Monday, October 31, 2011

digital zombies

Working with Facebook Zombies...

  • I'm in the middle of a lesson on Hamlet (how different types of archetypal fathers are shown in the play, so pretty light stuff), when a student knocks on the door.  Interrupted, I walk over and open it.  He hesitates, and then asks where another teacher is.  I reply, "not here."  He begins to ask a question, hesitates, and pulls his smartphone out of his pocket in response to a Facebook update... while in the middle of the conversation in which he just interrupted thirty people.  I shut the door and try and remember what I was saying.  He is offended that I shut the door in his face.

  • after trying to pass the human verification test and failing to accurately type in the text half a dozen times, a frustrated student calls me over.  I watch her type in the pass-code wrong four more times.  During two of the attempts she stops what she's doing and clicks over to Facebook and types in responses to an ongoing chat before returning to mis-type the pass code again.  The computer no longer considers her to be a human being.  What will happen to these former humans in the future?
  • We're working on imovie editing when the internet goes down.  We have to have a 10 minute discussion about how the internet going down in no way prevents them from editing their videos.

  • I remove a student from their Mac because they aren't actually doing anything.  He moves to a non-computer table and pulls out his iphone and opens up... Facebook!

  • A student asks for help and I walk over to his desk.  He can't open WORD.  I ask him to show me what he's doing.  He goes to click on the WORD shortcut and misses it, opening up Facebook in his browser.  He minimizes it and goes to click on the WORD link and misses again, re-opening Facebook again.  He tries a third time and finally hits the WORD link (it was broken, we got it re-aimed).  I told him a Freud quote, "there are no accidents."

Got any special moments from working with the Facebook Zombie horde?

... and then I snapped.  Too much shear stupidity!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ignorance Isn't Bliss

The recent #epicfails of Apple and Blackberry this week point to the problem with full service, closed tech eco-systems.  The internet didn't go down, but Blackberry's centralized user access did.  The internet didn't go down, but Apple's 'only through us shall you see the light' centralized control was overloaded by its own success.

If all those users could kick off their BB and Apple training wheels and use the many avenues available to them to access data in the cloud, they wouldn't find themselves labouring under a despotic, closed ecosystem.  Of course that same ecosystem means their tech can be 'easy', 'intuitive' (a catch word for easy) and, most importantly, simple enough for people who don't really care how something works to use it.

This kind of trained ignorance results in people who call themselves technically literate, but don't know how to resolve an IP address when their DNS server isn't working.  Like most people behind the wheel of a car, they have no interest in how it works, yet consider themselves expert drivers.  If you're going to call yourself 'leading edge' and 'technically literate' you should be able to pick up any device because you understand their fundamentals.  Anyone who's an evangelist of a single source of technology and is only comfortable with that one source, especially one in a closed ecosystem, can't claim to have any real digital chops.

An expert driver can hop into a vehicle in Japan or the UK, with the controls reversed and the stick shift on the wrong side, and have it humming.  It's a lot easier to say you're an expert in your field of interest than it is to demonstrate it.  That driver understands vehicle fundamentals and only has to refocus some simple hand-eye habits to quickly acclimatize.  They have the confidence, knowledge and range of experience to quickly adapt.

I sometimes find my Android phone frustrating, but that's usually after I've wandered far from the manufacturer's suggested settings (something easy to do in this open-source environment).  I sometimes find Ubuntu frustrating when it doesn't do things as easily as I would like.  But in either case, I've never sat in the dark for three days wondering where my information went, or sat staring at a single point of failure that got overloaded when the ihordes came in waves.

Ease of use matters, no doubt, and software design only truly works when users are able to effectively operate the machines they are using.  What makes me anxious about the recent closed eco-system failures is that the vast majority of (l)users are trapped in systems designed to keep it simple for them, and they don't realize how dependent and unresilient they are in an otherwise massively complex technical eco-system.

No wonder hackers feel like they are in a forest of low hanging fruit.