Overheard at our house, modern technology edition

John: “The news says lines for the new iPhone are wrapping around the block.”

Jill: “Wait – were you thinking of finally getting a smartphone on launch day?!

John: “I had thought about it.”

Jill: “Are you high?!

John: “Quite possibly.”

Augmentation, not alternative

My mother sent me a link to a piece by Jonathan Franzen in the NYT today, with this quote specifically included (italics hers):

This is not to say that love is only about fighting. Love is about bottomless empathy, born out of the heart’s revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are. And this is why love, as I understand it, is always specific. Trying to love all of humanity may be a worthy endeavor, but, in a funny way, it keeps the focus on the self, on the self’s own moral or spiritual well-being. Whereas, to love a specific person, and to identify with his or her struggles and joys as if they were your own, you have to surrender some of your self.

It’s a well-written piece, and the quote my mother cites is lovely, but (unsurprisingly) I completely reject its central thesis which seems to say we can either surf superficially and easily through life with tech or embrace the difficult struggle that is a profound relationship with another person but not do both:

To speak more generally, the ultimate goal of technology, the telos of techne, is to replace a natural world that’s indifferent to our wishes — a world of hurricanes and hardships and breakable hearts, a world of resistance — with a world so responsive to our wishes as to be, effectively, a mere extension of the self.

Wow.  It’s like Stephen Fry’s evil twin has come to town.

No. This is not an either-or world. I relate and laugh and disagree on a daily basis with people who are sharing the same air I do. I also am able to connect joyously and articulately with someone who lives in Singapore – a relationship that would not be possible without technology, as Arvind and I “met” one another on Facebook through our discussions on a mutual friend’s Fb wall (and she is someone I initially “met” online in the pre-Fb era and then was able to see in person years later. Rana and I are good enough friends – not “friends” – that she invited John and me to her wedding).

Additionally, I see arguments and hard discussions all over my friends’ walls. I don’t usually engage in them because Fb is something I reserve for fun, but that says more about me than it does about Fb – lots of people go to church to be soothed, only some go to be challenged. But that doesn’t necessarily say much about church in general: it says something about the people who attend it and the reason they attend it.

I see people all over being perfectly likable – striving to be so, in fact – in their everyday lives with colleagues, acquaintances, and strangers. That doesn’t mean they’re false or hollow or emotionally crippled – it means they’re being polite. And the majority of one’s friends on Fb are actually acquaintances. But what was Fb supposed to call them, anyway? They could have gone with the prolix: “People I know,” the sterile: “Contacts,” or the twee: “Buddies.” “Friends” is both largely accurate and brief. And I’ve found personally that people still recognize the differing levels of friendship and layers of knowledge that exist in human relationships both online and off (I know X more than I know Y, but I know Y’s sense of humor and mine intersect precisely in just such a way…) The technology of Fb doesn’t have to characterize those differences – the people involved do that automatically.  The organic human recognition of the subtleties of specific relationships doesn’t have to be perfectly mirrored or duplicated by the technology.

Sites like Fb and “sexy” new Blackberries and titanium laptops are not intended to replace – they are intended to augment.  And I reject the idea that I have somehow sold my connection to humanity by extending my reach to other human beings.

Oh, for crying out loud

E-book manufacturers, get back to me when you’re serious about providing a product that doesn’t treat me either like a criminal or a child.

Color me cautiously intrigued

I was pretty jazzed about the Kindle when it first came out.  Sitting here as a Metro commuter at the halfway point in my second graduate degree, just the idea of not having to lug a bunch of textbooks is enough to get me at least mildly excited about the prospects of e-readers.  However, then there was a bit of disillusionment with how the device’s accounts were handled. And then more with how content was handled, add that to the fact that there’s no native PDF support (a lot of my reading these days is pdf downloads of journal articles), a few other irritations, and… no thanks.

So I’m mildly intrigued by the prospects of Barnes and Noble’s “Nook:”

  • Multi-format support?  Check
  • Native PDF support?  Yep.
  • Ability to lend to other e-reader owners?  Uh-huh.
  • WiFi downloads?  Yessir.
  • Touch-sensitive navigation?  I do love my iPhone.
  • Ability to peruse entire volumes (inside a B&N store, but still)?  Interesting.

All in all, this has me thinking, “Well – sometimes people give me B&N gift certificates for Christmas…”  Because it looks like B&N is actually looking at the behavior of real readers and designing a product that has a lot more potential to accommodate the way they think and behave.

Did I mention I don’t want a Kindle anymore?

Yeah.  Not until they fix this sort of bull. Or never.  Whichever comes first.

Oh, sweet bandwidth, how I have missed you

We finally have our home internet service back.  It only took a week, a bunch of phone calls, another useless visit to our home (which told the tech that the problem was, in fact, outside — again), a bunch more calls, and a guy named Erroll with a shovel.

Of course, our cable TV box is now apparently busted, so we’re chained to the house this morning in the hopes that Comcast will fulfill its promise to deliver a new one.  We have 46 minutes left in our appointment window – who cares to wager that they’re actually going to show up?  Anyone?

ETA: Well ho-lee cow.  Not two minutes after I posted this, the guy showed up with the new box.  1 point to Comcast.

Why Twitter is good/bad (you choose)

Free donut day.  I found out in fewer than 140 characters.

Why I went from being excited about the Kindle to… not.

First there was the text-to-speech debacle. I pretty much agree with John Scalzi on the silliness of it all, and yet Amazon both caved to the Author’s Guild on this one and also demonstrated that they maintain a pretty fine level of control over what you’ve already purchased on the device.  I am exactly crazy about this idea.

And now this.

Heck with it.

Okay, it’s official

Yeah, I want one of these.

I would want it even more if my textbooks were available on it, but since a lot of my school-reading is comprised of journal articles in pdf form, this would still make my life easier.

::SIGH::  I’m such an easy mark for good gadgets.