The analog still rules. My takeaway from #140conf NYC 2012

140conf The State of Now

140conf The State of Now

The #140conf was held last week at the 92Y in New York City. We were there.

It seems like every year, going to the conference is like being at Woodstock; the one in 1969, not the fake ones that tried to recreated the magic. At some point in the future, my ability to say “I was there” will stop and define a moment of time.

When you find yourself in a room filled with geeks, the point of view tends to change somewhat where the technology begins to get worshipped far more than the humanity that created and used it. I guess that is human nature to see your point of view as holding an answer to problems but most of life acts as a potentiometer, not a switch. Sometimes what you know or can bring to the table is in the off position or dialed back really far. Other times, it is full-on. Wisdom is in knowing the difference and being able to apply it correctly.

As I was listening to each of the talks, I realized that no matter how great all this twitter and facebook connection stuff is, nothing happened until someone with a belly button cared enough to reach out and touch; using “old media” like a telephone or television or in some cases, a letter scratched out with a pen. Then — and only then — did the wheels turn and the train start moving forward.

To hug a friend during a chance meeting in the hallway; to hear music created with the tips of ones fingers; to extend a hand to an old gentleman climbing the few stairs to the entrance of the building; to feel your butt fall asleep even as the sessions went on; to hear the clamber of the trade show right outside the door, competing with the speaker on stage, to feel your stomach growl. These are the things that are most memorable even though they maybe shouldn’t be. These are the things that have almost nothing to do with the digital marvels that brought us all together in that one place.

Yet it is the digital marvels that we use to justify why we are there.

The more we immerse ourselves in this digital stuff, the more we crave analog contact. Eventually, it will be this very thing, this very messy analog that digital was supposed to bring order to which will once again define us.

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My pick of the 2012 conference is Kevin Honeycutt (@kevinhoneycutt). His presentation* was the right mix of excitement and skill without dipping into the overly-exuberant. He lives and breathes his message and attempts to infect every student, every teacher, every one of us in the audience with an enthusiasm for learning. His story is also told with an analog pivot, a phone call. Read his story, watch the video below and then make something happen in your school, even something really small. But I dare you to just sit there afterwards.

One frustrating note: The speaker who came after him Andrew Rasiej (@Rasiej) wrongly concluded that education in America would be better if every student had access to an iPad.

NOOO!!

In one sentence, he negated the entire point of Kevin’s presentation.

Every student should have access to teachers like Kevin. It is Kevin who is the variable here, not the iPad. I’ll bet Kevin would have been just as effective motivating kids to get excited about music with a couple buckets, some string and a gum wrapper. How very, very sad this was so very wrongly interpreted.

Invest in people first; invest in the analog and the digital will follow. The people you invest in will see and use digital in creative ways. If you just invest in the digital, you will turn students into robot users, not creators.

Kevin’s presentation is between 1:47 and 2:06 below. Kevin’s “conclusion” follows briefly afterward.



Video streaming by Ustream | 140conf Day 1, Session 1

*The harmonica app is awesome, but as an accomplished player of the real thing, I got bored. The banjo tuner was fun only it that is annoyed @chirn9980 when I claimed to be able to play a foggy mountain breakdown in the key of G. He claimed it was just a tuner and I was an idiot. It was still fun.

People want to eat but they won’t join the hunt

Hunting Dog

Most people wear your web site, twitter feed or facebook page like they wear a jacket or drive their car. When they want to use it, they do. When they don’t, it is out of sight and out of mind.

People who work in the online space are in a very rarefied space. They live and breathe online all day long and delude themselves into thinking this is reality. When they go outside their front door, life dilutes the online world by about 1:10,000,000,000,000 parts per billion.

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You ain’t no Steve Jobs

One of the things I keep hearing from media and some of my friends is how Steve Jobs thought different, did things differently and failed a lot.

College dropout

Got fired

Unsuccessful businessman

LSD user

“Look, dad! Steve Jobs was a failure and look what he did. I’m dropping out of college and going to change the world.”

*deep sigh*

I’m going to be a contrarian here. It is a bit scary that we have created an entire generation that has been rewarded for every mistake, every failure, every effort as an accomplishment. We gave trophies for just showing up. And the only thing we have produced is a bunch of folks who feel lost without getting an affirmation that their pooping is good.

I am getting very tired of having to acknowledge effort with the same weight as accomplishment. I don’t want to clap at your guitar tuning; I want to save that for your performance. Of course every success is lined with failure, but quit redefining the failures as successes. Yes, I know that makes me an intolerant geezer, but it really is for your own good.

Suck it up, become an adult and move on. Adults know when a failure is a failure or the next step to becoming a success. That is what makes us adults. And adults do not need constant affirmations that they done good by going poop.

Steve Jobs knew the rules of his craft and knew what he needed to break. He took an insane amount of crap for his vision. He probably suffered a lot in silence whereas you blog every angst. He did not camp out in his parents’ basement. He got off his butt and persevered. And nobody — except maybe Woz — ever, ever told him he was on the right track.

You remind me of students who aspire to be writers, justifying their lack of discipline to the craft by saying “e.e. cummings didn’t capitalize things.”

Like I tell these students, “You ain’t no e.e. cummings.”

And you ain’t no Steve Jobs, but you can prove me wrong.

When you do, come by, kick me in the ribs and say “I told you so.”

My little dopamine spritz #twittermakesyoustupid

Bill Keller New York Times

Last week, Bill Keller (@nytkeller) Executive Editor, The New York Times tweeted out: “#TwitterMakesYouStupid. discuss.” And I wrote a blog post that was a half tongue-in-cheek job application and half… naw, it was a job application.

I suspected his tweet was done to get some material for a column he would eventually write and I tore through my Times every day looking for it. Sure enough, there is was (online, but in print this coming Sunday.) I’m sure he read my blog post because he called twitter a “helpful organizing tool for… dog-lover meet-ups…”

My phone will be ringing any day now!

Almost immediately, Mat Honan, Editor of Gizmodo wrote a blog post lambasting Mr. Keller for his views. It would have been easier to take seriously had he used appropriate AP style, not resorted to name-calling, did not employ obvious logical flaws and stayed away from using curse words. It is also obvious that Mr. Honan was in a state of heightened agitation when he wrote the post.

All of this, of course, just went to prove Mr. Keller’s points about “our ability to reflect” and twitter being the “enemy of contemplation.” Had Mr. Honan thought a bit more about what Mr. Keller was trying to say, he may not have been as incendiary and hyperbolic in his response.

The world has changed is crap
As I was writing a #letsblogoff post last month, I was also listening to a speech by yet another social media expert who asserted, “The world has changed…” and I thought that was the most absurd thing I had ever heard. That is not a truth. That is not even a fact. The fact is this moment has changed from the last moment and the moment before that. “The world is ALWAYS changing…” is more the truth. The truth is most people either did not notice the changes or lied to themselves about them happening.

When I was selling exercise bikes to paralyzed people, I worked with a biomedical engineer who was a great philosopher but didn’t really know it. “Biology works on a sine wave,” he was fond of saying. It was his job to make the binary bits (on/off) of technology works within that natural wave. For example, while he could make a muscle contract instantaneously, it would create intolerable pain and dangerous reactions for the patient. He therefore had to ramp up the contraction slowly, hold a contraction and then ramp it down.

Bear with me; I’m getting to the relevant parts. You aren’t fidgeting, are you?

Technology works on a binary framework. Things are either on or they are off. Biology works like a potentiometer, in degrees of on or off relative to each other. The two are almost always incompatible as the human brain struggles to stuff the digital parts into the sine wave of biology. Try as we might, no matter how much we talk about becoming cyborgs, the human brain will always be an analog, biological mass, tied to that sine wave. This makes learning hard and frustrating. You can’t just plug a thumb drive into your ear and transfer knowledge. Nor can you transfer wisdom or context. Technologist predict we will eventually, but I hope they are wrong.

So what we are is a mesh of technologies of varying degrees. Just because twitter exists, it doesn’t mean conversation ends. Just because we have Kindles, it doesn’t mean books are dead. Just because we have blogs, it doesn’t mean newspapers are dead. Media — like biology — exists on a sine wave.

Jeff Jarvis unwittingly proves Keller’s point
Predictably, Jeff Jarvis (@jeffjarvis) offered some tweets to refute Mr. Keller’s post. They were:

Just as Erasmus warned of the danger of the press, @nytkeller warns of the danger of Twitter. Oy. http://nyti.ms/iOAy6f

@nytkeller=Erasmus, who said: “To what corner of the world do they not fly, these swarms of new books?” #1

#nytkeller=Erasmus: Books are “hurtful to scholarship, because it creates a glut and even in good things satiety is most harmful” #2

@nytkeller=Erasmus: The minds of men “flighty and curious of anything new” would be distracted from “the study of old authors.” #3

I think that just reaffirms Mr. Keller’s points about knowing stuff. Obviously, Mr. Jarvis knows who Erasmus is and was familiar with his quotes. While it is possible he Googled “obscure quotes from dead guys on the books,” I very much doubt it. Mr. Jarvis was well equipped to argue a point with Mr. Keller without looking up supporting evidence. Hmmmm…

Mat Honan did the same thing with Socrates in his blog post. Sorta.

It’s about adaptability
At the end, Mr. Keller may be slightly concerned that we are becoming a species that is dependent on the longest lasting battery and is not acquiring and sustaining the skills to be able to exist by “clock and fist.”

While our use of technology may have the net effect of our species advancing for now, it does not develop the individuals of the species. Cut the power, you create a bunch of people who have no clue how to survive. The most adaptable will not be the ones who know how to program their GPS units but the ones who can navigate by the stars, clock and fist.

I think ultimately, though, Mr. Keller is calling on us to stay adaptable. Our very survival depends on it.

Jackwagons and stewballs; Some thoughts on cursing in public

I was thinking that there is entirely too much cursing in our modern life. Maybe we do it to get attention. Maybe we do it to make others think we are ‘cutting edge’ and fearless of “The Man.” Who knows and who really cares.

I just know I am kinda tired of hearing it all, especially from the emerging crop of Social Media people who are finding themselves more on stage as keynotes in more and more mainstream conferences. We get it, but some of us are older and you just don’t say things like that in polite company. You are no longer exclusively in your nerd colonies.

If you must curse, may we ask that you be more creative? I propose instead of calling someone an a**hole, you say “jackwagon.” Or instead of “sh*t” or “f**k” you say “stewballs!” (Look up Peter, Paul and Mary)

That’s all I have to say. If you must curse, be smart and creative. Instead of cringing, we’ll smile with the appreciation creativity deserves.

I’m kinda curious about any curse words you’ve replaced. Tell us about them in the comments. (Just the replacements, not the original words. We run a family-friendly doghouse.)

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Why we are engineered for another 9/11; the TSA is working backwards

The media and blogosphere is going nuts with this recent hulla-balloo over the TSA pat-downs and full-body scanners. In news segment after segment, after the guest tirades about lack of privacy, dignity, pornography scan and whatever else is the convenient bumper sticker claim of the hour, the anchor eventually asks the guest, “What would you do differently?”

The question generally sends the guest into a sputtering mutter and the anchor then makes his/her point, “See? You have nothing. This is the best system we have even though it is imperfect, so sit down and shut up. We all want to be safe.”

Only that’s not really true.

All the TSA did after 9/11 is replace a patch-work of private security guards of questionable authority with standardized, uniformed TSA agents with unchallengeable authority and a McDonald-ized set of procedures. All airports must be set up a standard way. All interactions with passengers must be conducted in this manner with this script. All escalations are handled by a supervisor, here’s how passengers proceed through, here is how to wand, etc, etc.

When there is a procedure and a script, employees to fill the jobs are easy to find, easy to process, easy to train, cheap to pay and cheap to replace. It is like changing out a bolt in a piece of machinery. That is how we approached the job at hand; fill 65,000 jobs in less than a year. Instead of asking ourselves why we needed 65,000 TSA agents, we just marched forward to replace the patchwork system we had into a uniform one.

It’s how we handle anything that needs mass-processing in this country. And it is prone to malicious injection because it is standardized and predictable. A smart man who happens to be a retired Dayton police officer told me something right after 9/11 I’ll never forget. He said the minute we go to a national police system is when we become vulnerable. We may find it easier to communicate and coordinate, but it is easy to inject a virus and mole into a system. It is almost impossible to do the same with patchwork.

What I would do differently
Inject unpredictability into the airport environment. That helpless lost young man you helped who couldn’t remember where he parked? TSA agent. That pretty chatty girl who was in the elevator who wanted to know where you were flying off to? TSA agent. That grandmother whose cell phone battery just died and she asked to borrow your cell phone to call her niece? TSA agent. That frazzled businessman who was running late for his flight and wanted to know what time it was? TSA agent. That college student who thought your iPad was really cool, where did you get it and can I see it? TSA agent. That blind man with the dog at the duty-free store who asked you if he was holding a bottle of Absolut? TSA agent. The dog too. That hipster who liked your shoes and where did you get them? TSA agent.

All watching you, all asking you questions to determine how you react in situations that are unpredictable. And all either clearing you or escalating you before you reach security and even after you pass through.

And we all pass through metal detectors set up really high and we put our loose stuff in bins like we did before. We are waved through by cheerful uniformed guards but it is all just a show. Only the passengers who have been escalated past a certain comfort point are channeled through a special “high risk” area where their tickets, documentation, luggage and person is more thoroughly searched. Most of us blithely proclaim the United States is the most free country to walk around in. No planes are highjacked, because we all trust each other. That is how we live with freedom in America.

Or at least that is what the TSA wants us to believe. Just like Walt Disney makes everyone believe the streets on the Happiest Place on Earth are never littered with trash.

We would need less than half of the thousands we employ already with the TSA. We would have to commit to hiring and training people to be really good actors and profilers (not racial profilers) and we would have to be willing to inject new scenarios and outcomes every day into the airports. We would have to pay these people well. We may even be able to save a few from a life as a greeter at WalMart (who can spot a lie better than someone who has raised a teen-ager? AARP, you listening?)

We’d have to be committed to the real security of human beings by applying a human solution, not a blind faith in technology with a promise of automated safety. A system is predictable and predictability can be injected and highjacked.

What about putting people in charge again scares us most?

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You’re still gonna need a horse to make that plough work

The year is 1837 and a farmer was all giddy about the new John Deere steel plough he just bought. It was a lot lighter than his old piece of crap iron plough. Since his back was starting to hurt as he was getting older, he was happy that the lightweight steel plough would take less effort and a lot less room to store in his barn.

And just as after he signed all the paperwork for the finance plan, the replacement insurance and the optional Telflon* undercoating, the salesman turned to him and said, “You know, you’ll still need a horse to make that plough work.”

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Steve Jobs is just making silver-painted Styrofoam police badges

The iPad has been out for a day now, so that should have been enough time for all the pundits and Apple-know-it-alls to gripe about what is missing from the iPad, what should have been done differently, etc, etc, etc. And they are all very wrong because Steve Jobs really doesn’t care what you think or want. I know that has also been said before but before you dismiss me as another me-too thinker, let me share a short story with you.

When I was a puppy, we used to play a lot of games like cops and robbers. My parents were good Catholics, so that meant there was a rather large litter of us, all pretty close in age. My dad didn’t make much money and my mom was a stay-at-home, always in the kitchen, don’t bother me kind of mom, so there wasn’t a lot of money for toys. We made a lot of necessary accessories like pistols and billy clubs out of tree branches and whatnots. (It was a long time ago; guns were ok toys back then, even pretend ones made out of twigs.)

When I was about nine or ten years old, we got a catalog in the mail that had a whole section of cop badges you could order. Suddenly, without question, our cops needed badges. I started making badges using the Styrofoam trays meat was packed in. Turns out, if you traced the outline of the badge from the catalog, cut it out and then traced the inside detail lightly with a dull pencil, it would make an embossed badge. Paint that with silver paint used for model cars, tape a safety pin on the back and you had yourself a slick looking police badge.

Then I got to thinking that if I thought this was a good idea, other people would to. I made a few more and sold them to other kids who played the cops in our games for I think $.25 or something like that. Nobody really needed the badges to play a cop in cops and robbers, but it sure made the game more fun. After a bit, nobody wanted to play a cop unless they had a badge.

But here’s the thing: I made the badges because I wanted to create a game where the police characters sported really cool badges. I didn’t much care if they had all the features that others wanted (like a multi-color seal or gold eagle and silver base) or even if they were necessary for the game. In my mind, a world that had cops without badges was just not going to be a world I wanted to be in, pretend cops or not. If other kids thought it was a cool idea and wanted to buy a badge, that was ok, but it wasn’t necessary for me to have a market for silver-painted styrofoam badges for me to make the badges.*

And that ultimately is how I think Steve Jobs sees his world. He created the Apple computer because he wanted a world where small, personal computer existed. He created the iPod because he wanted a small, portable music device that worked in a non-technical way. Same kind of thing for the iPhone and iPad. The fact that lots of other people want these kinds of things too is incidental.

Steve Jobs is just making silver-painted Styrofoam police badges.

*The product line branched out to cop hats (made out of blue construction paper, kinda cool really) and belts before I grew up, discovered girls and that was that.