The Smart Phone Has Landed

LG Nexus 4

Then it had a mental breakdown, and so did I. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I feel a little dirty today. After years of holding out on principle against smart phones (or any mobile phone at all) I broke down and ordered an LG Nexus 4 with a contract that ties me down for the next 24 months. Now I’ve sold out to the Tech Gods, seduced by sleek, black lines and cool apps.


And yet I felt strangely exhilarated when the phone arrived this morning. I opened the box to take a peek at the dark, pristine beauty of the glass body, but quickly had to cover it up again. I didn’t feel worthy, yet craved the forbidden fruit. Technology is so much more efficient and beautiful than we faulty flesh bags. That’s why beautiful, young people are portrayed in the ads, enjoying their freewheeling connectedness and urban lifestyles. I’m not handsome or young, and live in a remote rural backwater. What was I thinking? Did I dare take this alien technology out of the box and make it work? What if I got smears and fingerprints on it? What if its actual function was something merely tawdry?

I took a shower and drank a cup of tea before I could even approach the phone on something like an equal footing. But when I first lifted it out the box and felt the snug fit in my hand, the perfect weight, I knew I wanted it. And this is where the swelling music in major chords disintegrates into cacophony. Because I first had to set it up, and that meant deciphering the tiny print in the skimpy instruction manual, as well as using my fat, clumsy fingers to install the sim card.

What followed was an extended outburst of profanity, as I tried to install the card, after first dropping it on the floor. Then the set-up, during which the mood weather softened somewhat, though punctuated by some quite appalling language regarding the miniscule keypad, only to turn into a thunderstorm when I realised there was something wrong with the phone. Apart from my shitty attitude towards new technology. It would not scroll up or down in the Google apps I was playing with.

GollumThen the phone died, its last will and testament being that it didn’t think there was a sim card installed. The only solution was to pack it up and return it for repairs or replacement. The end of the affair, though it started going south with the sim card installation.

Hours of wasted time, my blood pressure through the roof, and the air so blue you’d think it was a Tory Party Conference. Even now, though, I want it back. It was an extension of my hand and felt so right. Precioussss…

Social Media Hits the Fan

I’m not sure what to make of this infographic. It’s clearly coming from an anti-FaceBook source, which I have no problem with, but you might find it a little biased. The most egregious lack is any mention of Google+, with 110.7 million unique users, according to the last crowd sourcing reply on G+. But if the intent is to tar FB and Twitter users exclusively with high narcissism and low self-esteem, then you can see why they left it out. Know your propaganda, even if you agree with it. Anyway, take a look, and below the infographic I will compound the insult by telling you why I despise FB and think G+ is so much better.

Psychology of Social Networking
This infographic was provided by Psychology Degree. Please visit their site to find out more about them.

One factoid jumped out at me. Does the average person have 150 friends in real life? Sounds far too many, or at least an extremely elastic definition of friend, almost as elastic as the one FB uses.

I despise FB because the experience is akin to entering a noisy gaming arcade, with bad rap music playing, and the machines practically grabbing the cash out of your pocket. Too loud to have a proper conversation and anyway, the text boxes aren’t designed for that – a shouted message or a status update is all they’re good for. I visit FB as little as possible, only to dash in and out for a quick word with my family in Indiana. By the way, they’re not narcissists or people with low self-esteem.

I’ve been on Twitter for just over a year and still don’t know what it’s for. Obviously a force for both good and bad – the mobilisation of citizen dissent and racist abuse – but what normal, everyday purpose does it serve? I automatically share G+ and Beautiful Railway Bridge posts on Twitter and FB, as well as interesting bits from the news on Twitter. I’m followed by 16 people and following 23. Clearly I don’t get it, though Some Grey Bloke does.

Google+, on the other hand, is a delight and a distraction. You can have a proper conversation, and build relationships that transcend the stupid monocategory of Friends. I’ve met people I like, would be happy to see in real life, and the place feels like home. A clean and uncluttered home with a big living room, where you sprawl on a comfortable sofa, have a beer and a good crack. Circles make it easy to add on smaller rooms for particular categories, where you can have more private conversations. It’s so easy to do this that I’ve developed what might be a bad habit. I’m circled by 459 people and only follow 317. Why the disparity? Because the FaceBook Friend disease is spreading to G+. Some are notching up followers with no concern for like-mindedness, shared interests, or even if they could stand sharing an elevator with any of them. I doubt they actually read my posts. I’ve followed a lot of people back for the sake of politeness, and there is a Being Polite circle where I park them all, adjusting the stream so I don’t get any of their posts. Where there’s not even a shred of common ground, I don’t follow back.

See, the social media are beginning to erode my deeply cherished curmudgeonality. Bad social media!

Filter Bubbles: The Gated Communities of the Internet

This post arises out an article in today’s Guardian – Google: friend or foe to the open internet? – and a link posted to a video clip from one of the TED conferences. This talk is given by Eli Pariser, a political and internet activist.

I’ve written briefly about filter bubbles in DuckDuckGo: Dada and the Search Engine. Essentially, they are that rarefied space around your search engine that occurs when results are tailored to what it thinks you will like, determined by an algorithm. But Pariser goes into more detail, complete with Show ‘n Tell, in a way that brings the concept alive.

In my comments on the Guardian article, I said:

Walled gardens and filter bubbles are as perniciously divisive as gated communities. For that reason, I think a lot of people either don’t care or prefer the ideological seclusion.

Confirmation bias – the “tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses” – is a universal human attribute. It’s hard to fight, and we all have ideas that resist factual correction. Filter bubbles exacerbate the problem by pandering to our pre-conceived notions. That’s why I dumped Google Search in favour of DuckDuckGo, because it doesn’t filter searches or track them.

But many people like ideological exclusion zones, much as many people like gated communities, for much the same reason – fear of unfamiliar influences. I need all the help I can get in not shutting the door on unsettling ideas (as long as they’re rational), so filter bubbles are anathema.

Here’s the TED video.

DuckDuckGo: Dada and the Search Engine

With the upcoming changes in Google’s privacy policies, I’ve been digging around to see what they’re up to. From March 1, they will combine 60 separate privacy policies into one, amalgamating the data from all their products into a single marketing treasure trove. To Serve Man, apparently. I had posted a full YouTube episode, but the scumbags at CBS had it taken down.

Now I’m not suggesting that Google is controlled by space aliens who want to add us to their menu. Not quite. But Google does have an endless appetite for our user data, including marketing preferences and where we like to travel on the Internet. Which is very useful for targeting us with advertising crap. So if they have an integrated user profile, gleaned from every Google product you use, then the advertising crap just hit a much bigger fan.

While I like many of their products – Gmail, Google+, and Google are brilliant – there are some things up with which I will not put. So I use Adblock Plus for the advertising crap and Ghostery to block the Web’s creepy crawlies from tracking my movements.

Unfortunately, Google can still gather data about me. I can stop them from using it as advertising fodder by disabling Web History, but it’s still available for internal use, being anonymized after 18 months. They have another sneaky trick up their sleeves, though, and it’s not something Google likes to draw attention to. Did you know that they tell the website you’re going to where you’ve just come from? So do many other browsers. Google appararently stopped doing this for a while, until the outraged squawks of their advertisers prompted a U-turn.

It was only when I stumbled across DuckDuckGo that I discovered Google were doing this. DuckDuckGo (Wiki entry) doesn’t track users, and it doesn’t try to personalize the hits to what it thinks you might be looking for. I know some people like that, but to me it’s patronizing and an insult to my intelligence to think that I can’t handle challenging ideas.

So I’m using DuckDuckGo exclusively now. I love the name, which is pure Dada, and the uncorporate feel there is to this search engine. If it all goes pear-shaped, you will be first to know.