Breadth over depth

By rapidly substituting virtual reality for reality, we are diminishing the scope of this interaction even as we multiply the number of people with whom we interact. We remove or drastically filter all the information we might get by being with another person. We reduce them to some outlines — a Facebook “friend,” an Instagram photo, a text message — in a controlled and sequestered world that exists largely free of the sudden eruptions or encumbrances of actual human interaction. We become each other’s “contacts,” efficient shadows of ourselves.

Andrew Sullivan, New York Magazine

Virtual reality is not filmmaking

(Originally posted on Motionographer.)

Let’s agree on something: 360-degree video presented inside a virtual reality headset isn’t really virtual reality. It’s a novel, sometimes powerful experience, but it’s not what makes VR arguably the most exciting breakthrough in storytelling since moving images.

While much has been made of immersion as a defining trait of virtual reality, a key component of normal (i.e. non-virtual) reality is painfully absent in the live-action and pre-rendered experiences I see being confused with true VR: interactivity.

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Let me pay for Facebook

“Many users think their feed shows everything that their friends post. It doesn’t. Facebook runs its billion-plus users’ newsfeed by a proprietary, ever-changing algorithm that decides what we see. If Facebook didn’t have to control the feed to keep us on the site longer and to inject ads into our stream, it could instead offer us control over this algorithm.”

“I would, as I bet many others would, happily pay more than 20 cents per month for a Facebook or a Google that did not track me, upgraded its encryption and treated me as a customer whose preferences and privacy matter.”

“If even a quarter of Facebook’s 1.5 billion users were willing to pay $1 per month in return for not being tracked or targeted based on their data, that would yield more than $4 billion per year — surely a number worth considering.”


Zeynep Tufekci, New York Times

Lynda Weinman on education

There’s this divide right now between formal education — not so much in higher ed, but much more in K-12 — where we’re still very much in this old industrial model of, you know, bells ringing. You’re going to study this from this hour to that hour. Everyone will be graded the same. Everyone is supposed to cover exactly the same information.

I think we’re moving into an age where — my hope for it — is that there’s far more open-endedness and fostering of critical thinking skills and being able to be self-directed, being able to collaborate with other people, being able to communicate really well. 

I think there are a lot of social and soft skills that have nothing to do with a specific discipline that don’t get really get passed on easily through this multiple-choice test-mania that we’ve been in for the last couple decades. 

I see the fact that information is abundant — it’s a huge paradigm shift. That you’re not expecting your teacher to know everything anymore. It’s kind of on you to know that everything’s out there. So how do you get good research skills? And how do you navigate? How do you curate your own education, to a degree?

Virtual reality, the future of sharing and the end of writing

At the F8 2015 conference earlier this week, Facebook shared some of its near-future plans with an audience of more than 2,500 developers creating apps and experiences for Facebook’s staggering user base of 1.39 billion people.

Taken together, Facebook’s native functionality and the functionality of its acquisitions cover all four slices of its “Future of Sharing” graphic, presented as a video clip during Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote.


Text, video and image sharing are all handled by the Facebook platform itself. On the acquisition side, WhatsApp dominates text sharing; Instagram owns image sharing; and, most recently, the $2 billion USD purchase of virtual reality juggernaut Oculus positions Facebook to command VR sharing.

That trend line, though

The graphic is more than an illustration of the evolution of sharing on the web (or Facebook) — it’s a manifesto. The confident upward trajectory of the trend line suggests that not only are we progressing from text to VR, but that each successive medium is somehow superior. That form of superiority — usage growth? richness of experience? monetary gain? — is left intentionally vague.

The value of a sharing medium is almost entirely dependent upon its use case. Here, we’re being presented with a travel scenario: “Wow, Italy is so beautiful!” It’s hard to deny that the VR expression of this statement is incredibly compelling. Leaving aside the technical challenges (they will be solved in time), sharing a VR travel experience is more than a substitute for actually being there — it presents a god-like level of control and exploration that isn’t even possible in real life.


St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City

Think you’ve seen St. Peter’s Basilica? Try flying around its rotunda, ducking in and out of shafts of sunlight like a heavenly bird.

With VR, you’re not sharing an experience so much as a dream of that experience, a prismatic scattering of place and sensory data that lets you, the viewer/user, modulate your own perception.

The end of writing?

Okay, VR and the travel use case make sense. What about other contexts?

The superiority of VR is less certain if I’m trying to share a poem or a song. While a poem or song could be “gussied up” as an image, video or possibly a VR experience, doing so invariably adds to the original material in a way that fundamentally alters its nature. In other words, to share just a poem or just a song is something left to simpler forms of sharing. And “simpler” is increasingly linked with “older.”

The question is: Will people want to share just a poem or just a song? If the exploding growth of Instagram among younger generations is any indication of the future, the answer is quite probably, “no.”

It’s easy to forget that text — that is, written language — is also a technology. It was created out of necessity, and like all technologies, it can be rendered obsolete. Or if not obsolete, then at least irrelevant.

What the entire Mark Zuckerberg presentation from F8

Header image by Sarah Price (Creative Commons license)

The lonely consolation of righteousness

Hardly spoiled for friends, I recently dropped contact with a colleague whom I liked and admired after he told me that he believed the US should invade Iran. I overheard another friend, this one Jewish, proudly announce that she would never share a taxi with an Arab. That was six years ago. I haven’t spoken to her since.

I don’t view these acts with any sense of pride. I know, logically, that there must be good arguments for these individuals’ strongly held points of view, but when I think about assessing them carefully and fairly, I feel incapable. I don’t fully understand this reaction. It is as if I am too angry, too weak to bear the challenge of it. And there is a fear there too, lying secretly among all the bluster: what if they’re right? What if the truth alters me; fractures something essential?

Towers versus tea kettles: the “superiority” of architecture

Today, I learned that Michael Graves died.

Michael Graves, one of the most prominent and prolific American architects of the latter 20th century, who designed more than 350 buildings around the world but was perhaps best known for his teakettle and pepper mill, died on Thursday at his home in Princeton, N.J. He was 80.

That’s the opening paragraph of his obituary in The New York Times, and the ambivalence carried by the phrase, “but was perhaps best known for his teakettle and pepper mill,” sets the tone for the entire article — and apparently for the latter half of Graves’ life. Some saw his commitment to designing inexpensive, often whimsical products for Target and Alessi as “selling out,” a descent from the loftier world of architecture.

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Is This. brilliant?

The latest attempt to wrangle the hydra of firehoses that social media has become is This., an invitation-only network that limits users to just one post a day.

In a New York Times article, This. founder Andrew Golis says:

“The quality of the entertainment, art and journalism being published on the web has never been higher, but the places we find and share links tend to value quantity over quality,” Mr. Golis said. “By limiting each user to sharing just a link a day, we give curators the ability to mark something as special and their audience the ability to find just the best from those curators they trust.”

It’s a brilliant stroke. Rather than filter the endless waterfall of noisy content, why not limit the source of all that content and let only a golden trickle through?

My question is this: Once the network grows and you’re following a couple hundred people (or more), won’t you still have a firehose of content to deal with? Granted, it’ll be a higher quality firehose, but I fear we’ll be right back where we started: drowning.

Hat tip: Ave Carrillo. Image credit: Kat Northern Lights Man.