tweeting twilight

For a recent assignment in one of my classes, I was tasked to uncover and explore an issue that is trending in the discussion of Young Adult Literature.  I could have found plenty of topics relating to the overuse of certain character archetypes or the efficacy of having a profit-driven publishing industry decide what is best for kids to read (books are written for girls because more girls are reading.  you’d think that if someone wrote a book for guys, more guys would read?  pish posh, that doesn’t make us money).  Instead, I decided to do what I do best: look at recent trends in technology and articulate their effects on society.  I love looking at the evolution of tech and the way it’s been changing our world, and I’m exploring more and more ways of using it to the benefit of kids in the classroom.  I also happen to love books and reading the exciting stories in YAL.

My initial idea was good, but limited.  There are plenty of folks out there who are already exploring the integration of social media and the modern classroom, and I’d be lying if I wasn’t already considering the effect that twitter will have on shakespeare.  There are, however, better ways to use these phenomena of social networking and social media to increase literacy and involvement in literature.  We always think of “technology” as shiny, expensive objects that are mostly intended for a specific audience.  The fact is that “technology” is everywhere.  Understanding how the mind works, how people react to different social stimuli, how societies react to changing world conditions; all these are technologies that we can leverage to help kids read.  In this case, in this post, I’m not concerned with the latest Apple product, but rather the utilization of our collective human experience to create a better English classroom.

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting Josh Elder, author of Mail Order Ninja, hearing him speak about the use of comics/graphic novels in the classroom, and grilling him about the possible perils and pleasures of having this unique form of literature in front of this country’s young minds.  Josh makes some good points, and I’d like to focus down on just a few for the purpose of my arguments here.  Josh opened up with establishing the graphic novel in the landscape of literature, namely that graphic novels and comics are the landscape.  Prose, in his point, is a wholly subsumed subsidiary of the experience of a comic.  If you add pictures to words, it becomes a comic.  If you remove words from a comic, you still have…a comic.  This is important because we are used to reading certain kinds of literature in certain ways.  Comics and graphic novels demand new skills from us, a new way of digesting information.  The world of pictures and text is also one that gives us the ability to give the gift of literature to a much wider audience.  Authors want that, teachers want that, and more people want that every day.  Why, then, does literature have to be confined to prose?

There are kids who may have wanted to read at one point, but are now living in a state of fear.  These kids started out with their classes, learning their alphabet, learned to piece some sentences together, and, at some point, hit a wall.  In some cases, these kids may have even missed the whole alphabet thing.  A friend of mine had the opportunity to participate in City Year not so very long ago, and would tell me stories about his experiences.  He told me some heartbreaking stories of kids who desperately wanted to read so that they could feel better about themselves, feel like they were moving forward and learning something.  Sometimes these kids could barely read, falling behind in simple texts and books far below their grade level.  In some cases, these kids were even having trouble identifying letters in the alphabet.  One story he told me involved a student who could only recognize two letters.  When I consider my upbringing, the stress my parents placed on getting a good education, this story is absolutely amazing to me.  Two letters.  How can a person find any measure of happiness when they are constantly bombarded by symbols and signs they simply cannot recognize?  Is that a quality life?  It’s no wonder that so many kids become violent when they’re literally assaulted every day with reminders of their own inadequacy.

Interestingly enough, there are things they can recognize, but mainstream culture tells us that these things have no value when it comes to education.  They can feel music, understand movies and the plots contained therein.  With a little bit of digging, I’m sure they’d be able to identify and articulate abstract concepts that the intelligentsia believe themselves to have a monopoly on.  Movies, music, and comic books/graphic novels communicate in a language that we do not have to learn.  They can be a way for us to understand things that we have no first-hand experience with, no empirical evidence of.  The theory of multiple intelligences tells us that people can learn in a variety of ways, and that there are many ways to teach any type of subject matter.  A good teacher needs to recognize this.  We, as a society, still hammer home this idea that literacy only happens one way – with prose.  If a student has a difficult time understanding what they’re reading, or if they reach a point in their education where reading becomes more of a stressor than a means of conveying information, we need to find a way to teach this student and make sure he or she understands what he or she is learning.  If educators (and I place myself in this category) do not find a way to teach this student, we have failed.

Let’s bridge this over to the tech space.  What browser are you using right now?  I can guarantee you that there’s someone near you right that is using a different browser, yet, they can view this information in the same way you can.  Underneath each and every single web page is a mountain of code, a language that you most likely have never learned, may not recognize, and maybe never even seen.  Yet, you’re looking at this language expressed in a way that you can digest.  Are you tracking me here?  The web is insanely complicated, and developers are constantly striving to simplify the way we interact with it.  They’re trying to see what we want to do, not giving us another hurdle to overcome.  What’s important to these developers is that you receive what they’re putting out into the world.  That was the entire purpose of language, of literacy, of printing books.  Somehow, though, we got stuck on this idea that the written (or printed) word was where the buck stopped.  Our world is packed with so many forms of communication, and more are being discovered all the time.  Developers are scrambling over each other to be the first to utilize these new technologies to deliver content to the end user.

Someone please explain to me why we’re not taking the same approach to education.

There are kids in classrooms who are staring at pages in books the same way you’d stare at the almost infinite amount of code that is running the page you’re reading right now and thinking to themselves, “I wonder what this all means?  I wonder what it would look like if I could see it?” They know there’s something there, and they want access to it!  There’s something in the way, though.  It’s this singular approach to literacy that we have adopted as a society.  We know this, we understand it, but by constantly perpetuating the same memes in education, we’re telling them, “Look, this just isn’t for you.”

It seems counterproductive, doesn’t it?  Let’s fix it.


the bottleneck

so i had a conversation with a friend of mine the other day regarding all this hullabaloo with google’s forays into the fiber market and how they’d like to bring superfast 1000 Mbit/s data into the home.  i think that’s a great idea…but there are some shortcomings to that plan (which i’m sure google is thinking about).

even if they’re thinking about it, i’m still gonna talk about it.

so google said something recently about how it wants to make the web faster.  i think that’s a great idea.  now, they’ve moved beyond the theoretical “let’s try real hard to make stuff more efficient” into the “let’s just GO FAST” realm.  i’m not sure if i think that’s the best way for them to be using their might.

the internet is a vast sea of stuff, right?  getting access to this stuff takes bandwidth, and having all this data served up to your eyeballs and earholes is what so many telcos make their money off of.  doing the same thing is what makes google a ton of money, as well.  this leads them to the interesting position of having a distinct interest in making sure lots and lots and lots of data gets into your head as quickly as possible.  basically every time you use the internet, you’re making google some money, so it makes sense that they’d want you to use it MOAR.

they also have the right idea in serving up data instead of creating more programs and applications.  we’ve had fast computers for a while, and they keep getting faster.  the problem is that they always feel slow, since the code that is being written to run on them is trying to take advantage of the new horsepower.  you get more complex code, more operations occurring per second, and the overall experience doesn’t change, despite shelling out tons of cash for a new rig to browse the internet.  this is really bad.  we get locked into this cycle of buying new stuff, just so we can run an upgraded version of the same program we had last week, only now it does more, so it needs more power.

at what point do we hit saturation?

google says now.

really, we don’t need more powerful programs and applications, we need more data.  this is important, since the applications we have now can do everything we need them to do if we can just get them the data fast enough.  you can also leverage the power of supercomputing clusters around the country to take care of calculations and operations that would make your dream machine at home cry since you can pass them huge chunks of raw data and tell them “here do something with this,” and they’ll say, “ok!”

all that is so awesome!  but…it’s sorta limited in the same way the current internet is sorta limited.  currently, the state of the internet (true broadband) is basically limited to phone booth-style execution.  you go home, or to work, or to a coffee shop, and your internet is fast in these places because they have landline connections to the ISPs.  if you want mobile internet, you need to suffer through “3g” service provided by your mobile provider, or go with someone like clear or sprint for 4g.  in most cases, both of these “solutions” are really stopgap measures, since they don’t provide the sort of coverage that a truly mobile solution does.  sure, i could walk into a clear store and walk out with the ability to log onto my gmail from anywhere in chicago…but what if i wanted to visit some friends in wisconsin?  what if i had to drive to southern illinois for work?  i’d be out of luck.  not truly mobile, and not truly broadband, but somewhere in between, really.

this is where google should be focusing.  the current state of this data fetching is unreliable because our infrastructure lacks consistency.  i may be able to get great reception when i’m at home, but i’d rather have great reception when i go to my doctor’s office on the fourth floor of a small office building.  is that too much to ask?  how about if i’m on the subway?  at a mall?

this is where the future needs to be.  it’s one thing to have a person at home, browsing at lightning fast speeds, but it’s another to be able to have a similar experience while walking down the street checking stocks or watching a movie.  at some point, a person hits their limit of how much data they can absorb simultaneously.  even right now, i’m not trying to load 20+ pages simultaneously.  loading one or two as i think of new ideas is pretty common, but by the time i’m done typing in the query for the second page, the first has already loaded.  granted, my usage may not be typical, but it’s not so far out of left field that one could call me a “power user.”

so google, if you’re listening, focus on the mobile space (like you said you would).  forget fiber, give me the ability to access your pages from everywhere, and i think we’ll have a mutually beneficial relationship.

the holodeck

a couple thoughts that i’ve had recently.  i was listening to the gdgt podcast on the ipad (jan. 30th).  one of the ideas that was presented was the ipad as “4 white walls.”  the gist being that the ipad was, essentially, an empty room that needed to be filled.  the initial experience is so underwhelming that you want to fill it.

does this ring a bell for anyone?  at the risk of exposing my EXTREME NERDINESS (oh wait…i’m writing a gadget blog…), it’s just like the holodeck in star trek.  this is a room that can become anything you want it to be.  you step into it and are presented with…nothing.  a few commands later, and you’re standing in times square, or the rainforest, or making out with an old girlfriend.  it’s a completely customizable experience based on what you want at that exact moment.  this is an extension of the idea of the “information appliance” that i talked about earlier.  it’s not going to do 10,000,000 things at once.  it’s going to be a focused experience.

in the holodeck, you’re not flipping back and forth between times square and the rainforest (maybe makeouts in the rainforest is ok, though).  in the holodeck, wherever you go, there you are.  funny, that’s how real life works.  we can’t skip back and forth between two places instantaneously, but we’ve gotten used to structuring our virtual lives that way. it’s too much!  the experience of now is fundamental to our existence.  we experience things only in the present moment, nowhere else.  our attempts to transcend that through computing is difficult, at best, but we still try.  the idea of “multitasking” hasn’t been getting  a lot of positive praise as of late.  just a simple google search tells us that multitasking is on its way out.

sure, TELEPORTATION could be the unspoken trump card.  “yeah?  well what if i COULD be in two places at once?  what then, huh?”  well…you’re still technically only in one place at any given moment.  but hey, i’m no expert.  unfortunately, not many people know what that’s like.  it also comes with its own problems.  like samuel l. jackson trying to kill you.

i just don’t need that in my life right now.

maybe you’re ok with that, though.  i dunno.

but anyway, i digress.  point is, you don’t really need “multitasking.”  more and more i’m seeing computing shifting towards a single-application focus.  just look at chrome os, it’s not trying to be anything but a browser.  the ipad, by comparison, is too complex, but it will work, and people will love it.  that’s all apple needs.

i was talking to a friend of mine last night, and she asked me, “are you going to get one?”  “yeah,” i said.  her eyes widened a little bit and she took a deep breath and said, “that’s exciting!”

i know.

i want in…

so there’s this thing that happened recently, and it rocked my world.

well, actually, it happened in 2007, with the introduction of this thing called the iPhone.  see, i’ve always been a techie, always tinkered, modded, tweaked, and hacked.  i built computers from the ground up and tore them down again, and i was better for it.  i developed a special love for gadgets, and when something new hit the market, i got excited because it was an evolution of something that i understood and felt connected to.  phones got smaller, more powerful, more exciting.  computers got faster and more capable.  even commonplace things like cars started seeing upgrades in the form of LCD displays and GPS modules.  bluetooth, wifi, syncing, and more danced through my head all day.  i was a tech tornado.

despite things being very exciting for me, however, i always partied alone.  when i could wake up and check the weather on my phone, i thought it was awesome.  getting headlines delivered automagically every morning at 7:15AM made me feel like a high-powered wall-street executive, and every day i felt good knowing i was on the bleeding edge.  but it did take the wind out of my sails when i’d tell a friend about a new gadget i was jazzed about, and i’d see that all-too-familiar glassy-eyed stare take the place of what was previously excitement and empathy.  nobody likes whistling in the dark.

so, seeing the iPhone for the first time was a mixed bag.  suddenly, and i mean SUDDENLY, i was not alone.  there were people who had never cared about tech or gadgets who were calling me up and asking me if i was getting one.  they were asking me how it worked, how they did that cool thing, and what the screen was made out of.  the slow, chopped-up, wonkily-rendered interfaces that i had gotten used to clicking through was suddenly replaced by an elegant, beautiful UI thatjust worked.  i was now a part of a huge party, and i felt a little, well…cheated.

i had always kept up with the latest news, i knew about the market trends, i had cobbled together solutions for e-mail, news, and communication.  it had taken me months or even years to discover these methods, workflows, and services to patch holes or fill gaps that existed in the various devices i owned.  all that work rendered moot at the moment Steve Jobs pulled that little aluminumwünderhandy from his pocket.  i had no cause to be upset, either.  this is how it works, right?  i was supposed to be used to this.  innovation and change are the name of the game in tech, so seeing something new shouldn’t have fazed me.  but it was too much, too fast.  everything up to this point was slow, calculated, safe.  this?  this was something else entirely.  it was made for the way people want to use their phones instead of trying to give them something else to learn, another hurdle to jump.  hell, apple was even teaching AT&T a thing or two about the importance of data, customers, and the mobile web.  the mobile landscape changed too quickly, and i got upset.

instead of looking at what this device was capable of, or seeing the potential for the technology down the road, i put blinders on and decided instead to focus on what this thing couldn’t do.  no MMS?  weak.  no native apps?  ridiculous (let’s also keep in mind that the phone hadn’t even been released yet, and i was already scoffing at its lack of native app support).  this…keyboard?  inaccurate and slow!  what a weaksauce first offering.  my sony ericsson k790a was a champ compared to this flashy trash.

then i used it.

still…wasn’t impressed.  really?  this was it?  i mean…ok, safari was cool.  and the youtube app was a neat trick.  and…the call screen was really elegant.  but STILL.  lame.

then i’d find myself swinging by the apple store on my way to…somewhere.  ok fine…i would go to the apple store to play with the iPhone.  ok?  there, i said it.  i needed this thing.  it’s just…i liked it.  i loved it.

so i got one.  still, i tried to find ways to mess with it, tweak it, hack it.  i jailbroke it, unlocked it, got it doing things apple wouldn’t allow.  but…i got to that party late.  everyone already had one.  everybody was already knee deep in bookmarks and webapps and all sorts of things, and here i was, just configuring my email.

what a reversal, huh?  it was smooth, fast, and it browsed the web i was used to seeing, but better!  i didn’t care that it was EDGE only, because web developers were already building sites optimized for the iPhone interface because they knew they had to. they wanted to make sure people visiting their site got their content in a timely manner, so they slimmed down their code, stripped out unnecessary page elements.  there were no hiccups, just information.  the iPhone became something that the world was focused on.  its widespread adoption meant that content publishers had an omnipresent vehicle for delivering their stuff directly to our eyeballs.

then the 3G rolled up with its slick GPS and faster web access.  all those EDGE-optimized websites?  now they loaded lightning fast with the power of fat 3G pipes.  it all looked almost…planned.  like it was apple’s plan all along to make sure that the experience that people had with this device was seamless and, more importantly, always improving.  their device was almost future-proof.  a cutting-edge handheld gadget that fed content as quickly as it was requested, kept up with changing market conditions, and allowed people to communicate better was one thing, but having said device and knowing that the manufacturer was focused on supporting it with white-hot laser intensity was another unheard of fringe benefit in the tech industry.  developers had a fresh, new way of delivering their code, and they had the added boost of knowing that people were confident in their little gadget.  they felt safe, cared-for.

as apple rolled out updates and improvements, more and more people jumped on board, hungry for a piece of the iPhone pie.  now, the phone sells itself, and content will always be available, because your customer base is locked into this apple ecosystem (which is a whole separate discussion).  want to make the jump to android, but already have $500 in apps?  wave bye-bye to that money, that stability, and that support net that you’re used to.  you’re on your own now, cowboy.

that party that i always hung out at?  the one where i was the only one?  you can go there now.  go ahead!  go!  have fun!  i’ll be over here with all my friends…you know…partying.  i’ll envy you a little bit, on that frontier, but i won’t join you.  it’s fun for a while, scrolling through pages of forum posts to find that tweak, or downloading a hacked-up ROM because you want to eke out an extra 12% battery life.  but eventually, people will catch up.  they’ll build strip malls with starbucks where you once had campfires and farm-fresh eggs.

this is where apple is more subversive and more powerful than any of us know.  they’re taking us out into that country, they’re leading us into a place where no one’s gone, but they’re leading us there together.  i want the iPad because i like this party.  i want to be a part of this future, because i get to go there with my friends.

it’s not the iPad, or the iPhone, or the iGizmo, it’s the people.  that’s what i want.

and another thing…

just about everything that i’ve read about the lack of iPhone/iPod/iPad multitasking goes something like this:

“…which means you can’t run pandora while…”

are you serious?  this is the argument against the iPad?  everything else, it does.  what else do you need to do?  seriously.  what else are you doing?  are you encoding video?  ripping a cd?  batch-editing photos?  this is a focused machine, and SURPRISE! it will play music in the background, just like the iPhone.  you can get emails pushed, chat notifications pop up right there, right in front of you, and texts come through just fine.  meeting appointments have a little alarm, i can get stock alerts from apps pushed to me if i want.

and you’re complaining about pandora?  please.

i just don’t think that’s a valid argument.

html5 and you

i’m sorry, but i don’t buy this.  i agree with this statement regarding the slow adoption of HTML5, but maybe i’m more optimistic than John Herrman
HTML5 is infiltrating the web, not tearing it down and building it back up.

HTML5 is one of those technologies that, like the slow integration of video games into mainstream media and culture, will one day be ubiquitous, and we’ll wonder how we didn’t really notice it before.  “maybe it was always there?” people will ask, and they’ll be right (at least from the perspective of the younger crowd that’s being raised on the internet).  HTML5 is neat to me because i’m a geek, but most people don’t care about open standards and what language their pages are coded in.  they want to load up a web page, click on some stuff, and watch it work.  if people cared about HTML5, chrome and safari would be the top browsers right now, but they’re not.

i’d love to say that i know how all this stuff works, and that i have a basic command of the code that is loaded every time i navigate to gmail, but the fact of the matter is that i don’t.  there is a torrential amount of information that our browsers are being assualted with when we load web pages.  we don’t need more powerful hardware and faster processors (although those things are always nice), we need more efficient code that can do everything we’re used to with a tiny footprint.  it’s not about the speed of your processor anymore.

to bring this back to the discussion regarding the iPad, this is where it becomes an us vs. them scenario.  the people who will be using this product will be doing so with the expectation that their “magical” little device can handle whatever they throw at it.  this isn’t marketed towards kids like the iphone is, it’s marketed towards people who don’t want to be stressed out every time they want to DO something.

in that way, HTML5 is far more important than John may think it is.  if i navigate to a page, i’m going to want it to work.  *me,* i don’t care for flash, so it won’t matter to me if i see a page littered with little blue legos. it will matter to me if i can’t check my email, or if doing what i normally consider mundane becomes a chore.

the future is always creeping up slowly, and i can’t wait until i can have a discussion with my tech-illiterate friends about the days that local storage became a reality on our phones.  what a riot that will be.

a disconcerting trend

apple has released a new product, and people are going nuts.

it seems as though people are in one of two camps: they love apple’s new toy, or they’re disappointed by it. this is pretty much par for the course. plenty of people have predicted the eventual rise the iPad will experience, and it will be interesting to watch the world as it reacts to apple’s product once it’s in consumers’ hands.

what I’m more worried by is this division that I see forming between people who believe that most (if not all) consumer-level computers should use this model, and people who want a traditional OS.

to be clear, I’m a big fan of the evolved idea of the“information appliance”. I think it’s a great idea, and it’s like the technology we see in movies. a morphing, adaptable device that can be used in a variety of situations and is both intuitive and powerful. naturally, then i’m a fan of the iPad. I think it’s a device that fits what has become my lifestyle and way of processing information.

I’m not, however, about to declare anything “new world” or “old world.” what I will do, however, is say that I enjoy where apple is going with their ideas, and I think that havin devices that offer a powerful, focused experience just makes sense.

to say that this is where apple (or any company, for that matter) is going from now on is…presumptuous. this may be an experiment on apple’s part, and it may be their new focus, or it may be a blend of those two spheres of thought. who knows? I know that I’d rather not look like an idiot when apple continues to release products with full operating systems.

just because it’s a good idea doesn’t mean it’s the only idea. I hope someone challenges apple and tries to do it better, but it looks like everyone else is just plain scared.