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Monday, March 26, 2007

Zeitgeist: Brave New World

In this brave new world, amidst the deluge of information, is it possible to find that rare diamond that captivates our attention?

In Generation Gap MLQ3 talked about how the younger readership of the Inquirer prefer the online version, as opposed to the older ones who like to touch their newspaper. I've stopped buying newspapers and magazines. Here's why:
  • Newspaper: PHP20 per day, PHP600 a month, for just one paper.
  • Print magazine cost these days? PHP100 to PHP500?
  • Internet Connection that gives both global and local perspective on news, information and entertainment of the hour: less than PHP1,000.00 (~US$20.00)
I read everything online. From Technical computing to philippine politics to National Geographic. Heck, I subscribe to the online version of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and i have those on news reader together with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the PCIJ, the Discovery Channel, digg, eWeek, the inquirer (no relation to tastyblogsnack and more than 40 other blogs, websites of various persuasions and interests. Thats not counting the podcasts i have on subscription via iTunes.

The simple answer is this: the online world gives more bang for my buck. So much so that telecomputing has changed the way I can accomplish many things at work and play, even given certain physical limitations.

In Generation Gap, MLQ3 also wrote this:

And so, the mass culture you and I adhere to may be waning. The younger you are, the greater the chances you have tastes—in music, fashion -- different from those of your peers. The era of the matinee idol -- e.g., Fernando Poe Jr., or a band, like the Beatles -- holding sway over millions of people is gone: There are many smaller groups -- so many that no one can make it quite as big. Great political movements demand conformity—in opinion, action and commitment. But then, the younger you are, the more idiosyncratic you want to be.

The ability of anyone -- politician, journalist, preacher -- to sway others has been radically reduced. Which may not be entirely a bad thing. Or a good thing. But it explains, to my mind, why Filipinos of a certain generation -- the generation that includes, incidentally, you, the Inquirer reader -- can care so deeply (in a sense, labor so mightily) and share certain fundamental attitudes that half of the population may never really feel. It’s a generation gap. Different language, different styles, an entirely different worldview: One in reference to the defining event for many generations, the martial law dictatorship, can’t evoke any feelings deeper than a shrug.

For example, I disagree with some members of my church, and some older people when they think computers and the Internet are evil. Yes, some people still think like that. Of course, it isn't really so far fetched to figure out why. They all have to listen to news like how so and so gets pulled into prostitution online. Or how big and dangerous the online world is. truth be told it is as bad as they can paint it but like any invention of man, it is as good as how you use it. Maybe it is just they don't understand this brave new world we live in.

Take for example how my family uses the Internet. It has allowed my very large extended family to keep in touch. we've got family members across the planet, like a lot of families.

Getting information out and keeping in touch is becoming increasingly difficult. Our solution? we've formed our own closed yahoo group and created our own closed-family-members-only social networking group. In these places, we get to publish our own photos, videos and just keep in touch without the world looking in. we use voip to communicate as well. If technology that allows us to do this--- to literally stay connected online, is it evil just because some aspect of it can be used for evil? it is like saying cars are evil because kidnappers use them to transport their victims.

In a world where indeed, the information deluge is great, how can we keep up or how can producers of content captivate the minds and hearts of people? has our power to influence, to dazzle people been greatly reduced?

the short answer is: it has not. In fact, I strongly believe that even with a wider audience, the opportunity to captivate, to enlighten and to influence is even greater.

I give three examples. Apple Inc., (and no that is not in anyway associated with the viral social network called twitter) and the television program, Heroes.

Apple is a cult phenomena. It has been since its inception. Apple's manta has always been to "revolutionize," to innovate, to be different. They may not always invent technology--- like the graphical user interface or the mouse or the mp3 player--- but they've always managed to be at the forefront of what is cool and delivering it to the masses in a unique way. In 1997, people thought Apple would fade into history and in 10 years--- it has transformed itself back into one of the most admired companies in the world. Its technology is so iconic that the Apple name itself is second only to "iPod".

Go to any Macworld or Apple's World Wide Developer Conference, and you'll see a cult like following as Apple's faithful congregate. Like a religious figure, when Steve Jobs steps on that stage, gives his Keynote speech, the audience is mesmerized. Can Apple survive in a world without its charismatic leader? you'd have to be clairvoyant to say that for sure right now.

In a world where there is a constant increase in things that occupy our attention, why is Apple so darn successful in captivating our attention?

On one hand, you have If in 2004, you would told me that I'd be listening to people talk for an hour or so about technology through something called a 'podcast', i'd be asking you what the heck it was. Today, i anticipate when the next episode is coming much like a television program.

Twit stands for This Week in Tech and quite recently, Leo Laporte mentioned on a twit that they use something like 44 Terabytes of bandwidth per month, to the tune of several thousand dollars to send their podcasts out to people around the world. has that many people listening to them. Leo Laporte is no longer limited to cable channels or satellite radio--- via his podcasts and sites like talkshoe, he has literally a worldwide audience.

There are plenty of podcasts and sources of information, but why does TWIT stand out?

Our third example is the phenomena of Heroes. We've stepped into an age of science fiction, a golden age of science fiction, if you will. Heroes combines the style of lost and 24 and the comic book genre and takes it to a whole new level. The storytelling is amazing. The plot lines would capture you and you'll increasingly be vexed when they end an episode in a cliffhanger.

I get my television fix via the 'Net. With iTunes, with Democracy (i'm still waiting for my joost), with media networks like ABC and NBC who stream their shows online, why the heck would i still watch TV on TV?

If Philippine politics is so dismal that there is blatant apathy towards political issues, is it the fault of the people they don't listen anymore to the politics of the day or is it because politicians and political parties are not turning out content and results as to warrant our attention? At the turn of the New Year, I was asking questions:
Have you given a thought to the kind of society that you might prefer? Have you considered the aspirations, the dreams, the hope of the people? In your imaginings, do you see the shape of the nation, which you seek? Is your eye upon the power or is your eye upon the subtle uses of power and its myriad perils?
If television, movies, newspapers, etc. are such terrible places to get news, entertainment, and people turn to youTube, to podcasts, to iTunes, to the Internet for their news and entertainment, is the fault of the consumer or is it because traditional sources of media have become dinosaurs?

Of course it isn't a perfect world. This brave new world also requires a steady flow of wisdom, as in Slow Down, Multitaskers; Don’t Read in Traffic (subscription required). In that piece Steve Lohr of the New York Times wrote about the benefits of multitasking, using older and new generations as their test case. At a certain point--- doing too many things at the same time doesn't improve our productivity nor efficiency. To put it simply: Humans don't scale up very well past a certain threshold.

Separating Older Generations and New Generations... by age is ok, but perhaps the "generation gap" is better defined as a "digital divide". In this day and age there are many out there who still haven't seen what new technologies can do for them or refuse to do so as the case may be. Technology--- particularly the Internet and Computers in general can be such a force multiplier that even idle Playstation 3s can do great good as Blog You Like A Hurricane wrote. Can the Unconnected who are either uninterested in technology or unfamiliar with it understand that?

The problem may be is that a lot of the Uninitiated/Unconnected just can't understand New Technologies, and thus are labeled "clueless" but that is being too simplistic. many of us exposed to New Technology, can't understand all of it, in its entirety, to this day as well. Its a metaphysical thing but I digress.

The underlying problem is quite simply people-- older or younger people can't go past the glories of the old days. The future may be built on the past, but when its done, what new technologies have taught us is, its time for the next great thing.

Then again, the next great thing may be Theater's Alive with the Sound of Laptops. Jesse Green of the New York Times wrote:

musician No. 13, sitting behind the reeds at a Qwerty keyboard attached to an ordinary PC running a software program called Notion and wired into the sound system. This copy of Notion has been loaded with all the string parts for “Wonderful Town,” broken down in individual instrumental lines that can be muted or played at will, all triggered by a finger tapping the rhythm on any key in the A-S-D-F row. If the conductor speeds up, so does the finger, and so does the music Notion produces. If the leading lady lingers over a note, or skips six bars, the finger can too.

Small as it is, that one finger, doing the work of hundreds, is the center of a controversy now playing out in amateur theaters and national markets and coming soon to Broadway. Already the musicians union has dug in its heels against the use of Notion and similar products. “We’re not Luddites opposed to technology,” Mary Landolfi, president of Local 802, the American Federation of Musicians, said recently. “But we feel that people come to the theater to hear live entertainment, and they should have it.”

Farfetched? Maybe not. A quick google would reveal that approximately US$2,000 with a Mac, you could have your own amateur recording studio. For less than US$10,000, your own video editing system, with hollywood-style special effects. what does this mean? simply that in this brave new world, the Consumer is the Producer and that notion is difficult a pill to swallow.

What has all these things got to do with Philippine politics or for that matter, captivating attention in general?

In this brave new world, our ability to communicate, to interact, to captivate, to entice, to influence is so much greater, even with so many choices and all done at lightning fast pace. Given limited resources, technology also allows us to get the most bang for our money. In a world where everything is vying for one's attention--- in Darwinian fashion, it is truly the innovative, the great ideas, the intriguing ones that shine out. did i mention a prerequisite is that they actually deliver on what they say? In this brave new world, the individual is the connoisseur.


Gregory said...

I am glad you wrote this piece because it highlights behavioral changes affected by technology.

Like you, I consider myself an early adopter of many technologies and have seen profound changes in my lifestyle because of the computer and the Internet. Just before I left the Philippines in 2003 to study in the States, I was hardly watching television and reading newspapers and getting most of my information online. In fact, as early as 2000, I subscribed to a broadband Internet service back home because I wanted fast, 24/7 Internet service. Of course, the actual service I got was another story.

When I attended a digital media conference in UC Berkeley in 2005, one of the speakers, the CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) of Yahoo! said that since 2003, behaviors have changed tremendously in the US (as well as in selected countries worldwide) because of broadband. Because of broadband, new services and products have sprung up recently and people, particularly the early adopters of technology, have led the way in speeding up the adoption of new technologies, products, and services. And I couldn’t agree with her more.

Here are some examples of how my behavior has changed over the years:

In the Philippines, with my Destiny Cable Internet subscription (2000-2003):

• My Internet home usage increased to 4-8 hours a day;
• I could access my office files and work e-mail from home;
• I experienced P2P networks, starting off with the granddaddy of them all – Napster (to deny this would be hypocricy);
• Purchased stuff from and other sites as early as 2000;
• Booked US hotels and flights using the Internet;
• Applied to US b-schools using their online forms; and
• Tried blogging in 2003.

Now that I am based in the US and Canada, I have seen additional changes in my lifestyle as a result of the fast and reliable broadband service here. Some changes include:

• At the Kellogg School of Management, I took exams using my laptop, submitted assignments and reports via the digital dropbox, downloaded class lectures using the Blackboard system, received my quarter grades (it was a quarter, not semester system) within 3 days after the end of the final exams week by just going online, watched certain lectures online when I couldn’t attend class, bid for classes using Kellogg’s sophisticated online class bidding system, and enrolled and paid for my tuition online.
• Exclusively engage in online banking. I pay all my bills and credit card bills online. I have not written a check in 2 years because when I need to issue one, I simply request the bank online to issue one on my behalf.
• Transfer funds and accept deposits to my account using Paypal. I could wire amounts by just indicating the e-mail address of a person.
• Purchase “more expensive” items online – such as desktops and laptops.
• Looked and got apartments in DC, Utah, and Vancouver by just going to Craigslist.
• Purchase more personal items, such as shoes, from online sites. Zappos has eliminated my need to even consider a mall when purchasing footwear.
• Drive to places I have never been to and take long drives by using a GPS device or by simply going to Mapquest or Google Maps.
• Explore places/cities I would visit or will be living in by using Google Earth.
• Discovered tons of music when I subscribed to XM Satellite Radio, Real’s Rhapsody, and Yahoo Music.
• Practically get all my news online.
• Reserve, renew, and borrow books and other materials from public libraries by accessing my online library account.
• Watch shows and sports events by purchasing tickets online then simply printing my ticket using my printer.
• Make phone calls to US and Canadian landlines and mobiles using Skype (VOIP). I only paid $14 to use the service in 2007. For long distance calls, I will save thousands of dollars.
• Discovered great blogs such as your blog, Get Real Philippines, Go Figure, Blurry Brain, and Another Hundred Years Hence.
• Work for a Silicon Valley start-up company from home several days a week.
• And yes, tried online dating. Tons of people here use it and there’s no stigma in using it - -contrary to what some friends back home think.
And I can already foresee more changes in my behavior in the future.

A quick note: I am watching television again because I use a PVR (personal video recorder) which is hooked to my computer and TV cable. Thus, I can watch and record TV from my PC. And with 2 19” LCD’s, I can work or surf at the same time as I am watching television. And with great software such as Snapstream, I can program my computer to record shows, or I can search upcoming shows by simply typing in keywords (e.g., documentary, business, etc.) - -and all these shows come up in the interface, and I can simply click the record button and program the computer to record when the show will air. And all the recording can be done at the background.

I know that all these changes in my behavior were brought about not simply because of the Internet, but because of broadband Internet. With fast and reliable speeds, I could take my time to explore the Internet and the whole user experience of not waiting forever for a page to load, or a video to download, or a song to play encourages me to explore even further. I am aware that true broadband (the type that is consistently fast and reliable) has not been a common experience yet back home. Most of my friends complain about the speeds and service, and some could not view links I send even if they have “broadband” connections. I hope the broadband infrastructure as well as universal accessibility to broadband can be enhanced back home because I think a lot of profound changes will happen in the Philippines once that happens. I’ve seen profound changes happen here in the States in the last 3 years as broadband adoption rates have skyrocketed while dial-up subscriptions continue to decline.

Lastly, here are two shows that I’d like to recommend to you and your readers. These can be watched online.

1. PBS - Commanding Heights (Battle for the World Economy):
(Click on Storyline to watch the videos)

2. PBS Frontline - News War (recently released):

I highly recommend to you Part 3 because it gives another perspective to what you have written about (Internet’s effect on behavior, particularly in the media):


P.S. Aside from Heroes, you might want to “download” and watch episodes of CBS’ 60 Minutes (which I consider a crown jewel of American journalism), as well as explore shows from PBS, History Channel, and Discovery Channel (DC episodes that will likely air back home in a year or two, or not at all). I think a lot of superstition and religiosity pervades the thinking of people back home and these channels helps one discover the wonders of out there from a secular point of view.