Friday, June 27, 2008

Gates's Legacy

No doubt the ample offerings of video clips and articles commenting on Bill Gates' upcoming last day as a Microsoft employee have folks lamenting enough already...fair enough. However, while the common meditation has been one that asks who'll fill Gates' shoes or how he'll continue to build the Gates Foundation I am excited to think about the context that he's been so influential in creating. For those in technology tribes this may seem obvious, taken for granted even, but the legacy I have found myself coming back to is that of hope and excitement. Certainly such a feeling could be just a geneaological extension of this year's election commentary. But, I don't think it is. I am really excited about what Bill Gates has made possible. I am equally, if not more, excited about what I anticipate he'll do in his future endeavors. Teaching in a humanities cohort I am all too familiar with the critiques of MSFT and Gates, sadly critiques that betray an intellectually irresponsible theorizing of the hegemony in which we exist and operate; regardless of one's feelings about Gates' tenacious approach to building MSFT, the fact is that he's enabled a new way of knowing and living that holds potential for better lives. As Wired iterated, he enabled a technolgy industry (that does have potential to empower) that we couldn't have dreamed of just a few decades ago. We're not there, in fact we're a long way off; but the work of Bill Gates has created a context from which we can strive for utopias. As a techno-humanist I thinks that's the project at hand, and it's a very very exciting one. To pursue this project means to challenge today's tech leaders to best Gates' record of innovation and articulation of utopia...only then can a critique be levied. I'd surmise though, that at that point lauding Gates' legacy once again will probably seem more apropos.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Who's Really Shaping Mobile Habitus

For those of you interested in what seems to be an immanent and very real emergence of mobile ubiquitous computing via handheld devices there is interesting news out this week on three fronts. Google announced that its much anticipated Android OS has been pushed back to a late 2008 release; my bet, expect it late rather than early fourth quarter. I was fired up after reading the recent Wired article on Android and slightly disappointed to hear of the push back. It represents the spirit of the mobile web that speaks to me most. Also, Research In Motion —maker of Blackberry handheld devices—announced earnings Wednesday and (possibly surprisingly) lowered guidance for next quarter and intimated a slower remainder of the year compared to recent analyst expectations. This summer Research In Motion will start selling its first major new BlackBerry model in more than a year—the Bold. Lastly, Apple’s 3G iPhone continues to impress me on features and price (a mere $199) AND by all accounts (though delayed) iPhone 2.0 appears to be on track to actually be released by the end of the second week in July. The mobile web apps have sparked a ton of interests and seem to have heft. Additionally, Apple's sales forecasts look strong across the board.

What all of this means, at least to me, is that Apple's hegemony grew a lot this week and its users will continue to define the future spaces of mobile computing. While not perfect in its current manifestation or ideology, there is actually a product out there which means there are real users right now. The information-related and literacy behaviors we see (and will see) around the iPhone will drive the preferences and expectations of users in the coming months and years. The iPhone has already severely impacted RIM’s product offerings, competitiveness, and user base. We’ve all got utopian visions as far as the mobile web is concerned and my take is that if one wants to figure out how to pursue such visions, take a critical look at the socialization and habitus being fostered by Apple right now. It’s a materiality/virtuality dialectic that will prove useful when sorting out hype and fast capitalist rhetoric of/for products that haven’t materialized as of yet. With technology, hype will cloud observations of what's "really" going down...Apple seems to matter more, especially in light of this week's events.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Patterns as Drivers, Patterns as "Truth"

The New York Times ran an article by Michael Fitzgerald last weekend entitled "Predicting Where You'll Go and What You'll Like" that profiled some interesting new advancements by Sense Networks. The article is a quick read and easily accessible so I won’t summarize in detail, but essentially Sense has made significant strides in data collection and pattern assessment of people’s consumer behavior facilitated by small GPS enabled devices germaine to everday life these days. Given enough data, Sense’s application Macrosense seems to be able to sort through data and establish (what seem to be) accurate probabilities for people’s consumer behaviors. Now, I’m on board with most others who spend time thinking through network science and the non-randomness of patterns and that’s not the trajectory of this post. What I am focused on is that eventually we will see a dominant way of knowing and choosing driven by wholehearted acceptance of these patterns as “real” (read subtext simulacrum, reification, etc.) That is, these patterns will become motivators for individuals to make the choices they make---the pattern will become the driver of the decision versus the reflection of the decision. In such a transition, what literacies or abilities to discern do we give up (assuming we do give up any)? And, given our positionality as social and interactive beings, is this detrimental? Haven’t we always wanted to be where others are and do what others do? The market is now just enabling this, right? Hmm.

Authors like Bill McKibben have argued that media and technology saturation that creates the multitude of data that we know and love also makes some information “go missing”. Examples could include standard use of GPS to know geography versus “knowing the land” or psycho-geographically following the smells, sights, energy, and sounds OR McKibben’s example of watching the Weather Channel/ versus “knowing” the weather. I wonder about such contexts that GPS is able to create and if, as we adopt them, we are also developing a different sort of dominant calculus for how we know this world…a calculus built on market articulated “true” or “real” patterns as drivers versus patterns as possible reflections.