trip, you’ve probably wished at some point or another you could get internet access to help you pass the time (I sure have). Maybe you’re stuck in an epic traffic jam, with no end in sight. Or maybe your GPS lost its signal because you’re driving out in the boonies. Internet in cars? Yes, please. Currently, Buick, GMC, and Chevrolet offer built-in 4G LTE Wifi hotspots in select vehicles, but I think this will soon become a universal feature across car companies.

2. GPS Traffic Analysis

Speaking of GPS, we’re getting a lot of advancements in GPS and traffic communications that come straight from your car, too. Many vehicles come with built-in GPS systems now, but the next step is the kind that comes with traffic analysis systems and real-time traffic information. Acura now offers a Real-Time Traffic feature with their GPS system that allows users to avoid accidents, bad weather conditions, and construction on their trip. There’s also a traffic light information system being developed which will alert drivers when the next green light will be – and how fast they have to drive to get there.

green light alert

3. Built-in Phone Access

Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay allow important phone information to sync and be displayed on car dashboards. These developments are great examples of responding to the public and consumer demands. People use their phones when they drive – even when it’s dangerous – so the companies responded with what the public wanted: easier access to their cell phones while driving. I’m not sure how much this truly increases people’s safety (seeing as they’re just shifting their focus from one screen to another) but the development has potential.

phone on dash

4. Voice Recognition

This is a pretty cool, sci-fi type advancement: UConnect, installed in a number of vehicles for Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, and Jeep, uses voice recognition software to communicate with drivers. For instance, you can ask your car “Where is the nearest gas station?” and the car will respond with directions, etc. It’s also worth noting that combining this voice recognition software with the phone-dashboard software from #3 could eliminate the dangers of fiddling with a screen while driving.

5. Crash Detection

An expansion of roadside assistance services like OnStar, the latest on crash detection software in cars can automatically dial 911 and dispatch help to the scene of an accident. Companies like Ford and GM use cellular connectivity to reach out to your personal emergency contacts as well. This could be a life-saving development for someone who is knocked unconscious or becomes trapped during an accident.

emergency

That’s the status on mass comm + smart cars for now, but I’d recommend looking over this entire list about the latest in car tech – there’s a lot of promising safety and convenience developments in the works, too.

Big Brother is watching

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I’ve had quite a rough tech week, but after a series of unfortunate (and some would say, sitcom-worthy) events involving my catering job, a Frisbee, and a deceptively deep puddle, I am back and blogging!

As my old phone was sadly no longer operational (see: series of unfortunate events), I picked up my new one yesterday. Glancing over the back of the box for the features, I see this description:

“It sees, listens, knows, shares. Stays awake when you do. Responds to your words, keeps track of loved ones. Lets you re-live every moment.”

I see where you were going with that description, Samsung. You want me to feel like my phone is smart and has my back and will work how I need it to. I get it, but the phrasing also managed to come off as super creepy. I was very weirded out by the implication that my phone is doing these things whether or not I told it to do so (or furthermore, whether or not I even want it to).

I’m not really one of those people that is bothered by the idea that the government may be watching my communications. I don’t think we’re at “Big Brother” levels of monitoring, and I’m not trying to avoid all channels that could be watched like Ron Swanson.

ron drone

I have friends who tape little pieces of cardboard over their laptops’ built-in webcams “so no one can tap in and see through it” to look at them. I always thought this was silly (what would anyone see if they did hack into my webcam? Me and my bad posture slumped towards the screen for hours on end?). In theory the same logic could apply to my phone – but for some reason, I care a lot more about what my cell phone is doing without my permission. I guess it’s a problem for me because my phone is with me at most times – unlike my laptop – and contains a lot more personal information about me.

I’m sure I spent at least an hour going through my new phone and disabling some of these “Big Brother”-esk features I didn’t want to be a part of. GPS location tracking, off. Auto-upload photos to Facebook, off. Auto-sync contacts to and from social media, off. Do you want to give this website access to your location? No. Do you want to launch facial recognition software to remember and automatically tag your contacts? No.

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And don’t even get me started on App permissions. You basically sign away any privacy rights you might think you’re entitled to when you download an app. For instance, in order for me to get my UNC email and calendar to sync to my phone, I had to give the application access to my location and all my contacts’ information, plus grant it the ability to turn my phone on/off, enable a factory reset on all settings, and use my email to send content, all without my knowledge or permission.

But because I’ve decided that’s something I absolutely have to have on my phone, what choice to I have but to agree to have my privacy violated? Just hit “accept” and hope for the best.