An edited version of this story first appeared on April 5, 2016 in The Atlantic
Not long ago, I stumbled on a list of the best sci-fi novels according to the Internet (i.e. the highly entertaining computer geeks on Reddit). As someone who reads for pleasure as much as job security, I decided to finish as many of these and others that I could handle.
After completing over a dozen—not to mention many more in film adaptations—the following occurred to me: every single one of these acclaimed, futuristic stories—at least the many I was exposed to—completely missed the existence and impact of the Internet. Everything from published media and daily communication, to realizing sight unseen romance and access to global markets.
“A lot of science fiction was primarily focused on moving people and things around in exciting ways,” says technology commentator Clive Thompson. “These forward-thinkers were using flashy visuals to hook their readers, while understandably overlooking non-sexy things such as inaudible conversations.”
Which is largely what the Internet facilitates. Like electricity, it’s really just an everyday utility now. And utility talk is not plot. It’s boring. Continue reading…
I recently finished Highbrow’s excellent 10-day course on inventions that changed the world.
In keeping score, half of the cited inventions quickened the sharing of information (writing, printing press, telephone, personal computer, internet). A third hastened our transportation (steam engine, automobile, airplanes). One marginalizes or maximizes physical dominance, depending on who owns more of it (gunpowder). And the last one lengthens our days (light bulb).
Interestingly, every one of these inventions involve some element of speed. The speed of a bullet. The speed of light. The speed of travel. The speed of knowledge. That’s why the world moves at an increasing rate. Our greatest inventions all involve speed.
Even this century’s greatest inventions largely involve speed. How fast you can get new or old music to your ears (iTunes, Spotify). How fast you can get answers to questions (Google). How fast you can connect with friends and family (Facebook, SMS). And how fast you can see the latest cat videos (YouTube).
Of course, many of these inventions involve size, frequency, and power. But when it comes to bigger, stronger, better, and faster—always bet on faster. It’s the future. And it’s likely what the “next big thing” will do more than others.
Taken at one of my local skate shops (Photo: Blake Snow)
Outside of groceries, my household shops online 90% of the time. That’s not me overstating something. That’s my wife’s estimate. She does the budget.
Over the last 10 years, Amazon Prime, Zappos, Target.com, iTunes, Netflix, and many other e-tailers have dramatically improved my family’s standard of living, product selection, and buying power, while reducing buyer’s remorse, time spent, and money spent consuming wants and needs.
Every now and again, I get romantic and decide to “shop local,” as they say. Usually I regret it. The last time I needed a pair of slacks, I went to a big box store. The style selection wasn’t what I wanted. 30 minutes of my life, gone.
Before leaving the parking lot, I launched the Amazon app, found a better pair of 4.5/5 star fitted-pants for less, and clicked “buy now.” The transaction took two minutes. The slacks would be on my door step two days later, and if, for whatever reason, I didn’t like them, I could put them back on my door mat, and a brown truck would magically return them for free.
We live a charmed life. Continue reading…
Ev Williams believes the internet is “a giant machine designed to give people what they want.” In a speech reported by Wired, the co-inventor of Blogger and Twitter added, “We often think the internet enables us to do new things, but people just want to do the same things.”
For instance, we want to socialize, entertain ourselves, learn, and make work easier. The internet does all four better than any other convenience of the last century.
It does this in two ways, Williams explains. “Big hits on the internet (think Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon) are masters at making things fast and not making people think… But the internet is not a utopian world. It’s like a lot of other technological revolutions.” Continue reading…
My latest for the fair and balanced department at Fox News: Online blood tests like WellnessFX are empowering and affordable as much as they are against medical advice.
I’ve seen the future. It’s called gigabit Internet by Google Fiber, and it just launched in my hometown of Provo, the second of three scheduled cities to get speeds that are 100 times faster than the rest of America.
“What good is really fast Internet if the content stays the same?” you may ask yourself. I certainly did, before testing the service. Besides, my “high speed” Internet from Comcast seemed fast enough, enabling my household to stream HD videos, load web pages quickly, and connect multiple devices as needed, largely without hiccup.
I was wrong.
Using gigabit Internet, even in its infancy, opened my eyes to speed and reminded me of why I love the Internet.
Continue reading on Fox News
Some small search-outfit announced today that they’re bringing Google Fiber to Provo later this year, pending the city’s no-brainer approval next week.
This is really great news for my home town. It means free 5 mbps internet for every household, free 1000 mbps Internet for 25 public institutions, and $70/mo. 1000 mbps Internet for anyone who wants it. For reference, I pay $50/mo. for 15-20 mbps from Comcast. From a math perspective, we see that 1000 is a lot better than 15-20.
From a consumer perspective, it’s the most coveted internet in the nation. Provo will be just the third U.S. city to offer Google Fiber, in addition to Kansas City and Austin, Texas.
Media often paints the shuttering of retail stores in a negative light, as if said stores are not being replaced and restaffed by online stores and digital goods (which many are) or creating entirely new workforces (which many are, too).
Economic impact aside, however, the shuttering of brick and mortar stores has actually improved my family’s life. Let me count the ways:
I make smarter purchases now. Before the internet, I was overcharged and burned more often than I am now. Not only does the internet liberate pricing information, it makes it easier to compare and you can check product reliability and functionality before buying. Consequently, when used properly, you can save a lot of money and purchase much better products, especially with the help of consumer ratings. In that sense, I don’t miss shuttering brick and mortar stores at all.
Better convenient stores. If there’s one thing online stores will never fully replace, it’s convient and grocery stores. And as I’m sure you’ve noticed, you can get a whole lot more than groceries there now, thanks to the consolidating and shuttering of other retail stories. In addition to food, I bank at, buy stamps at, rent Red Box movies from, buy Christmas trees from, buy flowers from, and buy concert tickets from my nearby grocers. They’re my favorite stores behind Amazon and Walmart, and I suspect they’ll get a whole lot better as stores continue to consolidate and move online.
That said, there is a price we pay in closing so many retail stores. Our communities, social interactions, and face time will inevitably take a hit. That’s the most legitimate challenge I think we’ll face as stores continue to consolidate and evolve.
But overall, my consumer life is better thanks to online shopping. So is my posterity’s lives. And so are the remaining offline stores that have gotten stronger and better, too. So other than the above, I really don’t see any direct downsides. Do you?
Trolls — breaking online comments since 1994.
Online comments and reader reaction to news are often enlightening. Unless of course they’re disrupted by attention trolls, which they often are. Which is why commenting for the most part is still broken. Even the world’s largest bloggerprenuers know this.
Blocking trolls, however, is useless. They just create new accounts to perpetuate the insanity. To really nip them in the bud, you have to ensure that they fail to get a reaction.
Here’s how I would do it: Keep comments open, allowing anyone to register and make a remark. Flag the ones (either individually or by email/account) that are off-topic, rude, or spam.
But instead of removing these comments, keep them visible to the IP address from which the comment was made, while hiding it from all other readers. Basically making it visible to only the troll.
In other words, the best way to discourage trolls is to ignore them. Of course, a small minority of technical trolls might wise up and try logging in on different accounts from different IP addresses. But I think this could do wonders to fixing the problem.
Am I wrong?
NBC/KSL—Like AOL before it, Facebook is the latest in a long line of mainstream technologies to introduce a lot of new users to the power, utility, and network effect of the Internet.
At the same time, the popular hangout has negatively impacted the number of public comments taking place online. Case in point: The number of people making online remarks has dwindled from a record 15% five years ago to an estimated 7% last year, according to market research by Nielson.
The reason: “Conversations around stories are moving off the news page and onto social networks,” says Steve Rubel, a longtime observer of social media since 2004. “With time spent on social networks like Facebook skyrocketing, it leaves little left to engage at the source of the news.”
Is that a problem? Continue reading…
According to Vin Cerf, any early pioneer of the internet:
Technology is an enabler of rights, not a right itself. There is a high bar for something to be considered a human right. Loosely put, it must be among the things we as humans need in order to lead healthy, meaningful lives, like freedom from torture or freedom of conscience. It is a mistake to place any particular technology in this exalted category, since over time we will end up valuing the wrong things. For example, at one time if you didn’t have a horse it was hard to make a living. But the important right in that case was the right to make a living, not the right to a horse. Today, if I were granted a right to have a horse, I’m not sure where I would put it. The best way to characterize human rights is to identify the outcomes that we are trying to ensure. These include critical freedoms like freedom of speech and freedom of access to information — and those are not necessarily bound to any particular technology at any particular time.
Do you have a hard time finding information online?
I don’t. If anything, there’s too much information online.
Which is why I scratched my head this morning after reading what the founders of YouTube are remodeling. In short, they bought an old web linking website in hopes of turning it around.
“Twitter sees something like 200 million tweets a day, but I I can’t even read 1,000 a day,” complained YouTube’s Steve Chen. Seemingly in between bouts of “Mine! Mine! Mine!” he added, “There’s a waterfall of content that you’re missing out on [and] a lot of services trying to solve the information discovery problem, but no one has got it right yet.”
Information discovery problem?
Maybe a few thousand Silicon Valley nerds have that problem. But the vast majority of us have no problem finding information online.
As I’ve said before, “Whether online or off, the cream of life always rises to the top. The best status updates and news transcend the Internet.”
What more do you non-contributing zeros want?
See also: Everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy
From one of the most brilliant minds of our time comes…
Today, auctions represent only 31% of all Ebay sales. A decade ago, Ebay was suppose to change the way everything was bought and sold. That didn’t happen. A new article in Wired tells why:
To begin with, the experience of auctions changed over time, generally in ways that made them less appealing to both buyers and sellers. Scot Wingo, CEO of ChannelAdvisor, which consults for ecommerce companies, points to the advent of sniping—the practice of placing winning bids at the last second—as something that has alienated ordinary shoppers…
Bargains, too, have become less common, as the market matured and people on both sides of the transaction became savvier…
Really, though, the biggest factor in the decline of the auction may simply be that the novelty of bidding wore off. “The Internet stopped being a source of wonder and became a place to do certain kinds of business,” Koehn says. “Once that happens, you start to think about things like âDoes it make sense to spend this much time on an auction when I might not even get the item in the end?’” In econospeak, the hedonic benefits of bidding on eBay diminished.
In my opinion, I think the information age has simply normalized pricing. By that I mean you can save a buck or two on ebay, but you really have to work for it… and wait for it. Why not “buy it now” for a few bucks more elsewhere?
A year ago to the day, I quit Facebook. At the time I feared I might be committing social suicide. Today, I can happily report that didn’t happen.
Since quitting the popular online hangout, I’ve limited the number of work and out of office distractions I encounter. I no longer feel the desire to “check in” online at every waking hour. It takes me longer to discover new bands. And I don’t have to consciously decide or distinguish friends from colleagues, associates, and nobodies. I just let them happen naturally now; unannounced and evolving.
As seen in this month’s issue of Wired.
My thoughts: Agreed that information technology isn’t always replaced by newer technology (i.e. pens, pencils, paperbacks). But to suggest that printed magazines are actually thriving is a bit of stretch. My guess is the quoted “11 percent growth” stems from that fuzzy “pass along” metric magazines still use to measure audience size. (And to suggest that magazines are the superior way of reading essays is also wrong.)
Either way, stop hard-selling yourself, magazines. We know what you’re good for: Bathrooms, waiting lobbies, and other offline environments.
On Monday, BYU student Michelle Peralta accused fellow classmates of “idol worship” in a letter published in the school paper. Peralta, not to be confused with the awesome ’80s skateboards of the same name, said she was irritated by what she called “Jimmer worship,” Jimmer being the BYU point guard, 3-point killer, nation’s leading scorer, and all-around swell guy.
In all likelhood, Peralta, an admitted non-sports fan, was probably just venting her frustration over the increased volume of Jimmermania sweeping the nation, Provo very much included. That didn’t stop the Internet from having a little fun with her though.
In a virally large thread on her then-public, now-private Facebook page, hundreds of Jimmer fans came to his defense, while sticking with the comical spiritual theme Peralta had started. Here my top 10 favorites: Continue reading…
It’s not the biggest data center. But in terms of technology — including containment, a bajillion security checks, monitoring, and backups of backups — it has to be within the top one percent in the nation, if not the world. And it was built in itty bitty Carrollton, the rural Georgian city I spent my formative years in.
Congratulations, Brooks and Clay! More photos here.
After five loyal years using Firefox as my browser of choice, I finally switched to Google Chrome. Here’s why
- It’s noticeably faster than Safari, Firefox, and IE.
- It doesn’t crash like Firefox.
- Plugins and add-ons are much more stable.
- It’s smarter (i.e. it won’t overwrite a URL your inputing while loading a page) etc.
- It synchronizes my Internet experience, regardless of which machine I’m on.
- It has a minimized interface (doesn’t take up a lot of monitor space).
- It works with my Chromebook.
Admittedly, Firefox started the whole “smart browser” thing. But with Chrome, Google has built the better mousetrap. For now, at least.